Belgrade's Burning

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 2:09 PM EST

Ominous news coming from Belgrade, the Serbian capital, which saw a huge and very nationalistic rally today led by Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica against Kosovo's declaration of independence on Sunday. "Kostunica's rally was scary. It is condensed clero- nationalism never seen before, not even in the 90s," a Belgrade-based analyst writes me. "Initiation of new generation. Messages are terrifying and the night will be tough. Groups (many drunk) are devastating everything they come upon. Many embassies are targets. Turkish embassy is the constant target—there is chaos in front of the embassy. Ambassador is in the building and they [are] ready to shoot if they break in."

Another Belgrade contact writes that independent Radio B92 is reporting that "the American embassy is on fire.....and the people are coming in .... police try to put out the people who come in." He later writes that his sister who lives near the U.S. embassy says, "Now is all peaceful ... two floors of the American embassy are still on fire but fireworkers try to locate the fire....."

MSNBC is reporting that all U.S. staff had already been evacuated from the embassy. But news services later reported that "a charred body was found in the U.S. Embassy." With all US embassy personnel accounted for, "Belgrade's Pink TV said the body appeared to be that of a rioter."

My question: How could the international community led by Washington have screwed this up so badly once again?

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A Hill staffer comments on these developments: "Amazing. Everything I read/heard in the weeks leading up to the Kosovar independence announcement was that the Serbs would bitch and complain, but grudgingly accept. For what it's worth, the Administration briefings I received in the preceding months from [State Department officials] were generally assuring—they were on top of the situation and closely coordinating with European allies."

A U.S. official says: "The Serbs are famous for 'dancing around the campfires of myth and distorted history.' Unfortunately it now appears that today's campfire is made out of our Embassy. If it were up to me we would break dip relations, cancel all assistance programs, and expel all their dips from DC. Using US embassies for either target practice or kindling is becoming too common."

Meantime, the New York Times' Dan Bilefsky reports:

Serbs in northern Kosovo on Wednesday continued what appeared
to be a drive to force a partition three days after the ethnic Albanian
majority declared the province's independence from Serbia. A mob of 300 Serbs wielding clubs and tools gathered on a road near this small village of ethnic Albanians in northern Kosovo,
prompting NATO to send armored vehicles and tanks to head them off.

"Of course the Serbs are now going to force a partition of northern Kosovo, playing by the same logic that was used to take the province away from Serbia," one astute Balkan watcher observes.

Does the international community have a game plan for that widely anticipated development? What about for if the Serbs in Bosnia decide to try to break away to join Serbia, again?

"I am convinced, all this mess is well coordinated and at the background of this is the struggle of Kostunica to stay in power," a knowledgeable Kosovar Albanian contact in the Kosovo capital Pristina said, noting that the new Serbian government is not constituted yet. "Kosovo is always an excuse (unfortunately). They already strated shouting at each other, [recently re-elected Serbian president Boris] Tadic's people against Kostuncia and vice-versa"

"The north won't be divided for now, but maybe in the future," the Pristina contact adds.

(Photo: The U.S. embassy tonight. Credit: Beta, via B92).

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