Austin Bay

The Serbian government called the anniversary "irrelevant." Despite the Serb snub, tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanians celebrated Kosovo's first year of independence.

While Kosovo certainly has the trappings of a nation-state -- it issues passports and has its own small defense force -- "qualified" independence and "fragile statelet" are more precise descriptions. On Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo declared "unilateral independence" from Serbia, a separation amounting to a U.N. and NATO protected secession. The unilateral act, from the perspective of Kosovo's government, sealed Kosovo's "final status" as an independent state.

But it didn't, not quite, not yet. For almost nine years, the phrase "resolving Kosovo's final status" served as diplomatic shorthand for determining if Kosovo would become a separate nation, remain part of Serbia or linger as a U.N.-EU-NATO protectorate. Cynics said it really meant "buy time and hope" because Kosovo is in the Balkans, where "final" often means "maybe, until the next bloodletting."

In the wake of the Clinton administration's 1999 Kosovo War, an evident divide in Europe emerged between nations that considered Kosovo independence a foregone conclusion and those who feared the consequences of redrawing Balkan borders. Intervention to prevent genocide -- bless you. Securing peace in Europe -- good. Giving ethno-nationalist separatism -- even superficially -- NATO and EU imprimatur? Let's think about that.

Serbia and Russia reject Kosovo's independence -- that divide runs deep and wide. Kosovo exposed other clefts, not quite so wide as those splitting Paris and London from Moscow and Belgrade, but also weighted with dangerous history. For example, NATO member Spain was wary of unilateral independence. Basque separatists in northern Spain demand their own nation and continue to detonate bombs. Romania and Greece opposed a "unilateral" Kosovo independence. They feared establishing a "separatist precedent" for spinning statelets from sovereign nations. The United States, Great Britain and France in turn argued that Kosovo would be a "one-off" (unique) situation.

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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