Reflections on the Newly Independent Kosovo

Exclusive to STR

February 19, 2008

With Kosovo's declaration of independence, the "Balkanization" of the former Yugoslavia continues...and thank goodness for that!

After all, what right does any Serb, particularly their President, have to keep control over another group of people? And for that matter, what right does the president of Russia have to press his iron boots upon the necks of the people of Chechnya ? And what right does Madrid have to keep Euskal Herria under its thumb? And what right do the Commies in China have to keep Tibet or Hong Kong under their control? The answer is easy; they have the same right as King George II had to force the Americans to submit to his illegitimate rule... 

None! Zero! Zilch! Nada!

The breakup of a centralized State (in this case Serbia ) into smaller, de-centralized, less-powerful entities is a good trend. Individually, one would expect these States to be less dangerous to the general liberty because they are less centralized and less powerful ' and perhaps a little more sympathetic to the idea that "if you love them, you will let them go". If liberty means anything, it includes the right to separate peacefully from those with whom you don't wish to be "united", like when the Slovaks seceded from Czechoslovakia.

And on that note, I find it a bit disheartening to learn that Slovakia's government opposes recognizing Kosovo as independent, presumably because they fear encouraging separatist movements in their own backyard.

Oh, some people will whine about what a terrible thing it is for Yugoslavia to be broken up further, how the dictator Tito was such a great man for keeping it "united." They say this as if it was his land and his people. Well, "Yugoslavia" was never a "united" land to begin with; the region is home to over half a dozen distinct ethnic groups. Whether it's ethnic nationalism or political union, whenever someone advocates for "unity" as if it was a self-evident good, you have to ask: "It's good for whom?"

Maybe it's good for the fuzzy ideologues who see some abstract value in "one nation, one people, one State". It's not good for anyone when distinct and unique ethnic groups are forced to pretend that they are "one nation, one people" under the aegis of a central State. It's not good for anyone when people, who might otherwise get along peacefully, are put into a position where they have to vie for power in order to secure their own interests as part of the political "union". It's not good for anyone when one group (like the Serbs) pretends it has a right to dominate the "union" and performs ethnic cleansing -- all backed up with the coercive monopoly power of the State and its precious "unity".

That helps explain a lot of the ethnic violence and ethnic cleaning that plagues the Balkans. It also helps explain the current civil war in Iraq between the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. And let's not forget the American Civil War nearly four score and 70 years ago.

Although artificial political "unity" is tyrannical at its worst and a powder keg at its best, ethnic, religious, or cultural nationalism in all its forms also foments artificial divisions among people. You don't even need a State for this kind of nationalism to arise (though it's a valuable tool for power-mongers). It's founded upon a pesky, collectivist part of human nature that influences someone to seek all identity, sense of self, and meaning as a small part of "the group" or "the team".

How much blood has been spilt because one "ethnic team" felt it was superior to another, because they felt entitled to a certain stretch of land or whatever? It's pretty silly to begin with, that anyone would take up arms over the fact that someone else in their backyard speaks with different-sounding words and believes in a different man in the sky and has different social habits and customs. It's even sillier when you dress these things up and make them into "nationalities" and "ethnicities", and then stake their whole identity on it. It's collectivist and has about as much sense as Giants and Patriots fans waging war in the streets (and the bus stop, and the dinner table...) because of someone's ability to maneuver an oddly-shaped ball across a half-frozen field and through a goal.

How much blood will continue to be spilt because people refuse to see themselves as individuals first and foremost; because loyalty to their own lives and values, their family, friends and kin is not good enough for them? How much blood will have to be spilt over feuds between one "team" and another 'Muslims, Westerners, Tutsi, Hutu, Sunni, Shi'a...? How much good comes of this? Even if your "team" is victorious over the ethnic, political, or religious "opposition", in a conflict that should never have had to exist in the first place, you're not free, you're not liberated; you're still just a pawn in the machine, a brick in the wall.

Well, I guess we should take the small victories when they come; any act of secession is a small victory for liberty. So let's make a toast to the people of a freer Kosovo -- albeit in a strictly political sense and not the more fundamental sense I wish people would come to embrace.

Your rating: None
Marcel Votlucka's picture
Columns on STR: 29

 Marcel Votlucka writes from Brooklyn NY.  His work focuses on the connections between psychology, culture, and anti-politics.  Visit his new website at