In response to:
The Troubled Birth of Kosovo from the April 3, 2008 issue
To the Editors:
Charles Simic’s “The Troubled Birth of Kosovo” [NYR, April 3], coming as it does from so respected a translator and poet, constitutes a disappointing reaction to such an important event in the modern history of Southeast Europe. Kosovo’s citizens deserve a more generous response to their aspirations, a more balanced account of their experience over almost a century of rule from Belgrade, a more sympathetic engagement with their present reality, and a more constructive view of their potential future. Equally, the people of Serbia would be better served by a more discriminating assessment of the choices now facing them.
The truth is that Kosovo was in effect a colony, and treated as such, from the moment of its forcible annexation by Serbia in 1912, when it was already a predominantly Albanian territory. The position of its Albanian population did gradually improve under post–1945 Communist rule, and especially after Kosovo some forty years ago acquired constituent status in its own right within an eight-member Yugoslav federation. But once Serbia under Slobodan Miloseviå«c had first revoked Kosovo’s autonomy within that federation, then destroyed the federation itself, and finally attempted to expel the bulk of the Albanian population, Kosovo’s future could only be as a self-governing state. It is pointless to blame the United States for the territory’s independence, insisted upon by the vast majority of its people. Although the present regime in Belgrade may find it unacceptable, sooner or later Serbia will need to accept Kosovo as a good friend and neighbor.
Kosovo’s proclamation of independence—endorsed by major world states, most EU countries, and now most of Serbia’s neighbors—and its future membership in the European Union open up a future of promise for all its people, not just the Albanians but the Serb minority too. The danger remains, of course, that nationalist politicians in Belgrade will seek to use the Kosovo Serbs for their own selfish purposes, as they so cynically and disastrously did with the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia. But Serbia does have enlightened intellectuals and political representatives (notably the Liberal Democrats), however embattled these may appear at present. Its true friends should hope for their cause to prosper in the period ahead.
Director The Bosnian Institute
Charles Simic replies:
In my piece on Kosovo, I wanted to list some of the legitimate claims of both sides and to give the reader some idea of what the conflict is all about without rehashing its long history. What upset Mr. Hoare is that I applied the same criteria to both Serbian and Albanian nationalism. He would apparently have preferred that I keep quiet about the crimes committed by the Kosovars he supports. As for his hope that “sooner or later Serbia will need to accept Kosovo as a good friend and neighbor,” that’s my hope too.
May 1, 2008