As the independent state of Kosovo celebrates its first year of independence from Serbia, Abedin Korca examines how their independence can be viewed as a success for the international system.
ON THE 17TH OF FEBRUARY the people of Kosovo celebrated the first anniversary of their independence. Thousands of Kosovars gathered around the Mother Theresa Square in Prishtina to celebrate the birth of freedom. Kosovo is not only the newest country in the world but it is also the youngest country in terms of the age of the inhabitants, with approximately 70 per cent of the population being under the age of 30. The majority are ethnic Albanians with around 92 per cent.
Originally part of Tito’s Federation, under the 1974 Yugoslav constitution, Kosovo was a fully-fledged federal body. In 1989, the then-Serbian President, Slobodan Milošević abolished Kosovo’s autonomy and ten years later in 1999, gave orders to the Serbian force to commit, what has been regarded as the worst crimes against humanity in recent history, shocking the conscience of the international community.
The international community decided to take action to end the violence and atrocities committed against the Kosovan people. This lead to the military intervention of NATO, for the first time since its foundation in 1949 however NATO did not have the backing of the UN Security Council because Russia had threatened to veto any resolution authorising force.
Russia’s argument was that the issue of Kosovo was an internal matter to be handled by Milošević, and the international community cannot interfere with the territorial sovereignty of Yugoslavia, in effect giving Milošević a license to commit genocide and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
However, in a final speech as UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan warned “respect for national sovereignty can no longer be used as a shield by government’s intent on massacring their own people, or as an excuse for the rest of us to do nothing when such heinous crimes are committed”. Similarly, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who visited UCD recently, referred to the conflicts in Africa, stating, “One of the responsibilities of the government is protecting the rights of its citizens, and if it doesn’t do so then the international community has a right to intervene.”
Indeed, the issue of international intervention in Kosovo was one which spurred a widespread debate among activists, intellectuals and the public at large.
“The international community decided to take action to end the violence and atrocities committed against the Kosovan people”
The UN special envoy for Kosovo President, Marti Ahtisaari, stated in his recent interview that the most important point that decided the fate of Kosovo was “The unconstitutional abolition of Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989 and the ensuing tragic events resulting in the international administration of Kosovo have led to a situation in which the return of Kosovo to Belgrade’s rule is not a viable option.”
Naturally, the language, the race, the religion, the tradition and culture of the Kosovar Albanians are fundamentally different from the Serbs. The Kosovan people are by right a free people. The anniversary celebrations of this February have illustrated the Kosovan people are resolved to secure and maintain a complete independence in order to promote peace and stability and common good in the Balkans and Europe.
Kosovo’s independence has been recognised so far by 54 countries, including the US, Japan, Canada, Australia and 22 of the 27 EU Member States. Five EU member states – Romania, Slovakia, Greece, Cyprus and Spain – have not yet recognised its independence. Some of those member states did not recognise the independence of Kosovo, either in solidarity with Serbia, or so as to avoid conflicts for their own separatist areas.
However, it is important to note that Kosovo is a unique case with a unique history and as has been reiterated many times by President Ahtisaari, Kosovo cannot set precedence for any other country. The EU Parliament passed a resolution, early this month urging all EU nations to recognise Kosovo as an independent State. The resolution was adopted with 424 MEP votes in favour, 133 against and 24 abstentions.
In the meantime, the Serbian foreign minister states that Serbia’s main priority is to join the EU and plans to formally apply for membership in the first half of this year. However, Serbia must do its homework before it can join the EU. From the recent majority vote, it appears that unless Serbia can learn to live with an independent Kosovo and bring to an end the fruitless attempts to regain occupation over its territory.
In addition, it is essential that Belgrade cooperates with the International War Crimes Tribunal and hand over fugitive Ratko Mladic, under indictment for genocide and his role in the Srebrenica massacre. One of the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership is the rule of law and guarantee for human rights. Serbia should show its commitment to the rule of law and human rights by arresting Mladic.
The Kosovan success story of freedom is a great cause for celebration not only for the people of Kosovo, but also for all the countries who helped to achieve that freedom. The Yugoslav crisis began in Kosovo and ended in Kosovo. Let us hope that this is not only the end of the crises but also a sign of the collective strength of the international community in action.