After Simon Jenkins delivered a thoughtful and balanced critique of the Kosovo question in the Guardian, Tim Garton Ash resumes the propagation of conventional wisdom via the same newspaper. He persists with the misapprehension popular in the US and amongst some (but not all) EU member states that Kosovan independence will produce a more stable, well governed Balkans.
The whole tenor of this article is severely flawed. The author acknowledges that what he proposes isn’t entirely fair, but there is no acceptance that a fairer solution was possible. He follows the line that Kosovan independence has been inevitable since Slobodan Milosovic took aggressive action against the Serb province, but that is manifestly not the case. The idea that Kosovan independence is inevitable arose from NATO promises to Kosovan leaders. Those promises encouraged the notion that autonomy within Serbia should not be accepted.
Milosovic was a reprehensible character, but to impugn an entire nation on the strength of his actions is counter-productive. Wrongs were inflicted on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, but there is little qualitative difference between the wrongs inflicted on Kosovan Albanians by Milosovic and the wrongs subjected on Serbs by Thaci’s Kosovan Liberation Army. A much overlooked fact remains: the KLA had inflicted more death and mayhem before NATO took action against Milosovic than Serbs had inflicted on Kosovan Albanians. It was after NATO action that the Serb leader stepped up his campaign and began a serious attempt to ethnically cleanse the province.
Kosovan independence will not provide good governance for the region. The government will be headed by Thaci and a coterie of KLA thugs. This is in no way, as Garton Ash suggests “the least worst outcome”. Leaving aside the wider ramifications the consequences for Kosovo itself will be damaging. The nascent state will be led by an ethno-nationalist terrorist with a penchant for smuggling operations. Thaci has been termed Kosovo’s Gerry Adams, but a more accurate comparison would be an all nationalist Northern Ireland government headed by Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.
The comparison doesn’t end there because the nature of the nationalism being indulged here looks beyond an independent Kosovo. There is an ultimate yearning to be united with ethnic Albanians in Albania itself to form a Greater Albania. This vision will gain momentum if Kosovo’s independence is recognised and will cause disquiet in Greece, Macedonia and even Bulgaria, where Albanian minorities aspire to the same nationalist goal.
Garton Ash’s credo is that promises of EU membership will cool tempers throughout the region, whereas actually an independent Kosovo, recognised by the EU, will form a strong disincentive for Serbia seeking membership. This is a highly emotive issue for Serbians and insensitive handling will push them towards an alignment with their fellow Orthodox Slavs in Russia.