UNT political scientist available to discuss Kosovo's independence and resulting protests

Monday, February 25, 2008

Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, evacuated all nonessential personnel and closed after angry demonstrators attacked the embassy in protest of Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Kosovo declared independence on Feb. 17, and the United States was among the first countries to offer official recognition of its split from Serbia. The Croatian Embassy next door was also attacked by ethnic Serb demonstrators in retaliation of European and other nations recognizing Kosovo's sovereignty. On Sunday (Feb. 24), up to 1,000 protesters gathered briefly in the ethnically divided northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica in a seventh day of demonstrations denouncing Kosovo's independence.

 The declaration is the second by Kosovo's Albanian-dominated political institutions, after its 1990 declaration was recognized only by neighboring Albania. The second declaration has been recognized by France, Germany and Denmark as well as the U.S.

An associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas says the violence following the second declaration is "a reminder how a seemingly small place in one corner of Europe can produce far-reaching repercussions."

Dr. Milan J. Reban, who researches European integration, nationalities and minorities in Europe and Asia, says the situation in Belgrade highlights conflicts dating back almost 100 years, when the Kingdom of Serbia claimed the land that is now Kosovo in 1912 during the Balkan Wars. The Serbian authorities planned a recolonization of the region, moving numerous Serb families into it to equalize the demographic balance between the Serbs and the Albanian majority. But the Serbs "mistreated" the area that they claimed as the "heartland" of the Balkans, Reban says.

"There has been so much outmigration from this poor corner of the world. This is supposed to be the heartland, but Serbs did not want to live there," he says.

He adds that Kosovo's independence follows one of the goals that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson outlined in a plan for peace in Europe after World War I. Wilson's goal of self-determination resonated throughout the region, which was ruled by empires, but "proved virtually impossible to implement within the new states with their complex ethnonational profiles," he says.

"We need to have a deeper understanding of the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia to make sense of it," Reban says. "It's not easy to redraw borders."

He says the possible impact of Kosovo being independent from Serbia may be softened by admitting Serbia into the European Union as a way to stabilize the region.

"What's happening right now, however, is not likely to expedite the process," Reban says.   

Reban is the co-editor of and a contributor to "Politics and Ethnicity in Eastern Europe" and author of articles and chapters in "The Political Handbook of the World," "Religion and Atheism in the USSR and Eastern Europe," "The International Law Newsletter," "International Review of History and Political Science" and other anthologies. He is a frequent lecturer and contributor to international seminars and symposia, especially on and in Central Europe, and a regular analyst of European transformation for the Dallas-Fort Worth and national media.

Reban may reached by cell phone at (972) 948-7786 or at home at (972) 618-8870.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108