Kosovo’s independence hinges on freedom from oppression

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History is undeniably important as a defining factor in a nation’s identity. From understanding a culture’s history, it’s possible to learn how that culture got where it is today and where it’s going. But how far back does one have to go in a nation’s history in order to validate its present?

Historical issues evolve every day, and new problems can emerge at any moment. Old qualms need to be respected, but at what point should we allow the problems of the present to override the issues of the past? In the case of Kosovo, responding to the present is the best way to alleviate the problems of the past, and, for that reason, Kosovo’s independence should be universally acknowledged.

On Feb. 17, Kosovo officially declared its independence from Serbia. Following the declaration, tens of thousands of Kosovars celebrated their independence in the streets of Pristina, the capital. While Kosovars were ecstatic, Serbians were enraged. To Serbians, who see Kosovo as their cultural heartland, Kosovo’s declaration of independence is impetuous and unacceptable. Supported by Russia and China, Serbia will not acknowledge Kosovo as a newborn country but instead as a misbehaving state.

Serbia’s fundamental issue against Kosovo’s declaration of independence is rooted in its people’s idea of history; they see focusing on past conflicts with Albanians as more important than fostering change in the present. The story of Kosovo itself is long and complicated, riddled with many conflicts throughout its history.

In the 12th century, Kosovo was the administrative and cultural center of the Serbian state. This is why Serbians today refer to Kosovo as the “Old Serbia.” However, following a series of regional conflicts and a resulting migration of Serbians out of Kosovo, many Albanians entered and resettled the land.

By 1912, Serbians had regained some area in parts of Kosovo, although the region remained dominated by Muslim ideals and anti-Christian ethnic-cleansing practices, leading Serbians to again leave the region and instead populate Serbia.

Over time, Albanians and Serbians have engaged in a long cycle of ethnic- and religious-based genocide provoked by the religious differences between the Serbians and Albanians, based on most Serbians being Orthodox Christians and most Albanians being Muslims.

In 1999, the infamous NATO bombing of Kosovo followed Albanian Kosovars’ persecution by Slobodan Miloševiç, who sought to cleanse Kosovo of Albanians to create a pure state for Serbians. This move, however brutal, seems to stand out more in the minds of Albanians than Serbians, who continue to emphasize their own past persecutions over this modern-day ethnic cleansing.
According to G. Richard Jansen of Colorado State University in an essay of Kosovo’s long history, today, the majority of Kosovo’s residents are Albanian. Despite this, Serbians seem to have little interest in populating Kosovo, instead desiring to control it from afar. A parliamentary republic, Kosovo has been run by the city of Belgrade since 1999, but not many Serbians have returned to the area.

From the ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Albanians in 1912 to the more recent ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbs under Miloševiç, the history of Kosovo has been a bloody one based on conflict and revenge. For this reason, the Feb. 21 Serbian attack on the U.S. embassy in Belgrade was way out of line; while Serbians may believe “Old Serbia” is still rightfully theirs, they are playing a game of “who started it first,” focusing more on historic conflict than on making peace in the present.

Years of hatred need to end somewhere, and the past must become the past, not the present. The only way for lives to be saved and for people to peacefully coexist in the Kosovo region is if freedom and independence take hold over hate crimes in this contested region. Even if Albanians have committed atrocities against Serbians, both groups need to accept Kosovo’s independence in order to stabilize their relations.

War will continue to plague them both if they continue as one nation. Separating from each other is necessary for either side to eventually admit to abusing human rights and to forgive each other. Regardless of the groups’ claims to Kosovo, human rights abuses validate any and all claims for independence, which should put an end to the violent struggle.