Birth of a nation: Kosovo declares independence from Serbia

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The new flag is blue, a golden outline of its territory displayed below six white stars symbolizing its main ethnic groups. The banner was chosen after an international design competition, just as its statehood was finally achieved after both international conflict and support. In fact, just about everything in Kosovo – its history, new flag, forthcoming constitution and status as the world’s newest independent nation – is the result of years of multilateral involvement.

The people of Kosovo have known little self-rule in the last half-millennium. Controlled by the Ottomans for centuries and considered a province of Yugoslavia – later Serbia – since 1912, the Assembly of Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia on Feb. 17.

Now Kosovo faces its next challenge: Achieving the recognition of the international community. Some nations quickly welcomed Kosovo to the world stage; others – like Russia and China – are sympathetic to Serbia and labeled Kosovo as a rogue province. It came as no surprise when the United States became one of the first nations – along with the European Union – to formally recognize Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state.

“Nine years ago, the international community – led by NATO – acted to end brutal attacks on the Kosovar Albanian population,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a statement on the day Kosovo declared its independence. “This timely international intervention ended the violence, leading to a United Nations Security Council decision to suspend [Serbia’s] governance. In light of the conflicts of the 1990s, independence is the only viable option to promote stability in the region.”

The long road to independence has been bloody. The horrors of the 1999 Kosovo War, led by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, still linger in the minds of Kosovars. According to the 2007 CIA Factbook, 92 percent of the population of Kosovo is considered Albanian (90 percent of whom are Muslim).

A 2000 United Nations study reported that half of the Albanian population was forced to flee Kosovo during the war in 1999. Thousands more died. Many Albanians cite the tragedies of the Kosovo War – and their history of subjugation at the hands of so many people through history – as reason enough for their independence.

The idea that Kosovo and its majority Albanian population is entitled to independence is exactly what infuriates Serbia, China and Russia. If Kosovo is allowed to go, they say, every ethnic population in the world looking for its own independent nation is given the green light to do so. Eastern Europe and Asia have formed their own domino theory of the 21st century; it is the uncontrollable spread of democracy and autonomy – not communism – that frighten them and encourage us.

The success of Kosovo affects U.S. foreign relations. Kosovo is the Taiwan of Europe, a hot political issue that has the world’s biggest powers lined up on opposite sides of the fence. It is unclear what steps Belgrade, Hong Kong or Moscow will take in the near future, as they argue against autonomy and in favor of the absolute power a nation holds over its subjects – the idea their regimes are built around and on which their futures depend.

A Feb. 22 article in The New York Times reported that 1,000 Serbian demonstrators attacked the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, forcing their way into the building and lighting several fires. The incident was sparked by protests of Kosovar independence. It serves as a reminder that the transition from province to free nation is far from over.

Though it appears Kosovo’s history as an independent state is just beginning, the long struggle to maintain peace in the Balkans and between the world powers continues.

Joe Vossen is a senior in political science. Please send comments to opinion@spub.ksu.edu.

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