Friday, August 11, 2006

Kosovo can part amicably from Serbia

Politicians should realise that a federation to please the EU will not help the region, says Arber Koci

Friday August 11, 2006
The Guardian

I could tell from the first few lines that Gyula Hegyi's article was going to be one of those I've come to dread reading (Barbed wire and bridges, April 26). They break the ice with a little exaggeration and before you know it end up slapping you in the face. For example, according to the author, my birthplace, Pristina, has become "a 100% Albanian and Muslim city".

I read that a few times over and wondered to myself how remarkable a figure that was. Remarkable because the last census that was not boycotted by either Serbs or Albanians was in 1981, and that certainly made no mention of 100% of anything. Keeping in mind that I come from a rather large community of Albanian Catholics, I couldn't help but smell something fishy. A statement of religion also struck me as a little superfluous as descriptions of cities go.

Then Hegyi stated: "The twin symbols of the city are the wondrous new mosque, built by Saudi money, and a local replica of New York's Statue of Liberty, painted in pink." I had always thought the Museum of Kosovo, the National Theatre and the many streets filled with cafes serving macchiato and Peja beer were what most residents took to be their symbols.

A New York-themed hotel on the outskirts of the city was not on my list. Top of it though is the National Library, which incidentally sits between a huge Serbian Orthodox church (built with Milosevic money) and the site of what is soon to be the largest Catholic cathedral in south-eastern Europe. When Hegyi claimed that "the veil and American billboards go hand in hand", I began to question whether he has ever been to Pristina. Hegyi's proposal for real peace in the region is for Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo to band up in a loose federation to please the European Union, with the aim of eventually joining it. This proposal is familiar: the federation he proposes existed in 1998 and that clearly wasn't a success.

With Montenegro having closed the door on its way out and Kosovo about to do the same, this plan is not serious. When Kosovo's future hangs on the reasoning that Serbia is a democratic country now, and that "we should not break international law by taking its province away from it", I am forced to remind the author that Milosevic was democratically elected.

Even now, in a new and re-democratised Serbia, the largest party in the Serbian National Assembly is still the same ultra-nationalist, ultra-paranoid Radical party that still promises a Greater Serbia and has the great vote-pulling distinction of having its president in trial for war crimes.

Kosovo cannot afford to be held hostage by catastrophist "Pandora's box" politicians, nor can it afford to deny itself the right to rule itself for fear of upsetting foreign politicians.

The case of Montenegro showed that it is possible to part ways with Serbia in an amicable way. Let Kosovo do the same.

· Arber Koci is an Albanian living in Britain.

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