March 6, 2009

Speaker Evaluates Kosovo One Year After Independence

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Correction Appended
After centuries of occupation, war and genocide, the people of Kosovo, a small region within Serbia, declared its independence on Feb. 17, 2008. Yesterday, Florian Bieber gave a lecture entitled “How Independent Is Independent: Kosovo, Year One,” in which he outlined how the new nation has been handling its autonomy. Bieber, who has taught at universities throughout central Europe, including positions in Belgrade and Sarajevo, focused on the various social and economic woes facing Kosovo, including the disunity experienced by the many ethnic groups within the small region.

“Today, there is no such thing as ‘Kosovo’; there are many unique ‘Kosovos,’” Bieber said. “The Kosovars, the Serbs, the Roma, the Bosniaks and the Gora each have their own experience, their own feel of the new nation.”
Kosovo, which was part of Serbia until last year, has been a United Nations protectorate since 1999, after the end of a conflict between rebels in the region and Yugoslavia. During the conflict, the Yugoslavian army, under the leadership of President Slobodan Milosevic, engaged in genocidal activities against the Albanian Kosovar majority, resulting in NATO military action. Milosevic died while waiting to be tried by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
“If you are an ethnic Kosovar, you are in many ways without a country,” Bieber said. “You have a passport, but you can only travel to 35 countries. You have a cellular phone, but to call your neighbor you must pay international charges because your phone is from Slovenia. You are out of work and you are still divided based on the same ethnic lines. For you, life really hasn’t improved since independence.”
Serbia, which still has not recognized the independence of Kosovo, plays a major role in the politics of the region, with Serbs comprising the second largest ethnic group.
“In some parts of Kosovo, you can walk down the street and feel as though you are in southern Serbia,” Bieber said. “The schools are paid for by the Serbs, the architecture is Serbian, even the bank is a Serbian bank.”
[img_assist|nid=35878|title=World View|desc=Expert Florian Bieber lectures on Kosovo’s independence.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Currently, only 55 of the 192 members of the United Nations have recognized Kosovo as an independent nation. Many of the nations that have not yet recognized Kosovo are powerful leaders in the international community, including China, Russia and Israel.
“Places that do not recognize Kosovo are mostly doing so to prevent their own minority regions from breaking away,” Bieber said. “Russia, Spain and the Ukraine each fear that setting the precedent of national self-determination will allow their own rebel groups to break away. This, however, is not what the Kosovars or other advocates of independence hope to achieve.”
Overall, however, Bieber had a generally positive outlook for the future of the region. At the same time, however, he was somewhat hesitant to make predictions.
“In many ways, it is too early to tell. I would be far better able to address these issues if this speech were entitled ‘Kosovo Independence: Five Year Later.’”
Lecture attendees included a variety of people interested in the topic, ranging from professors to Ithaca residents.
“With all of the self-determination movements throughout the former Soviet Republics, democratic values are finally able to surface now that the East/West conflicts have died down,” local resident Roger Christian said. “The situation in Kosovo, like those in other regions, allows the people to work in their own interest.”
Others did not display the same degree of optimism toward the situation.
“I agree that it is far too early to tell, but I, as a historian, feel far more pessimistic about the situation. I fear that Kosovo, as a possible precedent, could push the Serbs in Bosnia to declare the independence of Republika Srpska,” said Prof. Holly Case, history, who specializes in the Balkans. “I hope that he is right and that the situation does not have a severe ripple effect of the sort that people fear.”
As Kosovo establishes a better footing on the international stage and develops internally as a nation, new opportunities for a peaceful resolution to a century-old conflict will surely develop.
The article incorrectly stated that Slobodon Milosevic was executed by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. In fact, he died while awaiting trial.