Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More on Kosovo

I found some interesting articles yesterday on the Kosovo-Serbia situation.

Some might question the relevance of paying such close attention to Kosovo on a Lebanese/Middle Eastern blog. Allow me to say that it is incredibly relevant. We are part of a global sphere, a global geo-political chess game. Every move that happens in the world concerns us.

In addition to my points in the "Why Lebanese should oppose Kosovo independence" post, it's vital to remain conscious of the fact that our problems are not isolated. Just like the former Yugoslavia, we too are being manipulated by foreign powers, which isn't news to the ears. Many Lebanese will go to great lengths to stress that we are the pawns of a game between foreign powers. However, what many Lebanese fail to realise is that we're not alone in this situation. This is not only a Lebanese problem, but a global problem of larger nations belittling and bullying smaller states. This has been the case throughout human history, and yet we are still to learn from past mistakes.

We are on the list of exploited nations because we allow ourselves to be exploited. The rumblings of people power are true. We determine whether our state is functional or dysfunctional. The longer we stay divided, corrupt and paranoid of each other, the longer we'll remain a pawn for the rest of the world to juggle.

It's imperative that Lebanese watch other key events unfolding in the world closely, for it is a rare opportunity where we can see what it's like to be exploited from the outside.

We might just learn a few pointers.

International policy fails again in Serbia break-up
Aris Gounaris
The Canberra Times

In the lead-up to the declaration of Kosovo's independence, domestic and international media have been preoccupied with practicalities; the political and economic viability of the new state, divisions between European Union and United Nation member states regarding recognition, Serbia's likely reaction, and the fate of minorities, have all been discussed.

For its part, the English-language media continue to use well-worn (and misleading) cliches about so-called "ancient enmities" and the "last unresolved dispute of the Yugoslav wars" a label better suited to Bosnia.

Fundamental questions have been overlooked. Should a democratic state, for instance, be broken up? Influential members of the international community, including Britain, France and the United States, are doing just that breaking up a functioning, albeit fledgling democracy. Serbia may not have a strong democratic tradition, but it now holds free and fair elections; the results of the recent presidential election, narrowly won by Boris Tadic, were uncontested. Less than a decade ago, Slobodan Milosevic refused to budge after being voted out of office. Serbia's inroads should be encouraged, not punished.

It is wrong to partition a democratic state without the consent of all its citizens. Doing so sends all the wrong signals to disaffected groups wishing to carve out states of their own. Serbia's break-up represents yet another policy failing on the part of the international community. True, the Kosovo-Albanians want to live in their own state and they are well in their rights to demand a state of their own, or seek greater freedoms in the existing state. By the same token, sovereign states are legally entitled to defend their territorial integrity with deadly force. In Kosovo, neither side has been willing to compromise its demands. A stalemate was inevitable.

A solution, independence for Kosovo, has been imposed. It is the wrong solution. Independence may have been justified in the mid-1990s, when Milosevic was oppressing the people of Kosovo, but not now. The international community's failure to consider Kosovo's status as part of the 1995 Dayton Accords compelled the Kosovo-Albanians to take up arms. They provoked the Serbian authorities in the knowledge that only violence would put Kosovo on the agenda. The plan worked. NATO responded to Serbia's heavy-handed approach, first with diplomacy and then with air strikes in 1999.

Milosevic and his regime are dead. Serbia should be given a chance to demonstrate its democratic credentials given its pledge to work with the Kosovo-Albanians to create the conditions for a viable multi-ethnic state. This kind of trust has been extended to Kosovo; why not Serbia? Kosovo's "supervised independence" plan developed by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, allows for local autonomy, safeguards for minorities and cultural properties, and guaranteed seats in parliament for minority groups. Similar arrangements in Serbia could fast-track its EU candidate member status, notwithstanding the requirement to cooperate with the Hague's International War Crimes Tribunal.

It is probably too late to propose alternative practical arrangements for Kosovo. But it is worth reflecting on the principles that can inform the resolution of separatist disputes in general. Given its tendency to result in violent conflict, unilateral secession should be justified only as a remedy of last resort against serious and persistent injustices.

Democracy in Serbia means that the justification for unilateral secession no longer exists.
In Kosovo, this "remedial secession" principle has been ignored. The decision to support independence for Kosovo is more about expedience than a sense of justice. Common sense suggests that international relations are defined by the pursuit of self-interest; the promotion of justice and principle are mere aspirations. There is certainly much evidence to back these claims. Yet, this thinking is flawed. One of the reasons why separatist wars continue to be fought in every corner of the world is that there is no universally recognised set of justice-based principles for dealing with unilateral secession.

Supporting unilateral secession only if independence is sure to end injustices is the best way forward. This approach does not preclude secession by agreement; Czechoslovakia's dissolution in 1993 shows that secession can proceed peacefully and consensually. But where competing demands are irreconcilable, the onus rests with the separatists and independent observers to show that the status quo is unjust and that secession is the only viable remedy. Failing that, sovereign rights should be respected.

If such a principle were recognised in international law, the international community might deal with separatist conflicts more consistently and justly than it does now. By the same token, separatists would be less inclined to use force if they could anticipate universal condemnation of unilateral secession in the absence of serious injustices.

The EU, which is poised to help administer Kosovo post-independence, and the UN, may wish to ponder these and other fundamental questions when the time comes to settle the last unresolved dispute of the Yugoslav wars.

Aris Gounaris is a PhD candidate at La Trobe University. His doctoral dissertation in philosophy and history examines theories of secession and self-determination. Case studies include Kosovo, Chechnya and Aceh.

Superpower divide over Kosovo widens
Robert Wielaard
The Associated Press

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — The U.S. and the European Union's biggest powers quickly recognized Kosovo as an independent nation Monday, widening a split with Russia, China and some EU members strongly opposed to letting the territory break away from Serbia.

