Independence of Kosovo is one of the most controversial issues in world politics. Ukrainians, on the other hand, are largely united in treating the Serbian province’s declaration of sovereignty in an unambiguous, extremely skeptical, even negative manner. However, there have been so many changes in this Balkan region lately that we need to revisit the Kosovo issue and revise our position.
A HISTORIC DAY
Today, Kosovo is already not a self-proclaimed, but a partially recognized state. As of January 1, 2018, it was recognized by 114 countries. This is 110 (more than half) out of 193 UN member states, 23 out of 28 EU member states, and 25 out of 29 NATO member states. And although the entry into the UN, that is, the final international recognition, is still far away, the Kosovo Albanians are already much closer to their ultimate objective.
Kosovo has its own country calling code. Kosovo teams – in particular, its soccer clubs and national team – take part in world and European sports competitions. Kosovo athletes participated in the Summer Olympics in Brazil and are currently competing for Olympic medals in South Korea.
It took 10 years for Kosovo to become a participant in international life, since the Kosovo parliament passed a declaration of state independence on February 17, 2008. That Sunday, the extraordinary meeting of the “provisional Kosovo self-government institution” lasted less than 40 minutes. Most legislators supported the proclamation of Kosovo as a sovereign state. There were no “nay” votes, and only 11 representatives of the Serbian minority decided to boycott the voting procedure. Hashim Thaci, the then prime minister of Kosovo, called February 17 a “historic day” for the Kosovo Albanians’ efforts to “create a state.”
“We stand at the beginning of the most important part of our history. Now is our time to make the decision that will allow us to take a place among free and independent countries,” stressed in his address to the assembly Thaci, who is now the president of Kosovo. He also emphasized that Euro-Atlantic integration had to become the priority of the Kosovo state.
THE UN COURT’S ADVICE
A few months after the decision of the Kosovan legislators to declare independence, namely on October 8, 2008, the UN General Assembly requested the International Court of Justice to consider this issue. The request, made through a relevant resolution, read as follows: “Is the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo in accordance with international law?”
During the proceedings, the court heard opinions on this issue offered by representatives of 30 interested UN member states. Serbia, Russia, China, and a number of other states noted that the proclamation of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo was contrary to international law, including the provisions of the UN Security Council Resolution No. 1244 adopted in 1999. They believed that the Kosovo authorities had committed an illegal act aimed at undermining Serbia’s sovereignty.
Representatives of Kosovo, in turn, stated that the adoption of the declaration of independence was an act of executing the right of their people to self-determination and a legitimate step towards the final determination of the status of Kosovo. This view was supported by 69 states, including the US and Germany.
On July 22, 2010, the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not contradict the norms of international law. The judges concluded that the Kosovo authorities’ decision as a whole did not violate any international acts or resolutions of the Security Council. President of the International Court of Justice Hisashi Owada noted, in particular, that international law contained “no prohibition on declarations of independence.”
In connection with the court’s ruling, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all parties to engage in dialog.
Advisory opinions of the court are in fact “legal advice” that the General Assembly and the Security Council can use in their own decisions, but the verdicts themselves carry no direct legal consequences.
DISAGREEING WITH INDEPENDENCE
Serbia still does not consider the “autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija” a separate state today. Many other countries refuse to recognize the independence of Kosovo as well, including members of the UN Security Council Russia and China, EU members Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Romania (the last four are also members of NATO) and Ukraine.
In February 2009, the European Parliament passed a resolution recommending that countries that have not yet recognized Kosovo’s independence do so. But five EU members still have not consented to take this step.
However, despite it being only partially recognized, today the Republic of Kosovo has the official status of a potential candidate for accession to the EU. And this is not just a declaration. The EU Enlargement Strategy, promulgated by the European Commission on February 6, 2018, envisages increased cooperation between the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans, including Kosovo. In order to further its progress on the European path, the European Commission recommends that the Kosovo authorities continue the implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement.
At the same time, the EU demands that Serbia, which is an official candidate for accession, is conducting official talks on membership and, according to the European Commission, has a chance to join the EU by 2025, establish relations with Kosovo. The latter’s government is expecting a full recognition from Serbia. However, the Serbian authorities want to establish their relations with Kosovo through other compromise forms, like the signing of a comprehensive bilateral treaty, removing the mention of Kosovo from the Serbian Constitution, consenting to Kosovo joining any international organization, including the UN... Still, the government of Serbia refuses to recognize its autonomous province as an independent country outright. And this is understandable, as most Serbs categorically oppose this idea.
Serbia is strongly supported by Russia in this stance, and not only through providing guarantees that the UN Security Council, which includes the Russian Federation, will never agree to admit Kosovo to the UN. In every way, Russia is trying to keep the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo tense and doing everything in its power to get that relationship worse.
For example, since the end of last year, the Kremlin has been actively involved in the international promotion of the film Kosovo: A Moment in Civilization. The director of the film is Boris Malagurski, a Serbian-Canadian filmmaker, public activist, and columnist of the Russian international multimedia agency Sputnik, which is reputed to be a propaganda outlet. According to the official announcement of the premiere of the picture, which was held at the Moscow office of the Russia Today news agency in January this year, “the film draws attention to the problem of preservation of cultural and religious heritage sites in Kosovo and Metohija: since the beginning of the armed conflict in Kosovo, Albanian extremists destroyed more than 150 Orthodox monasteries and shrines in the region.” The Kosovo authorities described the film as “racist and unprecedented.” Their official statement stresses that Serbia continues to impede Kosovo’s international recognition and membership in international organizations and that its actions are contrary to the principles of good neighborly relations.
It is also worth mentioning that a year ago, a train which the Serbian railway had bought in Russia went from Belgrade to Kosovska Mitrovica (a city in Kosovo) with its sides painted in Serbian tricolor flag and “decorated” with enormous inscriptions «Kosovo is Serbia.” (More on this in The Day’s article “The Belgrade-War train,” published in No. 3, 2017; https://day.kyiv.ua/en/article/topic-day/belgrade-war-train).
And the most interesting (in a bad way) aspect of Russian activity is the recent creation by the Russians of the so-called Balkan Cossack Host, an organization with paramilitary features which has offices in Kosovo (read the article “How Russia protects Serbia’s integrity,” in The Day’s No. 59, 2017; https://day.kyiv.ua/en/article/topic-day/how-russia-protects-serbias-int...).
MORE SERBIAN THAN THE SERBS THEMSELVES
In spite of everything, the current Serbian government, which is determined to integrate the country with the EU, wants to find a formula for establishing relations with its breakaway province, which has become an independent country, although only partially recognized one. The deadline for resolving the “Kosovo issue” is fast approaching for the Serbian authorities, for without the recognition of Kosovo in one form or another, Serbia will not be admitted to the EU either in 2025 or later.
Ukraine does not have any deadline set, and nobody makes open official demands on it for the recognition of Kosovo. However, it looks like Ukrainian international relations experts need to revisit the Kosovo issue to prevent us from becoming more Serbian than the Serbs themselves at some point, as the Russians seem to be sometimes. We also need to do it to avoid an eventual agreement between Serbia and Kosovo catching our government unawares. We have somehow missed the fact that Kosovo succeeded in moving further than we have in some fields of the process of European integration. Today, as you know, Kosovo has the official status of a potential member of the EU – unlike Ukraine.