The declaration of independence of Kosovo on 17th February 2008 was an expected act opening a new chapter of international relations, international system and above all, of international law. From the point of view of Pristina and of unilateral independence declaration, this is not the first case in history. Kosovo becomes a precendent only in relation to the manner of declaration. The unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence was an act that had been prepared for a long time in coordination above all with Washington, Brussels and London and de facto under the supervision from the international administration of UNMIK. There are many questions arising; in this short analysis I will attempt to focus on potential issues (from the point of view of European countries) which could arise in various time horizons. Therefore I shall divide them into short-term, medium-term and long-term.
From the short-term point of view, the declaration of Kosovo’s independence was the best possible solution. The long-term support for Kosovo and Pristina in declaring their independence from Washington and from majority of European superpowers was a logical conclusion, and it followed from the actual situation in Kosovo. The Albanian ethnic group representing up to 90 % of inhabitants in Kosovo required independence. On the other hand, Serbia was leaving the issue of the future status of Kosovo open for a long time and was not approaching as actively as one would expect.
The Serbian government, aware of a negative impact of military solution of the Kosovo issue at the end of the 1990s and a danger of escalation of the conflict with the UN forces, totally excluded any possibility of solving the problem by means of a military action. On the other hand, throughout the nine years Pristina manifested a number of times that it is ready to gain independence even by using force. Occasional attacks on the UNMIK mission were only confirming this rhetorics. The violence in March 2004 showed organization, coordination and promptness of potential militant structures of Kosovan Albanians and the unreadiness of the UN forces to react adequately in the whole territory of Kosovo.
Putting off the Kosovo issue ad infinitum or freezing it and waiting for years for the solution (as in case of Cyprus) was a scenario which majority of Western countries most probably did not want to get into. The fastest solution was to give Kosovo independence from Serbia, but not a sovereignty. At the same time, it had been presupposed since the beginning of 2007 that the attitude of Moscow will be neither negative nor positive, but that Russia will abstain from voting in the UN Securita Council. The long-term unclear attitude of Russia eventually led to a surprising outcome for both the Western countries and a number of analysts, including the author of this text. An opinion appeared that Kremlin would not enter a conflict with the West because of Kosovo.
A problem for the supporters of independence was how to justify the process, so that it could not be presented as a “precedent”. There were a few statements that became well-known, e.g. that “Kosovo is an exceptional case”, that “the one who loses the war loses the territory as well”, “or that Belgrade does not have any moral right for Kosovo”, etc. Not a single one of these arguments had a legal ground; yet in case of an unilateral declaration of independence, it is the international law that is concerned above all. The non-existence of the legal ground for such a radical intervention into the international system opens a number of potential issues.
By recognizing the independence and agreeing to take over a role of a patron of Kosovo from the UN, the EU obtains a potential political, economic and security issue. From the medium-term point of view, the EU receives a role of a patron and a supervisor of Kosovo’s independence. It will be very interesting to watch how Brussels handles the role. Until 17th March 2008, the politicians in Pristina had been apologizing the social and economic problems by the unsolved status. The point lies in the fact that the high unemployment (officially they state 40 %, inofficial sources speak about up to 70 %), very low direct foreign investments and bad development of infrastructure were not a consequence of the unsolved status. The burden of the issue is much deeper, and it will not be solved by becoming independent. A great part of the Albanian ethnic group’s expectations can eventually lead to an even greater disappointment and frustration, where the guilt for the fact that situation is not improving at all will be put on the European civilian mission, whose authorities stated in Ahtisaari’s plan put Brussels in the role of an administrator of Kosovo. Thus the Kosovan Albanians gain independence from Serbia, but not a sovereignty as well. The UN forces will look after military security, and later on most probably the EU. Then last word in executive power, legislative and judicature will be the one of the EU High Representative for Kosovo, who according to Ahtisaari’s plan is supposed to be the head of the civilian mission EULEX taking over the civilian mission from the UN. Kosovo will thus get into a similar position as Bosnia and Herzegovina, where a duplicated authority came about. On the one hand, there are institutions of the republic, while on the other is the international administration. In such a way, an untransparent system of power occurs, where both sides put the blame for the unsuccess on the other one. The non-governmental organization Transparency International has been pointing out this fact in Bosnia and Herzegovina already for a long time.
There is already such a situation in Kosovo. On a local level, neither central nor international institutions are an authority; on the contrary – these are local authorities, often represented by influential local families or persons with relation to organized crime. Also in the past, exerting the law in Kosovo used to clash with a complicated social issue, when rather than actual laws inofficial local habits were followed, and a very strong tendency to corruption, obvious in all the societies of the Balkans. Weakness in exerting influence has been displayed also in the enclaves inhabited by Serbs, especially in North Kosovo, where the Serbian government from Belgrade has great influence, since financing parallel system of healthcare, education and social system. By that means it exerts partial influence and presents its sphere of activities in Kosovo.
For the EU, this duplicity and untransparency can actually mean that they can easily become a target for criticism and maybe even for physical attacks because of the unimproving social and economic situation. In some sense the EU would get to the role of Belgrade, when it would be exactly the European mission who would be accused of all the trouble of political as well as non-political character.
Another medium-term potential issue appears to be the radicalization of political and social sphere in Serbia itself. Although the fall of the coalition government at the beginning of March 2008 was the best solution of the situation at that time, since the government coalition was stuck in the same position for a long time, without any clear plan how to procede. The cause of the fall of the government was the attitude of individual political parties towards the issue how to procede in relation to the integration of Serbia in the EU and in relation to Kosovo. In other words, whether to attempt to join the EU at any price, or to condition the integration of Serbia by confirming its territorial integrity from the side of the EU.
