Kosovo's quiet victory over violent ethnic nationalism
Conflict-ridden world take note: Soft power and elections can work.
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In this case, soft power is the allure of the European Union (EU). It makes other countries in the region want to join the EU club of peace and prosperity – even at the cost of making painful democratic reforms and ending feuds with neighbors.
The key election here for Serbia came last May, when for the first time in five years the Serbs' desire to join the EU won priority over ultranationalist resentment at the impending "loss" of Kosovo, Serbia's 90 percent Albanian province. A much disputed declaration of conditional independence – under EU supervision – finally took place just before the Serbian election. The electoral campaign featured the prospect of violence, including the threat to murder moderate Serbian President Boris Tadic, just as reforming Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was murdered in 2003.
After the election, Mr. Tadic was able to bring together a pro-European government that within days arrested war-crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 unarmed Muslims. And the stunning aftermath was the no-show rate at the hard-liner street protests against the arrest. The organizers expected 300,000 to answer their call; only 10,000 turned out. Subsequently, the ultranationalist Radical Party, which for five years had set the political agenda, sealed its impotence by splitting in two.
Belgrade's new government, while still insisting that Kosovo's independence is illegal, has detoxified this issue and is now acting pragmatically rather than ideologically. It has renounced the use of force. It has moved the dispute from the hot political to the cool legal arena by appealing it to the International Court of Justice. It is giving top priority to finishing Djindjic's initial legal and institutional reforms in order to qualify for EU membership.