Double Standards in the Balkans

James Hill’s Weekly, March 13, 1998
By Nesha Ilich

[Nesa Ilich is a writer in Winnipeg, Manitoba]

Most observers make the following points about Kosovo in their articles: “Kosovo is the cradle of Serbian civilization and the place where they lost a famous battle against the Ottoman Turks in 1389” and “About 90 percent of the population in Kosovo today is Albanian”.

I can’t help but think that these two arguments, while both true, seem to miss a very essential element: How and when did Kosovo become 90 percent Albanian? Obviously, the cradle of Serbian civilization must have been populated by majority Serbs at some point in time. According to the 1931 census, the population of Kosovo was 60 percent Albanian and 30 percent Serb, which is a ratio of 2 to 1. The current population ratio of 9 to 1 in favor of Albanians is therefore a much more recent phenomenon, and mainly due to the record population growth rate of Kosovo Albanians, which has been among the highest in the world since 1945.

The critical question that has not been asked yet is: Does the population imbalance give the minority political rights, such as the right to form their own country? If so, would other “civilized democratic countries” give their own minorities similar rights? Say Hispanics in California or Cuban immigrants in Florida want their own state since they already have reached more than 50 percent of the population. Would they get an independent California or Florida for the asking? I doubt it. Not to mention other minorities in many places around the world. In many areas of the United States, Native Americans would probably qualify for their own country, too. The last time I checked the best they could show for all their demands for self-rule were the native reservations, although they are acknowledged as sovereign nations for some purposes such as the running of tribal government and gambling halls.

The “cradle of the civilization” will still retain its importance in history books, the “old monasteries” can be transferred elsewhere if they are so important. But one has to wonder if Western politicians are supporting the political rights of an ethnic minority just because they have been reproducing so fast? Well, in the case of Kosovo they are. Yet this is not the case of Chechnya, or other places where players are more important than Serbs. Different standards? Definitely (which should come as no surprise).

The West is now playing hardball with the Serbs, pushing them to give Kosovo Albanians back their autonomous status. That will not suffice. Kosovo Albanians do not want to share a “multi-ethnic” state with the Serbs, that is just a pretext, the first step on the way to full independence. They want an independent ethnically homogeneous Albanian state of Kosovo which will kick the remaining Serbs out, as has happened in Croatia and by and large the parts of Bosnia controlled by Muslims and Croats. After all, Kosovo had its political autonomy from 1974 to 1989, with its schools (including universities), the provincial government, and the state-run media all in the Albanian language – certainly much more than any other ethnic minority had anywhere else in Europe – and yet that was not enough. In 1980 riots broke out all over Kosovo with the slogan “Kosovo Republika,” demanding a status equal to that of other Yugoslav republics, with a final goal of secession.

I guess the saddest thing of all is to watch the Serbs, who are only now realizing what a tragic mistake it was to have their national interest totally sacrificed since 1945 for the good of the former Yugoslav federation. They are now losing their last piece of their country while being accused of “rabid intolerant nationalism.” That accusation comes from the world media and from the very same neighbors who are cleansing Serbs from their new independent states with impunity, while the rest of the world is looking the other way. All that in the name of “greater democracy and multiculturalism.” If it was so important to preserve multi-ethnic nature of Bosnia by not allowing its division and by forcing the three groups (Serbs, Croats and Muslims) to live in it together against all odds, then why was it not equally important to save the multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, in which the Serbs accounted for a mere 40 percent of the population? Instead, the old Yugoslavia was encouraged to dissolve violently, all in the name of the same high “principles.”

The Prime Minister of Canada recently stated that Quebec cannot separate from Canada unilaterally, and that “all Canadians will have a say in the future of their country”. Note that the same view was missing when the former Yugoslav republics were extended recognition by Canada, which gave them full support for their acts of unilateral secession. The old moral rule “don’t do onto others as you would not have them do unto you” does not seem to count for much in politics.