Thursday, March 26, 2009

On the whole, I'd rather be in...


Via AFOE is an interesting article on what school children are learning in Serbia about the conflict between the Serbs, Croats and, in particular, the Kosovars. The future result of this selective history may well be tragic; but the situation is not unsurprising in a country that continues to celebrate a major defeat at the hands of the Ottomans. What is happening is tragic since it sows the seeds of future conflict. Serbian children are being taught to hate. And hate not just Kosovars, but ultimately Western Europe which has in partnership with the US, in their view, attacked them for trying to preserve their territorial integrity. They see themselves as victims.

Unfortunately, the UN exercise in nation building in Kosovo has not improved the atmosphere and could ultimately re-ignite the conflict, particularly if Russia would like to improve its leverage over Germany and France. Russia, after all, pointed to the precedent of Kosovo (wrongly, in my view) during its invasion of Georgia for which only France offered verbal support.

Kosovo, for its part, has been repeatedly instructed by the UN and the international donor community that it must mind the rights of minorities (read, Serbs). The Kosovars could care less in private.

Development funds have poured into Kosovo and always contain proscriptions against violating minority rights. These proscriptions are unlikely to work in the long term because the Kosovars are oblivious to such rules and don't trust the Serbian government in Belgrade - mostly however, they don't care. Serbs are poorly treated in Kosovo regardless if this was their home for generations. One side of a street populated by Serbs - in the only European country with posted speed limits for tanks - are clearly less well off than the opposite side. Serbs don't cross the street.

Perhaps donors need to retool their approach. The well-meaning goals are nice but they need to accept reality and understand that their funds will simply not change societal attitudes for a generation. Or the next. The students in the article are the most susceptible to the type of social propaganda described and perpetuation of ethnic hatred. Land reform, governance, justice reform and other similar interventions won't change that environment.

To avoid the perpetual cycle of hate in the Balkans, donors need to do something more, at less cost, than the current interventions. What hasn't worked?

We have some ideas - coming soon.

Disclaimer - before I am unmercifully attacked (wait until I discuss Armenia) - I am not pro-Kosovo but I know what the Milosevic regime brought down on innocent people largely for their religious beliefs. All Serbians and all Kosovars are not anything. The hot war is over and the region needs peace, if not reconciliation. The parties need to grow up.

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