Nearly two years ago, in “Who Will Protect Kosovo’s Christians?” I wrote:

Dozens of churches, monasteries and shrines have been destroyed or damaged since 1999 in Kosovo, the cradle of Orthodox Christianity in Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox Church lists nearly 150 attacks on holy places, which often involve desecration of altars, vandalism of icons and the ripping of crosses from Church rooftops. A March 2004 rampage by Albanian mobs targeted Serbs and 19 people, including eight Kosovo Serbs, were killed and more than 900 injured, according Agence France Press. The UN mission in Kosovo, AFP said, reported that 800 houses and 29 Serb Orthodox churches and monasteries – some of them dating to the 14th century — were torched during the fighting. NATO had to rush 2,000 extra troops to the province to stop the destruction.

All this happened despite the presence of UN peacekeeping forces. According to news reports posted by the American Council for Kosovo, Albanian separatists are opposing the expansion of military protection of Christian holy sites by UN forces. A main concern of Christians is the fate of the Visoki Decani Monastery – Kosovo’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Now that Albanian separatists have declared the Serbian province of Kosovo to be an independent nation — and won backing from President Bush — a chain of events has been put in place that EU lawmakers are already describing as a Pandora’s Box.

Why? Because the secessionist move in Serbia is likely to kindle others in places like Georgia, Moldova and Russia (which now much entertain similar aspirations from places like Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Transdniester). This explains Russia’s opposition to the Kosovo breakaway, but it’s not alone. Spain, which has contended with Basque, Catalan and Galician separatist movements for decades, refused to recognize an independent Kosovo, saying the move was illegal. Then there’s Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus. Some Asian countries also view the Kosovo split as a dangerous precedent. Sri Lanka said the move was a violation of the UN Charter. Canada has officially remained mum on the question so far.

For a good balanced look ahead for Kosovo, see “After Kosovo’s Secession,” by Lee Hudson Teslik on the Council of Foreign Relations Web site, and the online debate between Marshall F. Harris, Senior Policy Advisor, Alston + Bird, and Alan J. Kuperman, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, LBJ School of Public Affairs.

But I am a skeptic, in case you were wondering.In a recent Washington Times commentary titled “Warning Light on Kosovo,” John Bolton, Lawrence Eagleburger and Peter Rodman argued that partitioning Serbia’s sovereign territory was not in the best interest of the United States:

The blithe assumption of American policy — that the mere passage of nine years of relative quiet would be enough to lull Serbia and Russia into reversing their positions on a conflict that goes back centuries — has proven to be naive in the extreme.

Recognition of Kosovo’s independence without Serbia’s consent would set a precedent with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences for many other regions of the world. The Kosovo model already has been cited by supporters of the Basque separatist movement in Spain and the Turkish-controlled area of northern Cyprus. Neither the Security Council nor any other international body has the power or authority to impose a change of any country’s borders.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current policy is the dismissive attitude displayed toward Russia’s objections. Whatever disagreements the United States may have with Moscow on other issues, and there are many, the United States should not prompt an unnecessary crisis in U.S.-Russia relations. There are urgent matters regarding which the United States must work with Russia, including Iran’s nuclear intentions and North Korea’s nuclear capability. Such cooperation would be undercut by American action to neutralize Moscow’s legitimate concerns regarding Kosovo.

In “Let’s Avoid Another Kosovo Crisis,” Ruth Wedgwood, a professor of international law and diplomacy at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

Kosovo has been part of the territory of Serbia since before the First World War, and its ancient monasteries are iconic to the Serbs. Belgrade’s government coalition is already in crisis on the issue.

It is a dangerous precedent to tear apart the territory of a member state of the United Nations. And the timing could not be worse. No one needs a Kosovo crisis, while NATO remains short of troops in Afghanistan and maintains 16,000 troops in this autonomous province of Serbia. A Kosovo blowup would provide an easy excuse for gun-shy European allies to reduce their Afghanistan contingents.

And what of the Serb Christians? Orthodox Bishop Artemije of Ras and Prizren issued the following statement on Jan. 31:

Should Washington and its followers make good on their current threats to recognize Kosovo, Serbia would never accept it. Not only Russia but many other countries, especially those outside of Europe, would reject recognition. Kosovo would never become a member of the United Nations. We would regard the international presence in Kosovo, including the mission now being considered by the EU, as an occupation force. We Serbs have suffered many occupations in the past and triumphed over them. If necessary we would survive this one as well. Despite any intensification of the terror to which we Christians have been subjected since 1999, my flock in Kosovo has no intention of leaving their homes.

I do not welcome having to direct these critical words at the United States. Serbs have always regarded America as a friend and continue to do so. Americans and Serbs were allies in both World Wars. We are not the ones who are pursuing a confrontation today. But it is impossible for America to profess friendship with Serbia while demanding the amputation of the most precious part of our homeland.

  • AC

    You do know that there are Albanian Christians as well don’t you? Of course you do, but it suits you better to present it as a clash of religions. Also did you know that that Bishop you quote was advocating that Serbia should buy “modern arms” (whatever that means) from Russia and start a war in Kosovo? You want to talk Pandora’s box talk to the Bishop and his “modern arms”.

  • Anti

    I don’t think he was presenting this as a religious clash at all. The author, in my opinion was rightfully pointing out the illegality, and lack of wisdom in these latest actions by certain nations who take their cues from the US

  • MR

    Indeed there are Albanian Christians and what you think how they are feeling while Christian monasteries are in flame. Albanian Christians live in Albania and they are horrified with the actions of Kosovo-Albanians. Kosovo Albanians are mainly atheists but presenting themselves as Muslims was a good idea. namely by supporting them US government hoped that will decrease anti-American feelings among Muslims in other part of the world.
    The main “religion” among Kosovo-Albanians is actually “anti-Serbism”; they haven’t torched only Orthodox Christian (read “Serbian”) monasteries and churches but their homes and villages as well.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, more of Clinton” legacy.