Kosovo is on the verge of declaring its independence from Serbia: a momentous occasion, yet most Americans will be too absorbed in the current political scene to pay any attention. Many will be thinking about whether or not Obama lacks substance or whether Clinton represents the politics of old or whether McCain is too old to be president.
Kosovo’s anticipated arrival on the world stage has not been won without sacrifice or criticism. It has been a long struggle – one which required the breakup of Yugoslavia and years of subsequent chaos, violence, and ethnic cleansing. Since 1999, Kosovo, a province of Serbia, has been under U.N. control.
On January 31, 1946, the new constitution of Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, modeled after the Soviet Union’s constitution, established six Socialist Republics, a Socialist Autonomous Province, and a Socialist Autonomous District that were part of SR Serbia. The federal capital was Belgrade. The Republics and provinces were as follows:
- Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the capital in Sarajevo,
- Socialist Republic of Croatia, with the capital in Zagreb,
- Socialist Republic of Macedonia, with the capital in Skopje,
- Socialist Republic of Montenegro, with the capital in Titograd (now Podgorica),
- Socialist Republic of Serbia, with the capital in Belgrade, which also contained:
5a. Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, with the capital in Priština
5b. Socialist Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, with the capital in Novi Sad
- Socialist Republic of Slovenia, with the capital in Ljubljana.
From the end of the second World War until 1980, Yugoslavia remained a federation of the six republics. After Yugoslavian dictator Tito‘s death in 1980, some of the republics began to seek more freedom from centralized control, but, at the same time, Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian communist leader, whipped the Serbian people into a nationalistic fervor. Milosevic’s goal was to keep the Serb people together at any cost.
In 1990, after the fall of the Soviet Union, each of the republics held elections. Some of the republics voted for independence and some voted for continued unity with Yugoslavia. The stage was set for death and destruction as the forces that desired independence fought those who wished to remain tied to old Yugoslavia.
The New Nations
Yugoslavia formally ceased to exist on January 15, 1992, when all 12 members of the European Community officially recognized Slovenia and Croatia as independent states. One by one the former Yugoslav republics declared independence with each declaration leading to war and chaos.
Terrible atrocities were committed by all sides during the Yugoslavian wars. Serbian leaders had fought for an ideal of keeping all Serbs together in a “Greater Serbia”, but failed. In two of the most notable atrocities committed, both in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia besieged Sarajevo, resulting in 12,000 deaths and massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.
The war in Bosnia ended with the Dayton Agreement on December 14, 1995. In all, about 300,000 people were killed and more than 2,000,000 were displaced. In 2003, the name of Yugoslavia was abolished and by 2006, all republics had declared their independence. But within the republic of Serbia lay the autonomous province of Kosovo, waiting for its day of independence.
Kosovo, lying in the southern area of Serbia, is predominantly Albanian and Muslim. Under Tito, Kosovo was granted semi-autonomy in the 1980s but the Kosvars continued to agitate for greater autonomy. When Milosevic assumed leadership of the communist party, he began a drive to subdue Kosovan nationalism. When Milosevic refused to accept an agreement by the European Union to end the conflict, NATO began a bombing campaign. After 78 days of bombing, Milosevic agreed to withdraw his forces from Kosovo, but the violence did not end.
As Albanians returned to their homes, violence among the ethnic groups continued to simmer. Serbs, who had entered during the purging of the Albanian population, were now the ones forced to leave. The hostilities continue to this day, and, with Kosovo on the brink of declaring independence, fears are increasing that this latest and possibly last of the declarations of independence will lead to yet another round of violence.
Earlier Saturday the European Union finally agreed on a security, administrative and legal task force to aid Kosovo once it makes its much anticipated declaration.
Within hours, Kosovo will declare its independence, joining the other players on the world’s stage of autonomous players. And we may see yet another round of violence in the Balkans. As all Americans should remember, independence comes with a price.