The End of Balkan History: Serbia should let go of Kosovo and move on (Fatos Tarifa and Peter Lucas, February/March 2007, Policy Review)
One would have thought that Serbia would have gotten the message by now — nobody wants to cohabit with Belgrade. One by one, all the former Yugoslav “sister” republics left Serbia to start a life on their own. The first to walk out on the Serbs were Slovenia and Croatia. They left as fast as they could from the clutches of the troubled Yugoslav federation on June 25, 1991. These two republics were quickly followed by Macedonia, which declared its independence and peeled away in September of the same year. It was followed by the secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina in March 1992. Next in line was Montenegro, the smallest republic of the Yugoslav federation — and now only Kosovo is left waiting in the wings, standing by to join the entire region to attain what Charles Kupchan calls a “degree of finality.” […]
The solid “yes” vote for independence has restored Montenegro’s statehood, which was abolished by Serbian annexation and the great powers at the end of World War i. Many governments, including the United States, the European Union, Russia, and China, immediately recognized Montenegro’s independence and warmly welcomed the newest Adriatic republic into the family of sovereign nations.
Although small in size and population — even though bigger than Malta and with a population similar to that of North Dakota, Vermont, or Wyoming in the United States — Montenegro has all it needs to become politically and economically viable and, very soon, a candidate for both nato and eu membership. There is hardly anybody today who questions that Montenegro’s independence and progress will further improve stability and good neighborly relations in the western Balkans. On the contrary, it is generally expected that the recent events and further progress in Montenegro will potentially have positive effects on Kosovo and Bosnia, the two regions that have suffered most from the bloody wars of the breakup of Yugoslavia.
One of the fears and uncertainties related to the outcome of Montenegro’s referendum was the precedent its independence would establish for other secession-minded territories in Europe. How would states seeking to hold together fragile multiethnic societies react to such a precedent? Many assumed that if Montenegro voted for secession from Serbia and won international recognition as an independent state, such an outcome would reverberate not only in the Balkans but across Europe and in other parts of the world. There were those who believed that Montenegro’s choice and the willingness of the European Union and the United Nations to respect the verdict of the Montenegrins would stir up separatist groups in the Basque and Catalan regions of Spain, among the German-speaking separatists in the Tyrol region of Northern Italy (who seek separation from Italy and annexation by Austria), and even the Turkish Cypriots, who have been separated from the southern part of the island for decades.
In point of fact, Montenegro’s choice was immediately applauded by all these groups as a validation of their own aspirations and campaigns for self-determination. Meanwhile, Armenian leaders, who have for over a decade been caught up in conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, as well as the breakaway republics of Transnistria in Moldova and Abkhazia in Georgia, warmly welcomed the outcome of Montenegro’s referendum as a confirmation of the precedence that should be given to the principle of self-determination over that of the territorial integrity of nations. […]
Kosovo’s political future will be resolved through a different rationale and in a different institutional context than Montenegro’s. However, we do not subscribe to the idea that Kosovo is “a much bigger problem than Montenegro.” In all respects, Kosovo has the same legitimate right to independent political life as Montenegro and all the other constitutive parts of the former Yugoslav federation. The independence of Kosovo, with its ethnic make-up, population size (almost four times larger than Montenegro’s) and past and recent histories of bloody confrontations with Serbia, is more critical to the stability of the Balkans than the independence of Montenegro. As a matter of fact, moving Kosovo toward democratic self-rule and the resolution of its final status is long overdue. The truth is as simple as this: Given the unspeakable atrocities they have suffered in the past and the virtual political, economic, and territorial separation from Serbia they have been enjoying for the past seven years, Kosovo and its people cannot be forced to live under Serbian rule once again. Hence, any attempt to impose even the mildest form of Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo would be highly provocative and futile.
By now, it is in Serbia’s best interest to let Kosovo go, especially as Kosovo has de facto already left Serbia’s orbit.
Nearly every trouble spot on the globe features a de facto nation that folks refuse to accept.