Kosovo’s independence is thorn in heart of Serbs

By Djerdj Matkovic, former Co-Editor in Chief

Kosovo’s declaration of independence on February 18, 2008, struck a deep thorn into the hearts of many Serbs. It’s extremely difficult for a nation that has endured almost two decades of war, poverty, corruption, isolation, economic and social downfall to come to terms with a subject they feel so passionate about. As with any conflict that bears its roots in historical, religious, ethnic and political differences, the issue of Kosovo is a very sensitive one.

It comes with little surprise then that the protests held in Belgrade in the days following Kosovo’s independence turned into violent expressions of resentment over the declaration, especially since Serbs consider Kosovo their ancestral homeland (Kosovo was the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church, an inspiration for epic Serbian poetry, the site of historic battles against the Ottoman Empire and home to thousands of centuries-old Orthodox Churches).

Following World War II, Kosovo became an autonomous province within Serbia. In later years, the 80% Albanian majority in Kosovo demanded greater rights and more freedom to practice their language and religion. In 1974, Kosovo was granted a greater de?gree of autonomy.

In 1989 the Yugoslav president, Milosevic, worried about the Albanian majority in Serbia’s ancestral homeland, abrogated the constitutional autonomy of Kosovo. This led to tensions and demonstrations that turned into armed conflict in 1998 between the Serbian army and the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. After the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, Kosovo came under UN jurisdiction, though still was a part of Serbia.

Ever since Milosevic fell in 2000, the newly elected democratic government in Serbia has been striving to bring the country out of turmoil and into a future within the European Union. The recent demonstrations in Belgrade are in part an expression of frustration over the seeming lack of progress towards development.

The Economist.com ascribes the violence to Serbia’s “lost generation”, young people who grew up in the dark years of sanctions and war in the 1990s. In those times that generation had nothing to look up to, besides a sense of na?tional pride that was corrupted by a constant feeling of victimization by foreign powers.

Echoes of ethnic hatred fueled by years of war are not likely to subside any time soon in the Balkans. The people of the region will never forget what devastation and sadness was brought to their families.

But with the disintegration of the region essentially over, a new chapter can finally be opened where the war-torn countries can look forward to development, progress, prosperity and most importantly, peace.

Matkovic, class of 2007, is currently living in Washington D.C. He and his family are from Serbia.