The 1999 war in Kosovo was a national tragedy for Serbia and a political tragedy for Europe. Once again – the first time being the Bosnian civil war – European leaders proved themselves incapable of handling a crisis in their own backyard. Instead, they delegated authority to the US and undermined the power of the UN. Worse still, they enabled the creation of an unviable NATO protectorate in the western Balkans. Eight years on, Europeans are pouring oil on the flames by eyeing the independence of the divided province – again without a UN mandate. It’s hard to grasp the frivolity with which prominent European leaders are handling an historic decision such as a forced change of borders, the first since WW2. The breakup of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia – all federal, multiethnic states – was the result of internal instability and the new status did not affect the ethnic makeup of the various territories. In Serbia’s case however, the international community is seeking to mutilate a European state after having first humiliated its leader. Undoubtedly, Bush has something to gain from Albanian nationalism. But it’s difficult to see what’s in it for Europe. Advocates of the UN plan invoke the ethnic Albanians’ right to self-determination. Kosovo, they say, is a special case and won’t set a precedent. But what about the Serbs living in Bosnia or northern Kosovo? What about the pro-Russian, de facto independent regions of South Ossetia, Abkhasia, Trans-Dniester, Crimea or the Baltic republics? What about the Hungarian minorities in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia? Or even the Basques in Spain and the Flemish population in Belgium? And what about the Turkish minority in southern Bulgaria near Thrace? Self-determination was once acknowledged as an inalienable right of peoples living under the rule of powerful colonial empires – and not an all-weather solution.