12 November 2008
[Note: an abbreviated version of this commentary was published by World Politics Review]
Over the past eight months, the Serbian government and population have defied conventional wisdom in a number of interesting ways, and together these trends could point to a formula for successful nation building, pioneered by sheer accident and talented improvisation.
In 1999, NATO launched a 10-week bombing campaign in Serbia to end what the West viewed as President Slobodan Milošević’s attempt to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its 90% ethnic Albanian (Muslim) population. Belgrade soon capitulated to NATO’s demands, withdrew Serb forces from Kosovo and agreed to negotiate a permanent solution with the leaders of its southern province. (Most Serbs want Kosovo to become an autonomous region within Serbia, while most Kosovars have demanded full independence).
In the last nine years, as these sporadic negotiations have fallen apart, Serbs have felt increasingly bitter and humiliated by the pariah-status adorned upon them by the international community for Milosevic’s behavior. Not only were Serbs compelled to negotiate over land they felt was rightfully theirs, but they watched as their Western mediators became advocates of Kosovo’s self-determination, eventually urging and recognizing Kosovo’s declaration of independence this past February.
The initial reaction among Serbs was fairly predictable: amidst a crowd of 100,000 peaceful protesters (more than 1% of the population), several hundred “extremists” attacked and ignited a number of embassies of Kosovo-friendly governments, doting particular scorn on the Americans, Kosovo’s strongest ally. Yet for a population that feels chronically misunderstood and humiliated, Serbians seem remarkably passive these days, only eight months later. Read the rest of this entry »