Two days from now, denizens of Kosovo will have the opportunity to vote for a "legislative assembly" of that occupied province, likely believing that they are exercising their right to choose a government. Not "citizens," mind you, for to be a citizen one must first have a country, and even the UN/NATO occupiers are not ready to declare Kosovo an independent state – yet. Furthermore, since little or no serious proof is required that a voter resided in Kosovo before the war (and even if they did, that does not mean they were Yugoslav citizens), most "citizens" among the voters will owe their allegiance to the neighboring Albania. Established under the "constitutional framework" imposed by the UN administration, this Assembly will have little real power, but great symbolic significance. By holding a vote, the UN and its NATO occupying force (KFOR) aim to show that their occupation is just and benevolent. Who ever heard of elections in an occupied territory, after all? By giving the Albanians a semblance of government, they temper the fires of separatism while ensuring they continue to burn. And by having the Kosovo Serbs vote, they gain both the recognition of the occupation's legitimacy, as well as leverage for when Kosovo Albanians do declare independence. Thus the UN and NATO win all the way; the Albanians get at least something; and the remaining Serbs lose what little they had. THE CONSENSUS Even though the "constitution" does not give them outright independence, it does provide for the major attributes of sovereignty – a president, an assembly, a judiciary. Kosovo already has a separate currency (the German Mark, and soon the Euro), a separate curriculum (mostly imported right out of Albania), and a separate banking system (mostly owned by Germans). It even has a paramilitary – the Kosovo Protection Corps, formed out of the "disbanded" KLA and paid for by the UN. Despite this de facto separation from Serbia, Kosovo Albanians – or "Kosovars," as pathetic excuses for journalists persist in calling them – remain committed to full independence. This is a recurring theme on all sides of the political spectrum, from Ibrahim Rugova's ostensibly pacifist LDK, to parties led by KLA thugs Hashim Taqi and Ramush Haradinaj. PLATITUDES A LA CARTE Rugova is, of course, a shoo-in for "president." He was even publicly endorsed by Daan Everts, head of OSCE mission in Kosovo charged with organizing the election. Taqi is guaranteed a big slice of the pie as well. His party's presidential candidate is Flora Brovina, a former KLA physician whose claim to fame is spending 19 months in a prison in Serbia. Thanks to this, Brovina also enjoys the admiration of Albanians' foreign sponsors. She carefully nurtures this sympathy by well-chosen platitudes, from her lip service to UN/NATO's bromides about "multiethnic" Kosovo ("Serbs are citizens of Kosovo and they have to be part of Kosovo"), to the slick sales pitch for independence (an "inevitable, life or death issue" that would lead to "better times for the impoverished economy," an "independent Kosovo will guarantee the minorities equality" – all from Reuters). Most of all, Taqi is playing on Brovina to dispel the stereotype of Albanian patriarchal backwardness. Ramush Haradinaj, a frequent guest at the US Department of State and one of America's favorite KLA commanders, is another strong candidate. That Haradinaj is still at large – and becoming more influential by the day – despite a fight with Russian peacekeepers and a midnight arrest following a shooting at a henchman's home, shows that he must have some very powerful protectors. Perhaps it was they who coached him to advocate Kosovo as a "regular society, a stable one, with high standards of respect for human rights and minority rights." (Reuters) THE SHADOW SUPPORTERS Of course, Brovina and Haradinaj's KLA has never paid any heed to lofty proclamations of tolerance, multi-ethnicity and human rights – not when they blew up Serbs in refugee buses; not when they killed Serbs in the fields, barns and homes; not when they stole or torched Serb and Roma homes; nor when they murdered Serbs and even their fellow Albanians in the course of their separatist quest. Their pronouncements are not aimed at the victims of separatist terror; they are either dead, or know better. The only likely customers are the foreigners – the occupying authorities themselves and the public of their countries. Though officially US, EU, UN and NATO disavow any intention to grant Kosovo independence, their unofficial minions are busily agitating for just such a course. So, there is plenty of reason for suspicion when the election is endorsed by these minions – the omnipresent International