Kosovo and Separatism

Last week, I counted Kosovo’s declaration of independence as a good thing. I still think that, on balance, it was. But I’m increasingly interested and perhaps troubled by how much I didn’t and don’t know about the whole thing.

And sadly, what commentary I’ve seen about it hasn’t really clarified the issue for me. Most visible opponents of Kosovo’s independence seem vaguely allied with Serbia or to have some related ax to grind. It’s often cited that those countries that have most prominently failed to recognize Kosovo’s independence have separatist movements of their own–Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia. I’m not swayed by this argument, because none of those have provoked–whether merited or not–outside intervention on behalf of one of the parties.

The basic argument here is made by Serbia’s foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, in a New York Times Op-Ed, in which he says:

Recognizing the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia legitimizes the doctrine of imposing solutions to ethnic conflicts. It legitimizes the act of unilateral secession by a provincial or other non-state actor. It transforms the right to self-determination into an avowed right to independence. It legitimizes the forced partition of internationally recognized, sovereign states.

Now aside from the need to discredit any commenter who has a horse in the race he’s covering, there is a legitimate point to be heard here. After all, Serbia had been willing to offer Kosovo nearly complete autonomy if it had remained a province of Belgrade. This, to one not schooled in Kosovo’s grievances, seems like an admirable solution.

And if you believe, as many seem to, that NATO intervention in the Kosovo issue was illegal and illegitimate, it stands to reason that this is indeed a great historical injustice. I have to plead ignorant on the question of whether or not the intervention was legitimate, my interest at the time that it occurred was minimal and my learning since–even after reading the Wikipedia article on the topic–has been limited. And, it seems, no news source I can get my hands on wants to tackle this difficult issue fraught with pitfalls.

The more interesting point, to me, is the question of Slobodan Milosevic. Even Mr. Jeremic admits that what he did was bad, but he makes the interesting claim that punishing the state for it is illegitimate.

A historical injustice is being imposed on a European country that has overcome more obstacles since we democratically overthrew Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000 than most other nations have in a much longer time. Recognizing Kosovo means saying, in effect, that Serbian democracy must be punished because a tyrant — one who committed heinous deeds against the Kosovo Albanians in the 1990s — was left unpunished. Such misplaced revenge may make some feel better, but it will make the international system feel much worse.

Again, limited by own ignorance, I can’t really accede to or deny this version of history. And so here I am, unsure. I’m tempted to reach out and blame the news media–or the weak narratives of Wikipedia articles–for my inability to come to meaningful conclusion on the question of Kosovo and separatism. I’m sure that’s unfair.

But I do wish I had some answers instead of all these questions. Maybe the best non-resolution to the issue I’ve seen is offered by Al Eislele, who said, “The tortured history and complex nature of the Serb-Kosovo conflict leaves non-expert observers like me open to criticism.” Perhaps that, then, is the nature of foreign policy.


About Super Tuesday

Josh ThompsonSuper Tuesday Voters

Let’s recap: A lot of people in a lot of states participated in presidential nominating contests yesterday. Though no one expected Huckabee to win anything, he did. And no one expected that McCain would be derailed; he was not. No one expected that the Democratic race would have a decisive conclusion; it does not. Ms. Clinton won more large states–as was expected–while Mr. Obama won more total states. What that means for conventional wisdom, delegate counts, and the public at large is still unclear.

And now let’s stop talking about it. And talk about how, again, I want to reconsider my support of this whole process. Well, not really. This time I still like the process. I like that average people are choosing these candidates and not merely a few party elites. I like that these candidates are becoming better understood by the people they so desire to lead. It’s not a bad process.

But I’m really really wondering what else we’re missing as we do all this. How much more attention would Kenya be getting if we didn’t worry so much about this game? How much more attention would be given to Tadic’s reelection in Serbia? How much more attention would have been paid to the skirmishes for Chad’s capital of N’Djamena?

How much more would we worry about President Bush’s proposed budget for 2009? Or about the efficacy of the stimulus package that Congress is putting to a vote? Or that the attorney general still refuses to say anything meaningful about waterboarding or torture?

The answer seems to be, upon reflection, not much. Those international stories are surely too obscure to get much attention in American media even on the slowest day of the year. And the domestic news is being ignored because the country has lost almost all confidence in–and perhaps more importantly, concern about–President Bush and all that he may or may not be attempting to do in his final year.

So perhaps it’s not so bad, the way that we’re flooded with campaign coverage. Surely some worthwhile things that would otherwise get coverage go missing while the media works to satiate our seeming unending hunger for presidential punditry, however oversimplified, overdramatic, or just plain weird.

But this country is in the process of making an important decision, and it’s not so bad that media outlets are trying to help us make the right one. We will, after all, let this person run our country for the next four years. Perhaps it’s not so bad making sure they are everywhere we look before we make that choice.