President Bush is promoting the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, but why? Kosovo has been under the administration of the United Nations. The Kosovars, as ethnic Albanians, seek to be an independent country, while the Serbs consider Kosovo to be an important part of their history and territory. Do the Kosovars have a natural right to independence?
The answer becomes clear when we realize that countries and nationalities have no natural rights. All natural rights are inherent in individual persons. Each human being has the moral right to be sovereign, to be independent of the mastership of any other person.
The problem with national independence is that if there is a minority that opposes independence, then those individual are forced be under an authority not of their choosing. So the Kosovars have a moral right to be independent only if they in turn let those not wishing to be under Kosovar rule to be independent of Kosovo.
But there is also another complication. There are historic Serbian churches in Kosovo. These belong to the builders, the Serbs. Complete independence would put these properties in the hands of not just those who did not create them, but who are indifferent or even hostile to these buildings.
Kosovo was the national and religious heart of the medieval Serbian empire. Serbs venerate the epic 1389 battle in Kosovo in which Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic and many Serbs were killed, after which Serbia became rulled by the Turkish Empire. Serbians honor this battle like Texans remember the Battle of the Alamo. Kosovo taking control of that hallowed ground would be like Mexico gaining sovereign rule over San Antonio and the Alamo, only more so.
This intertwining of ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians can be resolved by a Confederation of Serbia and Kosovo. The old Yugoslavia could be resurrected as the Confederation of Yugoslavia, with Serbia and Kosovo as members. The Confederation could then take control of the historic Serbian places. Individuals in Serbia and Kosovo would be able to choose which of the republics they wish to affiliate with. Ideally there should be a third choice: to be a citizen directly under the Confederation rather than under Serbia or Kosovo.
Because of the historic conflicts, a Confederate army made up of both ethnic groups would not be feasible at first. The Confederate government could pay the United Nations to continue to keep the peace in Kosovo, but under Yugoslav authority. Serbian and Roma (Gypsy) refugees who fled from Kosovo after 1998 would be able to return to their home locations.
The old Yugoslav constitution had provided autonomy for Kosovo. This self-governance was overturned in 1989 by the tyrant chief of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. The Kosovo Liberation Army then conducted a violent campaign for independence, including attacks on civilians. The Serbian government then fought the KLA, also inflicting harm on civilians. The Rambouillet Conference of 1999 proposed that Kosovo's final status would be set by an international conference. This was rejected by Milosevic, which then led to NATO's war against Serbia by an international coalition, including the United States under president Clinton.
The fate of Kosovo has to be seen in a global context. If the principle of national independence for minorities is to become a basic principle, then it would have to be applied globally, including independence for national minorities everywhere, and for the minorities within the minority national territory. For example, if Quebec is to be independent from Canada, then the native Indian nations within Quebec should be able to secede and be independent also. But what about those individual Indians who do not wish to be citizens of the native Indian country? They should have the right to be citizens of Quebec or Canada or some other native Indian country. And if an individual seeks complete independence from any country, to be consistent, any person should be able to be his own independent sovereign entity.
Such anarchism if applied globally and peacefully would indeed be a wonderful policy. But in our world today, majority peoples oppose breaking up their territory, and so independence for Kosovo, which would spur other national minorities to also become independent, would exacerbate conflict world-wide. Independence would reward violent rebels such as the KLA, and would in effect legitimize violence by insurgents world-wide. Confederation is a compromise that would prevent such conflict, as it would grant national self-governance, allow all people to choose their governmental affiliation, while preventing the majority group from resenting a loss of territory.
The U.S. government has been hypocritical about national self-determination. On one hand, it grabbed the Philippines in the Spanish war of 1898 and fought against a national independence movement there. On the other hand, after World War I, President Wilson foolishly promoted independence for the nationalities of eastern Europe, which later let Nazi Germany conquer these countries one by one, so in the end, there was no national self-governance but domination by Nazis and Communists.
National independence is a good goal provided it is applied consistently, peacefully, and sustainably. None of these apply to Kosovo today, so the U.S. government should stop advocating independence for Kosovo. This has done nothing to make Muslims hate America any less; it is not applied as a consistent policy; it would legitimize violent insurgency; and it would hurt the interests of the other nationalities. The policy with the least amount of damage is confederation.
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FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., is an economist and has been writing weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary's commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and currently teaches at San Jose State University.
Foldvary is the author of The Soul of Liberty, Public Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary's areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.
Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.