Kosovo walks out

Published : Mar 28, 2008 00:00 IST

Kosovars wave an Albanian flag (left) and the flag of independent Kosovo after the declaration of independence from Serbia, on February 17 in Pristina.-DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP Kosovars wave an Albanian flag (left) and the flag of independent Kosovo after the declaration of independence from Serbia, on February 17 in Pristina.

Kosovars wave an Albanian flag (left) and the flag of independent Kosovo after the declaration of independence from Serbia, on February 17 in Pristina.-DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP Kosovars wave an Albanian flag (left) and the flag of independent Kosovo after the declaration of independence from Serbia, on February 17 in Pristina.

Albanian-dominated Kosovo declares independence from Serbia with the blessings of the West, especially the U.S.

THE unilateral declaration of independence by the Serbian province of Kosovo on February 17 has once again put the Balkan tinderbox in the international spotlight. The Albanian-dominated enclave in Serbia with a population of less than two million is another mini-state that has emerged from the wreckage of the Yugoslav Federation. Last year, it was the turn of Montenegro (with a population of 800,000) to break away from Serbia.

The backing of the West was crucial in both cases. In Kosovo, the wild celebrations that followed the declaration of independence lasted for days. The United States Stars and Stripes in fact outnumbered the national flag of Kosovo in the jubilations on the streets of the capital Pristina. Kosovo Albanians acknowledge U.S. President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton as their political godfathers.

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was secretly armed and trained by the U.S. and Germany in the 1990s. This was despite Washington officially labelling the KLA a terrorist outfit after it was accused of trafficking in drugs, arms and women. It was Clinton who unleashed the three-month-long North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)-led war in 1999 against Yugoslavia mainly on the pretext of human rights violations in Kosovo by the Yugoslav state. The assault wrought great havoc on Yugoslavias infrastructure. Bridges, passenger trains and television stations were among the targets hit by NATO planes and missiles. That war had led to the occupation of Kosovo by the West under the umbrella of the United Nations. A permanent U.S. military base was concurrently established there.

An independent Kosovo fitted into the grandiose plans of the U.S. to gain hegemony over the strategic Balkan region and isolate Russia further. The U.S. military base in Kosovo, called Camp Bondsteel, is among the string of bases that have come up since the 1990s in the Balkans, East Europe and Central Asia. It has been used for rendition flights, and the interrogation and torture of suspects in the U.S.-led war on terror.

With the active connivance of major Western powers such as the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany and France, the Kosovo leadership laid the groundwork for secession from Serbia. The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Hacim Thaci, declared that the independence of Kosovo signalled the end of the dissolution of former Yugoslavia.

Among the most vocal supporters of Kosovos independence is the current French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner. Kouchner was the first U.N.-appointed administrator in Kosovo and served from 1999 to 2001.

The Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, criticising Washingtons support for an independent Kosovo, said that the U.S. had by its actions shown that it was ready to unscrupulously and violently jeopardise international order for the sake of its own military interests. Kostunica described Kosovo as a false state.

Serbia was quick to recall its ambassadors from the U.S., France, Turkey and Austria. The Serbian Parliament passed a resolution condemning the declaration of independence. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic asserted that his country would fight tooth and nail to have the declaration overturned. He emphasised that Kosovo Albanians were not the only people in the world to have a grievance against Belgrade. More than 200,000 people staged angry demonstrations in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. The wrath of the crowds was focussed on the embassies of those countries that had actively connived in the break-up of the Yugoslav Federation.

Part of the U.S. embassy was set on fire. Angry mobs also set fire to customs posts manned by international peacekeepers along the border with the self-proclaimed state.

Kosovo has been an emotive issue for Serbians, who consider the territory the cradle of their culture and civilisation. Kosovo fell to the Ottomans in the 15th century. Until the end of the 19th century, Serbs formed the majority in the province. Successive wars and forcible population transfers reduced them to a minority in the province in the 20th century. By the 1970s, Serbs constituted only 25 per cent of the population. After the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, ostensibly to protect the majority Albanians, it was the Serbs who fled Kosovo. Less than 10 per cent of the population in Kosovo today is Serb.

No Serb politician, even pro-Western ones like the recently re-elected President, Boris Tadic, is willing to give up Kosovo. Tadic, who was conveniently out of the country when the recent dramatic events unfolded, later said that he would never give up the fight for our Kosovo.

