The Balkan buzzer

The Baltimore Sun

Time's up. Serbian politicians will never agree to an independent Kosovo. So Kosovo will just have to become independent without their consent.

For eight years now, ever since the NATO air war drove Serbian forces out, Kosovo has been in limbo. The Kosovar Albanians want sovereignty, and the U.S. and the European Union - albeit with serious qualms - have decided there is no alternative. But they've been trying to jolly the Serbs along, to entice them to recognize that Kosovo is lost to them.

Politicians in Belgrade may know it, but they're refusing to say it. And Russia has promised to veto any plan put before the United Nations that Serbia rejects.

The goal of a diplomatic agreement was a worthy one, but it has been stymied by Serbian intransigence. The U.S. and European Union have been trying for years not to provoke Serbian nationalists, and have been trying to induce Serbia with promises of membership in the EU. Now the time has come to recognize that these efforts have failed.

Kosovo is where Serbs believe their nation was forged, but Kosovo has no place in the Serbia of today - not after the crimes committed there by Serbian forces, culminating in the murders and mass expulsions of predominantly Muslim Albanians in 1999. Kosovo deserves recognition as an independent state, with human rights for its minority Serb population guaranteed by international oversight.

There will be immediate negative consequences, but they are endurable. There is likely to be unrest among Serbs in Kosovo, especially in the north, where ties to Serbia are strongest. Serbia has threatened to cut off diplomatic relations with countries that recognize Kosovo. Serbs living in Bosnia may try to stir up trouble there. Russia may use the Kosovo example as precedent for an attempt to break off ethnic enclaves in the Republic of Georgia.

But with proper attention, the Balkans need not re-erupt into broad conflict. Intelligent diplomacy can restrain Russia, in part because there are so many other issues between Russia and the West that are more important than adventurism in the Caucasus. Keen attention by Americans and Europeans (and Russians, too) can help ensure that the inexperienced Kosovar Albanians don't go seriously off the tracks.

That Serbia's politicians refuse to recognize the inevitable doesn't make it any less inevitable. Kosovo should stand on its own.

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