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Kosovo For Independence:BOOST TO SEPARATISM,by Monish Tourangbam, 26 March 2008 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 26 March 2008

Kosovo For Independence


By Monish Tourangbam

“What should determine the foundation of a State? Should it be values, or biology?” As intellectuals try and grapple with this question, the repercussions of the latest act in the long, unraveling of Yugoslavia that began 17 years ago is all but over. Circumstances in 1999, particularly the massacre of 44 Albanians in the village of Racak, triggered a NATO intervention to protect Kosovo’s majority Albanians from Serb forces; and led to the establishment of a U.N. protectorate in the region.

The latest amputation was made official with Kosovo’s declaration of independence on February 17, 2008. Kosovo’s Parliament voted 109-0 to sever ties with Serbia, finally capping a struggle for statehood. 11 deputies from ethnic minorities, including Serbs, abstained. “Kosovo is a republic- an independent, democratic and sovereign state,” Parliament Speaker Jakup Krasniqi said as the chamber burst into applause. “From now onward, Kosovo is proud, independent, sovereign and free,” Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former anti-Serb guerrilla leader, said, also committing to confront the painful legacy of the past in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. Across Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, revellers danced in the streets, fired guns into the air and waved red and black Albanian flags in jubilation.

On the other hand, the Serbian President Boris Tadic, reacted by saying that his country will never accept Kosovo’s “unilateral and illegal” declaration. “Kosovo will never get a seat at the UN. as long as Serbia has the support of Russia and its President Vladimir Putin,” said Aleksandar Vucic of the opposition Radicals, Serbia’s biggest party. The most extreme reaction came from the head of the Serb Orthodox Church in Kosovo, Bishop Artemije, who denounced Serbia for doing nothing. He called for extreme actions with help from Russia, saying that Kosovo’s independence was “a temporary state of occupation”.

Many legal, emotional and demographic complexities add to the contentiousness of the issue. Kosovo is a province, not a republic like the other post-Yugoslav States, and the legal grounds for its secession from Serbia are hotly contested. Over half of the Serb population in Kosovo lives south of Mitrovica, scattered in smaller enclaves, some of which could be just as big a headache for the Pristina government and its backers. In the Lipjan area near the centre of Kosovo, 10,000 Serbs live uneasily alongside a similar number of Albanians. Moreover, Kosovo is for the Serbs, a sacred territory, for it was here, at Kosovo Polje (Blackbird Field), that Serbs were defeated and subjugated by the Turks in 1389. It had been the heart of their medieval State and Serbs believed that it must be forever a part of Serbia, even though by the mid-80s, 90 per cent of the population was Albanians.

It did not take much time before Kosovo’s move had its “domino effect” in the region. The main opposition Bosnian Serb Party called for the independence of the Serb-run half of Bosnia, citing Kosovo as a precedent. Since its 1992-95 war, Bosnia has consisted of two entities, the Serb-run Republika Sprska (RS) and the Muslim-Croat Federation, each with their own government, parliament and police force. A resolution was adopted by the RS Parliament saying that if most European Union countries and the US recognise Kosovo’s independence, then RS would have the right to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina. In its reaction, EU ambassadors meeting in Sarajevo denounced the Bosnian Serbs’ position, saying the two entities “have no right to secede” under the Dayton Peace Accords, 1995.

Tadic has called the National Security Council to meet urgently after riots targeted western embassies in Belgrade. He condemned the violence, looting and arson that followed. Missions of US, Croatia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Belgium and Bosnia as well as businesses and stores from countries the mob regarded as hostile to Serbia were attacked.   

Reminiscent of the cold war years, the present crisis has been made unamusingly more interesting by the US and Russia supporting opposite sides. A resurgent Russia under Putin tried to make itself heard in various international issues and Kosovo is no exception, owing to its geographical proximity. Over a dozen nations have recognised Kosovo’s declaration, including the U.S., Britain, France, Italy and Germany. But, the move has been rejected by Serbia. It recalled its ambassador from Washington and has threatened to do the same with countries that establish diplomatic ties with Kosovo, though it said it would not sever relations. Joining Russia in its support to Serbia are countries like China, Spain and Cyprus.

