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Ethnic partitions no solution

Looking at devastated Kosovo, it's hard to argue that all the self- determination has made this a betterworld

By Daniel Schorr / March 5, 1999



In Kosovo the ethnic Albanians have fought and may fight again for independence from Serbia. This is probably not the way President Wilson imagined it when he promoted ethnic self-determination that often ended up changing existing boundaries.

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In The New York Times, my friend, columnist Thomas Friedman says that, in principle, he has always favored partition, be it in the Balkans or in the Middle East, because "people need to live apart before they can live together."

But one has to wonder where partition, often accompanied by massive population transfers and "ethnic cleansing," has gotten the world.

India was partitioned to form Pakistan, and they are still trying to find ways to live with each other in peace. Ireland was partitioned and plunged into decades of violence. Palestine was partitioned into Israel and a still nonexistent Arab state, leading to a series of wars since 1948.

Some partitions simply turn back the clock on imperial conquest. The Soviet Union, created with Stalin's iron fist, melted into its 15 constituent republics. And, within some of these republics, secessionist movements are still alive - Chechnya in Russia, the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan.

The Yugoslav federation, created with Marshall Tito's iron fist, dissolved into five ethnically diverse republics - something that a far-sighted Bush administration had tried to prevent.

In June 1991, Secretary of States James Baker visited Belgrade to warn of "the dangers of disintegration."

But Serbia would not be swayed from seeking sovereignty, and Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina followed.

Bosnia has been, for now, spared by the Dayton accords from being further subdivided, but Bosnia as a single state may not last.

Czechoslovakia has split into two states, but, at least, peacefully.

World War II left us with a North and South Korea and an East and West Germany. Germany has now been reunified - the only recent example of one state where there were two before.

Now, after all the states splitting into smaller and smaller entities, the United Nations, which started in business in 1945 with 50 states, now has 185. And counting.

Looking at devastated Kosovo, it is hard to argue that all the self-determination has made this a better world.

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.