Kosovo accord: The lure of joining the EU may have nudged Serbia

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It may be that the long-standing issue of the independence and recognition of Kosovo and the well-being of its Serb minority are now on the way to solution.

If that is the case, it could mean the end of the multitude of bloody problems provoked by the explosive break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Most of Kosovo's 2 million people are Muslims of ethnic Albanian origin, but there is also a small yet important Serbian minority, who are Orthodox by faith and who look to neighboring, much larger and stronger Serbia for protection. The position of Serbia may look unreasonable, but it is not entirely so.

The dominant majority in Kosovo has been slippery at times about guaranteeing the Serbs of Kosovo their rights, including religious freedom. In addition, not only some holy places of the Orthodox faith but also a battlefield prominent in Serbian history, the Field of Blackbirds, is found in Kosovo. Imagine if the United States were being asked to give up the historic Gettysburg battlefield, which would be painful.

Complicating the matter for Belgrade is the fact that the remaining 50,000 Serbs of Kosovo have not been shy about pressing their case politically in Serbia itself.

In what appears to be the end, however, the Serbian government of Prime Minister Ivica Dacic decided on Friday in Brussels that the advantages of possible membership in the European Union were such that it was prepared to negotiate an end to the tangle over Kosovo in order to obtain from the EU a commitment to begin discussions toward inclusion in the union. The fact that Croatia, Serbia's most bitter rival in the former Yugoslavia, will become the 28th member July 1 probably helped move Serbia to resolution.

The price of not yielding on Kosovo until now has been high for Serbia. The low point included NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 to obtain its military disengagement from Kosovo. A more general downside for Serbia has been its relatively low level of economic development.

For Europe, success in resolving this problem will constitute a major triumph, one which the EU can definitely use at the moment as it staggers under the load of the problems imposed by the general economic recession and the particular financial vicissitudes of Greece, Greek Cyprus, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

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