By Vojislav Kostunica
Wednesday, July 12, 2006; A15
The demands for the independence of Kosovo present Southeast Europe and the rest of the world with a compelling question: Will absolute justice be made to yield to relative political interests -- and will authentic democratic values be sacrificed for a mere semblance of peace?
The arguments given by Serbia against independence for its southern province are well known. From the point of view of international law, these arguments are simply irrefutable. They are based on the fundamental documents and pillars of international order: the U.N. Charter, the Helsinki Final Act and relevant resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.
Depriving a democratic country of a part of its territory simply because one ethnic group that has aspirations for that territory threatens violence is impermissible, not only morally but also from the perspective of historical experience. Indeed, tragic occurrences have taught mankind that a policy of appeasement toward those who threaten force only opens the way to more and even greater violence.
There is another, purely pragmatic argument that is equally indisputable: An independent Kosovo could not help becoming a hotbed of chronic tension in the region, both because of the probability of new territorial demands and because of its economic unviability and its widespread network of organized crime.
Viewed strategically, and not just with regard to preserving stability in the Balkans, the arguments against an independent Kosovo are equally strong: Independence for Kosovo would surely be viewed as a precedent, setting off similar demands elsewhere. Those who argue otherwise are, quite simply, closing their eyes to the hard facts. Resolving the problems of national minorities through self-determination (especially in the case of nationalities that already have their own countries nearby) inevitably leads to border changes and all the dangerous complications that this entails.
But even if it remained deaf to all of these arguments, the international community would have to take account of the impact that Kosovo's eventual independence would have on democratic Serbia. Let us recall that Serbia liberated itself from a communist regime on its own by investing enormous effort and taking huge risks. Can such a country, by any measure a democratic one, survive the forcible taking of 15 percent of its territory? What democratically elected government could explain to its voters after such an act that they should continue to believe in the principles of tolerance, liberalism and the sacrosanct will of the people -- the values of enlightened Western civilization, in the name of which they toppled an evil, authoritarian regime?
To put it simply, a young democracy, which in a mere six years has achieved impressive results in developing its economy, building institutions, protecting human rights, battling corruption and crime, and fostering international relations, would stand little chance of survival under such circumstances.
Democracy, in Serbia as anywhere else, is essentially based on the equality of all and, no less important, on trust. If people stop believing in the rules of democracy, if they start thinking that a set of rules is applicable to one nation but not to others, if they feel betrayed by powerful institutions, and if the standards and norms of behavior for relations among individuals and nations alike are trampled upon, then people will lose faith. And where faith is lost, there can be no democracy.
In attempting to preserve the province of Kosovo within its borders, Serbia has acted in the most reasonable and constructive way possible. It is prepared to accept any form of compromise that does not entail independence, and it offers Albanians the greatest possible autonomy, including all legislative, executive and judicial powers, while expecting in return only the inviolability of borders and safety for the non-Albanian population of the province.
In its struggle for Kosovo, Serbia is also struggling for fundamental principles of international justice and order. And, by defending an inalienable part of its territory, Serbia may even be defending the future of democracy as a way of life and a view of the world.
The writer is prime minister of Serbia.