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Why Kosova Can’t Wait

by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi and Joe DioGuardi

Recent debates by Westerns officials about postponing the U.N. resolution on Kosova’s independence are deeply troubling. Two million Kosovar Albanians cannot wait any longer for their right to self-determination and freedom. They have been patiently waiting since June 1999, when NATO air strikes ended then Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal war. Above all, the international community should recognize the independence of Kosova now as the only way to bring lasting peace and stability to the Balkans.

For seven years, Kosova’s political, social, and economic progress has been held hostage by a lack of final status. Kosovar Albanians, who are predominantly pro-Western and democratic, are also largely entrepreneurial and hardworking. Yet, they are trapped in a welfare state. Kosova’s unemployment rate is nearly 70 percent, in a population in which 70 percent are also under the age of thirty. Privatization and access to World Bank funds, which would bring jobs and investments to Kosova, are repeatedly stalled by lack of final status and the international community’s concern for Serbia. Albanians, who make up 92 percent of Kosova’s population, along with the minority communities of Serbs, Turks, Roma, and Ashkalli, grow desperate as assistance from international donors and the Albanian diaspora dwindles. As winter sets in, severe daily hardships and power shortages will make for a volatile environment.

Kosova’s Serbs, less than 5 percent of Kosova’s population, likewise, cannot wait for final status resolution. Their lives are stolen daily by Belgrade, which blocks all attempts of the Kosovar Serbs to integrate into Kosova’s political and economic life. This reality also prolongs the suffering of Serbia’s citizens; for as long as Belgrade is able to use Kosova’s Serbs as pawns, Serbia can continue to sidestep dismantling the corrupt xenophobic system that Milosevic created in order to wage his four wars of aggression throughout the 1990s. This fact has brought Serbia economically and politically to the brink.

The notion presented by both U.S. and European officials in recent weeks, that delaying Kosova’s final status will somehow prevent the parties of indicted war criminals Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj from winning a majority in December, is naïve at best. The Radicals and the Socialists already hold 40 percent of the Serbian parliamentary seats; regional polls show them ahead by five percent. Their message is that they will never “sell Kosova.” Delaying the resolution until after the Serbian elections will not change the political outcome, nor will it encourage Belgrade to deliver Bosnian Serb war commanders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karazdic to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Delay will only make it that much harder for Kosovar Albanians to heal the wounds of Serbian occupation and war, which claimed at least 12,000 lives, raped, tortured, and maimed many others, and displaced one million.

On October 19, Martin Ahtisaari, the UN Envoy mediating the final status talks, announced “2006 is still my target date,” dismissing suggestions by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and others that status resolution might be delayed until Serbia holds elections. Ahtisaari is not the only decision maker, however, and despite what happens, debate about postponement has already caused considerable damage. Belgrade has been encouraged to believe it has power over final status decision-making, and Kosovar Albanians, whose dissatisfaction with their government is on the rise, are beginning to seriously question their historic and vigorous faith in the West, especially the United States. If the erosion of confidence continues, things will go from bad to worse.

The problem is not merely one of waiting longer for final resolution, but uncertainty in the outcome. Kosova’s independence is essential to achieving a just and lasting peace in Southeast Europe, and it is certainly the goal of Kosovar Albanians, who first voted overwhelmingly for independence in a 1991 referendum held during the Serbian occupation.

The European Union, with the diverse and often conflicting interests of its members, cannot resolve the Balkan conflict. The United States must lead and recognize Kosova’s independence. This will free Albanians from the fear of being put back under Serbian domination and make it possible for Kosova to build a genuine democracy. It will also enable Serbs uninvolved with the atrocities of 1998-1999, who want to live in Kosova, to do so; and it will help Serbia break from its racist and imperialistic past. Furthermore, it will save the west from a failure it can ill afford while fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and facing the threat of a nuclear North Korea.

Ossining, New York

October 26, 2006

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