The fear in the international community is that the events in Kosovo may be a precedent that could be replicated in other parts of the world. Breakaway regions in the Caucasus are threatening to declare independence. The Serbs in Bosnia have said that they are planning to unite with Serbia. Kashmiri separatists are now loudly demanding that the Kosovo model should be applied to the disputed territory. Even within Kosovo, the minority Serbs, who still number around 120,000 despite the ethnic cleansing, have indicated that the territory that they occupy will merge with Serbia. They are threatening to set up their own parliament in the town of Mitrovica.

Branislav Ristivojevic, a close associate of the Serbian Prime Minister, said that his country would take the U.S. to the International Court of Justice if it did not annul the decision to recognise Kosovos independence. The Serbian Prime Minister had earlier demanded that Washington annul its recognition of Kosovos independence and confirm Serbias sovereignty.

Despite the key role the European Union has played in the creation of the mini-state, many of its member-countries have refused to recognise it formally. E.U. members such as Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania have sizable minority communities clamouring for separate identity. The Basques in Spain have for long been waging a violent struggle for statehood. The Basques and the Turkish Cypriot leadership have hailed the declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanians.

Senior Palestinian officials highlighted the double standards adopted by the West on the issue of statehood. Yasser Abdel Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official, said that Palestine had a more legitimate case for independence than Kosovo. He emphasised that if the international community could accept Kosovos independence, then it should happen with Palestine as well.

Russia has warned the E.U. from recognising Kosovo. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticised the E.U.s deployment of a task force to supervise Kosovos police, customs and justice systems. He said that the E.U. decision was taken without the approval of the U.N. Security Council. The Security Councils Resolution 1244 of June 1999 had ordered the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo and the takeover of the territory by the Kosovo Force (KFOR), the U.N.-sanctioned military mission. However, the resolution had not made any mention of independence for Kosovo. The preamble of the resolution refers specifically to the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. Article 10 of the resolution only authorises substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The U.S. used the E.U. to circumvent the U.N. and bestow independence on Kosovo. Coming in handy was the plan drawn by Martti Ahtisaari, the U.N. special representative to Kosovo. Ahtisaari, a former President of Finland, had recommended a limited type of independence for Kosovo. According to the plan, Kosovo would not be allowed to be part of a greater Albania. Its government would be under international supervision.

The E.U. is sending a 2,000-strong police and justice mission called the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) to replace the U.N. mission in Kosovo. These forces will be in addition to the 16,000 NATO troops already on the ground in Kosovo.

Many observers feel that these measures have made independent Kosovo a protectorate of the West. Under the terms of the U.S.-E.U. supervised independence, Kosovos leaders will have limited powers. EULEX, under a E.U.-appointed viceroy, will have the final say on all important matters. The Kosovo Albanians had to give up their red flag emblazoned with a two-headed eagle, in favour of an E.U.-sponsored blue flag with the map of Kosovo.

One commentator described Kosovo as a post-modern state, an entity that may be sovereign in name but is a U.S.-E.U. protectorate in practice.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that the declaration of independence by Kosovo would have an impact on Moscows relations with Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia, Georgias breakaway republics. Kosovos independence, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated, presupposes a revision of commonly accepted norms and principles of international law.

Moscow warned that the development would encourage separatist movements from Moldova to Indonesia. President Vladimir Putin had warned the West that any declaration of independence by Kosovo would be illegal, ill-conceived and immoral.

New Delhi has also reasons to be concerned about the developments but has not yet formulated a clear position on the issue. Even when Yugoslavia was being bombed by NATO forces, New Delhi refused to take a clear stand. An External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said that there were several legal issues involved and that the government was studying the evolving situation.

It has been Indias consistent position that the sovereignty and integrity of all countries should be fully respected by all states, he said.

Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been more forthright. Their governments have said that they would never recognise an independent Kosovo. China and Vietnam have expressed the opinion that any solution to the Kosovo problem should not infringe on the sovereignty of Serbia.

An adviser to the German Foreign Ministry, writing in the newspaper Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung warned that the independence of Kosovo created a precedent which could be directed in other cases against the Western states.

The spokesman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Parliament described Kosovo as a mafia state. The SPD is a partner in the coalition ruling the country.

Germany has played a key role in the disintegration of Yugoslavia, by first actively encouraging Slovenia and Croatia to secede.

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