Magazine article The Spectator

The Federalist Case

Magazine article The Spectator

The Federalist Case

Article excerpt

Kosovo is an enclave of ethnic Albanians which for reasons related to Serbian history has become part of Serbia. A majority of Kosovo's inhabitants are Muslims. Serbia is Orthodox Christian. There is no point in protesting that Kosovo should therefore be independent of Serbia. Kosovo is the scene of one of the most important events in Serbian history, or at least national mythology: a battle with the Turks before the place was inhabited by Muslims. It is no more realistic to expect the Serbs to relinquish it than to expect Ulster Protestants to relinquish the scene of the Battle of the Boyne. What, then, is to be done? Kosovo is the latest, though probably not the last, part of former Yugoslavia to undergo 'peacemaking' by the `international community'.

The larger powers find it easy enough to condemn Serbian police as heavy-handed and mildly to rebuke the Kosovo liberation army. But real difficulties begin at the peace talks offered by the Serbs. Good intentions clash with incompatible objectives. The Albanian demand for self-determination clashes with the principle that international frontiers should not be changed by force. Within such narrow confines, the problem is insoluble, as is the case in much of former Yugoslavia and the Balkans. But perhaps a solution lies in looking beyond Kosovo - and beyond other provinces due for the hazards of peacemaking - to the whole strife-torn Balkans.

Europe has three southern peninsulas: the Iberian, with two states; the Italian, with one, and the Balkan, with eight to 11, depending on how you count them. Spain, Portugal and Italy decided that their own territory is not large enough for modern technology and trade, hence membership of the EU. A fortiori, the increasing number of Balkan states are suffocated within their narrow confines. Nowhere, except in Slovenia, do ethni correspond with borders. But moving borders to excise existing anomalies merely creates new ones, as it would in Kosovo.

Hence it is time to reconsider some variant of the early liberal-nationalist notion of a Balkan federation, within which Balkan nations could work out their common and separate destinies. Federations differ from one another. The Balkan variety would need to be strong on movement of goods and people, multilingual, tolerant of religious differences within a modern - i.e. secular -- constitution, sufficiently aware of the backwardness inherited from the `long Ottoman night' to live with differences of cultural levels. …

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