In fact, the countries which have rejected Kosovo’s declaration can be seen grappling with some form of secessionist activities. They are worried about the kind of precedent that Kosovo will set for activities inside their own countries. As expected, China, a veto wielding member of the United Nations sided with Russia in supporting Serbia. It fears possible unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan and Tibet, both of which the Chinese claim are under its sovereignty and jurisdiction. Although, Taiwan’s call for a referendum for a U.N. membership has died down for the moment with a new president, the Taiwan issue is all but extinct. On the other hand, the unrest in Tibet and its repercussions in China’s external affairs and the fate of the Olympic Games are still unravelling.

At the same time, Russia, the backbone of Serbia, is conscious of the political implications of Kosovo’s decision for the separatist movement within its own borders, in Chechnya. Russia has even warned that it will retaliate against Kosovo’s independence by recognising the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are now integral parts of Georgia, a U.N. member state

Countries like Sri Lanka, which has long fought a Tamil separatist movement in its northern and eastern provinces, has warned that Kosovo’s declaration could set "an unmanageable precedent in the conduct of international relations" and is a violation of the U.N. charter which guarantees sovereignty of nation States. Since the 60s, the Philippines have been fighting the Moro National Liberation Front seeking a Muslim nation-state in Sulu Mindanao. The Thai government has been battling the Pattani United Liberation Front, founded in 1968, and whose ultimate objective is a Muslim State in southern Thailand.

In Europe, the reservations over Kosovo’s independence have come from Romania, Spain, Greece, Slovakia and Cyprus -- some of whom are either facing potential secessionists or distraught minorities. Senior Palestinian officials also accused the western countries of adopting double standards, hinting that the Palestinians had been fighting for a Sate for almost 60 years.

Interestingly, India despite facing secessionist movements in different parts of the country, has been seemingly mute over this issue; even after reports came that separatists in Jammu and Kashmir were overjoyed, with Shabir Shah hailing “Kosovo's Independence Struggle” and asserting that the day is “not far of when Kashmir will be free” and with his compatriot Yasin Malik appealing to the “world community, especially the EU, to play a Kosovo-like role to get the dispute in Kashmir settled”.

The Foreign Office statement read: “We have taken note of the unilateral declaration of Independence by Kosovo. There are several legal issues involved in this declaration. We are studying the evolving situation”. India pointed out that recognition was given to a country with a defined territory (which is in dispute with respect to Kosovo), a duly accepted government (the Kosovo administration is interim) which has control over an area of governance (not so in Kosovo’s case). “It has been India’s consistent position that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be fully respected by all States. We have believed that the Kosovo issue should have been resolved through peaceful means and through consultation and dialogue between the concerned parties,” added the Foreign Office, leaving little doubt about India’s sympathies.

During a high profile visit to Serbia, Putin’s successor Dmitry Medvedev, reiterated Moscow’s support for Belgrade in its standoff with the west over Kosovo. This is in contrast to George W. Bush’s statement that Russia was very much a part of the consultations before the U.S. made its decision public.

The turn of events could not be more complex. Responding to a Serbian government pledge to rule Serb-dominated parts of Kosovo following its secession from Serbia, Mr. Thaci, said, “I am constantly in touch with NATO to prevent anyone from touching even one inch of Kosovo’s territory.” On the other hand, Russia’s envoy to NATO, Ambassador Rogozin has warned the alliance from breaching its mandate and meddling in politics in Kosovo. Add to this that the U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns has committed the continuation of NATO’s mission in Kosovo and an increase of aid.

Last but not the least, some power play can be foreseen at the UN over the legality of the EU plans to transfer United Nations Mission in Kosovo jurisdiction to its mission, EULEX; pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, adopted in 1999. As it seems, the unravelling of events in the Balkan region have yet to reach its climax.  ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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