Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Greater Serbia" gets ever smaller

Poor Serbia! First, Yugoslavia, which Serbia dominated, disintegrated after the fall of communism. Croatia, Silesia, Macedonia, and especially Bosnia-Herzegovina couldn't wait to escape from under Serbia's thumb. Brutal wars ensued as ultra-nationalists tried to preserve "Greater Serbia," but the effort was in vain: only Montenegro stayed alongside Serbia in the rump Yugoslavia, renamed "Serbia and Montenegro." Then, in 2006, Montenegro, too, decided to go its own way. This week, the Serbian autonomous province of Kosovo declared itself an independent nation. There is yet another semi-autonomous province in the north of Serbia, Vojvodina; however, it shows no immediate signs of breaking away to form an independent state. All the same, Serbia's history over the last two decades suggests that the more tightly it tries to hold onto its sphere of influence, the faster it slips through its fingers — a lesson other nations would do well to heed.

On the other hand, maybe Serbia just needs some new mouthwash and deodorant.

The graphic (adapted from an image in the Wikipedia commons; this image and any derivative work are uncopyrighted under the terms of the GNU Public License) shows Yugoslavia and later Serbia in red, with other chunks changing color as they split off. First, in 1991, Silesia (yellow), Croatia (dark blue), and Macedonia (purple) split off. Then, in 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina (green) declared independence, sparking a particularly bloody war whose atrocities are still winding through the international justice system. In 1995, at the end of the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina created the Inter-Entity Boundary Line, separating the Republika Srpska (Serbian republic; the northern and eastern parts of the green area) from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the center and west, plus two small enclaves in the north). However, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a single nation, both officially and in practice. In 1999, Kosovo gained substantial autonomy, indicated by the dashed boundary. In 2006, Montenegro (gold), the last remaining Yugoslav republic still aligned with Serbia, voted to dissolve the nation now known as Serbia and Montenegro, and declared full independence. The loss of Montenegro landlocked Serbia. Finally, this week, Kosovo (light blue) declared full independence from Serbia.

All of the other breakaway states are fully recognized by the United Nations, Serbia, Russia, and the rest of the world; Kosovo, for the time being, is recognized only by the United States, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and about a dozen other countries, but not by Serbia, Russia, China, or the United Nations. A few nations, including Spain, Cyprus, and Sri Lanka, have withheld recognition due to concerns over the precedent in international law of recognizing the unilateral independence of a breakaway province of a United Nations member state. Although the People's Republic of China does not recognize Kosovo, the Republic of China (Taiwan) does, apparently mostly on the principle of thumbing its nose at Beijing.

Unfortunately, Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence has (predictably) inflamed nationalist sentiment in Serbia. We can only hope that "Greater Serbia" does not erupt into renewed war crimes, atrocities, and ethnic cleansing.

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