KOSOVO twenty-first century, year zero

The shocking images of the burning of the American embassy in Belgrade, the destruction of Kosovo’s border posts and the revolts in Mitrovica conceal the extreme complexity of self-determination for Kosovo. It is a process which will not be easy, but which should be approached while emphasising the welfare of its  citizens over the interests and opinions of the international community.

Welfare and self-determination

We hold this position because in recent years, and especially in recent months when the country was seen to be moving inexorably towards independence, one has had the feeling that what really needs to be taken into account in terms of Kosovo are the opinions held in Washington, Moscow, Belgrade or Brussels.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however. In order to understand Kosovo and the will of the majority of its citizens it is necessary to go there. One needs to have experienced its evolution since the end of the war with Serbia and it is necessary to do as we have done, to go to Kosovo and attempt to understand why independence is a political option while self-determination is probably the only chance this Balkan state has for a viable future.

The effort required to picture Kosovo in the mid and long term cannot be determined by Serbian reactions and decisions. It remains clear that Serbia is a vital participant when it comes to analysing any question currently related to the Balkans. However, Serbia now faces the immense challenge of building a new country that is currently not only moving away from the Yugoslavia of Tito but also from the sense of continuous defeat that has accompanied it for almost  twenty years. Kosovo is simply the latest episode in a cycle that a large part of  Serbian society has witnessed in the form of continuous defeats that began with  Slovenia and continued with Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In this context, we need to go a little further, we need to understand the violent unrest in Belgrade and Mitrovica as the inevitable price to be paid when decisions have been made and paths have been chosen that outline a new Balkan region, with no chance of a return to the past. It represents a Balkan region that is conscious of its history while convinced that it is necessary to construct a new future in which people and nations all enjoy the same rights and the same opportunities.

It is here where we consider it truly necessary to reach the objectives and deal with the genuine protagonists of Kosovan independence: the men and women that live in Kosovo.

The major challenge facing Kosovo is not to meet with the approval or disapproval of the Russian, American or European governments. Its
true challenge is to equip itself with an executive, legislative and judicial system that will put an end to the self-destructive tendencies that Kosovan society has suffered recently. Kosovo’s greatest challenge is to see internal differences as enriching the country rather than dividing it. It is a goal that has to unite the totality of institutions and services the new state is putting into place.

Kosovo’s greatest challenge is to see internal differences as enriching the country rather than dividing it

The fact that a majority of the Kosovan population views this process positively does not mean we should forget that a minority of the population view it with anger and moreover, with fear. Untitled-1The main objective of Kosovo’s leaders and international assessors must be to convince the minority that the process of self-determination signifies a move forward for them and that they will personally benefit from the political, economic and social progress brought about by Kosovo’s new status as a state.

Appealing to the undeniable segregation that the majority of Kosovan society suffered throughout the period in which they lived under Serbian (or Yugoslavian) rule may be historically  correct. However, it is politically futile at the time of constructing a new  Kosovan state. This is because, for a small country both geographically and demographically, the consolidation of a society united in its heterogeneity will provide a vital impulse when it comes to facing the future.

A precedent?

In the debate as to whether Kosovo sets some kind of precedent for other nations in Europe without a state, it is easy to connect each opinion with its corresponding self-interest. Some of the opinions appear to be paradoxical: while Russia has maintained a firm opposition to Kosovan independence, Russian support and the example of Kosovo have been used by the leaders of the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Transnistria in order to strengthen  their calls for independence. The position of Javier Solana, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, is also contradictory. He supported the self-determination process while his  ex-colleagues in the ruling Spanish socialist party, represented one of the main  opposing voices internationally to Kosovan independence. According to the  majority of international sources and the media, it was an opposition that could be interpreted as a message in political code directed at those who seek Basque  and Catalan independence. Among those analysing the Kosovan process with a  vested interest, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO)  also stands out. Its sixty-nine members, among which Kosovo itself was  represented, see this process as offering the possibility of imagining a future of self-government and independence for their nations.

What do we really understand by such a precedent, however? It is clear that seeing a parallel between Kosovo and, to name some examples, Kurdistan, Quebec, Scotland or Catalunya, is not only exaggerated, it is simply unthinkable. The key factor, in our assessment of the situation, is not to look for demographic, territorial, political or economic similarities, but rather to analyse the political process that has allowed Kosovo to have access to self-determination. On this point what really stands out and what makes Kosovo effectively a precedent is that the international community (with the United States and the European Union in the lead) have largely recognised and supported a unilateral process of self-determination.

A state’s strength resides in its legitimacy and in the possibilities it has of establishing links with other states that are equally legitimate

The U.S. and the E.U. have, therefore, validated the majority opinion of the Kosovan population and have maintained their collective, inalienable right to decide. They have recognised, indeed, that to exercise the right to  self-government is a democratic, peaceful process, where the major protagonist is the collective that decides to emancipate itself.

If we wish to go beyond the characteristics that mark and define Kosovan society, if we wish to carry out an analysis from an international perspective, this is the principal value of Kosovan independence. It is also the principal element we can extrapolate to other areas on the international scene. It  represents a unilateral process of self-determination with the support of the international community.

Untitled-1This precedent creates jurisprudence, as did Montenegro’s referendum for selfdetermination. In that case, the European Union set clear reasonable conditions for the recognition of the independence of a new state within Europe: in a referendum for independence more than 50% of the population must participate and a vote in favour requires at least 55% or more of the votes. In Montenegro’s case, the turnout far exceeded 86%, of which 55.5% were in favour of independence.

Without wishing to make unfair comparisons or absurd predictions, we can see a twenty-first century where globalisation clearly generates the need to define with more precision than ever the national communities around the world.

This is not an easy process, nor does it evolve in a regular way. The paradigm of nation-states born in the West out of the French Revolution triumphed worldwide in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It has impregnated and  informed international politics ever since.

The recognition of the right to self-determination goes hand in hand with the understanding that a state’s strength resides in its legitimacy and in the possibilities it has of establishing links of mutual understanding with other states that are equally legitimate. Alongside politics, the economy and the environment, this constitutes one of the great challenges of the twenty-first century. Kosovo can teach us a lesson.

Article publicat a: http://www.international-view.cat/PDF/civ%201/CIV%201%20Víctor%20Terradellas.pdf

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