The Kosovo Question
Author: Elsa Cubero
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 03/14/2008
The unilateral declaration of independence in Kosovo last month was big news in Europe and around the world. Major national and independent news sources all weighed in with their opinions on this matter; some countries supporting the new nation and others denouncing it, and arguing that Kosovo should stay the same way as it has been since the separation of Yugoslavia.
The New York Times, the biggest paper in the United States, is promoting and supporting Kosovo’s independence. This position is most likely informed by heavy US investment in the new nation, including a strategically important military base in Kosovo, which offers some leverage in the historically significant region.
They printed a declaration of President Bush in Tanzania saying that the United States would continue to work to prevent violence in Kosovo, while reaching out to Serbia. The president was also quoted as saying that resolving the conflict in Kosovo was essential to stability in the Balkans and that “the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in America.”
George W. Bush is also reported to have written a letter to Kosovo’s president, Fatmir Sejdiu, telling him: “On behalf of the American people, I hereby recognize Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state. I congratulate you and Kosovo’s citizens for having taken this important step in your democratic and national development.”
The newspaper also printed the United Nations side on the matter, saying that independence is the only way the strife-worn Serbian province can become economically viable and politically stable. In addition, they recommended that Kosovo’s independence be supervised for “an initial period” by the European Union with NATO forces and European police officers. In Europe we find a very different position about the affair, since Spain in particular is hesitant to acknowledge the independence of Kosovo, arguing that the unilateral declaration is in violation of international law.
The biggest newspaper in Spain, El País, published Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos response to the declaration, who said that the independence is an illegal act, because it violates the United Nations resolution 1244 and that the viability of Kosovo as and independent state is not clear. The Spanish government is also concerned that this issue creates a dangerous precedent in international relations, and may be used to justify further independence movements, such as the Basque separatists.
They are clear, however, that no direct parallels can be drawn since Kosovo’s story is significantly different from the Spanish experience. The Spanish strategy then, is to wait and see whether of not the independent Kosovo state really works and then analyze if this is an unique case; then they will have to reconsider there decision.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence has reportedly led to strong reactions in Asia as well. According to Australian press, China was very angry at Taiwan after the disputed island acknowledged Kosovo’s independence; the Chinese said that the island has no right to offer an opinion on the subject.
To this effect, the Advertiser from Australia quoted Liu Jianchao the foreign ministry spokesman of China saying, “It is known to all that as a part of China, Taiwan has no right or eligibility to give the so-called ‘recognition’.”
Taiwan defend their decision explaining, that self-determination is a right recognized by the United Nations, and that it is the people who are masters of their nation’s future, so the independence of any nation should never be denied by another.
Indonesia said that they do not have any reason to be against the independence, and they have three main reasons:
- The people of Kosovo had suffered genocide and ethnic cleansing by Serbia.
- Indonesia is bound by its constitution to support self-determination.
- Indonesia should support a fellow moderate Muslim people.
Indonesia Matters also published that, on February 21st, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said Indonesia was in no rush to acknowledge Kosovo and had to study first whether Kosovo’s independence would help in solving or preventing any further conflict in the former Yugoslavia area.
Clearly, the countries that are most strongly against the independence are concerned with the precedent that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration will have, allowing other nations to follow suit. While Spain and China have been clear that Kosovo’s situation is unique, it is also easy to see that they do not want this to happen in their countries.
For Serbia, and their Russian supporters, the issue is not one of precedent or future possibilities. For them, Kosovo’s declaration of independence is an assault on their national integrity and identity. It is no surprise then that they have been working really hard to annul the independence, denouncing the move as a direct violation of international law. The Russian and Serbian perspective was covered in an article by Deutsche Welle from Germany.
Bio: Elsa Cubero is a journalism student from La Universidad Internacional de las Americas in Costa Rica.