Whose Identity?

Territorial Disintegration has Called Serbia’s Concept of Self Into Question

Opinion | Duska Gonja | March 2008

After seeing the controversial outcomes of the violent Belgrade protests, one could just let out a deep sigh: it has happened again… A conflict between two nations has once again become the toy in the game played by the world’s superpowers from which one nation will come out as victor while the other as loser.

Serbia’s territorial disintegration has continued. Following the painful collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s and the peaceful breakdown of Montenegro in 2006, there was an expectation and hope among Serbs that having rid themselves of the tyrant Milosevic, their conditions would finally be changed and calmed.

What we’ve experienced in the last couple of years, however, has not only been a violent conflict between Serbs and Albanians over a piece of land, but also a challenge to Serbian national identity. The country’s very concept of self has been called into question.

Kosovo carries deep emotional significance for Serbs, like Camelot, the site of the founding myth of the Serbian people. It is the historic heart of Serbia’s glorious medieval kingdom, the religious seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the geographic site of Serbia’s oldest and most beautiful monasteries and churches. Kosovo is the embodiment of the Serbian past and its origins, their transgressions as well as their triumphs.

The competing claims of Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo have been desperately mingled in the webs of history and myth. In its essence, however, the main issue is as simple as it is stubborn: The Serbian claim to hegemony is based primarily on a historical-cultural principle, while the Albanian largely on the principle of demography - the majority argument as the Albanians make up 90 percent of Kosovo’s population.

The ancient feud between Serbia and Albania was finally resolved on Feb. 17th when the province of Kosovo first declared independence from Serbia, throwing the Serbian nation into vast cultural shock and the rest of the world into controversy. Kosovar independence has been recognized by the Bush administration and several European powers including Britain, France and Germany. Others in Europe - including Greece, Romania and Spain - have withheld recognition, as have most other global and regional players, including Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Israel, Russia and South Africa, and of course the Republic of Serbia.

The case against recognition is based mainly on the Security Council’s 1999 resolution reaffirming Serbia’s sovereignty over Kosovo, but is also founded on the view that the international system has become more unstable, unpredictable and insecure.

But the Serbian protest goes beyond that; the declaration of Kosovo’s independence legitimizes the doctrine of imposing solutions to ethnic conflicts by a non-state actor. It transforms the right to self-determination into a right to independence. It violates the opportunity to a consensual resolution of disputes and supplies any ethical or religious group having hostile feelings against its capital with a manual on how to achieve its goals.

Serbia feels that a massive injustice is being imposed on its nation, on a country that has overcome more obstacles than most of the other nations have. In fact, they see the granting of independence to Kosovo as the punishment of Serbia for the dreadful acts carried out by a monstrous figure, Slobodan Milosevic against the Kosovo Albanians, who was left unpunished. This is a connection that is hard to avoid.

Still, while the violence carried out by extremist Serbs and bands of hooligans in Belgrade can’t be accepted, it is a clear manifestation of strong Serbian feelings against this injustice, that has clearly been underestimated by the US and most of the Europe. Violence, however, cannot be the answer; especially knowing the consequences it will have on the already damaged image of Serbians by most of the world.

Above all, the Serbian government should think about its succeeding generations, children who shouldn’t be living in a state of constant conflict and a bad reputation internationally, and finally act accordingly. These Serbs to come should have the right to become respected, valued and appreciated citizens of Europe without having to be ashamed of their origins.

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