Europe's Saboteurs
By Henry H. Perritt, Jr.
New Kosova Report,

Monday, 04 May 2009

It has been fourteen months since Kosovo formally declared independence and ten years since Serbia lost de-facto sovereignty over Kosovo. Fifty-eight states, including the U.S. and most of Europe, have recognized this reality.

Serbia continues in denial.

Denial is a much-practiced psychological trait in Serbia. Even after video footage of atrocities by Serbian forces in Srebrenica emerged, taken by Serbian soldiers, the nationalist line in Serbia is that nothing happened there. Ratko Mladic is nowhere to be found. Slobodan Milosevic was an aberration from outer space, although he was popularly elected on a platform comprising little more than ethnic hatred and racism. The first reaction to the website for my musical: “You Took Away My Flag: a Musical About Kosovo,” , which refers to Kosovo as an independent state, was from a Serb who said, “there are mistakes on your website: Kosovo is part of south Serbia.”

In its present condition, Serbia will sabotage Europe if is admitted to the EU. It will have a new forum and new leverage to sabotage Europe’s commitment to new realities in the Balkans.

Moving away from a national policy of denial is something that the citizens of Serbia must sort out themselves. They must repudiate the racist impulse that caused a senior Serbian leader to say to another diplomat during the final-status negotiations, “I’ve known the Albanians all my life. They are incapable of conceptual thought.” Europe does not help them do that by turning the other cheek, by bearing carrots but no sticks, by offering an autobahn to EU membership with no traffic rules.

Serbia has many heroes, historically and today. The heroes of today are not the revanchist nationalists, but the lonely voices of accommodation, westernization, and Europeanization, who too frequently get beat up for speaking truth. The heroes of today are politicians, like Cedomir Jovanovic, Sladjan Ilic, and Boris Tadic, whose hearts are in Europe and Christianity but who are made fearful by the thuggery that burns U.S. and British Embassies, trashes McDonalds, and throws grenades at EULEX. Europe should strengthen the hand of the reformers by making it clear that Serbia’s path forward is conditioned on its embrace of European values.

The threat that Serbia poses to Europe and Serbia’s capacity to move into the 21st Century are complicated by European dissenters over Kosovo’s independence. They, also, are sabotaging Europe now by failing to embrace the majority European view over Kosovo. How can a Serbian political leader be more moderate on Kosovo than the Foreign Minister of Spain?

These dissenters are doing Russia's work. Russia wants an EU incapable of meaningful action on security issues. It wants a mess in corners of Europe where its imperial power, expressed now through Russian energy and telecommunications corporations, can extend Russia’s imperial reach far more effectively and subtly than the Red Army or the Czar’s forces ever could. These new imperial agents come with a checkbook instead of with an infantry division backed up by artillery.

It's not like the opposition to Kosovo's independence is principled. It is not. It is a futile and ridiculous exercise of symbolism, based on a palpably false factual premise: that Kosovo can be anything other than independent. Serbia has never explained how it could reassert control over Kosovo. Nor has any of its apologists in Europe. Serbia never came up with remotely credible alternatives to independence under Ahtisaari plan. During the Ahtissari and Troika negotiations, it offered even less than Kosovo had in 1989 before Milosevic took it away. What do the European dissenters and Russian imperialists and Serbian racists propose now, after Kosovo has enjoyed independence for more than a year? How, exactly, would the dissenters take away Kosovo’s independence?

So, given the irrationality of dissent over Kosovo’s independence, why do the dissenters dissent? They hope to curry favor with domestic political forces that exaggerate fears of Kosovo’s precedent for domestic separatism. That is easier than providing real leadership. Solana weakens his office by mirroring Spain’s policy instead of energetically advancing Europe’s. He gives aid and comfort to the Spanish politicians who cynically promote their non-recognition of Kosovo. The idea of Kosovo as a precedent for separatist groups around the world is nonsense. If ever there were a unique situation, it is Kosovo. A province, of a state, constitutionally autonomous, and long opposed to incorporation, was rescued from its occupation by a NATO bombing campaign, and a UN Security Council resolution. How likely is that to happen again?

What the dissenters and the Serbian nationalists say is mere rhetoric, not policy. But if the international community lost its senses and followed their lead, the result would be a war—a war which would sabotage Europe's future, proving through blood that Europe is incapable of solving obvious problems peacefully, and, worse, unlike the early days of Yugoslavia’s breakup, it would prove that Europe is incapable of keeping its own commitments.

No reasonable person will follow their lead. But the only result of silent patience with their assault on reality is to muddy the waters and prevent success of EULEX and the Ahtisaari plan. The result will be an enhancement of Russian control over Europe's future through energy blackmail.

The worst possible policy would be to ignore these realities and rush to admit unrepentant Serbia to the EU. Serbia’s admission to the EU should be conditioned explicitly on its unequivocal recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

At best it would besmirch Europe’s commitment to human rights and enlarge opportunities for politicians who use racism to advance themselves. It would throw a monkey wrench into Europe’s manifest commitment to EULEX.

At worst it would embrace the worst features of Serbia’s past instead of its potential for the future.

Let Kosovo be. Keep Serbia out of the EU until it acknowledges the reality of Kosovo’s independence. Tell the European dissenters to keep their commitments to European unity.

Professor Perritt is the author of Kosovo Liberation Army: the Inside Story of an Insurgency, published last year by the University of Illinois Press, and The Road to Independence for Kosovo A Chronicle of the Ahtisaari Plan, scheduled to be published later this year by Cambridge University Press. He also has written a musical, You Took Away My Flag: a Musical about Kosovo, scheduled to open in Chicago on 12 June. See