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Analysis Last Updated: Dec 11th, 2007 - 00:29:34

Oh, those Balkans again!
By Gaither Stewart
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 11, 2007, 00:20

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ROME -- The failure of the mediation of USA, Russia and the European Union for a solution to Kosovo�s demands for secession from Serbia has the USA at loggerheads with both Russia and the EU about how to handle the new Balkan crisis.

Washington supports Kosovo separation and independence from Serbia, Russia supports the integrity of Serbia, and the EU prefers continuation of its peacekeeping role there to avoid another eruption of violence.

After Italian Premier Romano Prodi�s warning that �Kosovo could again become a hell,� NATO, meeting in Brussels this Monday on the Kosovo issue, is ready to bolster its 16,000-man peacekeeping force there. The governments in Rome, Paris, London and Berlin have warned the rest of Europe that the period of negotiations is over and that action in the Kosovo question is necessary, even without UN approval.

The USA is backing independence for turbulent Kosovo, with its 2,2 million people, 92 percent of whom are Albanians, and which has the unenviable record of being the poorest country in Europe. Condoleeza Rice warned that one should not ignore the reality of the rupture of relations between Belgrade, the Serbian capital, and Pristina, the capital city of the Kosovo region.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated Moscow�s support for Serbia and called for further negotiations. Backed by Spain, Lavrov labeled the declaration of independence of the newly elected Kosovo government from Serbia �a violation of international laws� and �a dangerous precedent.� He warned that in such an eventuality Moscow would react in accordance to international law.

Thus far, the Serbs have been the bad guys of Europe, guilty of massacres and atrocities against the Albanian population of its administrative region of Kosovo during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Kosovo however is the traditional home of the southern Slavs, hallowed ground for Serbians who feel about the region as some Americans to the 13 original colonies.

On the other hand Serbia, close to Italy in life style and culture, is largely as Europe-oriented as is Croatia, ready to enter the European Union. Its economy is strong, 5-6 percent annual growth though battling against 24 percent unemployment. Serbia, the former center of Communist Yugoslavia, has had to surrender all of ex-Yugoslavia�s former republics, from Montenegro to Bosnia. It suffered the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999 and is the only country in the world that surrendered its chief of state, Milosevic, to the international court in The Hague where he subsequently died in a cell.

Now the USA demands it surrender also Kosovo, the center of national memory and religion.

Apparently the USA wants to rush Kosovo�s independence in order to withdraw its men and equipment from the Balkan stall and use them elsewhere. Europe is wiser. Its memory is longer. The Balkans call up sinister memories of a Serbian nationalist who in nearby Sarajevo assassinated the Hapsburg Crown Prince igniting World War I. Slow down events, stop and stall is the European watchword.

Serbia still suffers the syndrome of isolation and scapegoat. Belgrade fears internal problems if Kosovo, too, goes. Is membership in the European Union worth it, Serbs wonder? Their future seems cloudy. Even the Mediterranean Union proposed by France looks more toward African shores than toward the Adriatic Sea.

The alternative scenario seems more concrete to Serbs: Russia. Russia has always had a thing about the southern Slavs. The dream of a union of the Slavs. Russia already controls Serbian and Montenegrin industries, airlines and hotels. With US help Moscow can tuck Serbia neatly back in the fold.

So once again Serbia, striving for the West but lured by the East, stands at a crossroads between Moscow and Washington, and this time with the complicating factor of its desire to enter the European Union. Yet any unilateral recognition of Kosovo independence would carry the Balkans backwards in time even though relations between Serbia and its Albanian minority in Kosovo are dead.

Europe is more careful this time than in 1991 when the only war in Europe in 60 years risked spreading. The fear is that as usual for America history is yesterday.

Gaither Stewart is originally from Asheville, NC. He has lived his adult life in Germany and Italy, alternated with residences in The Netherlands, France, Mexico, Argentina and Russia. After a career in journalism as a correspondent for the Rotterdam newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, he began writing fiction. His collections of short stories, "Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger" and "Once In Berlin" are published by Wind River Press. His new novel, "Asheville," is published by He lives with his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy. E-mail:

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