– Kosovo’s declaration of independence and subsequent international recognition should not take the international community by surprise
– Some states are uneasy or angered by the independence declaration believing it contravenes international law and sets a dangerous precedent
– In the short-term, we can expect sporadic violence and instability
After international negotiations to determine the future status of the UN protectorate failed spectacularly in December 2007, it became clear that it was only a matter of time before the inevitable occurred–Kosovo declaring independence from Serbia. That time has now come and members of Parliament unanimously endorsed a declaration of independence for Kosovo in February 2008. On February 17, 2008 thousands of Kosovar Albanians took to the streets to celebrate the birth of a new nation. The declaration of independence marks the final chapter solving Kosovo’s indeterminate status. Kosovo, although a province of Serbia, became a UN protectorate in 1999 after NATO forces drove out Serb forces responsible for the repression of ethnic Albanians.
For almost a decade, Kosovo has been administered by the international community, but has remained in legal limbo. To this end, Kosovo as a legal entity was unable to move forward in the normal business of state building due to its status of UN protectorate, while at the same time it was unable to go back to the past and integrate with Serbia. Frustrated by the indeterminate status and fearful of a return to Serb rule, the majority Kosovo Albanian population demanded independence. The Serbian government has insisted that Kosovo remain part of Serbia territorially as Kosovo is inconvertibly linked to Serbian cultural and religious heritage and they wish to protect the interests of the Serb minority remaining in the province.
Recognition in the International Community
The Kosovo issue has divided the international community. The United States and most of the European Union has backed Kosovo’s independence, but Russia has backed Serbia, and indeed its opposition to Kosovo’s independence prevented the passage of a UN Resolution supporting Kosovo independence last year. Now that Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence, as of February 18, 2008, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany Austria, Italy, Turkey and Afghanistan have all recognized Kosovo. After the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting on February 18, 2008, it has been predicted that 17 EU states will ultimately recognize Kosovo. However, some states are hesitant or outright hostile over the recognition of Kosovo in this manner believing it contravenes international law and sets precedents for other independence and secessionist movements. Russia and Serbia are leading this opposition and Spain, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus also oppose under the current circumstances Kosovo independence. The EU and other supporters have tried to frame the case for Kosovo’s independence as solving one of the last remaining issues from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia portraying the support for independence as a special case. However, other countries do not follow this logic and believe independence for Kosovo could start a domino effect for other breakaway republics or secessionist movements seeking independence.
Serb Anger and Russia Support of Serbia’s Position
Both Russia and Serbia are furious with Kosovo’s declaration of independence, and the states that support it. The Serbian Prime Minister has called Kosovo a “false state” and demanded that the United Nations condemn the independence declaration and annul it. Hand grenades have been thrown at UN and EU office buildings in Mitrovica, Kosovo . Anti-independence rallies have been staged in Serb enclaves in Kosovo with the Serb minority threatening to secede. Serbs in the region have also protested .
The United States has been widely denounced for its support of the new state. A common theme pervading opposition to Kosovo independence is redirecting anger over this issue at the United States. In some ways, the US has become the scapegoat for the Serbian loss of Kosovo—angry rhetoric by the Serbian Prime Minister has labeled the US as willing to violate international order for its own military interests. Opponents of independence believe Kosovo could not have declared independence without the support of the US. In the aftermath of Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the US embassy in Belgrade came under attack and riot police clashed with demonstrators. Serbia has also recalled its ambassador to the US. Russia has condemned the independence declaration as immoral and illegal and has called for an emergency UN meeting. It is expected that Russia will try to use its power in the UN Security Council to veto any official UN recognition.
Kosovo is now a brand new nation in Europe. To the US and most Europeans it is the start of new democracy in Europe. The predominantly Albanian Muslim population is considered very Western leaning and moderate, and happy to have US and European support. Kosovo will remain under the supervision of an international presence and has a long way to go in the more pragmatic aspects of the process of nation building, however it has an optimistic outlook.
However, the ripple effects of Kosovo’s independence will be felt for some time. Although Serbia has ruled out military force, it is possible they can institute other means of disruption against Kosovo in retaliation. Serbia’s quest to enter the EU will also be affected and delayed due to bitterness over EU recognition of independence. Although a full-scale war or a re-ignition of the Balkans conflict is not immediately on the horizon, it is likely that sporadic violence will take place in the region.
Further, anti-US sentiment will increase amongst those opposed to Kosovo’s independence and contribute to already frigid US-Serbia relations. Russia will continue to make this an issue in the UN and in political/diplomatic discourse leading to a widening gulf between east and west.