If Serbia and Russia draw a line in the sand over the independence of Kosovo, we may observe the second occasion in history when a Muslim advance on Europe halted on Serbian soil. The first occurred in 1456, three years after the fall of Constantinople, when Sultan Mehmed II was thrown back from the walls of Belgrade, "The White City", by Hungarian and Serb defenders. The Siege of Belgrade "decided the fate of Christendom", wrote the then Pope Calixtus III. Not for nothing did J R R Tolkien name his fictional stronghold of Minas Tirith "The White City".
While America’s attention is riveted on Iraq, Russia is outraged at the American-backed plan for Kosovo’s independence, proposed by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Kosovo comprised the historic Serbian heartland, Christian Serbs comprise less than a tenth of the present population. Perhaps 200,000 Serbs have left the province since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) made Kosovo a protectorate in 2000.
The Bill Clinton administration, in this writer’s considered view, provoked NATO’s 1999 bombing war against Serbia with malice of forethought, as a gesture to the Muslim world. The United States in effect was willing to bomb Christians in order to protect Muslims, in this case the Albanian Kosovo majority whom it accused the Serbs of mistreating. That is precisely what the Democrats say. In a January 3 article in the Financial Times, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden contended that Kosovo independence would constitute a "victory for Muslim democracy", and "a much-need example of US-Muslim partnership".
Contrary to American propaganda at the time, no massacres had occurred; the Serbs had shot a few thousand Muslim militants in their efforts to pacify the province. Clinton, then secretary of state Madeleine Albright and UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke deluded themselves that they could cash in the chips earned in Kosovo at the negotiating table in the Middle East. The neo-conservatives cheered the Clinton bombing campaign, believing perhaps that any American show of force was better than no show of force.
Once again Washington’s attention is directed toward the Middle East. Washington proposes to sacrifice the remaining Christians in Kosovo in order to earn Muslim support. Serbia has earned little sympathy; its brutality against Bosnian Muslims during the 1990s left an image of Serbian barbarity etched on the mind of the Western public.
Without apologizing for past Serbian misbehavior, I believe that Serbia and Russia are correct to offer partition rather than independence for Kosovo, that is, breaking off the Christian-majority municipalities of the north and attaching them to Serbia proper, while permitting the Muslim majority to determine its own fate.
This is the obvious, humane and commonsense solution; the fact that the State Department refuses to consider it inflames Russia’s worst fears about America’s intent. To broad Russian opinion, the sacrifice of the Kosovo Serbs seems like yet another prospective humiliation, on top of the deployment of anti-missile systems on Russia’s border and the buildup of American forces in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
Bill Clinton’s war may come back to haunt us yet. (And, don’t forget, we bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade to boot, so we may have an additional SCO opponent at the UN.)