All is not lost for new nations demanding statehood. In the post-World War II Europe the most-hated concept became, quite expectedly, the ‘nation-state’. Long after Nazi Germany had marched down the Champs-Elysees, vanquished the French and a number of other European powers in all but a few months’ time, and finally bitten the dust themselves, in Western Europe not a murmur was heard about the values of the nation-state. Herder, Fichte, and Hegel had become passé. Despite the Gaullist protest of national independence, France was soon seen drafting the future of a united Europe with its erstwhile bete noire, the Germans. It was a time, also, when most of Asia and Africa was struggling for national freedom from European colonization. European philosophers and political theorists spoke of the end of the nation-state, new cosmopolitan values, and the emergence of a postmodern Europe in an era of globalization.
1990’s began with USSR unraveling along its seams. As Samuel Huntington explained, ‘a new wave’ of states crystallized from the decomposing Soviet empire. Although this event was celebrated as part of other general festivities in connection with the ultimate Western triumph over the ‘Evil Empire’ (the most triumphal document being Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ thesis, which came a little too early as he later would acknowledge), what was to follow in the postmodern Europe was a return to the era of nation-state. On one hand, the continental Europe was moving fast by signing the Maastricht Treaty to formally declare the European Union, on the other the Eastern Europe splintered. Czechs and Slovaks parted ways. Yugoslavia hastened itself into a murky era of ethno-politics. Srebrenica revived memories of the genocidal politics of Nazis. As Bosnians were emptied into mass graves, the West was still giddily celebrating, in a ‘unipolar moment’, over its pyrrhic victory against Communism.
Palestine, Bosnia, Timor, Kashmir, Chechnya were the new metaphors of peoples struggles to achieve independence from around the world. These more prominent ones, along with the first Gulf War, however, deflected attention from what was happening, around the same time, in a small province of Serbia: Kosovo.
Kosovo was a region with a long history of conflicting identities local, ethnic and religious. Constituted mainly of ethnic Albanians, Kosovars were moving toward increased self-assertion. However, in 1989, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic annulled Kosovo’s autonomy and blatantly fired almost 130000 Kosovo Albanians from their jobs. He imposed a harsh regime, which led to widespread human rights violations. Going against the grain of the era of armed resistance Kosovars decided to launch a peaceful resistance against a vastly superior Serbia, under the leadership of a scholarly Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo.
Rugova established a shadow government and a parallel social system. His party, which soon had around 0.7 million members out of a population of 2.2 million, created a network of schools and hospitals across Kosovo. He contested the elections for Kosovo’s presidency in 1992 and won by an overwhelming majority to become the President of Kosovo. (Kosovars, however, boycotted the elections for the Serbian—federal—presidency).
Ibrahim Rugova, with a mass base, took an explicitly pro-independence stand, and refused to negotiate with Serbia on anything but Kosovo’s independence. Yet, he contended, on a visit to Britain that he did not want Kosovo to turn into a Bosnia-like bloodbath. He advocated a passive resistance, and received a massive support among his people, and wide acclaim internationally.
The 1995 Dayton peace agreement on Bosnia failed to mention Kosovo. It was a failure that weakened Rugova’s position tremendously. Kosovars lost their patience, and turned to armed struggle. Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed, which eclipsed Rugova’s popularity. KLA widened its support base because of its success against a much stronger Serb and Yugoslav army. It soon drew Western attention toward itself; the latter began to increasingly demand of Serbia that Kosovo be discussed in their meetings on Bosnia. As KLA made its push to control more territory, Serbian army actions displaced hundreds of thousands of Albanians into cold woods without food or shelter.
The Rambouillet Conference of 1999 over the status of Kosovo ended in a failure when the Serbian and the Russian delegation refused to sign an agreement that had been accepted by US, UK, and Albanians. Despite NATO threats to Serbia to stop human rights violations in Kosovo, Serbia continued to take a belligerent posture. NATO began its bombing campaign in the March of 1999 which continued until June of that year. With all its controversies and pitfalls, the campaign brought Serb atrocities to an end. Kosovo passed under UN auspices. Unfortunately the breakaway factions of KLA and criminal gangs began revenge campaigns against Serb minority in Kosovo. Many of them left for Serbia. But the Kosovars argue that Serbs left because of economic reasons. (Kosovo has continued to be the poorest region in the federation since the days of former Yugoslavia).
Meanwhile Rugova came back to power in a thumping win against his KLA opposition in 2000 elections. He, however, would not live long. In 2006 he died of lung cancer. He would be remembered as the ‘Father of the Nation’, and his funeral was attended by half-a-million Kosovars. He could not realize his dream of an independent Kosovo, a dream that an overwhelming majority of Kosovars supported in a referendum he held, but which Serbia declared null and void.
On 20th of this December, the Security Council failed one more time to break the deadlock over Kosovo’s independence. Although, Kosovo along with its Western supporters maintained that the status quo is unsustainable, Serbia, backed by Russia, continued to obstruct Kosovo’s movement toward the goal of independence. The 15-member body met behind closed doors to hear Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Kosovo’s President Fatmir Sejdiu make their respective cases. The Belgian ambassador speaking on behalf of the Western leaders stated that “their views remain irreconcilable.” After 18 months of failed talks, Belgrade says it is willing to offer Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority ‘broad autonomy’ but not independence, while Pristina said that if talks fail it will declare independence. Americans and most of the EU agree with Kosovo, and back it firmly.
In coming weeks, if not days, a new state might emerge in the postmodern Europe. The ‘new wave’ that started in early 90’s has not ended. Nation-state is not dead yet. Rugova’s dream is soon going to become a reality. Kosovo has become a metaphor in its own and should find deep resonances in other parts of the world where people are struggling similarly to gain freedom and respect. Even without Western support.