The United Nations, the Contact Group, and the European Union could have taken the opportunity at the end of October-when Belgrade forced a constitutional referendum to make Kosova "an integral and inalienable part" of Serbia-to insist that Belgrade finally break from its horrific past. The West could have insisted that Serbia dismantle the Milosevic system, extradict Bosnian Serb commanders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karazdic to The War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, and recognize the new reality in Kosova. Instead, immediately after the referendum, the West bowed to Serbia's ruling coalition led by Vojislav Kostunica and Boris Tadic.
Europe and the United States agreed to postpone resolving Kosova's final status, because this might bring the Radicals and the Socialists to power, when in reality all it will do is to undermine the new democratic forces in Serbia. And it asked two million Kosovar Albanians, who have been waiting for freedom since Slobodan Milosevic invaded and occupied Kosova in 1989, to wait once more.
Albanians should have realized by March 2005, when Ramush Haradinaj was indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal and forced to relinquish his post as prime minister that the postwar balance had tipped in favor of Belgrade. But any lingering doubts about this have to be cast aside in November 2006. When Prime Minister Agim Ceku rightly stated last week that Kosova might have to declare its independence, he was "called on the carpet" by Western officials and chastised for taking a stand that would "discredit Kosova" in the eyes of the international community.
The time is long past for candor about the facts on the ground in the Balkans. If the international community will not clarify their plans for Kosova in 2007, then Kosova's political leaders need to do the truth-telling vigorously and publicly. Some of the truths are:
• With the international community's decision to renege on its promise to resolve Kosova's status by the end of 2006, Serbia has won a significant round in its campaign to delay status resolution indefinitely and was rewarded for its intransigence. The specter of a win at the polls by the ultranationalist parties is a ruse, but one that has effectively divided the Contact Group.
• No matter what date final status is put on the table, the settlement package that UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari plans to deliver to Prishtina and Belgrade at the end of January is a prescription for continuing instability and renewed conflict. Kosova's independence will not be recognized. Kosova will not have a foreign ministry or an army, and an EU-led "International Civilian Office" will control much of its political life.
• Above all, the Ahtisaari plan will enable Belgrade to get what it actually wants: a Kosova with "more than autonomy and less than independence" through a decentralization plan that will enable Belgrade to maintain control of the Serb majority in the north. The international community will make no move to enable Prishtina to form any kind of government in Mitrovice. Although there will be no formal partition, the de facto partition of Mitrovice that now exists, with parallel structures financed by Belgrade, will remain in place.
• Kosova will be forced to lobby for its independence country by country and for admission to international institutions such as the United Nations. Every time that even one Serb screams about their rights, Kosova will be charged with not living up to European standards, and support for its independence will diminish.
• Unless the EU and the Bush administration change course, Kosova is poised to become another Bosnia-- a failed, aid-dependent state with an international presence for years to come.
The international community is on the verge of producing a dreadfully complicated mess that will never get righted. There is no such thing as a "controlled" independence or a "conditional" independence. There is only full independence. Kosova deserves its independence, and it deserves it now. Establishing Kosova as a sovereign nation is the only route to Kosova's political, economic, and social progress and to lasting peace and stability in Southeast Europe. It is time that the Kosovar leadership insist on this. It's Kosova's last chance.
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League.