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[Comments] (6) Damned if you do, damed if you don't: [In which the muddled thoughts about these "troubles" come forward] I am not a political scientist. I am not a contemporary history. I am not what anyone could consider an expert on this topic. I am, however, more educated about south-eastern Europe in general and Serbia specifically than your average person, and I do have an opinion. What follows is my opinion.

To start with, I don't think there's any right answer to the situation in Kosovo. I have thought about this and worried and puzzled long and hard, probably unnecessarily because even if I did think up a solution there's nothing I could do about it. But I don't think there IS a solution, unlike the Kosovars who think independence is the answer and the Serbs who emphatically think it's NOT. That by definition means there is no solution. That said, the entire thing is going much better than I imagined it would. This is because, being a First World War history student, I imagined the Serbian reaction as what it would have been 90 years ago. These are the people who walked across the mountains of Albania and Montenegro rather than surrender, half of them dropping dead from exposure and starvation in the process. To say they are not very good at giving up would be a bit of an understatement. So you can imagine why I was very worried indeed. It looks as though my fears were somewhat misplaced. I really hope that's true.

I think a lot of people in the west, particularly Americans, misunderstand the situation in Kosovo, for a number of reasons. Another disclaimer, aside from my non-expert status: I love Serbia. I love being in Serbia, I love talking to Serbs, I love the culture and the food and the scenery. While I enjoyed my time in Albania, I don't have the same warmth of feeling for the place as I do for Serbia, and I've never been to Kosovo. That does not mean, however, that I can't recognize national flaws and destructive politics when I see them, and it's kinda hard not to see that when looking at Serbia. (And maybe I should also mention that I'm being trained in a profession where distance from bias is not only desirable but necessary.) But I do believe the Serbs have been portrayed unfairly in Western media. I know that the average American's opinion of Serbia is definitely not favorable. There's a very simple logical reason for that and it goes back to the propaganda poster I once wrote an essay about for my AP European History class, or probably much farther. You have to demonize a people if you want your population to support a war against them, so if we were going to bomb Serbia, they had to be the bad guys. So no one's going to talk about the ethnic violence that goes both ways, then and now, and no one's going to mention that the population imbalance in Kosovo is at least partly due to Serbians leaving the area because of violence against them, and the huge gap in birth rates between Serbians and Kosovars. No one's going to try and understand that Kosovo declaring Independence would be like Philadelphia and Washington D.C. declaring independence from the US. The national mythology may be just that but unfortunately in these matters, truth is less important than function (this is the problem historians face all the time when they try to dismantle traditional national histories).

I suppose to a lot of people is it a clear cut matter of self-determination. 90% of the population in Kosovo want independence, so they should have it. Wilsonian ideology is still going strong, and it sounds pretty in theory but put on a map -- not so much. The idea of self-determination caused more trouble is areas of mixed population than I like to imagine. Nationalism is responsible for as much violence and hatred as other destructive ideologies such as imperialism and fundamentalism... It's frustrating because it shouldn't be necessary for different ethnicities to have their own nation. The US may not be perfect but we are managing to more or less get along with all kinds of people as our citizens. The only reason other places with mixed populations can't do the same is because they're manipulated by age-old ideas that says they can't get along, they can't forgive the past and certain factions won't let them forget that "they" killed "your" grandfather. I wish everyone would go read Hobsbawn's Nations and Nationalism and realise what is important is not this constructed identity that is, at the very base of it, a political tool, but the more day-to-day realities of jobs, family, neighbors, and quality of life.

This is what makes me such an optimistic Europeanist. Not because I believe in the ideology of a greater Europe or something like that, but because it's quite clear that the only thing keeping a lot of people from tearing apart their neighbors with their bare hands is if they have something to gain economically from NOT doing so. Peace for economic gain might not be a pretty as peace for the sake of peace, but it has a better chance of sticking around. If the EU can bring peace to the Balkans then I'm all for it, whatever the inconveniences or criticisms may be. Maybe other areas will follow this lead. The fact that at least 50% of Serbs think it's more important to have better relations with the West and opening doors to EU membership than to hang on to a backwater province, whatever the emotional baggage, tell me that it working. Now if only the other 50% would hurry along.


Comments:

Posted by Becca at Mon Feb 18 2008 15:53

I find the whole idea of declaring independence a very interesting concept. I can't imagine hating the people across some invisible line so much that you no longer want to be associated with them (I grant that hatred is not the only motivating concept for independence, but it seems like it might be in this case).

Posted by Sumana at Tue Feb 19 2008 01:52

Thank you SO MUCH for writing this. I appreciate the insights and context, and the all-too-rare glimpse of your work.

Posted by Susie at Thu Feb 21 2008 21:23

Only 21 shopping days left!! Wishlist please!

Posted by Rachel at Fri Feb 22 2008 21:06

Hey Sumana, I'm glad you like this but it's not really to do with what I am working on for my studies. My interest in Serbian politics is more amateur (like I said, I'm not an expert...) I DO try and talk about my research, including little quotables, but I'll try and do more. Should be easy as we are coming up on an intensive period of analysis... if I can ever pull myself away from cnn.com... But do check out my friend Kent's weblog which I linked to today.

Posted by Sumana at Fri Feb 22 2008 21:29

Analysis of news informed by history is close to what I think of as a historian's work. And compared to me you're an expert on Serbian politics just like compared to you I'm an expert on SQL. But, as I learned from our previous blog-comment conversation about the practice of history, I'm a lumper and you're a splitter.

I'll check out Kent's blog. And yes, you should blog about your studies and spell out what you think your work is since you keep thinking I'm getting it wrong! :-)

Posted by Rachel at Fri Feb 22 2008 22:02

Hm, sorry, I guess I thought you meant by my "work" specifically my phd project which is no where near contemporary. I wouldn't put something like this as out of the range of history but instead I'll fall back on that fail proof academic's excuse of "it's not my area." I'm researching the first world war. My interest in Serbian politics is a biproduct of that, but it's something I've never studied on a academic level so I consider it more of a personal than academic interest. For me this type of entry is more akin to an analysis of US political debates (another personal interest) than the relationship between the British and the Serbs in WWI (an academic interest: "my work.")

Unfortunately it seems my earlier prediction of Serbia's reaction might be closer to the case than I thought when I wrote this entry. The echo of educated young men (ie not just drunken football hooligans, who seem to be the main culprits thus far) pledging their blood (something I have heard and also seen around the internet for Kosovo is ominous, but if this is a case of the belligerent few dragging in the unwilling majority (which I think hopefully that it is) then I hope the unwilling put their feet down for once. Anyone with half a brain in their head can see that fighting over Kosovo is going to do anything but harm Serbia's place in the international community. It doesn't help, however, to see most Westerners completely belittling the importance of Kosovo for Serbia and waving independence like a little flag in their face: "Congratulations" and "It's about time" and the like. Not that I am saying the Serbs never did awful things in Kosovo, but we (Westerners, NATOers) have a tendency to ignore the crimes that went both ways, and this one-sided favoritism is what is probably causing most of the anger in who are normally level-headed citizens. In my humble and mostly-uneducated opinion. Ahh here I go again, I've never get anything done if I spend all my time on the internet trying to save the world!


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