Serbian intransigence and Western power politics delay independence of Kosova

Developing Just Leadership

Our Own Correspondent

Jumada' al-Ula' 15, 1428 2007-06-01


by Our Own Correspondent (World, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 4, Jumada' al-Ula', 1428)

Albanians constitute at least 90 percent of Kosova’s population, populating virtually the entire country, while the tiny Serb minority is mostly in an enclave in the north and in much smaller ones in the predominantly Albanian-populated areas. The Albanians laid the basis for their country’s independence and for the exercise of their right to self-determination under international law as a result of the 1998–99 Kosova war that successfully ended Serbia’s control. Add to this the fact that the independence plan for Kosova prepared by Marti Ahtissari, the United Nations mediator, now before the UN security council for approval, calls for sovereignty to be granted to the region. That sovereignty is incomplete, because the plan provides for EU supervision of security in Kosova to replace the current UN and NATO forces’ task of providing security. However, the Albanian Kosovars will mostly be running their own affairs if the plan is approved.

But despite all that, Serbia is adamantly opposed to independence for Kosova (which they call Kosovo), and the Serbs’ Russian ally is determined to use its veto in the security council to block the independence plan when (and indeed if) it is put to the vote. The new constitution of Serbia actually states that Kosova has no right to secede, although Serbia lost all control over the region in 1999, when NATO forces drove out its troops to end the war of independence begun the previous year by Kosovar Albanians. Serbian governments are likely to exploit this constitutional provision and resist any pressure to allow Kosova to “secede” or even amend the constitution. They are also encouraged by Moscow’s expressed determination to veto any approval of the Ahtissari plan.

The Serbian government is also encouraged by the reasonable assumption that the US and EU, which drafted the Ahtissari plan and submitted it to the security council, are primarily opposed to the Russian position not on ideological or constitutional grounds but to extract concessions for other reasons. The issue of Kosova was, for instance, on the agenda of the recent summit between president Vladimir Putin and the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, but when the summit hit a crisis it was not because of the failure to reach agreement on this matter. A far more important issue on the agenda related to the energy resources of the Central Asian countries (formerly members of the Soviet Union), which both Moscow andWashington covet. But even the reason publicly given to explain the failure of the summit by Rice related to the poor human-rights record of Moscow, and not to the issues of Kosova and energy resources. Rice was not referring to the terrible suppression of human rights of Muslims in Russia but to the expulsion of Georgian immigrants.

There is scant reason to believe that the US will pursue the Kosova issue at the expense of other concessions that it plans to extract from Russia. After all, Serbia is a Christian country, though a committed strategic ally of Russia, and is preferable – in the eyes of the neo-cons and Christian fundamentalists in charge in Washington – to a Kosovar state run by Albanian Muslims. Similarly, the EU countries have demonstrated – though somewhat indirectly – their attachment to Serbia by putting it on the list of candidates for EU membership and by holding continued negotiations with it on the issue. One of the conditions set by the EU relates to the establishment of a more democratic government in Serbia; another is that the government must hand General Ratko Mladic over to the international war-crimes tribunal at the Hague.

The Serbs complied with the first demand by forming a coalition government in mid-May that excluded the hardliners to whom Brussels objected. But the new regime has made it quite plain that granting Kosova independence is out of the question. Serbia’s new foreign minister, Vak Jeremic, told the daily Financial Times of London on May 21 that any move by the new government to give up Kosova would bring it down. “Whoever gives up Kosova – implicitly or explicitly – will instantaneously and forever lose the capacity to govern this country with a democratic mandate,” he said.

But Jeremic hinted strongly that General Ratko Mladic might eventually be handed over to the war-crimes tribunal. He said that the president’s centre-left party had secured an “absolutely iron-clad commitment” from Vojislav Kostunica, the nationalist prime minister, that he would meet the EU’s conditions on cooperation with the tribunal. This clearly shows that, although the Serbs are prepared to make concessions over certain issues they previously held “sacred”, they will not give in to pressure on the issue of Kosova’s independence. It also indicates that the Serbs believe they can get away with this intransigence. At least they feel certain that the issue will not be brought to a head and will be delayed for some time. Western analysts and observers are united in their belief that the security council’s vote on the Ahtissari plan will be postponed, but they warn that failure to resolve the issue in good time will force Kosova to declare its independence unilaterally: war will probably follow.

However, the new Serbian foreign minister, citing the case of Montenegro’s independence, has argued that allowing Kosova to secede will engulf Serbia in constitutional chaos and will lead to conflict in the region. Jeremic told the Financial Times that he hoped for constitutional stability, which has evaded Serbia since Montenegro won independence in a peaceful referendum a year ago. Montenegro was a member of federal Yugoslavia, which disintegrated in 1991. Other members of the federation were the Socialist Republics of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia. Serbia includes the Socialist Autonomous Province of Vojvodina and Kosovo.

But because Kosova is no longer a province of Serbia and functions under the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and its own provisional government – officially called the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) – Jeremic made a serious mistake by invoking Montenegro’s independence as a valid reason for denying Kosova the right to independence. Clearly the question immediately arises of why the right to self-determination should be withheld from Kosova when Montenegro has been allowed to exercise it.

But even if Kosova is ultimately allowed to be independent, the continuing delay is having a damaging effect on the way the country is governed. As Albanian Kosovars frequently complain in interviews with Western journalists, the provisional government “passes the buck to UNMIK and UNMIK passes it back to the politicians.” The result is that corrupt politicians and businessmen are exploiting this lack of control to make unprecedented wealth, sinking the country in the consequences of corrupt practices. Another result is that the country is not getting ready to wage and win the war for independence it might have to declare in order to become a sovereign state.

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