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On March 21, 2018 Kosovo’s opposition used tear gas to disrupt a parliament vote on a border demarcation deal with Montenegro. Lawmakers had to be evacuated from the Assembly building after the opposition Self-Determination Movement party used tear gas in the hall where the vote was due to start. The 120-seat parliament was expected to vote, with two-thirds required to ratify the 2015 deal, set as a precondition by the EU for Kosovo’s citizens to freely travel within its Schengen visa-free travel area. The opposition says the border deal would mean Kosovo loses 8,200 hectares of its territory. The previous government and international experts deny that claim.

Although the bill was passed amid delays (the 120-seat parliament voted 80-11 to endorse the deal), this incidence is a signal to look into the history of Kosovo once more.

CIA fact-book states that after international attempts to mediate the conflict failed, a three-month NATO military operation against Serbia beginning in March 1999 forced the Serbs to agree to withdraw their military and police forces from Kosovo. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) placed Kosovo under a transitional administration, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), pending a determination of Kosovo’s future status. A UN-led process began in late 2005 to determine Kosovo’s final status. The 2006-07 negotiations ended without agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, though the UN issued a comprehensive report on Kosovo’s final status that endorsed independence. On 17 February 2008, the Kosovo Assembly declared Kosovo independent. Since then, over 110 countries have recognized Kosovo, and it has joined numerous international organizations. In October 2008, Serbia sought an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality under international law of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. The ICJ released the advisory opinion in July 2010 affirming that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate general principles of international law, UN Security Council Resolution 1244, or the Constitutive Framework. The opinion was closely tailored to Kosovo’s unique history and circumstances.

Demonstrating Kosovo’s development into a sovereign, multi-ethnic, democratic country the international community ended the period of Supervised Independence in 2012. Elections were held throughout Kosovo in 2013 and 2014, at the municipal and national level respectively. Serbia continues to reject Kosovo’s independence, but the two countries reached an agreement to normalize their relations in April 2013 through EU-facilitated talks and are currently engaged in the implementation process. Kosovo seeks full integration into the international community, and has pursued bilateral recognitions and eventual membership in international organizations, such as the UN, EU, and NATO.

Kosovo is a very new country, and the way it way recognized by the international community raises many questions. Milena Sterio’s remark on self-determination, secession and statehood need our attention. Sterio writes that most western governments were quick to recognize Kosovo as a new state, despite strong Serbian protest and the potential precedential dangers that recognizing such separatism represents for minority movements across the planet.

The Kosovar separation from Serbia is unique in the history of international relations: it represents a secession, which is heavily discouraged under traditional international law; it was peaceful, which is typically not the case in state break-ups; and it was politically supported by the west, which is traditionally critical of separatist movements as they undermine state borders and world stability.

Kosovo has a peculiar relationship with Serbia, but now it only holds a symbolic value. . Ethnically, it is mainly Albanian. The minority Serbian population lives isolated from the Albanian population, in the northern part of Kosovo. It is heavily guarded by international peacekeeping troops, as well as in Serbian enclaves in the south of Kosovo. Kosovo is extremely poor, and as per Sterio it is socially and culturally underdeveloped. Traditional lifestyle is still respected throughout its villages, and until recently even the justice system, prior to UN-imposed reforms, reflected a notion of medieval eye-for-an-eye justice. Only a few Serbs, who are left without other viable options, are interested in living in Kosovo.

Kosovo had been an autonomous province of Serbia, which was itself one of the six republics within the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (‘‘SFRY’’). Until the late 1980s, Kosovo exercised important regional self-governance functions. However, in response to ethnic Albanian separatist movements throughout Kosovo, staged by guerilla-like paramilitary groups, the Serbian leadership undertook measures in the late 1980s to curb the upheaval. Kosovo’s autonomous province status was removed. There were uprisings by rebel groups (such as Kosovo Liberation Army ‘‘KLA’’) resulting in a series of measures taken by the government of president Slobodan Milosevic. Serbia disagreed to the terms proposed by the NATO countries, responding to which NATO countries launched a series of air strikes on the territory of Serbia. NATO dropped over 3000 bombs on 465 targets, for the most part, civilian, during a 78-day campaign of terror in which hundreds, some say thousands, of civilians were killed, in their number, many children, eventually forcing the president Milosevic to withdraw his forces.

Under the terms of the proposed Rambouillet Peace Agreement and subsequently, under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, Kosovo was to be administered by a UN provisional authority, the UN Mission in Kosovo (‘‘UNMIK’’). Kosovo’s safety was to be guarded by a NATO-led military force, KFOR, and subsequent negotiations were to take place in the near future to decide the fate of the province. In 2001, when the new government came it became clear that in order to get to the inner circle (to obtain stability) Serbia (the then SFRY) will have to let go of Kosovo. What followed these events was more interesting. On February 17, 2008, the Kosovar Parliament, backed by powerful world countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, voted for a declaration of independence. In the few days following the Kosovar declaration of independence, the United States, as well as about twenty European Union countries, formally recognized Kosovo as a new state.

Sterio analyses two aspects, important for this discourse, secession and statehood. Sterio asks that the core legal issue relating to the Kosovar declaration of independence is whether Kosovo has the right to secede from Serbia under international law. Various examples establish that a ‘‘people’’ has a right to so-called external self-determination only if its rights to internal self-determination are not being fulfilled by its central government. In the case of Kosovo, it is certainly true that Kosovar Albanians are a ‘‘people’’; they share a common ethnicity, culture, language, religion, and social values that distinguish them clearly from the Serbs. Moreover, it is clear that their rights to internal self-determination had not been respected by the Milosevic-led Serbia. Yet, in the pre-Milosevic era their rights to internal self-determination were respected. It is, however, possible that following NATO’s intervention in Serbia and the ousting of the Milosevic regime, the new, more democratically inclined government of Serbia would respect the Kosovar rights to internal self-determination. Therefore, Sterio adds, while it is certain that the Kosovars’ right to internal self-determination had not been respected by the Milosevic regime, it is true that those rights had been respected in the past by the SFRY, and it is at least reasonable to believe that those rights would be respected by Serbia in the future.

Secondly, on the question of statehood he adds that if Kosovo claims that it is a new state, independent from Serbia, it must prove that it satisfies the four criteria under international law for statehood: that it is has a defined territory, a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into international relations. In the case of Kosovo, all four of these criteria seem difficult to fulfill. Kosovo’s territory is heavily disputed by Serbia, which claims that Kosovo is part of Serbia and that historically Kosovo has always been Serbian land. Albania has also laid claims to the Kosovar territory in the past, as the Kosovars are ethnically Albanian and moved to Kosovo from Albania centuries ago. Kosovo does not have a permanent population, because of the heavy flows of both Serbian and Albanian refugees that have moved in and out of Kosovo. Moreover, Kosovo does have a government, but its stability depends on protection ensured first by the United Nations, and now by the European Union. And, Kosovo can only enter into international relations because of the international community’s involvement with it. Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations and its internal security has been secured by international forces, which ensure that Kosovo has access to the outside world, that it can trade, import and export goods, and that its political leaders can travel abroad.

It is still a question in front of us, now in 2018, that the sudden Kosovar independence was the only viable option left at that time; or with a proper thought given to it there might have been a more peaceful and stable alternatives. Besides, would the NATO, USA, UK and other allied fractions accept such demands of secession and statehood in other cases as well or it was a calculated political move at that time, only?

(Ashish Kumar Singh is a Doctoral Candidate of Political Science department of Higher School of Economics, Moscow. Prior to that he has studied in Oslo, Mumbai and New Delhi. He can be contacted at: ashish.tiss@gmail.com)

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