Balkan Trouble

The rioting in Serbia complete with an attack on the U.S. embassy in Belgrade is the headline news out of the Balkans. The real action, though, is a bit further afield. In particular, now that majority-Albanian Kosovo is formally getting out of Serbia, the majority-Serbian part of Kosovo centered around Mitrovica wants out of Kosovo and back into Serbia. On one level, that sounds eminently reasonable. On another level, people I've talked to explain that the problem here is that region contains its own Albanian minority. Similarly, there are Serbs in the majority-Albanian parts of Kosovo.

This is, of course, the general problem with partition as the solution to ethnic conflicts. Like those little Russian dolls you can almost always bore down one level deeper. French Canadians want independent for Québec? Sure. But then what about those parts of Québec that are majority Anglophone? And then what about the Francophones living in those Anglophone enclaves?

At the end of the day, the only just solution for Canada, or for the former Yugoslavia, or for Iraq or Lebanon or anyone else necessarily involves the creation of tolerably liberal rights-respecting governments or else intolerably illiberal population transfers and ethnic cleansing. There's no administrative fix whereby simply drawing the boundaries in just such a way solves the problem. To create really adequate solutions, the international community will have to find a way to create liberal regimes. And this, of course, is precisely what we don't know how to do. This is the point I was trying to make in my Kosovo article from yesterday -- the 1999 bombing campaign made accomplished some important things at a reasonable cost, but while some took our success there as opening a new chapter of a grand new era of military humanitarianism, a more sober look at Kosovo actually highlights rather sharp limits to what we can achieve even under favorable circumstances.

Photo courtesy of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office