Upon the end of hostilities in June, Kosovo Albanian refugees started to return; but at the same time, Serbs fled or were chased out by Albanians in equally large numbers. By July 20, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 150,000 Serbs were flooding into Serbia, which already harbored half a million refugees from the other ex-Yugoslavian wars. The total number of refugees from Kosovo rose to some 230,000, most of them Serbs. Of these, over 200,000 remain Internally Displaced Persons in what is Europe's biggest refugee problem. A hundred thousand Serbs stayed put among approximately 1.8 million ethnic Albanians, among whom little love was lost on Serbs.
This minority now dwell in KFOR-guarded enclaves, with limited freedom of movement and high unemployment even by the standards of a dysfunctional UN protectorate where only the black economy flowers. The Serbian apartheid state has effectively been inverted. More than 4,000 Serbs worked at the public electricity service in 1999; today around 30 do so, out of 8,000 employees. Meanwhile, barbed wire and armed KFOR troops protect those medieval monasteries that remain recognizably intact.
Independence is, however, finally in the offing, mostly because the Western powers acknowledge once again that the majority would never settle for less. Serbia, impoverished and demoralized, is unable to do more than strut and fret at the impending loss of its "historical heartland."
I recently discussed more recent events related to Kosovo. U.N. sponsored talks in Vienna aimed at mapping out Kosovo's future are ongoing. As I summed up then, the U.N. and by extension NATO which has committed to following its lead:
will be pushing hard for Kosovo's independence, if ratified in a referendum whose outcome is largely a foregone conclusion. But, the U.N. will also likely push to have independence for Kosovo limited by provisions of Kosovo's own constitution and/or international treaties with Serbia, which would provide the human rights protections and protections for cultural and religious heritage which Serbia has sought to retain jurisdiction over in an autonomous state (the flexibility referred to by the U.N. representative), but not foreign policy, currency or border control for Serbia.
The international community would very much like Serbia to consent to Kosovo's independence, however, because it fears "opening up the can of worms associated with the notion of unilateral declarations of independence by a portion of an existing sovereign state."
Serbia is trying to leverage that fear into an agreement to broad autonomy short of sovereignty, that would permit it to salvage its national pride and would leave open an opportunity to restore greater control some time in the future when it is not in a world spotlight. This is the approach that it took in 1989 when it attempted to roll back autonomy status granted to the region in 1974 by Yugoslavian leader Tito, precipitating the crisis in Kosovo that lead to international military intervention.
The assessment of the situation on the ground provided by Sirocco, where the current population is almost 95% Albanian Kosovar, and the Serbian minority lives in segregated, economically depressed compounds at the sufferance and protection of international forces (and more would probably leave, if international forces ceased to protect them), suggests that the Serbian bid to retain sovereignty is unlikely to succeed.