ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday February 24, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 39
Columns - Inside the glass house  

After Kosovo, what next?

By Thalif Deen at the united nations

Serbian student protesters hold a placard reading “Kosovo will stay ours” on Friday at a border crossing bewteen Serbia and Kosovo. AFP.

NEW YORK - The unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) by the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo -- and its instant recognition by the veto-wielding United States, France and the United Kingdom in the Security Council last week -- has opened a political can of worms.

The creation of Kosovo has split the 27-member European Union, triggered a deadlock in the Security Council, raised fears among member states battling domestic insurgencies, and given unrealistic hopes to separatist movements and liberation organisations world wide. The lingering question remains: After Kosovo, what next?

Palestine? Kurdistan? Kashmir? Western Sahara? Quebec? And it goes on endlessly. Closer home, the Sri Lanka government has rightly warned that Kosovo's UDI could set "an unmanageable precedent in the conduct of international relations." And as the Russians and the Chinese argued in the Security Council last week, it is also a violation of the UN charter which guarantees sovereignty of nation states.

Perhaps one of the many reasons why most of the Western nations, and particularly the US, responded positively to a predominantly-Muslim Kosovo is to prove that the West has no political grouse against Muslims. But how many of the world's Muslims would buy that?

After its strong negative reactions, both against Muslims and Islam in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the US wants to win brownie points and perhaps be hailed as a saviour of the world's newest Muslim nation in Europe. But does it deserve that accolade?

By the same reasoning in rooting for Kosovo, it wouldn't concede UDI either for Palestine, Kurdistan or Kashmir -- because that would threaten US national interests or jeopardize its relations with countries such as Israel, Turkey and India.

Still, the US, Britain and France are unlikely to introduce a resolution in the Security Council seeking UN membership for Kosovo because of the vociferous opposition by the remaining two veto-powered nations, namely Russia and China. Both countries could block Kosovo's claim to be the 193rd UN member state by just vetoing the resolution.

China fears possible UDI by Taiwan and Tibet, both of which the Chinese claim are under its sovereignty and jurisdiction. Addressing the Security Council meeting last week, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya lobbed a direct hit when he said: "China opposes unilateral action and objects to solutions imposed by pressure."

China has always maintained that the best way to resolve the issue of Kosovo's status is for the two parties to reach a mutually acceptable solution through political negotiations. He also warned that the unilateral action by Kosovo "may rekindle conflicts and turbulence in the region, which in turn would cause serious humanitarian crisis and severely impact the entire Balkan region and beyond."

Four days after UDI, thousands of Serb demonstrators went on a rampage in Belgrade and attacked the American embassy there. A Security Council statement, prompted primarily by the US, condemned the "mob attacks." During a visit to Tanzania last week, US President George W. Bush tried to pre-empt any negative reactions and soothe the angry Serbs by saying "the Serbian people can know they have a friend in America." But the angry demonstrations took place, anyway.

The declaration of the new nation state of Kosovo is also expected to trigger "virulent Serbian nationalism of the past" which followed the breakup of Yugoslavia about 17 years ago. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has refused to make forthright comments on any controversial issues, has kept his lips tightly sealed -- as usual.

Asked if the declaration of independence of Kosovo was legal or illegal, Ban avoided a direct answer. Pressed for an answer by a nagging reporter, he said bluntly: "I am not here to say if it is legal or illegal." Russia -- which is protective of Serbs who are a minority in Kosovo -- is conscious of the political implications of the Kosovo UDI for the separatist movement within its own borders, in Chechnya.

Addressing an emergency meeting of the Security Council, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: "The illegal acts of the Kosovo Albanian leaderships and of those who support them set a dangerous precedent." Russia has warned that it will retaliate against Kosovo's independence by recognising the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are now integral parts of Georgia, a UN member state.

"Europe after centuries of wars and feuds opted ultimately for international legality as its foundation," says Churkin. Any departure from this basic principle would be fraught with "unpredictable repercussions for the whole continent," he added.

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