The narrow victory of Boris Tadic in Serbia’s presidential election on 3 February slightly lessens the tensions over the independence of Kosova. But only slightly.
Kosova’s elected government, currently operating under UN control, was likely to declare independence immediately if Tadic’s rival Tomislav Nikolic had won the presidency. Now it will delay a few weeks.
Kosova, 90% Albanian in population, was conquered by Serbia in 1912, and again after World War Two. It was a “colony” of Serbia for most of the 20th century. Its people have a right to self-determination.
From about 1974 to 1988 Kosova enjoyed fairly liberal autonomy. Then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic launched a crackdown, culminating in an attempt in 1999 to massacre or drive out the Albanian population.
In face of NATO bombing, Milosevic eventually withdrew from Kosova, and the following year his rule in Serbia was topped by popular revolt.
Since 1999 Kosova has been under UN control. Chauvinism still runs warm in Serbia. Tadic does not dare recognise Kosovar independence, but - unlike Nikolic - he is determined to get Serbia into the EU, and knows that most EU states will recognise Kosovar independence.
Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica refused to back Tadic for president - although Tadic’s party is part of his government - because he considered Tadic too “soft” on Kosova. Kostunica is more “eurosceptic” than Tadic.
Relations are further envenomed by the persecution by Kosova’s Albanian majority of its Serbian minority.
Because most of the big powers (except Russia) are willing to accept Kosova’s independence, and Serbian imperialism is relatively small-scale and regional, some on the left are inclined to deny Kosova’s rights. But the rights of oppressed nations are not conditional on the power oppressing them being the USA, or a US ally.