Independence for Kosovo

YIELDING TO BALKAN REALITY

Amid the unraveling of Yugoslavia that began in the early 1990s, the United States and its European allies have staunchly defended multiethnic society in the Balkans. The military interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, the ongoing peacekeeping missions there, the hundreds of millions of dollars given annually in economic aid -- these sacrifices have been made to preserve the individual states that once constituted a federal Yugoslavia and to prevent bloodshed among the numerous ethnic groups that populate them. Now, however, the time has come to let pragmatism triumph over principle -- and move decisively toward independence for Kosovo.

The most important piece of unfinished business in the Balkans is the final status of Kosovo, the southern province of Serbia, which has been under international trusteeship since NATO's intervention in 1999. Anxious to scale back its obligations in the region and confronted with growing impatience among Kosovo's population, the international community is finally gearing up for negotiations over Kosovo's political future, as provided for under UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Serbs, for whom Kosovo is an ancestral homeland and the site of many important Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries, insist that the area remain under Serbian sovereignty. Broader opposition to separating Kosovo from Serbia stems from concern about the potential precedent that would be set by redrawing boundaries along ethnic lines and the likely impact this move would have on the integrity of the borders of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia.

Nevertheless, harsh realities on the ground make independence for Kosovo the only viable option. In the current state of limbo, relations between the Albanian majority, which is mostly Muslim, and the Serbian minority, which is mostly Orthodox Christian, have reached the boiling point. The Albanian leadership in Pristina, which governs Kosovo in an uneasy partnership with UN authorities, wants nothing to do with Belgrade. Kosovo has already left Serbia's orbit. And throughout the area, walls of hostility divide ordinary Albanians and Serbs. In spirit as well as fact, multiethnic society is nowhere to be found.

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