Saturday, April 12, 2008

What Would Bismarck Do?

In the Balkans, 1914 is never far away.
by William S. Lind

There is an old saying that the problem with the Balkans is that they produce more history than they can consume locally. Events in, and over, the Serbian province of Kosovo may soon give this adage new relevance.

Last month, an Albanian government in Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. That action was unhelpful, at best, for the future peace of the Balkans. Kosovo is the Serbs’ ancestral homeland, to which they remain emotionally attached. Serbian mothers sing lullabies to their babies about Kosovo, and men will fight for what their women love.

Never content to see a fire without pouring gasoline on it, the Bush administration promptly recognized the new “state” of Kosovo, as did some forgetful European countries. Russia, which may remember history too well, responded by announcing its support for Serbia. Within a week, Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence and the Great Powers’ response to it had set the stage for a classic 19th-century Balkan crisis. A few old fogies may recall that the last such crisis, in the summer of 1914, led to a certain amount of unpleasantness, not entirely contained within Balkan boundaries.

To grasp what is at risk here, and why, requires a tour through Balkan history. The Balkans are not so much steeped in history as drowned in it. Nothing happens there that is not seen by all players as a new act in an old drama.

For Serbs, the play began in Kosovo in the year 1389 on Kosovo Polje, the Field of Blackbirds. There a Serbian army fought and was defeated by an army of invading Turks. The Serbian national ethos that grew from that defeat was one of betrayal, loss, survival, and revenge. Serbs sum up their culture in one word, inat, best translated as marching to defeat with your eyes open.

The more recent events that led to Kosovo’s declaration of independence fit the Serbian mindset perfectly. After World War II, the Albanian population in Kosovo grew while the Serbian population gradually shrank. It is important to understand that there are no Kosovars, only Albanians and Serbs who live in Kosovo. Each seeks union with its homeland, Greater Albania or historic Serbia.

As Albanians in Kosovo became a majority, they began harassing the Serbs with the goal of driving them out. Slobodan Milosevic’s rise to power began when he promised the Serbs of Kosovo that, under his rule, no one would be allowed to beat them.....(Continued)

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