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Kosovo: Mind the gap

It can bridge divisions over its independence by living up to its multiethnic promise.

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The last of the pieces that once made up Yugoslavia has broken off. On Feb. 17, Kosovo – the tiny province with the giant geopolitical footprint – declared independence from Serbia. It may mark the end of the Balkan subdivisions, but will that building style spread to other regions?

Russia warns that the Kosovo example will encourage restless populations in volatile regions such as the Caucasus. Indeed, rebels in the Russian republic of Chechnya – over which Moscow fought two wars since 1994 to finally gain control – immediately expressed solidarity with the new nation.

Other countries share Moscow's worries. China (mindful of Taiwan, Tibet, and elsewhere) reacted with "deep concern." A few European countries also have misgivings because of their restive minorities.

That Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the population, now have a country to call their own is still no guarantee that geographic divorce is a thing of the Balkan past. Will unhappy Serbs in Bosnia catch the spirit? What about Albanians in Montenegro? The Serb government itself may split and fall over the issue of Kosovo independence.

The scenarios for division abound, and on a large scale. What if Moscow uses Kosovo's independence – which it considers illegal because it was not approved by the UN Security Council – to drive a deeper wedge between it and the West, or as an excuse to shore up control over its "near abroad"?


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