Sunday, May 13, 2007

Poor Serbia

Keywords:Serbia; Kosovo; elections; Radical Party; Kostunica; Seselj; Security Council; Russia; European Union; Trusteeship Council

Poor . In its heyday, it was the dominant force in a Yugoslavia composed of 24 million souls. Today it is a rump state with some eight million disgruntled citizens. Economically it is worse off that other formerly-socialist countries in the region, and it has been excluded from talks about joining the because of its failure to extradite General Ratko to The Hague for a war crimes trial. Some misguided Slavs have brought inordinate misery on themselves and still haven't sorted out their problems.

There was a Serbian national in January, but no government had been formed, mainly because no party wanted to accept the blame for a looming national disaster — the acceptance of the probable independence of . So far, all the Serbian politicians are denying that Kosovo will be independent, though there is a strong chance that Kosovo will declare its independence in a matter of weeks. The UN. Special Envoy to Kosovo Martti has acknowledged that independence is practically inevitable.

According to the Serbian constitution, the various parties must form a government by May 14 or call for fresh elections. Until yesterday it seemed probable that this deadline would pass. However, during the past week there have been some advances — or at least some flip-flops indicating change. President Boris named caretaker Prime Minister Vojislav (see photo) as premier-designate, and on Friday three pro-Western parties had reached a power-sharing agreement to form a government.

All this seems to reverse the ominous signs when the nationalist, Radical Party leader Tomislav was elected to the post of parliamentary speaker — the second highest position in the government. The Radicals had supported Milosevic's aggressions. Kostunica’s own allies had supported Nikolic, but only four days later, more than half of the parliament’s 250 deputies demanded Nikolic's ouster. He will step down instead of being voted out of office. The US and some influential Europeans warned that relations with the West would be harmed if the Radical Party came back to power; its real leader is Vojislav , who is in The Hague, awaiting trial for war crimes of his own.

So at least a government will exist in Serbia, and will create a new defence ministry and foreign ministry — the first functioning bodies since the departure of Montenegro from its former union with Serbia. This should amount to progress, but in fact the future of Kosovo remains extremely fraught. Kostunica, for example, has declared that “Serbia may never be one millimeter smaller than it is today.” And the Russians have supported Serbia in this matter, so they may conceivably block any decisions in the Security Council that would recognize Kosovo’s .

So the Kosovo matter continues to drag on. After the Kosovo war, the Europeans did not like to establish the precedent that independence would establish: the creation of a breakaway state. Some states were ambivalent about the war, which had been waged by NATO without the approval of the UN Security Council. In effect, NATO had fought the Kosovar Albanians’ war of independence for them. No clear decision could be made about the future of the region at the time, so everyone (especially the Serbian government) simply stalled. It is uncertain how much longer this stalling can continue. Unless Russia blocks the decision, probably the Security Council will call Kosovo independent, yet keep troops there to supervise the transition and curb the violence that would otherwise be inevitable.

What would I do if the decision were up to me? I think I’d call Kosovo a “trusteeship state,” and have its governance supervised by the virtually defunct UN Trusteeship Council for an indefinite period. No independence, but no subordination to Serbia either. And I wouldn’t wade into another fight of that kind again, waging a war of independence for any movement. If in doubt, I’d declare any such contested region a trusteeship, and keep it as safe as possible until a stable government could be accepted all around. Separatism has dangers of its own, even when it's directed against a nasty regime.

But they haven’t asked me.



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