The Serbian Charade


Serbian rioters attacking the US Embassy in Belgrade to protest Kosovo’s declaration of independence, February 19, 2008 (AFP/Getty Images)

In late September, I went to hear the President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, speak to students and professors at Columbia University. He was in New York leading his country’s delegation to the UN General Assembly meeting. Tadic is a nice-looking, charming, and articulate man without a trace of Milosevic’s arrogance. He said many reassuring things about democracy in Serbia, maintaining peace in the region, and preserving the territorial integrity of Bosnia. But, when it came to Kosovo, he asserted that Serbia will “never, under any circumstances, implicitly or explicitly, recognize Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.”

Tadic said that Serbia is looking forward to the decision of the International Court of Justice in The Hague (the case is set to open on December 1, and a decision is expected sometime in 2010); he appeared to be convinced that the court will support Serbia’s contention that the declaration broke international law. He added that he would remind the members of the UN General Assembly of the fundamental principles of the UN Charter that were broken by the member states that recognized Kosovo.

I know that Tadic has to mollify the nationalist lunatics at home, but to hear an intelligent man argue for such obviously idiotic and self-defeating policy was embarrassing. What he and almost all Serbian politicians will not admit is that a decision favorable to Serbia by The Hague court—which is not beyond the realm of possibility since international precedents and agreements were broken by recognizing the secessionist region—would be a calamity. Even if Kosovars agreed to be ruled once again by Serbs, which of course they never will, how would Serbia integrate politically and economically two million people who hate their guts? What’s more, given full political rights, their mortal enemies would become the dominant political party in the country and do what they please with that power.

Tadic speculated that after a favorable decision in The Hague, there could be fresh talks with Pristina on Kosovo’s status, during which, so he imagines, Kosovars would agree to some sort of autonomy within Serbia. But that too is a pipe dream.

More than once, while he talked, Tadic made me think of Obama and Afghanistan. In their hearts, both men surely must know the futility of continuing the charade, and yet, lacking resolve to confront the fools among them, they continue to be trapped in policies guaranteed to fail.

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