With the backing of the EU and the US, nationalist Kosovo Albanians have reached their goal of -- limited -- independence. But real peace in the Balkans is still in the distant future, says DW's Verica Spasovska.
"Calm and moderation" was Berlin's first cautious reaction. For good reason, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is calling on all involved parties in the region to keep a sober mind. The cries of joy in Pristina cannot hide the fact that Kosovo's independence isn't solving all the problems of the Balkans. In reality, they've only just begun.
First off, the high-flying expectations of many a citizen of Kosovo that independence will automatically bring masses of foreign investors to the country will not be fulfilled that quickly. On the contrary, a possible economic embargo by the Serbian government -- cutting off electricity, food and water supplies, Internet and telephone connections -- could make daily life harder for people in Kosovo. Without generous EU support, the country will not be able to free itself from years of economic agony. Considering previous foreign aid worth billions, expectations shouldn't be too high that the money will lead to a rapid economic upswing.
But the question whether the international community will manage to erect a truly democratic state that can integrate all its citizens is far more complicated than the economic situation. It's certainly possible that the 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo -- backed by Belgrade -- will refuse to cooperate with the government in Pristina and build parallel structures. In the worst case, a similar situation to the "frozen conflict" in northern Cyprus could develop in the long term.
Pristina's declaration of independence is a tough test for the fragile coalition in Belgrade. National-conservative Premier Kostunica has already announced that he will reject all agreements that bring Serbia closer to the EU in case of the recognition of Kosovo by EU states. President Tadic meanwhile does not want to give up his pro-European stance. At the same time, the Serbian Radical Party is strengthening its position as the strongest fraction in parliament. The municipal elections in May will -- at the latest -- force Serbia to once more decide whether it wants to choose a path towards the EU or Russia.
The controversial step towards independence also adds oil to the fire in neighboring republics, such as the Serbian entity in Bosnia. Bosnians Serbs are unlikely to call for independence and accession to Serbia -- there's too much international pressure. But citing Kosovo, they'll continue to test to what extent they can block the central government in Sarajevo.
Bosnia, which has been under international control for more than a decade, also shows quite clearly the limits of "controlled independence." Some are already beginning to ask how long Kosovo Albanians will put up with the semi-protectorate dictated by the EU. The presence of 16,000 NATO soldiers, who are meant to be able to prevent major unrest, brings some comfort in that respect.
EU member states, a large majority of which will recognize Kosovo diplomatically, know that the Balkan peace process will remain a mammoth task. The only way out of the dilemma may be a future in which national borders play a subordinate role. Only when Kosovo and Serbia are EU members, will the Balkan find long-term peace. It's still a long way to go.
Verica Spasovska heads DW-RADIO's central and south-eastern European programs. (win)