Current negotiations on the future of Serbia's Kosovo province hold the key to wider peace in the turbulent Balkans region. But their success hinges on giving Kosovo's Albanian majority some hope of meaningful self-government.
The agreement worked out a month ago by American mediator Richard Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic envisions, initially, local autonomy for Albanian municipalities. That may be a good start, particularly if Albanians are given local policing authority and Yugoslav forces exit.
But it's still a long way from the provincewide self-rule Kosovo had even under the old communist system. Mr. Milosevic stripped away that autonomy in 1989 as he whipped up Serb nationalism.
The US-mediated deal allows for review of Kosovo's situation after three years. Even moderate Albanians, who might go along with a phasing-in process, are likely to insist on greater self-government, if not independence, at that point.
With Milosevic in charge in Belgrade, however, it won't be easy to secure a bona fide near-term beginning on autonomy, much less a greater loosening of Serb control later. And Kosovo's Albanians, with good reason, have no interest in living indefinitely under Milosevic's thumb.
They're not alone. Many residents of Montenegro, Belgrade's remaining partner in a rump Yugoslavia, would themselves like independence. Milosevic's policies have cut Montenegro off from tourism and other commerce with Europe. Montenegrins have rebelled against serving in Milosevic's crackdown against Kosovar separatists. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has proclaimed that his people no longer want to be part of an "autocratic society."
That sentiment doubtless reverberates through the region, even in Belgrade itself. But it remains muted by the vicious brand of nationalism unleashed, most prominently, by Milosevic.
Fruitful negotiation demands that such selfish nationalism be tempered. As diplomats talk to all sides, Albanian and Serbs, they must open minds to the pragmatism of peace and political evolution. They should also leave no doubt that renewed violence won't be tolerated.