Former U.S. Secretary of State and ambassador to Yugoslavia Lawrence Eagleburger in an interview with our colleague, Branko Mikasinovich, looked back on the reasons why Washington gave its support to the independence of Kosovo, the importance of Kosovo to Serbs, the issue of the right of self-determination, and the possible return of Serbian refugees.
Eagleburger: First of all, I think that the Bush Administration, when considering the Kosovo issue, decided to support independence thinking that it was the best genuine solution (whereas I personally do not agree with such decision) and that further demands of Kosovo Albanians for independence would be avoided and regional instability eliminated. As far as the significance of Kosovo is concerned, I think that lot of people in the United States and elsewhere do not quite understand the importance of Kosovo to Serbs and Serbia. Kosovo has always been the heart of Serbia, its statehood, and its religious identity. I am familiar with it on the basis of my personal experience as the US ambassador to former Yugoslavia - Serbs consider Kosovo as Serbia. That devotion of Serbs to Kosovo is not known and understood abroad, not just in the United States, but elsewhere. Hence, we got this kind of approach to the issue.
Voice of America: In Serbia it was expected that the EU and the U.S. would observe Security Council Resolution 1244 and international law regarding the future status of Kosovo?
Eagleburger: This Resolution affirms that Kosovo is a part of Serbia, but Kosovo Albanians do not accept that and the West, after the period of few years, has decided to ignore the Resolution.
Voice of America: Does independence of Kosovo set a precedent?
Eagleburger: I have said it publicly, and also in a Washington Times op-ed, that one of the reasons why I refused to support declaring independence is the fact that by granting our recognition of the province's independence, we have set a precedent. I think we are going to regret such a decision, because other countries will say - here you go, the international community has recognized the independence of a province which was a part of one sovereign country, why don't we try to do the same. Basques in Spain, Kurds in Turkey or Chechens in Russia, etc., all of them could say that. Accordingly, you have various entities who would like the idea of becoming independent, and maybe they won't manage to achieve their ambitions, but in any case a standard has been established.
Voice of America: Some analysts are wondering why Serbs from northern Kosovo or Republika Srpska don't have the same right on self-determination?
Eagleburger: Since the precedent has been set, Republika Srpska will claim that this entity should unite with Serbia, or northern Kosovo, and even though these are not urgent issues as explosive as the situation in Kosovo was, such possibilities now exist.
Voice of America: What are the possibilities for return of Serbian refugees to Kosovo?
Eagleburger: First of all, I am not sure whether those Serbs are ready to return, because they would become a minority in country whose authorities would not look favorably upon their return, plus they could become objects of terrorist attack. On the other side, Serbian refugees could go back if the international community would pressure the government in Pristina to enable their return and give adequate accommodation, which is the situation the Albanians would have to accept, even though I don't see this as being accomplished easily. But it is surely possible if the international community insists on it. If it can't be achieved, in such case the international community would have to find resources for the refugees in Serbia. I would like also to point out that Kosovo is not economically sustainable and it will need international assistance, which will be largely provided by the U.S.
Voice of America: What is the direction of future relations between Belgrade and Washington and Moscow and Washington?
Eagleburger: While I was ambassador to former Yugoslavia, relations between Serbia and the U.S. were very good, as well as the way Serbs treated Americans. I think we don't have that anymore. Our support for the independence of Kosovo clearly contributed, as we saw even on TV, to the fact that these relations will not be as close as they used to be. Since we have participated in such a resolution of the future status of Kosovo, we should now focus more on how to help the situation in this part of the world stabilize. As far as Russia is concerned, we have many problems with that country and this is just an additional one. We should realize that these two nations have centuries-old relations, that they are bound by the same faith, they are Slavic brothers. I think that Russians will continue to reject the independence of Kosovo which has been imposed to Serbia. As far as U.S.-Russia relations are concerned, the Russians will continue to make our life difficult whenever they can, especially in the UN, but I don't think it will cause a great deal of damage in the relations between our countries.