September 13, 2006  (the date of publication in Russian)

Milos Kovic
Assistant, Chair of New History, Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade University


Two Balkan disasters over a century

While the future of Kosovo and Metochia is being decided in the capitals of the supreme powers, multiple attempts to foresee the outcome are addressing to historical precedents. Today's situation is commonly compared with the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908-1909. At that time, a temporary occupation turned an annexation of this territory into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, despite protests from Serbia and Montenegro.

Ostensibly, there are more differences than similarities in these two cases. Technically, Kosovo and Metochia is a part of Serbia, while Bosnia, in 1908, legally belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Today, Serbia is involved in negotiations over Kosovo and Metochia, as that is a part of the Serbian land. In 1908, it was Turkey to face disintegration, while Serbia and Montenegro, regardless from their own priorities, just had to admit the fact of Austro-Hungarian expansion. It is noteworthy that in 1908, Serbs constituted the majority of Bosnia's population, while today's Kosovo is dominated by Albanians.

Troops, deployed in Kosovo today, are representing several nations. In the early XX century, Bosnia and Herzegovina was occupied by the troops of Austro-Hungary alone.

In 1908, Bosnia was simply annexed by the empire of the Habsburgs. In Kosovo today, two ostensible scenarios are discussed: "more than autonomy but less than independence" or a "full-fledged" independence with a status of a sovereign nation.

It is not only Serbia and Montenegro which have changed during the past ninety-eight years but rather the policy of senior powers – the factor dominating in the matters of Balkan borders. In the first years of the XX century, Europe was divided by two hostile alliances, thus enabling smaller nations to pursue their own agenda and to have their interests protected. At that time, Serbia's interests were protected by Russia, but even more by France and Great Britain. Today, the dominating factor in the Balkans is a single Western block, despite contradictions among European powers, as well as between Europe and the United States. It is quite obvious that the US-European partnership should rather be defined as rivalry.

Their relations with Russia are relations of rivalry, too. Russia, in its turn, seems to be too focused on its relations with its closest neighbors to allow itself to get seriously involved in the Balkans.

Beyond all the mentioned differences of the situation of today and in 1908, there is a lot of spectacular parallels. Both the "international presence" in Kosovo and Metochia, and the occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina were sanctioned by international agreements, resp. UN Resolution №1244 and Paragraph 25 of the 1878 Berlin Treaty. In both cases, the pretext for the intervention is "to establish order"; in both cases, international involvement is declared as temporary. Foreign troops, arriving in Kosovo, did not formally question the integrity of the Union of Yugoslavia. Similarly, the occupation of Bosnia was declared in 1908 as a temporary measure, not violating the integrity of the Ottoman Empire.

Still, the temporary occupation of year 1908 resulted in an annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austro-Hungary, in a conflict with Berlin Treaty's Paragraph 25. Judging upon a lot of reports, available in Belgrade, Kosovo and Metochia are likely to be declared an independent state, contrary to the spirit of UN Resolution 1244 (though, frankly speaking, this resolution does not tell precisely that the "final solution" does not suggest secession). And even the most sympathetic observer can hardly believe that the newly independent Kosovo state would not – under any kind of pretext – be promptly integrated into Albania.

In case this happens, the irritation of the Serbs, their feeling of being betrayed, will be quite similar to that of 1908-1909. At that time, Serbia also tried to pursue a flexible policy. The Serbian government was then ready to admit the new state of affairs in exchange for a certain territorial compensation. Meanwhile, the population and the politicians of Serbia were at that time divided into "realists" who supported the Government's policy, and "patriots" who insisted that Bosnia and Herzegovina not be conceded, and that the Serbs demonstrate their resolute opposition to Austro-Hungarian appetites. Eventually, neither of the two sides would succeed, as Russia, France, and Great Britain were not yet ready for a collision with Austro-Hungary and Germany over Serbia. Left alone at the face of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum, Serbia retreated without receiving anything in exchange; meanwhile, Turkey struck a deal with the Habsburgs, thus making the Serbs even more furious.

There is one more significant similarity in the two cases: namely, the fact that the final decision is to be made by the "international community", that means by the "senior powers", as they were identified also in 1908. Today, we can't be quite sure that the oncoming decision will be necessarily unfavorable for Belgrade. Still, we have to admit that in shaping the future of Kosovo and Metochia, the "senior powers", as well as in 1908-1909, will not look back at the universal law and moral principles. They will rather consider the influence of the sides, as well as the pragmatic interests of their own.

Still, the pragmatic interests of the "senior powers" are not a guarantee of a durable accord, stability and peace. The critical annexation of Bosnia, which the Russian Empire had to admit, appeared to be just the preface for World War I. Should be believe that the secession of Kosovo and Metochia and the subsequent merger into Albania, within the EU or beyond, would establish peace and stability? One should remember that Albanians have got a compact residence not only in Kosovo. What is likely to happen when separatists of all kinds receive a positive "message" from the world community? Won't they admit that now, they have got a carte blanche, just due to the fact that on a certain territory, they have managed to achieve a majority by extermination and expulsion of the population of different origin and belief? It is not necessary to have an education of a historian or political scientist to answer this question!

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