Monday, February 18, 2008

Kosovo independent: an all too easy solution?

The Serbian province of Kosovo has declared independence, a move that for Kosovo Albanians is "freedom", but for Kosovo Serbs is not welcomed. The US and the UK have declared they will recognise an independent Kosovo, but is the solution to what is essentially conflict based on national identity division? The EU is putting a lot into it, with 2000 troops being sent in, but more importantly Kosovo laws will be subservient to EU supervision. Yes, you read that right. Kosovo will essentially be an EU protectorate for the indefinite future. The EU chief representative will have veto powers over Kosovo government decisions and the right to fire officials obstructing relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
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So this is quite something different from what has happened with all other declarations of independence, it is more a declaration that power has moved to Brussels, for now.
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Kosovo’s independence is different from that of the former Yugoslav republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro, not least because it never was one. It follows many years of repression of the Kosovo Albanian majority, an oppression that was more severe after the erosion of communist rule, when the cancer of nationalism replaced Titoist Marxism as the blight on freedom and individual rights in Yugoslavia.
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It is partially dismembering Serbia, partly to punish Serbia for its long racist fascist politics that succeeded Titoism, but more importantly to protect the Kosovo Albanians. Instead of being a minority in Serbia, they will be the majority in Kosovo.
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This is not the place to go into the Serbian/Albanian conflict over Kosovo, lest to say that the Serb nationalist bullies like Slobodan Milosevic who pined for Serbia’s “golden age” of being defeated in Kosovo since 1389 (yes only nationalist Serbs understand). The vile bigotry of Milosevic’s nationalism saw the Albanian language banned and cooked up fears that Albanians were harassing Serbs, which clearly would justify Serbs harassing Albanians. The conflict over Kosovo was not as bloody as Bosnia-Hercegovina, but it did involve slaughter. Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo by and large despise each other in a mutual lack of trust. The Albanians remember the repression and fascism of Milosevic and the fascist Serbian authorities, the Serbs fear the Albanian majority’s own hatred towards them, and see Kosovo as being part of Serbia, which until today it has been.
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So why is Kosovo a big deal? Shouldn’t it become independent because the majority want it?
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Unlike the US and the EU I don’t believe the answer is yes.
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The philosophy that says Kosovo Albanians should be independent could also be applied to Serbs in Bosnia, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russians in Abhazia, Basques in Spain etc. It is the notion that ethnic identity should determine statehood. The problem with this idea of course is that the psychological state of ethnic identity (which, by and large is all ethnicity it. It is in the mind), isn’t shared by those for whom boundaries are drawn around.
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More importantly, this is exactly what has been the problem in what was Yugoslavia – the notion that people shouldn’t live together with different ethnic identities. The scourge is NOT Serbs, it is the scourge of nationalism. That is what the EU, US and the UN should be confronting. It is not confronted by bowing to Kosovo Albanian nationalism.
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The butchers who rounded up Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, marched them out of town and shot them – the butchers who went from house to house in the Krajina and rounded up Serbs to remove them from “Croatian land”. All expounded the philosophy that people could not be treated as individuals, but be treated as part of a group. Either you were one of us or a member of the "other". It's what collectivists do, you hear the same philosophy from them all.
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In Kosovo it has been the same, and now it will be Kosovan Serbs who will be the other, in a small rump state with desperate economic prospects.
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Carving up Serbia sends a message that countries should exist according to the philosophy that Serb nationalists have been fighting for since the early 1990s, except this time the Serbs lost and the Albanians won. The Serbs wont forget, sadly.
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You see Serbia offered full autonomy, and could have also had a peacekeeping presence so that Kosovo autonomy could have worked. Serbia could have had a chance to experience tolerance, individualism and freedom first hand, even if it involved a continued heavy peacekeeping presence in the province. However, now it has simply been punished, and the EU and the US will pay for Kosovo to be rebuilt as a rump state, and Serbs in Kosovo will live in fear.
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Russia has said it will take action if Kosovo becomes independent. Hardly surprising, as it has many scores it can settle, in Georgia and Moldova for starters. Will the West intervene if Russia attacks Georgia to apply the same rule to its ethnic majority areas? Would it be a surprise if Putin decides he can flex his muscles on his borders without provoking a serious response?
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No. Because the philosophy of nationalism has created rivers of blood for generations.
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I note Helen Clark has stated a "neither confirm nor deny" approach to recognising Kosovo's independence, although Australia will recognise it. I suspect this is simply part of the MFAT philosophy that rejects "recognition" of states formally, but it is the wrong approach. Clark claims "It's never been the New Zealand Government's position to recognise in such circumstances." Um East Timor?
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Either there is a principled stance against independence or in favour of it. My call is that, sadly, independence has to be formally recognised. Either New Zealand will treat Kosovo as part of Serbia or not, and to not recognise what will be fact (no rule from Serbia), is of little effect.

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