Such a resolution of the Kosova question makes sense. It's what the Albanians in Kosova, who make up more than 90 percent of the population, have expected all along. But in November, 2006, the United Nations dropped a bomb that destroyed those expectations. Its envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, charged with the drafting and delivery of the settlement package within the year, postponed the date until early next year. It is said that he put off the settlement announcement until after the Serbian parliamentary elections in January, 2007, so as not to incite the hard-line Serbian Radicals and their allies, and help them gain power.
This was not a judicious decision. The motive behind it was appeasement of Serbia. Indeed, the UN envoy's action is but the latest attempt of the West to appease Belgrade. It is part and parcel of the international community's misguided foreign policy approach on Kosova ever since the 1999 U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign against Serbia forced Belgrade to withdraw its military forces from Kosova, to prevent the slaughter and extermination of the Albanian population.
The January 21 elections confirmed the expectations of realistic observers of Serbian politics; namely, that putting off the settlement announcement - or, more precisely, not acknowledging Kosova as a sovereign state - could only encourage and strengthen the ultra-nationalist elements who insist that Kosova is, and must remain, "an integral and inalienable part" of Serbia. Not surprisingly, the hard-line Radical Party came ahead of all other parties, winning 28 percent of the total votes cast.
To put it bluntly, the international community got cold feet, afraid of what Belgrade might do if Kosova is recognized as an independent state. This is a policy that practically guarantees conflict and instability in the Balkans.
Looked at candidly and dispassionately, Serbia is the problem in Kosova, owing to its intransigent and irrational policy to block and thwart sovereignty for Kosova. Indeed, Serbia has been the problem ever since it took possession of the province nearly a century ago, in 1913. The governing policy of Serbia's rulers has consistently been to denationalize the Albanians of Kosova, or failing that, to oppress, deport or exterminate them. The late Slobodan Milosevic's ignominious reign was the culmination and logical result of that brutal policy, when he sought by force of arms to drive the Kosovar Albanians out of their homes and lands. Shirley Cloyes, Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian-American Civic League, is correct when she says: "What is needed is for the West to insist that Belgrade break with its horrendous past and dismantle the Milosevic system, extradite Bosnian Serb commanders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karazdic to The War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, and recognize the new reality in Kosova."
The postponement of the status question means that the international community is not serious about recognizing Kosova as an independent country, the same as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia, all of which broke away from Serbian tutelage and control during the 1990's, even though - unlike the Albanians - they are all Slavic nations like Serbia. If they could not live under the same Yugoslav roof with fellow-Slavic Serbia, how in the world can our country and the UN expect the Kosovar Albanians to do so?
The Albanians in Kosova have struggled for decades to gain their liberty and independence from the Serbs. That is why in 1997 they took up arms against their Serb oppressors, determined to win or die. They are prepared to fight again, if the international community denies them full and unconditional independence. Never again will they accept Serbia's jurisdiction or interference in their internal or external affairs.
Albanians have been, and still are, America's closest allies in the Balkans. But they are not going to remain allies, if Washington lets them down. If the UN won't or can't, then America should have the courage to recognize Kosova on its own initiative.
Peter R. Prifti is the author of Confrontation in Kosova, and other books and articles on Albanian affairs