Eight years after NATO went to war to stop the ethnic purge in Kosovo, it’s time for the international community to recognize the province’s independence from Serbia. The United States and Europe are inching toward that decision, but Russia is blocking action by the Security Council. Although Kosovo’s Albanian-dominated government still has a way to go to fully guarantee the rights of its minority Serb population, more delays would only feed the resentments that led to so much turmoil and bloodshed throughout the 1990s.
Last February, a United Nations envoy presented a sensible plan that would grant Kosovo — which has been under the supervision of the United Nations since 1999 — a carefully limited independence, with extensive international supervision and protection for ethnic Serbs and other minorities. After Belgrade and Moscow fiercely objected, the Security Council agreed to another round of negotiations between Kosovo’s Albanians and Serbs. But Kosovo’s Serbs, and their allies in Belgrade, say they’ll never recognize Kosovo’s independence, while Kosovo’s Albanians, who compose 90 percent of the population, say they’ll accept nothing less.
The major powers now face a Dec. 10 deadline for deciding Kosovo’s future. Kosovo’s Albanians have agreed to the United Nations’ plan, which gives the Serbs much of what they want, including autonomy for Serb communities and protections for Serb monuments. The Albanians say they will declare independence unilaterally if the Security Council does not act. It is in everyone’s interest, including Russia’s, to have the United Nations maintain a strong role in this process.
Moscow and Belgrade have hinted at partition of Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians. That is a dangerous, unworkable approach that would embolden Serb nationalists and fuel more resentment among Albanians in a region that needs to restrain both sets of passions.
The United States and the majority of European Union countries that also favor independence must now take a firm stand. If Russia continues to oppose the United Nations’ plan, Washington and its allies must move ahead anyway and recognize Kosovo in time for the Dec. 10 deadline. They must also make clear to Belgrade that it has a lot to gain — including eventual membership in the European Union and NATO — if it doesn’t object too loudly or too destructively. Many Serbs would clearly prefer to be a favored ally of the West than of Russia.
A sovereign Kosovo, like all new democracies, will need long-term help meeting legal, human rights, economic and other challenges, but its people deserve the chance to try. And Serbs need to come to terms with the fact that Kosovo will never again be ruled by Belgrade. It’s time to begin healing this last Balkan wound.