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Kosovo Recognition

The right decision.

11:00 PM, Feb 18, 2008 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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ALBANIANS AND THEIR SUPPORTERS euphorically celebrated Sunday's declaration of independence by the republic of Kosovo. The sensation of liberty from Serbian domination was intoxicating. But Kosovo's future is less than crystal-clear.

On Monday, George W. Bush gave his blessing to the newly-free country, writing to Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu, "On behalf of the American people, I hereby recognize Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state . . . I look forward to the deepening and strengthening of our special friendship."

Bush's action did not elicit universal applause. Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica was once the subject of undignified fawning by American and other Western officials who claimed he represented a democratic alternative to the late and unmourned mass murderer Slobodan Milosevic. Now Kostunica rants like his predecessor, denouncing the United States. According to Kostunica, Washington has "forced a solution" of the issue--although Kosovars have waited almost nine years, since the NATO intervention against Serbia ended, for such an outcome.

Kostunica also recalled to Belgrade the Serbian ambassador to the U.S., Ivan Vujacic, who just two weeks ago, at a reception in the Washington embassy of Bosnia-Herzegovina, sneeringly told me that Kosovo, if independent, would never gain membership in the United Nations. But the lack of a UN seat has done little to deter Taiwan from achieving extraordinary prosperity and stability, even though that small democracy must contend with the disfavor of Beijing.

A comparison with Taiwan is further appropriate because Serbia claims that it will enjoy support, in challenging the Kosovars and their allies, from China and, much more importantly, China's partner in mischief on the UN Security Council--neo-imperialist Russia under Vladimir Putin. For his part, Putin schemes for reassertion of Russian power in the Balkans, and he is stimulated by the new energy wealth flowing into Moscow. But it is unlikely that Putin would be satisfied by a restored share of influence in Eastern Europe. Russian energy wealth, combined with impunity in backing Serbia, could give Putin a new cudgel against the whole of Europe.

Unfortunately, much of Europe sees a resolution of these issues in continued interference with Kosovo, through international control over local institutions in the republic. Kosovar independence, as presently conceived, will be encumbered by a foreign police and justice administration, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo or EULEX, made up of 2,000 foreigners and 1,000 locals. Kosovars distrust foreign police--except Americans--even when the guardians of order are not Serbian. Only a year ago, on February 10, 2007, Romanian police serving with the UN Mission in Kosovo fatally shot two participants in a self-determination demonstration in Pristina, the capital city. And Romanians continue to serve as police in Kosovo courts.

While Kosovo's independence remains imperfect, one thing should be clear: President Bush has done the right thing. Albanians, although Muslim in their majority, are fanatics only about their appreciation for America. Albanian Islam is moderate, and constitutes a bulwark against radicalization of European Muslims. Albanians avoid conflicts over religion and are satisfied to allow each among them to choose how to, or whether to, practice the religion of their choice.

Finally, with the increasing stabilization of Iraq, it may be that the global war against radical Islamist ideology will prove a briefer episode than many in the world believed. The democracies may find themselves once again confronting Russia and China, in a revival of the cold war. President Bush's support for Kosovo is an early warning against the return of Russian meddling in Europe and adventurism elsewhere. Even if it is only the beginning for a more beneficial American-Kosovar partnership, Bush's decision was correct.

Stephen Schwartz is the author of Kosovo: Background to a War, with a preface by Christopher Hitchens, published in 2000.