MOSCOW. (Pavel Kandel, chief of department of ethno-political problems of the Institute of Europe, for RIA Novosti.)
Epitaph is befitting a funeral, but useless at the trial of history. Facing it now is Slobodan Milosevic, who has settled his score with the Hague Tribunal. He died the death of a martyr in a prison cell of causes that are not quite clear. This is the best excuse for coining a myth about an unflagging fighter for the interests of his country, who managed to pass a verdict against his foes even at his own trial. This is exactly how the charismatic leader wanted to go down in Serbian history. His goal was to justify himself morally and politically at least in the Serbian eyes, if not before world public opinion.
But only successful rulers can expect forgiveness for "too much". The losers should not hope for mercy. Politically, Milosevic went bankrupt in 2000, when the wave of popular anger swept his 13 yearlong authoritarian regime in a matter of hours. It was no surprise that Yugoslavia ceased to exist shortly after his downfall. A former president of a non-existent country is the worst-case scenario for any political leader. His death will change little in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans.
However, now that the deceased has exacted his revenge against the Hague Tribunal, it will not be easy for the Serbian authorities to fulfill the EU ultimatum on the extradition of Radovan Karadzis and Ratko Mladic to the Hague before the end of this month. If the Hague Tribunal sought justice instead of justifying the consistently anti-Serbian policy of the West, the defendant Milosevic would have been tried on a par with the Croatian President Franjo Tudman and the head of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegovic, who were allowed to quietly pass away, and with the ringleaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who are now respected politicians.
Massive war crimes and violation of the standards of law and humanity is a feature of any civil war. All confronting sides showed much zeal in this respect. Treating them differently means undermining the very foundations of law. Although the legal and extreme political bias of the Hague Tribunal does not whitewash the criminals, further cooperation with it under the circumstances is a big headache for the Cabinet of Vojislav Kostunica, who may happen to be the last democratic leader of Serbia.
The new context makes even more dangerous the hasty attempts of Washington and Brussels to achieve an early proclamation of Kosovo's "independence" from Serbia. This intention is difficult to explain in the context of the UN-proclaimed goal to create a democratic multiethnic society there. After all, the Comprehensive Review of the Situation in Kosovo, drafted for the UN Security Council, may be qualified as an unambiguous verdict to international peacemakers for their efforts in the last five years.
The Review's diplomatic formulas of the situation in Kosovo change for "thugocracy" when the NATO officers, who served there, describe the situation off the record. The facade of the current government institutions conceals the mafia clans, which enjoy the patronage of the leading Kosovo politicians from among the former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army. The majority of the Serbs (about 220,000 people), who left Kosovo after June 1999, have not come back. More Serbs fled the area in the wake of anti-Serbian pogroms in March 2004. Ensuring good neighborly relations between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs has proved to be an unfeasible task.
Having yielded to the blackmail of the Kosovo Albanian nationalists and drug dealers, the Western patrons of Kosovo independence encourage them to continue these politically advantageous tactics. If these patrons prevent them from translating the ideal of a "pirate republic" into reality, they will come under pressure as well. The "entry ticket" to the EU seems to be an effective instrument for controlling the Kosovo elite from Brussels. But why should they give up their bad habits? The Kosovo criminals already feel quite comfortable in Europe without any "ticket", and control a big portion of the black market of drugs, weapons, and prostitution. It may well happen that Kosovo's projected integration into Europe will be even more divorced from reality than its "independence".
The Belgrade authorities will not accept Kosovo's "independence". In olden times Kosovo was the cradle of Serbian statehood, and is a shrine of national history, religion, and culture. Its monuments - ancient Orthodox churches and monasteries are still there, although in ruins. Kosovo is the site of a legendary battle, which is described in a Serbian epic. Nor will the influential Serbian Orthodox Church allow the government to give up this national heritage. Kosovo's independence is an encroachment on a sense of national identity, and is tantamount to a political suicide for any Serbian leader.
In the long term, preservation of "paper" sovereignty over Kosovo will cost Serbia too much. The "African" birth rate among Kosovo Albanians is a breeding ground of demographic expansion, which threatens to change the ethnic makeup of Serbia. A backward agrarian territory, overpopulated and lacking jobs, is a burden, which the Serbian economy will not be able to bear. As part of Serbia, Kosovo is a source of endless conflicts. For these reasons, the Serbs would have probably accepted the loss if they were able to keep the holy sites, and would have been adequately reimbursed for everything else. But the decision was to make Serbia accept the loss by hook or by crook in exchange for one carrot - agreement on stabilization and association with the EU. But even this carrot may be taken away now that the future agreement has been linked with the destiny of Mladic and Karadzis.
The weakness of the Belgrade authorities generates the hope that they may be forced into a deal. But the first consequence of Kosovo's independence will be the ultimate exodus of Serbs from the area. If Serbia refuses the deal, it won't save it from a political crisis. Early elections will bring to power the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, whose leader Vojslav Seselj is now spending his time in a cell of the Hague Tribunal. A non-velvet divorce of Serbia and Montenegro may become more likely. It is possible that inter-ethnic tensions will grow in Voivodina and three southern communities of Serbia. All these events will force more people to leave their lands. The nationalist leaders will probably not dare to have a power confrontation with the EU and the U.S. but democracy in the Weimar Serbia will be thrown far back, and its European prospects will become vague. It is sheer guesswork to try and predict what effect Kosovo's independence will have on the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia.
The advocates of Kosovo's independence are stubbornly reluctant to admit its broad repercussions on international law and politics. But once talk on this subject has started, it has instantly generated tensions in "unrecognized" post-Soviet state formations - Transdnestr, Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. People are now talking about Kosovo's potential precedent even in the Crimea and Transcarpathians. Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova have rushed to warn that any solution of the Kosovo issue should not create a precedent. But it would be more logical to assume the reverse - the echo of Kosovo's independence will roll from the Basque Country to Kurdistan.
Speaking at a news conference in the Kremlin on January 31, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that dual standards are inadmissible in settling ethno-political conflicts, and that there is a direct link between the Kosovo settlement and the destiny of the unrecognized post-Soviet states. Representatives of Russia were upholding a universal approach in this context at the session of the UN Security Council and the Contact Group on Kosovo. Conversely, the Western spokesmen insisted on the situation "being unique", but this approach is incompatible with international law or common sense. After all, such a "unique" situation may develop in any other place, and "no less unique" conflicts may be settled in the same "unique" way as in Kosovo. It is a question of expediency and price.