It’s hard to imagine a more self-defeating polity than Serbia. Every party in the former Yugoslavia, if not in all of the Balkans, has some historical grievances—but every one but Serbia is able to recognize current realities and accommodate to them. As goes Kosovo, I have no illusions about the KLA, but my basic sympathies are with the Kosovars; even so, the widespread recognition of their independence falls to Serbia’s recalcitrance, tone deafness, and unshakeable sense of victimhood, as much as to Kosovo’s positive case. I though I’d heard it all, until this, from a former UK Ambassador in Belgrade:
While we all wrestle with the fearsomely complex policy issues surrounding Kosovo, one overwhelming fact has to be faced.
It is that successive Serbian leaders, unerringly backed by stupidly populist Serbian media, have gone out of their way to offer the Kosovar Albanians, their fellow citizens, nothing but contempt.
Back in 2001—03, I tried to explain to then-President Vojislav Kostunica and his entourage that it made no sense to insist that Kosovo was part of Serbia but make no meaningful gestures toward its population. In principle they should be addressed as potential voters, not rabid sub-human enemies.
When, for example, a truck containing the bodies of Albanians massacred by Milosevic’s forces was found in the Danube, I urged Kostunica’s closest team to aim to win international praise by doing something such as organizing a decent high-profile ceremony in their honor and sending personal messages to all their relatives. I tried to get through to them that some sort of civilized European, human gesture would be right in itself, plus a strong sign that post-Milosevic Serbia understood the way international opinion was formed and wanted to be a nimble part of it.
Back came the appalling answer. “There are many mass graves in and around Belgrade from World War II—what difference does another one make?”
Thus again Belgrade was not extending to the region’s and their own country’s Albanians a positive hand of friendship, but instead in effect another slap in the face. If Serbia’s leaders really are trying to convince the international community of their moral and/or historical and/or political case to keep Kosovo, maybe this sort of thing—as exemplified in its latest mode by trying to burn down the U.S. Embassy— risks coming across as a bit…unpersuasive?
Several U.S. State Department officials criticized the Serbian authorities for not providing adequate security for the embassy. Spokesman Sean McCormack said that Washington will hold Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to his pledge that the incident will not be repeated. McCormack noted that several leading Serbian officials recently appeared to justify political violence. Among the comments he may have been alluding to was one by Kostunica-ally and Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic, who said that NATO “broke our whole country. What’s a few windows compared to that?” Furthermore, Slobodan Samardzic, who is Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, said that attacks on some foreign embassies on February 17 were “legitimate…even if they weren’t nice.”
The only potential bright spot in this sorry affair is that the newly elected President Boris Tadic condemned the attack as counterproductive and as damaging to Serbia’s image:
These actions do not contribute to the defense of Kosovo, or the defense of our integrity and dignity. They only take Kosovo away from Serbia.