Crisis Group (ICG) and the "independent" international commission on Kosovo, to mention just two. The latter (currently led by the former ICTY Head Inquisitor Richard Goldstone) issued a call for "conditional independence" of Kosovo just before last year's local elections. NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE With all that in mind, the Belgrade regime nonetheless instructed the Kosovo Serbs to take part in this weekend's vote. Scattered in exile or surrounded by barbed wire, KFOR guards and mobs of murderous Albanians, even if the Serbs could vote, why should they? What would taking part in Kosovo's quisling government mean? A respite from incessant attacks? Unlikely. Even if it does, that would only show who had been behind the attacks for so long, or who had the power to stop them but did nothing. Freedom of movement? Only in one direction – out. Security of life and property? Only if they disappeared, or sold their property for whatever pittance the Albanians offered. A voice in decision-making? They have been ignored before; there is no reason to listen to them now. More aid? More food in the ghetto would be nice. It would be nicer not having the ghetto, though. For Belgrade, Kosovo is but a means to boosting individual politicians' vanities and influence. They feel important and jubilant when the UN and NATO invite them to sign meaningless treaties. These perfumed princes also believe that the same people who terror-bombed the Serbs for 78 days on behalf of the KLA (which they armed and trained) and occupied Kosovo to begin with, can somehow be their partners in bringing Kosovo back. Perhaps there is a word in the English language more fitting to describe this than "idiocy," but it doesn't readily come to mind. ARBITERS OF BLAME All these pretentious morons have to do is look south, where NATO's obedient ally Macedonia continues to be framed for its own murder. Whether it is the Albanian parliamentarians who refuse to show up for the vote on constitutional "reforms," or the supposedly disarmed UCK attacking Macedonian police with rockets and assault rifles and taking hostages, both the Western press and the Imperial representatives in that semi-occupied country lay the blame squarely on the Macedonians. Or has Belgrade forgotten that yesteryear's Bombers of Belgrade and yesterday's Aracinovo Taxi Service have armed, trained and sheltered the Albanian "liberation army" of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac for almost a year, then agreed to its "disbandment" in order to create a precedent for eviscerating Macedonia? Perhaps they failed to notice that the "National Liberation Army" of Macedonian Albanians operated unhindered from Kosovo for months, or that a new "liberation army" is budding in NATO-occupied Kosovo, ready to swoop into the Presevo valley again. Will they, in a couple of years, encourage the surviving Serbs in "Eastern Kosovo" to vote for Albanian institutions as well? EMPIRE'S WILLING SERVANTS These may sound like rhetorical questions, but even a cursory glance at the behavior of local leaders throughout the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans in general is proof enough that this sycophantic bootlicking is not an exception, but rather a rule. It is as if everyone assumes that the Empire (manifested through the UN/NATO/OSCE/EU et al.) has a right not only to interfere, but also to set itself up as the ultimate authority, judge, jury and executioner anywhere it pleases. Yet no law, no writ, no divine providence grants these people this right, save for the fact that they say so, that they have the bombs to kill anyone who might disagree, and that they can get away with it. What would have been denounced as tyranny a hundred years ago is now accepted as normal. What would have been inconceivable just a decade ago is now taken for granted. What has possessed the minds of human beings so, that they are selling out this cheaply what generations of their forebears earned with rivers of sweat, tears and blood? THE REAL CHOICE Though this column's deeply held conviction has always been that the Balkans will not see any progress until the Empire's occupation is lifted, perhaps this sentiment has not been entirely accurate. Even before this physical liberation can occur, the people of the Balkans – those in the former Yugoslavia as well as their neighbors – must face what they have become and start taking responsibility for their future. Right now, they are but slaves of the Empire, of their own demagogues, and of illusions. Unless they choose to think differently, this is all they will ever be. That, and only that, is the real choice; today, this Saturday, and forever.