What Will an Independent Kosovo Mean?

However, a big piece of this puzzle is missing: What will this mean for the stability of the region, where war is never a remote possibility? Today, Albanian nationalism is also very strong in western Macedonia (where Albanians are in a majority), in southern Montenegro and in northwestern Greece.

There is another reason to be cautious about granting independence to Kosovo: It could lead to renewed ethnic cleansing of the more than 130,000 Serbs who remained in the province after NATO troops allowed more than 200,000 Serbs to be expelled from Kosovo by the Albanians eight years ago. The "reverse-cleanse" included virtually all the 40,000 Serbs who once lived in Pristina.

Belgrade controls Mitrovica, Zvecani and Lipanj, three municipalities in northern Kosovo populated by the Serbs, over which Pristina has no authority at all. This area will almost certainly demand partition. Albanian minorities in Macedonia and Serbia could call for a change of borders and Bosnian Serbs will in turn seek independence from Sarajevo.

Much also depends on Serbia, which has vowed that it will never accept the loss of the province and has the means to disrupt the stability of the region.

Milos Radenkovic, a medical student in Belgrade, agrees with the government: "To lose Kosovo is like losing Serbia itself. It is a collective punishment. We have already paid a high price for the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic, including NATO bombing and crippling sanctions. To chastise Serbia again is profoundly unjust."

Although the Serbian government has not yet revealed its plans for what they call "unfavorable outcome," officials have made subtle threats against Pristina and any country that would dare to recognize Kosovo's independence. Relations with the United States and the EU will deteriorate sharply. Serbia may withdraw ambassadors from capitals that recognize Kosovo.

Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and his associates will not send troops to Kosovo, but might indulge in some saber-rattling by moving military units closer to the boundary with Kosovo and reinforcing the police units currently there.

Officials have hinted that they intend to do everything to make life difficult and unbearable for Kosovar Albanians.

Seventy percent of Kosovo's fast moving consumer goods and construction materials come from Serbia as well as most of the electricity supply.

"Imposing a trade embargo is insane and could only cripple Serb economy as Serbia exports goods worth between 150-200 million euro a year to Kosovo, but informally it reaches 400 million euro," Mijat Lakicevic, an editor in chief of Ekonomist magazine, the most credible business weekly in Serbia, told ABC News.

"Where and when will Serbia be able to find such market?" asked Lakicevic. "If the economic embargo happens, it will find Kosovo prepared for it. By doing this, the Serbian products will once and for all disappear from Kosovo," said Agim Shahini, head of the Kosovo Business Alliance.

Serbia could also refuse to recognize Kosovar passports, preventing Kosovars from passing through Serbia on their way to Western Europe.

It could cut off electricity supplies and block power supply routes. Kosovo buys 40 percent of its power from Serbia. But it would not make such a move lightly, because of its impact on tens of thousands Kosovo's Serb minority, who live south of the ethnic divide

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