Though thankfully a distant prospect, Kosovo's dangerous conundrum could provoke a Cold War-in-miniature. Is this an alarmist fret given Europe's 21st century political, economic and information connections? I hope so. I think broad international and multilateral interests dampen and ultimately absorb tough collisions that a decade or so ago might have re-energized and sustained a new "Russia versus the West" confrontation.
But Kosovo lies in the heart of the Balkans. Whatever its final status, violent Serb and Albanian diehards will not be satisfied. Recall progressivist nabobs at the turn of the 20th century thought modern Europe had politically evolved beyond war. Then the Balkans erupted, World War I followed, then World War II, tagged by the long, thermonuclear precipice of the Cold War.
A historian writing in the 24th century might see Europe's 20th century wars as one long conflict that began with violent Balkan ethnic and nationalist squabbles (Albanian revolt, Bosnian land grabs and the First Balkan War) and ended with another deadly Balkan brawl (Yugoslavia's devolution). It's the kind of storytelling form historians employ once time smoothes jagged years into slicker centuries.
But what do we do now?
The next critical decision lies with Serbia's electorate. Tadic, however, is only a comparative moderate -- he does not support an independent Kosovo and he refuses to abandon Kosovo's Serb communities. In April 2007, China said that it opposes an "imposed" solution -- indicating China might join Russia in vetoing a U.N. move to declare Kosovo independent. Serbia has floated a "one state, two systems" solution, echoing China's formula for Hong Kong. Kosovar Albanians reject that model and reject partition.
Creating a pan-European economic community that would soften militant nationalism by promoting economic and political interdependence is the great idea behind the EU. It has worked in Western Europe. To the east, Poland buys it. Russia doesn't -- not yet. Nor do militant Serbs and Albanians in the Balkan powderhouse.
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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