Kosovo’s Independence Reverberates Across Eurasia

by Rene Wadlow, Toward Freedom

The self-proclamation of independence by Kosovo may be the last act in the division of former Yugoslavia, or it may be one step in a new chain of territorial adjustments. There are calls in Republika Srpska, the Serb unit of the Bosnia-Herzegovina federation, for its integration into Serbia. There have also been discussions among Serbs of the partition of Kosovo with the area north of the Ibar River joining Serbia.

There are some calls for Albanian-majority areas of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to be attached to Kosovo (which will soon be written in the Albanian style as Kosova). There have long been discussions in Albania of a “Greater Albania” which would attach to Albanian Kosovo, part of Macedonia and part of Albanian-populated Greece.

There is also the impact of the example of Kosovo on the other phantom republics born of the break up of the Soviet Union: Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Transnistria in Moldova—and, if not completely crushed, Chechenya in Russia.

Spain has led the “no to Kosovo recognition” within the European Union, fearing that the Basque country would be infected by the secessionist germs, and Cyprus follows, fearing that the Kosovo example will give legitimacy to the Turkish-dominated part of the island. Both Russia and China opposed recognition of Kosovo during the emergency meetings of the UN Security Council on February 18-19: Russia because it supports the position of Serbia, China because “Kosovo today—Tibet tomorrow”.

I had always been optimistic that good sense and compromise could prevent violence and the break-up of Yugoslavia. Thus, I followed events closely, if sadly. I had been among the first to raise the issue of Kosovo in the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1988 when Slobodan Milosevic had not yet come to power but was already using the difficulties of the Serbian minority living in Kosovo as his vehicle for gaining attention. As a banker who had spent much of his working life in the USA, Slobodan Milosevic was proposing some mild but difficult economic reforms that were not a royal road to power. It was in 1989, at the massive celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the Ottoman Turks that, observing the warm reception given to his speech by the gathered Serbs, Milosevic found the theme that would make him Serbia’s leader.

The 1974 Yugoslav Constitution made Kosovo an autonomous province with its own parliament, presidency, judiciary and constitution. The Kosovo representative in the federal Yugoslav structure had a place in the rotating Yugoslav presidency where he could—and did—vote differently from Serbia’s representative. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the Serbs accused the Albanians of trying to push them out of Kosovo. Partly as a result of resentment over Kosovo, Milosevic was elected president of Serbia in 1989, a post he retained until 1998 when he was elected president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In 1989, Milosevic abolished the provisions of the Serbian constitution that made Kosovo autonomous. He fired tens of thousands of Albanians from their jobs, suppressed Albanian-language education and controlled the territory with heavy police presence. The Albanians in Kosovo led by Ibrahim Rugova, a university professor of literature influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s “constructive program,” created parallel education, health, social services and economic structures for the Albanians.

However, the 1995 Dayton Agreement, facilitated by the USA to end the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, seemed to give international sanction to mono-ethnic states, to de facto partition on ethnic lines and to population transfers. After Dayton, there were few theoretical arguments against the creation of an independent Kosovo state. However, Kosovo was not discussed directly at Dayton, and no suggestions were made for improving the socio-political situation.

The failure of Dayton to discuss Kosovo led to the conviction among some Kosovo Albanians that “non-violence does not work” and that violence was the only way to get international attention. Thus, the Kosovo Liberation Army was created as an armed militia in 1998. As all Yugoslavs were trained in guerrilla tactics, a heritage from the Second World War, it was relatively easy to put an armed militia together. Serbs and Albanians considered collaborators were killed, leading the Serb government to send in heavy-handed army and police forces. Hundreds of thousands Albanian refugees fled to Albania and Macedonia, ultimately leading to a 78 day NATO-led war against Serbia—followed for nearly 10 years by a UN-led administration of Kosovo.

Since June 1999, the UN administration, in cooperation with the European Union, provided a certain stability for Kosovo’s two million people: some 120,000 Serbs, about 80,000 “other,”—mostly Rom, often called “Egyptians” locally given the myth that they had come from Egypt (they are originally from north India). The rest of the population is Albanian. The UN and the European Union spent a good deal of money each year to keep the public service afloat. However, there was too much uncertainly about the future for there to be economic development. An estimated 60% of the population are considered unemployed, and many families live on remittances from family members working abroad. The drug trade and prostitution have become Kosovo specialties, though one finds Kosovo Albanians in all trades throughout Western Europe. Many Serbs from Kosovo who had family in Serbia have already left, especially the young.

The drain on UN and European Union resources led to a strong feeling in UN circles that some sort of “final status” for Kosovo had to be found. The task fell to Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland who has often served as a UN “trouble shooter.” But even a skilled mediator has his limits. No common position between the government of Serbia and the elected officials of Kosovo could be found. Thus, an international script was written, even if all the US television script writers were on strike: Kosovo would make a unilateral declaration of independence followed the next day by recognition from the USA and leading European Union states. Then, other states would follow, especially from the Islamic countries.

Given Russian opposition to Kosovo independence and opposition from a minority of EU members, Kosovo will not be able to join the UN (membership requires a Security Council resolution.) Certain types of contracts and agreements with the European Union will also be impossible since there needs to be consensus. It is not clear at this stage if Russia will push the other phantom republics to ask for international recognition of their independence. The issue of the creation of new states will be on the international agenda for some time.


Rene Wadlow is the representative to the United Nations at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens, and the editor of the journal of world politics Transnational Perspectives.

This story first appeared Feb. 18 on Toward Freedom.

From our weblog:

Albanian authorities have power to brutalize Serbs —but not control Kosova’s borders
WW4 Report, Feb. 26, 2008

Montenegro secession: Balkans still re-balkanizing
WW4 Report, May 22, 2006

Kosova independence leader Ibrahim Rugova dead at 61
WW4 Report, Jan. 22, 2006


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, March 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution