Thousands of Kosovo Albanians demonstrated Monday in the streets of Pristina, their provincial capital, on behalf of their ethnic kin in neighboring Macedonia, where militants are stoking ethnic Albanian revolt against the Slav-controlled government. The unrest threatens to plunge the Balkans into yet another war unless Washington and its NATO allies act swiftly and decisively.
The root cause of the ethnic Albanian unrest is deep frustration born of their uncertain status in Kosovo and discrimination suffered in neighboring Macedonia. There is growing fear that the international community, increasingly friendly with the new Serbian government, will push Kosovo back to Belgrade. Most Kosovo Albanians would vote today for independence from Serbia. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, on the other hand, has never held out such a promise, hoping instead that, given a safe atmosphere and a period of normalcy, the secessionist pressure would ease.
The ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, who make up about a quarter of the population, are represented in the government but are not allowed to be schooled in their own language and are subject to widespread discrimination. The still-small guerrilla movement that threatens the whole region's tenuous peace is, however, fueled by Kosovo's militants next door.
The United States and the international community need not promise independence for Kosovo, which is far from being able to function economically or politically as a nation, but they must show greater determination to help the ethnic Albanians for as long as it takes to rebuild. The issue of Kosovo's independence will not go away, but once Kosovo is a functioning democracy it is far more likely to be resolved peacefully. The United Nations should reverse its decision to postpone a provincewide election indefinitely. Local elections held last October brought a decisive victory for moderates who are now being denied the opportunity to govern the province. This plays into the hands of extremists who want to win power through force.
When NATO took control of Kosovo two years ago, it assumed the obligation to keep the region at peace. That means not only preventing Serbs and Albanians from killing each other but also making sure militant Kosovo Albanians do not export insurrection to Macedonia. Patrolling the Kosovo-Macedonia border is dangerous, but not as dangerous as another war in the Balkans. The border policing should be stepped up to prevent the free movement of guerrillas and arms.
The Bush administration may not like it, but the United States is a key player in the Balkans. It must exert both diplomatic pressure--in pushing the Macedonian government to accept legitimate claims of its ethnic Albanian minority, for example--and restrained military force along the border to stop the extremists.