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    Balkan problems cannot break out of vicious circle

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    The UN Security Council still cannot decide on the future of Kosovo because the parties involved have split into two groups, with Moscow standing alone against Pristina, Washington and Brussels.

    MOSCOW. (Sergei Romanenko for RIA Novosti) - The UN Security Council still cannot decide on the future of Kosovo because the parties involved have split into two groups, with Moscow standing alone against Pristina, Washington and Brussels.

    On December 19, the council listened to the Serbian prime minister and the Kosovo president, and to the report of the trio of mediators - the European Union, Russia and the United States. But the future of Kosovo still remains undecided.

    Will developments follow the road mapped by the UN? Or will Serbia and Kosovo settle their problems regardless of the norms of international law? The latter will be more dangerous, as Kosovo's self-proclaimed independence might incite Albanian and Serbian paramilitary groups to take up arms.

    This negative outcome of the meeting in New York could be predicted since the sides parted ways long ago. Although the general atmosphere at the talks has improved, the sides refuse to budge even an inch, advocating a purely ethnic solution to the problem. Both sides claim that Kosovo is their ethnic territory where "others" do not belong.

    Belgrade and Pristina cannot change their stances, because Serbian politicians who recognize the independence of Kosovo and Kosovar politicians who renounce the idea of independence will have no political future.

    But public opinion is not set in stone. The results of the referendum on the draft Serbian Constitution and the subsequent parliamentary elections in early 2007 showed that a substantial part of Serbian society would accept, although not happily, the independence of Kosovo.

    They view the Kosovo problem as an obstacle hindering their advance to socio-economic reforms and their accession to the European Union, whose membership promises a tranquil and relatively prosperous life.

    However, this view has not yet been formulated as a political concept, and the presidential elections in Serbia, set for January 20, 2008, are expected to play a crucial role.

    It would be logical if Washington and Brussels recommend Pristina not to proclaim independence before February 3, the possible second round of the elections. They fear that Tomislav Nikolic, deputy leader of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, will win the elections.

    The Albanian society of Kosovo is not as united as some think. It is divided into radicals, who want "everything now," and moderate politicians, although all of them want independence for Kosovo.

    Russia has threatened to use its right of veto if Pristina proclaims independence, but it has also made a step toward the EU. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the UN mission could be replaced with an EU mission if Security Council Resolution 1244 is respected.

    But the results of the EU mission in Kosovo will depend not only on its legal status, but also on its achievements, which will depend on who leads the mission, experienced politicians and military leaders, who know the specifics of the local situation, or professional peacekeepers who act according to the same scheme everywhere irrespective of instructions.

    Russia believes, with good reason, that it is the parties directly involved in the conflict who must agree on the terms. It therefore admits that the ethnic political and territorial conflict is rooted in the province, and was not provoked by a collusion of external forces. On the other hand, the conflict in Kosovo and other conflicts engendered by the split of Yugoslavia would not have stopped without international interference, but would have proliferated into adjacent regions.

    The ethnic movements of the Balkan people and the states they set up in the late 19th century were dominated by the idea of "great mono-ethnic states." They could not find a suitable solution without assistance. This encouraged the great powers to interfere and to appease the warring sides in a way suiting their own interests. They marked the borders that later served as the reason for new violence. This vicious circle so far remains unbroken.

    Large states and military-political blocs tend to impose their will on "small nations" without pondering the ways to settle conflicts. In turn, the Balkan kings, general secretaries, and current presidents and premiers played on contradictions between the great powers, pitting them against each other to attain their goals. As a result, local problems developed into global political issues.

    It became clear in the late 20th century that the Balkan nations and states no longer want to be subordinates; they now seek to become full members of the international community. They do not want their countries to be the arena of East-West competition, but seek to regain their status as the scene of cooperation integrated into Europe.

    But to attain this goal they should act as mature and responsible actors, i.e., stop being haughty and start seriously considering reasonable compromises. The leading powers should act responsibly too.

    No deadlines should be set for the solution of such conflicts. Any decision by the UN Security Council, the OSCE or any other international organization, as well as moves made by Belgrade and Pristina at the current stage of the conflict will not be the final solution, but only a step towards a lasting compromise.

    Support for one of the sides is also a mistake. The world powers should put equal pressure on both sides while supporting moderate forces that can accept compromises. Serbia, which is looking for a path to democracy and working to overcome the negative legacy of Slobodan Milosevic, needs not promises but real support. Its weakening will not promote regional stability.

    The establishment of a mono-ethnic state by way of ethnic violence on the part of Serbs or Kosovars must not be supported either. Pushing Serbs out of Kosovo after 1999, just like Milosevic's attempts to get rid of Albanians before that, will not solve the problem but will only increase the distance to democracy.

    Washington insists that Kosovars must have the right to set up a mono-ethnic state, although they deny this right to Serbs. Besides, the province has become predominantly Albanian largely because Serbs were forced to leave Kosovo.

    On the other hand, if Russia demands that Pristina should act democratically, why not demand the same from Belgrade? Likewise, there is no direct connection between the situation in Kosovo and the situation in the former Soviet republics, as well as in other European countries with ethnic problems. Ethnic political conflicts in Europe cannot be limited to the Kosovo issue alone.

    On the contrary, the situation in Kosovo and other Balkan and European countries should be viewed as a new stage of national self-determination, which can change the current borders, but only peacefully and legally.

    Historian Sergey Romanenko is a leading researcher at the Institute of Economy of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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