spacebawl (the blog)

We thought about it. Now you have to read it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Democracy: Not Peace but a Sword

Serbia is wailing.

And who can blame them? According to their national narrative (or at least the most popular telling of it), they were born of defeat on Kosovo Plain, nearly 620 years ago. Then the Turk was the enemy and the Serbs were one of the many nations to defend the European lands of Christendom. Now it seems that Europe has betrayed their one-time defenders, and the Turks' Albanian coreligionists--converted by the sword during the Ottoman wars--are the beneficiaries.

I link above to a Washington Post editorial. It manages to express the ominous nature of Kosovan independence, but it also fails to say something that is necessary to say.

Perhaps our sympathies mean nothing. Certainly, feeling without action is useless in politics, but I think awareness counts for something, so I say this at the risk of sounding sentimental and condescending:

It is necessary now to see this from the Serbian side.

I cheer with the Kosovar Albanians. I think that home rule becomes necessary when a state shows itself incapable of tolerating its minorities. But I also know that such lines are crossed routinely. We can agree on despising injustice, but it is hard to know when injustice justifies the horror of war, which is an injustice in and of itself. Even as we sympathize with the minority province of Kosovo, we must remember the Serbs who have now themselves become a minority within the republic of Kosovo.

We must also remember that democracy has a nasty side. The republic is no more essentially peaceful than any other political system. It is merely an attempt to institutionalize conflict, and it is as prone to failure as any other. In some cases, it even exacerbates conflict (most notably, in the American example, by failing to settle conflict at all and thus creating more tension and hostility). A strong and large republic may conceivably be even less just than a small despotate, but that's another discussion.

Serbia feels as if its heart has been cut out. It must now feel as Germany felt when it lost Prussia, Russia when it lost Kiev, Greece when it lost Constantinople, Austria when it was forever landlocked by its former subjects. A thousand other nations have felt that, and it is a profound sadness. But whereas some cultural trends can be reversed--as we've seen, with mixed justice, in the Kurdish resettlement in northern Iraq--some have been done. And at that point, the past must bow to the future. Kosovo was Serbian. Now it exists for the Kosovans. May the Albanians use their freedom well, and rule justly.

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