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Is There No Independence Station for the Kosovo Train?

February 9, 2007

By Borka Tomic (Serbian Institute for Public Diplomacy, Brussels)

While some high US officials have claimed that Kosovo’s “train for independence has left the station,” recent developments show that the train for Kosovo’s future might not be stopping at the station of independence. Namely, the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest political organization, with the input of deputy delegations from all European countries apart from Belarus and Montenegro, has voted to exclude from the proposed text of Lord Russell Johnston the part of the resolution containing an open call for Kosovo’s independence in the name of Balkan stability.

The meeting of the Council of Europe showed that the support for Kosovo’s permanent secession from Serbia seems to be waning, not only in the neighboring Balkan countries or Spain, mindful of its Basque separatist problem, but also with permanent member states of the Contact Group such as France and Great Britain. The internationally recognized state of Serbia confirmed its sovereignty over Kosovo in its recently adopted constitution. And the EU Commission representatives confirmed that as well.

In addition, the stance of Russia remains ever firm in its opposition to Kosovo’s independence, and various high-level Russian officials announced earlier that their country’s UN Security Council veto would be used against any decision on the future status of Kosovo not previously accepted by Belgrade.

There are strong concerns especially in the US as to how to overcome Russian opposition to Kosovo’s independence. Russian President Putin has raised the stakes by calling for ‘universal principles’ to apply in settling frozen conflicts, referring in particular to Georgia’s two separatist regions — Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What’s more, the emotional dimension of the Serbian-Russian relations cannot be undermined, as Russia will not leave Serbia’s Christian Orthodox cradle in Kosovo at the mercy of its majority Muslim Albanian population.

At the same time, another major world power, China, has a similar stance regarding the Kosovo issue. As Jiang Men, a professor at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies of the Free University of Brussels put it at a recent conference organized by the European Institute for International Relations, “China and Russia agree and cooperate in the matter of Kosovo, and China’s veto against Kosovo’s independence at the UN Security Council is very possible. This is even more likely, bearing in mind the timing of the Taiwan elections due in 2007 and Olympic Games in China in 2008. China would, thus, try to prevent any destabilizing factors that question its sovereignty over Taiwan.” These significant comments were not however widely reported in the media.

On the other hand, the tension and the threat of violence in Kosovo are increasing. Demonstrations from the majority Albanian population are expected on 10 February as the word “independence” was not included in lead negotiator Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal. The proposal is rather frustrating for the Serbs too, and it is not easy to predict how the remaining Serbian population, less than 10 percent, will react to the potential unilateral secession of Kosovo.

NATO, with its 16,500 soldiers, however, claims to have learnt its lesson from past turbulence, especially the March 2004 pogrom in which a total of 4,100 Serbs were expelled from their homes by Albanians, and 35 Serbian churches and monasteries were torched, among them several dating back to the Middle Ages and of irreplaceable value to Serbian and indeed European cultural heritage. Nevertheless, NATO promises to maintain peace in the troubled Serbian province.

Not many people would like to step into the shoes of the special UN envoy for Kosovo. As for now, Mr. Ahtisaari has presented his proposal to the Contact Group in Vienna and the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers in Brussels, as well as to the authorities Belgrade and Pristina. While there was hardly any consensus to report following these meetings, the two sides will have to bring closer their divergent views through new talks, for a peaceful resolution to be realized.

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