Day: June 2, 2012

Why partition of Kosovo is bad for Serbs

Today I spent a couple of hours at the Serbian orthodox monastery in Dečani, a 14th century beauty of enormous historical and religious significance to the Serbian Church.  There is only one Serb living in the town, which lies in a cradle of the Kosovo Liberation Army.  The monastery currently houses 24 monks and is building a guest house to handle an increased flow of visitors.

I heard no flag-waving Serb nationalism at the monastery.  The mood there is contemplative and reflective.  No one there wanted Kosovo independence, but political frameworks are transitory.  The Church needs to ensure its own permanence.

Its primary concerns are two:  the welfare of its flock and the protection of its churches, monasteries and other property.  Most of these are south of the Ibar river, which is often proposed as the dividing line for a partition between the Serb-majority population of the north and the Albanian-majority population of the south.  The Church opposes partition.  It would lead to the loss of the Serb population south of the Ibar and most of the precious churches, monasteries and property.

But that view does not carry much weight in Belgrade, where the politicians simply want to hold onto something in Kosovo so that they can claim they have not lost everything.  Nor is the Church particularly influential in northern Kosovo, where it has nevertheless tried to convince Serbs not to use violence.

It hasn’t been entirely successful at that either.  Serbs in the north have erected barricades–including a large cross–on an important road.  KFOR, the NATO-led force that is entrusted by the UN Security Council with ensuring a safe and secure environment in Kosovo, tried to remove them yesterday morning, leading to a clash in which two German soldiers and one American were reportedly injured.  The Church is unhappy when such clashes occur, since they increase ethnic tension throughout Kosovo and raise doubts about whether the majority of Serbs who live south of the Ibar can continue to do so.

Kosovo’s government is currently completing the process of adopting constitutional amendments and laws to implement all aspects of the Ahtisaari plan, a proposal for settlement of the Kosovo dispute that was rejected by Belgrade because it entailed Kosovo independence.  It provides extensive protection for Serbs and Church property.  But the Church worries that constitutional amendments and laws are not sufficient.  It wants international guarantees, since there are Albanian political parties that would seek to reverse anything done now to offer protection, should they come to power in the future.

The Western-educated elite that runs many Kosovo institutions today has good intentions.  But this elite has little to do with the more traditional clan structures that hold power at the local level.  The Church wants the international community to ensure that guarantees will last, no matter who comes to power in Pristina.

All of this sounds to me well grounded and rational.  Unfortunately, it is not what we are hearing out of President-elect Tomislav Nikolić in Belgrade.  He is still attached to partition ideas that would destabilize a large part of the Balkans.

It is high time Europe as a whole minced no words about this.  I doubt Angela Merkel will:  her message on a visit last summer to Belgrade was unequivocally against partition.  She presumably won’t hesitate to reiterate that message now that two more Germans have been injured.  But more is needed:  Greece and Cyprus in particular need to recognize that their refusal to recognize Kosovo is encouraging partition proposals that, if adopted, would end with the partition of their favorite island.

Not to mention the loss of this spectacular monastery:


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