At present it is obvious that the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of the Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica is much closer to the most powerful Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and to the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). If we stem from the last parliamentary and presidential elections and from the current frustration of a number of Serbian inhabitants caused by the attitude of majority of the European countries in relation to the independence of Kosovo, then there is a real possibility of a radical change in the relation of Serbia towards the EU after 11th May 2008, when the early parliamentary elections are planned. In the current situation it would be surprising if the pro-European parties won majority in the parliament. A possible way out would be a wide pro-European coalition uniting all pro-European parties, similar to the former coalition DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia), which was established with the aim to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic. In the opposite case, there is a threat of radical nationalist structures coming to power in Serbia. This scenario would not be at all as incomprehensible as it might seem at first sight. Brussels would have to introduce a completely new policy towards the Western Balkans. From the current point of view, the EU’s fear of radicalization of Kosovan Albanians led to radicalization and further polarization of the whole Serbia. The unwilingness to accept real threats, which have been pointed out by many analysts, can lead to a new destabilization of this part of Europe.
The third medium-term issue is the possibility to split Kosovo. Although the USA and the EU have been constantly claiming that splitting Kosovo is unacceptable, the actual situation directly in Kosovo had confirmed the factual split into the Serbian and Albanian parts already before the declaration of independence. In the northern part, the political, social and economic situation is fully dependent on Belgrade. With the KFOR taking care of security.
Although Belgrade lost its influence in the major part of the Kosovo territory in 1999, after the fall of Milosevic’s government it could very effectively build a parallel political, social and economic network in the regions inhabited by Serbs, especially north of the Ibar river. It is naive to assume that the Serbian government will give up something that it owns already. It is also naive to expect that Kosovan Albanians will agree to anything else than independence, when they are supported by the USA and the biggest EU countries. In relation to this, it is substantial that the international community has always accepted the real situation in the Balkans. And most probably it will accept also the real situation in case of current Kosovo. Thus we are getting to the core of the medium-term issue.
Sooner or later, it will be essential to accept the reality and the EU will have to tend to either one, or the other solution. The first possible solution is to initiate a new wave of negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina without a preceding verdict, as in case of previous dialogues, when – according to the statement of the British Ambassador to Belgrade – the Serbian government was demanded to “accept the actual situation and to put up with the loss of the territory”.
The second possible solution is to accept the split of Kosovo and also to accept the establishment of ethnic states in Europe. Both solutions will raise dissatisfaction among the Albanian ethnic group in Kosovo. In this case, the main target for the criticism of Kosovan Albanians will be the international institutions, above all the EULEX mission.
It might seem that the split of Kosovo is a solution acceptable for both sides. Questionable are the maximalist requirements of Pristina demanding the whole Kosovo or mentioning exchange of North Kosovo for a southeast region of Serbia at the boarders with Kosovo (Medvedja, Bujanovac and Presevo). Some political parties in Serbia also come up with a plan of compensating Kosovo for the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thus establishment of ethnic units in the Balkans can only now reach the epilogue in form of re-definition of state boarders, especially those of Serbia, of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of Macedonia. And so we are getting to the issue of independence from the long-term point of view.
From the long-term point of view, the main and the most critical possible impact is the domino effect. By the separation of Kosovo from Serbia, both actors entered the history of precedent in the international law for the second time. For the first time it was in 1999, when the NATO began bombardment of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without the agreement of the UN Security Council.
Despite the fact that supporters of Kosovo’s independence attempt to react to the criticism calling it a precedent, claiming that Kosovo is an exceptional case, there is a real danger that it really is a precedent. The first precedent in 1999 has already been confirmed in Iraq in 2003, with the difference that Washington established a different coalition of countries than in case of bombardment of the FRY. However, the substance remained the same in form of violating the UN Charter, just as in case of the current declaration of independence. Although a military action aimed against one state and an unilateral declaration of independence are different acts, yet both have the same impact in form of violating the international law, namely its most sensitive part – violating the state sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The argument that the case of Kosovo cannot become a universal solution is irrelevant. Until 17th February 2008, it was possible to judge the frozen territorial conflicts only as a temporary solution before their re-integration back to a state, from which the territory in question separated, or as a basis for negotiations on its separation with the agreement of the “mother state”. By the change of the rule arises a system in which an agreement and negotiations between both sides are no longer important, and a new manner of negotiating introduced, when it will be much more important to look for potential partners between the world superpowers than looking for a solution acceptable for quarelled sides. Just as the world is divided in relation to Kosovo, it will be divided in relation to other regions that will follow the example of Kosovo. The difference will be only in the proportion of the supporters and the opposers of independence.
The case of Kosovo and Albania drew the basic conditions, on which it will be possible to realize separatist/secessionist aims: 1) to have a majority population in the given territory, 2) to control the given territory and 3) to have political representation which will be able to gain allies in the international sphere. In specific situations, there is yet another condition at disposal: 4) to own potential for blackmailing in form of a security threat.
The current world and the division of powers – not only political and military, but also economic – enables a number of separatist regions to resign totally to the support of the UN Security Council or the Western countries and to focus on gaining support from other superpowers. A good example is the behaviour of China in the African continent, or Russia in its closest neighbourhood. For the EU, which in the sphere of foreign and security policy is very heterogeneous and far from establishing a united and joint foreign policy, such a scenario equals a catastrophy. The example of Kosovo has manifested that the driving force of foreign policies of European countries are the same national interests as in the past, not a common direction or a common interest, since still nothing like that exists. At the same time for the other world superpowers it is much easier to realize their own interests. Unlike Brussels, they do not have to look for compromise between member subjects. The cases of Kosovo or Iraq have also manifested weakness of the so-called European superpowers, which were unable to persuade smaller countries to change their attitude. Therefore there is still a question how realistic for them is to persuade other states or regions which can count on support from some other superpower.