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Serbia is feeling aggrieved, and with good reason. When North Atlantic Treaty Organization jets bombed the country in 1999, Western leaders insisted they were not taking the side of the Kosovo rebels in the ethnic conflict between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. They were merely trying to halt the ethnic cleansing being carried out by Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Seven years later, though, most Western governments argue that Kosovo's independence is a fait accompli. Serbia, they argue, should get on with life and let Kosovo go its own way. They may not have bombed Serbia to back Kosovo separatism, but that has been the result of their intervention.
Serbia's feelings are easy to understand. It has seen its predominance in the former Yugoslavia erased and its own territory whittled away, most recently by the decision of Montenegro to declare independence. Kosovo forms 15 per cent of its remaining territory. To Serb nationalists, it is sacred ground, the birthplace of Serbian nationhood and the site of scores of historic Orthodox monasteries. About 100,000 Serbs still live there, an embattled minority in a population of two million, 90 per cent of which is Albanian. As Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica bluntly puts it, “Kosovo is part of Serbia.” He is willing to offer only autonomy. Independence, he insists, would be “illegal and worthless.”
But whatever the force of Serbian feeling or strength of its attachment to Kosovo, things have moved on. In the real world, Kosovo is no longer part of Serbia. Serbian troops left in 1999, forced out at the end of the NATO bombing campaign. Something like 10,000 Albanians were killed in the fighting that year and 800,000 forced to flee their homes. The Albanians of Kosovo are close to unanimous in their determination never to live under Belgrade's yoke again. It is impossible to imagine them accepting a return to Serbian control even under the most generous form of autonomy.
So Mr. Kostunica has a choice to make. If he insists on pursuing the impossible dream of retaking Kosovo, his country will remain isolated in Europe. If he agrees to move on, Serbia would be welcomed onto the path of membership in the European Union, as would Kosovo, which has lived in an unworkable limbo since 1999. Granting Kosovo its independence would allow it to emerge from its uncomfortable status as a United Nations protectorate and build a new nation. In return for recognizing that status, Serbia would be within its rights to demand maximum protection for the Serb minority and for Serb cultural sites.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter — and Serbia has the right to feel wronged — Kosovo is gone. Belgrade has no choice but to accept it.