A day after Kosovo declared independence, ethnic Serbs in the north angrily denounced the United States and urged Russia to help Serbia hold on to the territory that Serbs consider the birthplace of their civilization.

Protesters also marched in Serbia's capital, and that nation recalled its ambassador to the U.S. to protest American recognition for an independent Kosovo.

Despite clamoring of Serbs to retake Kosovo, Serbia's government has ruled out a military response.

But the dispute is likely to worsen already strained relations between the West and Russia, which is a traditional ally of Serbia and seeks to restore its influence in former Soviet bloc states. The Kremlin could become less likely to help in international efforts important to the U.S. and its allies, such as pressuring Iran to rein in its nuclear program.

Still, for Washington the declaration of independence by Kosovo vindicated years of dogged effort to help a land achieve its dream of self-determination after years of ethnic conflict and repression by Serbia.

Speaking in Tanzania, President Bush declared: "The Kosovars are now independent" — and Washington formally recognized Kosovo as an independent country soon afterward. Germany, Britain and France also gave their heavyweight backing, saying they planned to issue formal recognitions.

But Russia, Serbia's key ally, and emerging global power China remained adamantly opposed to Kosovo's independence, warning of the danger of inspiring separatist movements around the world, including in their own sprawling territories.

As veto-wielding Security Council members, Russia and China both have the power to block any attempt by Kosovo to gain a seat on the international body.

The Council met for 2 1/2 hours in New York in the second day of an emergnecy session on Kosovo but was unable to agree on a resolution or joint statement regarding Sunday's declaration of independence.

Serbia vowed to fight to the end against any U.N. recognition.

"The so-called Kosovo state will never be a member of the United Nations. Serbia will use all diplomatic means at its disposal to block Kosovo's recognition," said Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.

The Kremlin was already working diplomatic levers to help Serbia achieve that aim.

Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, Russia's special envoy to the Balkans, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Moscow expected U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to abide by a Security Council resolution that recognized Kosovo as part of Serbia.

Ban opened Monday's Security Council session by citing the many peaceful celebrations that accompanied Kosovo's declaration but also noting scattered violence.

He said the United Nations had achieved "peace consolidation and the establishment of functional self-government" in Kosovo, including five successful elections. "Kosovo has made considerable progress through the years," he said.

Serbian President Boris Tadic, who attended the U.N. meeting, urged the council to oppose Kosovo's move and to intervene as a last resort.

"The Republic of Serbia will not resort to force," said Tadic. "On the other hand, this arbitrary decision represents a precedent, which will cause irreparable damage to the international order."
He said Kosovo's declaration "annuls international law, tramples upon justice and enthrones injustice."

Serbia recalled its ambassador to Washington in protest of U.S. recognition for Kosovo, but said it was not severing diplomatic ties. It also withdrew envoys to France and Turkey and was expected to recall others as more nations formally recognized Kosovo as a new state.
"America and the European Union are stealing Kosovo from us, everyone must realize that," said Tomislav Nikolic, the head of Serbia's ultra-nationalist Radical Party.

After an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Britain, Germany and France said they would quickly give recognition to Kosovo, a move that would be followed in the days ahead by most of the bloc's other 24 member states, officials said.

The EU does not recognize nations, leaving that up to its individual members, and Spain, Greece, Romania and Cyprus have criticized the effort to make Kosovo independent.
Despite that divide, the EU foreign ministers issued a joint statement citing "the conflict of the 1990s" in Kosovo as a justification for the independence declaration.

The U.S. and its NATO allies intervened with an air campaign against Serbia in 1999 to end a brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists that had killed 10,000 people. The territory had been under U.N. and NATO administration since then, although formally remaining part of Serbia.

Seeking to address the concerns of Russia and others about a free Kosovo, the foreign ministers stressed that Kosovo should be an exception to the international rule that national borders can be changed only if all parties agree.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has argued that independence without U.N. approval sets a dangerous precedent for the former Soviet Union, where separatists in Russia's Chechnya region and two areas of Georgia are agitating for independence.

Russian officials hinted last week that if Kosovo declared independence it might retaliate by recognizing the independence claims of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — two Russian-supported provinces in Georgia. Russia's parliament repeated the threat Monday.

On Monday, Kosovo independence took center stage in China's diplomatic jousting with Taiwan, which has been self-governing since the Chinese civil war in 1949 but which the Beijing regime considers to still be part of China.

China's Foreign Ministry criticized Taiwan for welcoming Kosovo's independence, saying the island's government did not meet the criteria for recognizing other countries.

"It is known to all that Taiwan, as a part of China, has no right and qualification at all to make the so-called recognition," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement posted on the ministry's Web site.

China has good ties with Serbia and expressed "deep concern" over Kosovo's independence declaration.

For Beijing, the announcement conjures up one of its greatest fears: that Taiwan could some day make a similar declaration, something China says it would meet with military force. Chinese leaders also worry about separatist sentiments in the heavily Muslim regions of western China.
Spain, which has battled a violent Basque separatist movement for decades, was the biggest European Union nation to oppose Kosovo independence. Greece, Romania and Cyprus also are against Kosovo's new status.

In Bucharest, Romanian President Traian Basescu called Kosovo's declaration "an illegal act" — a position rooted in Romania's traditional close ties with Serbia.

British Foreign Secretary defended the move by Kosovo's Albanians, saying the EU was keen to close the book on "two decades of violence and conflict and strife" in the western Balkans.
"There is a very strong head of steam building among a wide range of (EU) countries that do see this as the piece of the Yugoslav jigsaw and don't see stability in the western Balkans being established without the aspirations of the Kosovar people being respected," he said.

Associated Press writer John Heilprin at the United Nations and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia contributed to this report.

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