23 February 2008

Europe's tinderbox: Kosovo

It is rare that Russian officials show more political sense than their American counterparts, but I agree, for once, with Vladimir Putin, as well as with our own former prime minister Jean Chrétien, as reported here:

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a sharp warning to the West about recognizing Kosovo's independence. He said the decision would have dire consequences.

"In the end, this is a stick with two ends and that other end will come back to knock them on the head someday," he said in a televised statement. "The Kosovo precedent is a terrifying precedent," he added. "It in essence is breaking open the entire system of international relations that have prevailed not just for decades but for centuries."

In Canada, former prime minister Jean Chrétien said Canada should proceed with caution as it decides whether to recognize Kosovo's independence or not. Chrétien, who described the situation as a political powder keg with far-reaching implications, appeared to back the go-slow approach of the Harper government.

"Canada has to be careful because we have people who want to separate from Canada," he said in Ottawa, where he was receiving the Order of Canada.

But in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was time for Serbs to accept that Kosovo is no longer theirs. She also suggested it was time to drop centuries of grievance and sentimentality in the Balkans.

"We believe that the resolution of Kosovo's status will really, finally, let the Balkans begin to put its terrible history behind it," Rice said Friday. "It's time to move forward."

Needless to say, Rice's statement is naïve in the extreme, amounting to little more than wishful thinking. To expect that Serbs will simply forget their troubled past and give up their own territory because she says so is not a credible policy. In fact, it will only solidify the Serb tendency to focus on past wrongs by adding one more to the litany of grievances. Perhaps it's time for the US to move forward and put aside the notion that it has the authority to act as arbiter over other, much smaller states' territorial integrity.

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