That question underlies the continuing concerns over Kosovo. Its answer, of course, has implications far beyond that strife-torn corner of the Balkans.
Two reports just issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe put the challenge in bold relief. One looks again at Belgrade-directed atrocities just before, and especially during, the NATO air war last spring. The other looks at the sad sequel to that terror - the persecution and murder of Serbs who remained in Kosovo after the expelled Albanian population returned.
NATO and international police officers, who presumed they could foster a multiethnic society, were not prepared for the postwar violence. Now they seem resigned to the idea that revenge is just a cultural and historic norm in this region.
Young, jobless Kosovar Albanians have preyed on the mostly elderly Serbs. There are suspicions their activities are orchestrated, or at least blatantly tolerated, by Albanian leaders, particularly former commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Abhorrent as they are, the murderous ethnic passions still on display in Kosovo don't argue for cooling international efforts to stabilize the province. Nor are they an argument for never having gotten involved in the first place. The horror unfolding there was not something Europe and the Western alliance could simply turn away from. Having acted militarily to stop Belgrade's campaign of ethnic cleansing, the intervening powers must persist in efforts to stop its Albanian counterpart.
Meanwhile, rebuilding is going on in Kosovo. Humanitarian aid is reaching hundreds of thousands. Schools are reopening and children should have an opportunity to absorb something other than the thirst for revenge.
Normalcy for human beings is the desire and capacity to live in peace and engage in productive lives. That's as true for Kosovo's residents as for people anywhere. This recognition should define what's possible - not the assumption that a dark past dictates a dark future.
(c) Copyright 1999 The Christian Science Publishing Society. All rights reserved.