Kosovo’s march toward independence is gathering pace, with the leaders of Kosovo’s Albanians – Hashim Thaci and Agim Ceku – threatening to declare unilateral independence any day now. This is something that Serbia will undoubtedly reject, with the backing of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Much of the world seems to think that Serbia’s role in the Balkan wars of the 1990’s puts it in the wrong, and that that should be the end of the matter. But Serbia’s point of view is not without merit, and many other countries with territorially concentrated ethnic minorities have reason to be anxious about the precedent that might be set if Kosovo’s declaration of independence is recognized.
Consider, first, that Kosovo is the historical heart and religious soul of Serbia. Hundreds of Serb Orthodox churches, monasteries, and holy sites in Kosovo attest to this.
Moreover, Kosovo’s demographic transformation over the last 100 years, when Albanians overtook the local Serb population, partly reflects an influx of Albanians from Albania – for decades a political and economic basket case, owing to Enver Hoxha’s hermetic communism. At the same time, many Serbs have left Kosovo before and after NATO’s intervention in 1999, whether fleeing from Albanian violence against them or simply lured by better opportunities in Serbia proper.