Monday, February 25, 2008

Decoding Kosovo's "Independence"

The declaration of independence by the province of Kosovo in Serbia is like the proverbial Buddhist onion: every layer of reality (or illusion) peeled away reveals another, till finally, at the heart of it one discovers the powerful void, sunnata.

The outermost layer presents a picture of the Muslim Kosovars escaping predominantly Christian Serbia.

Peel that away and you find a remnant of the Cold War:
Britain, France, Germany and Italy speedily recognized Kosovo because it weakened Serbia, a traditional Russian ally (both are Slavic).

The next layer down is the revenge of the Hapsburg empire (in the dissolution of which the Serbs had a significant role); Kosovo is the final act in the implosion of Yugoslavia, which was set off by German recognition of Croatian independence.

Deeper still is the animosity left over from the Christian schism that separated
the Church of Rome from the Eastern Orthodox, and under that are layers of hostility dating back to the tribal confrontations of Teuton and Slav.

Peel away those final layers and at the heart of it all is the ineffable, all powerful nothingness of manipulative politics, Washington's masterful hand, introducing into its emerging rival, Europe, a country that will be sick and backward, violent and undemocratic, a perpetual worry and drain.

Anyone who feels that this is all so much waffle should read the lead article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs (March-April 2008). It is on "The Clash of Peoples" by Jerry Z. Muller, a professor of history at the Catholic University of America. He argues that everywhere but in the United States "ethnonationalism" has been on the march, and will not be denied, especially in the developing world, where States are "recent creations and where borders often cut across ethnic boundaries." There is "likely to be further ethnic disaggregation and communal conflict," he prophesies, much in the vein of Samuel Huntington, who predicted the "Clash of Civilizations" and the "bloody borders of Islam" just as the end of the Cold War threatened to bring about a period of world peace.

And what does Professor Muller recommend be done about the distressing prospect he foresees?

He notes that "once ethnic antagonism has crossed a certain threshold of violence, maintaining the rival groups within a single polity" is increasingly difficult. Partitioning countries would be "the most humane lasting solution." The "challenge for the international community in such cases is to separate communities in the most humane manner possible: by aiding in transport, assuring citizenship rights in the new homeland, and providing financial aid for resettlement and economic absorption." The "bill for all of this will be huge," Muller declares in conclusion, "but it will rarely be greater than the material costs of interjecting and maintaining a foreign military presence large enough to pacify the rival ethnic combatants or the moral cost of doing nothing."

Muller does not mention other reasons for creating small and bloodied rump States: they can be easily manipulated to do whatever the "international community" wants. In the case of East Timor, which was liberated from Indonesia, Australia quickly nailed down an agreement to drill for offshore oil (which Djakarta had long resisted). In Kosovo there is to be a major new American military base.

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