Austin Bay

The Kosovo War isn't over.

At the moment, Serbian ballots take precedence over bullets; democratic electoral politics are a blessing in Serbia and Kosovo, just like they are in Iraq.

But make no mistake: Sunday's first-round 2008 presidential vote in Serbia was another battle in the Kosovo War, and it will not be the last.

Tomislav Nikolic, a radical Serbian nationalist and "Euro-sceptic," finished ahead of current President Boris Tadic. Tadic is a Serb nationalist but prefers regional political moderation and (despite occasionally rabid campaign rhetoric) favors EU membership. The runoff is scheduled for Feb. 3.

Nikolic is the protege of Serbian Radical Party founder Vojislav Seselj, who is under indictment for war crimes committed during Yugoslavia's War of Devolution. Nikolic supports stationing Russian troops in Serbia to "bolster the Serbian position in seeking a solution to the Kosovo crisis and remove the potential NATO threat ... ."

Yes -- hot rhetoric intentionally laced with Cold War ice.

Tadic says his Serbia won't "fight senseless wars." He contends that sending Serb troops into Kosovo (an action Nikolic says he will consider) means the end of Serbia's moral claim to Kosovo and will lead to war with the European Union and NATO.

Kosovo's "final status" lies at the center of the Nikolic-Tadic contest. "Resolving Kosovo's final status" has been an intentionally vague diplomatic phrase for the process of determining if Kosovo will become a separate nation, remain part of Serbia or linger as a U.N.-EU-NATO protectorate.

Serbs, other Balkan Slavs and a few Greeks fear a fourth possibility: an independent Kosovo will encourage Albanian ethnic radicals who dream of Greater Albania. After taking Kosovo, irredentist Albanian zealots will demand slices of Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece's Epirus province and Serbia's Presevo Valley.

The murky diplomatic navigation of Kosovar Albanian demands, injured Serbian pride and Russian fears of a establishing a "separatist precedent" for spinning statelets from sovereign nations have divided NATO and the EU. Romania and Greece oppose a "unilateral" Kosovo independence. Spain, with its Basque separatists, isn't enthusiastic.

The process has brought Vladimir Putin's muscular Kremlin into open conflict with Germany, Great Britain, France and the United States.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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