Some historical reflections: Why should Kosovo get international recognition?

Posted in Europe | 10-Jun-07 | Author: Drago Flis

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes events occuring in the Middle East and the Balkans. Drago Flis, an albanologist and member of the International Institute IFIMES here presents some historical reflections regarding international recognition of Kosovo as a state. His article, entitled ‘Why should Kosovo get international recognition?’ is here published in its entirety.

To reflect on Kosovo in Slovenia, a country which gained its statehood in 1991, might seem long overdue, unless somebody has occupied himself with Kosovo for a long period during the shared life of the Southern Slavs and Albanians in the now-defunct Yugoslavia; even less so if he, on top of that, also had the opportunity to experience Kosovo as an international immediatelly after the entry of the international community into the region in 1999.

Since that crucial event, almost eight long years have passed and basically, nothing truly new has happened. At least not for the Kosovars belonging to the Albanian majority, who have since the entry of the international community been looked on with astonishment, if not ignorance, when they raised the question of their independance based on clear self-determination of nations. Simultaneously, Slovenians, Croats, Bosnians, Macedonians, and recently Montenegrians, have been enjoying their newly acquired independance. Is there any international standard according to which one can understand only the various Southern Slavs, and at the same time deny the same right to the non-Slavic Albanians who succeeding in telling their story to the West only later? The territory of the former Yugoslavia, or the Western Balkans as the region is currently called by conference terminology, has already been fully balkanized in the sense of splitting up into smaller states. It cannot confidently be said whether that is good or not, but the fact itself benefits the strivings of nations; but one has to fully bear in mind that the nations in the Western Balkans are both Slavs and Albanians.

Initially, the goodwill of the international community was predominantly turned towards Kosovo’s minorities. This was just, since there is now hardly a country in Europe without minorities; but more and more, the overlooking of the majority manifested itself and created with it more and more political embarassment, at least for those of us who have been dealing with various aspects of Kosovo for some time. The ideal situation would be the establishment of appropriate goodwill towards the country’s national minorities, which these would then reciprocate with a firm commitment to the sustained efforts of the Albanian majority for securing Kosovo’s independance. All over Europe, national minorities enjoy a wide variety of protective measures regarding their existence, both within the state and within international settings. The minorities of Kosovo, including the Serb minority, should be no exception. However, the loyalty of minorities to their respective states is expected; at the same time, it is expected that no minority would stand in the way of the national majority’s independance.

It is true that so far, the Albanians of Kosovo have not yet achieved their wish, centuries old, of being independant. With regards to this, it is not enough to consider the periods in antiquity, with the antagonism against the ancient Greek and latter Roman domination; in later centuries, there was continuous resistance against the Ottoman Empire. For centuries, wars were fought, and lost.

Relevant to today’s situation are the Albanian uprisings against the ailing Ottoman rule in 1878, 1892, 1910, and the later general uprising of 1912. In that very year, the Albanians, mainly from Kosovo, initiated an uprising against the Ottoman Empire, but the then better organized Serb army simply took over control in the region, and thereby concluded the period in which Kosovo was free from Serb rule, a period that had lasted since the famous battle in 1389. The year also marked the beginning of the belief among Kosovo’s Albanians that the Serbs tried to abuse their common opposition to the Ottomans in order to subdue them. Their domination was also enabled by the relatively better military organization of the Serbs, as well as by the fact that already then, the Serbs were more proficient in telling their side of the story to the West.

In the maelstrom of the Balkan wars, the Balkan prelude to the first World War, Albania proper managed to declare independance in November 1912 in Vlora, where an Albanian member of the Ottoman parliament in Istanbul, Ismail Qemali, raised the Albanian flag. Kosovo, on the other hand, remained under Serbia and subsequently Yugoslavia, if we exclude some short interruptions, for another 87 years.

During the years of socialist Yugoslavia, there were several Albanian insurrections, but some of them did not resonate enough to even attract the attention of the international media.

An important milestone for Kosovo was the decentralization of Yugoslavia following its 1974 constitution. The level of administrative competence that Kosovo achieved with the so-called Kardelj constitution was, in practice, that of a republic. Resistance to Kardelj’s draft of the constitution by Serbian politicians meant that the provinces were only defined as ‘socio-economic communities’, but this formalism was in practice ineffective in preventing the implementation of the then-status.

Prior to the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the first signal, a miner’s strike in Trepca, was again given by Albanians. The movement in the Mitrovica region in 1989 was of course surpressed, but the event gave others food for thought. The later tight grip of Serb rule over the province prevented the leadership from joining Slovenians, Croats and others in their successful drive for independance in 1991. Despite the fact that Kosovars voted for republic and statehood in 1990, even earlier than others, they had to remain under Serbia due to the international community’s lack of recognition for this act of self-determination.

Serb rule eventually came to an end following the last Kosovar insurrection, lasting from 1997 to 1999, after the international community intervened to prevent further bloodshed in the region. The move was also motivated by the community’s wish to correct the negative publicity regarding their inactivity concerning the previous wars that effected the disollution of Yugoslavia.

Kosovo is truly an unique case of a nation that happens to live as an island in a sea of nations, nations predominantly Slavic, who continuously strove to surpress their dream of statehood. Simply by entering the region, the West has already done much to enable the people’s quest of self-determination. If we take a moment to consider this, we see that this is actually a rare occurence. However, later on a huge delay occured in answering the question of Kosovo’s status. The plan itself therefore did not come from the political missions within Kosovo; it had to come from outside.

President Ahtisaari's plan for independence, combined with both an extended EU presence and the thorough protection of national minorities, has still come at the right moment and is worth trying. Europe will thus be able to show an example of successful state-building. The international community, on the other hand, will not ‘give’ independance to Kosovo; it will just incorporate the already public endeavour of a people into its framework.

The spectre of an eventual Russian veto in the UN might very well dissolve into nothingness, as an aim in itself. Russian vetoes have, so far, not significantly changed the course of events. Given the fact that a veto in the Security Council cannot change the course of history, let alone the destiny of an entire nation, then all a superpower’s veto, used to delay an eventual decision, might add up to would be further harm to the standing of the UN itself.

Ljubljana, 7th June 2007

International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) - Ljubljana

Bakhtyar Aljaf