Europe’s Newest State (?)

by Chris Borgen

As expected, Kosovo’s parliament has declared independence today in a vote that was unanimous among those attending. Ten Serbian MP’s did not attend the vote. According to the BBC, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said

“The independence of Kosovo marks the end of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia,”…

He said Kosovo would be built in accordance with the UN plan drawn up by former Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari.

As for reactions, the BBC reports that

Serbia’s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica blamed the US which he said was “ready to violate the international order for its own military interests”.

“Today, this policy of force thinks that it has triumphed by establishing a false state,” Mr Kostunica said.

According to CNN:

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic has promised his country will refrain from using force against Kosovo after independence, though he has warned that Serbia will take punitive diplomatic, political, and economic measures against the province.

As for the US, CNN reports that President Bush said today that

“[Kosovo’s] status must be resolved in order for the Balkans to be stable…”

Bush said the Ahtisaari plan — named after former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari — is the best option. The proposal would give Kosovo limited statehood under international supervision.

President Bush added that “it’s in Serbia’s interest to be aligned with Europe and the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in America.”

“We are heartened by the fact that the Kosovo government has clearly proclaimed its willingness and its desire to support Serbian rights in Kosovo,” Bush said.

Thaci said Thursday he would establish a new government office for minorities and it would protect the rights of minorities after the province declares independence.

I should note that I am not sure that the “limited statehood” description is accurate. The Ahtisaari Plan mandates an ongoing international civilian and military presence, but it also envisions a transition of power from the UN Mission in Kosovo to the new Kosovar government. I will dig into the Plan to assess the “limited statehood” description and post on this tomorrow.

Regarding EU and Russian reactions, the BBC notes:

Recognition by a number of EU states, including the UK and other major countries, will come on Monday after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, says the BBC’s Paul Reynolds.

The US is also expected to announce its recognition on Monday.

Three EU states – Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia – have told other EU governments that they will not recognise Kosovo, says our correspondent.

Russia’s foreign ministry has indicated that Western recognition of an independent Kosovo could have implications for the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Moreover, Bosnian Serbs had stated that, should Kosovo declare indepndence, they would seek independence for Republika Srpska, what Bosnian Serbs call their ethnic enclave within Bosnia. (The Badinter Commission had previously nixed such a claim as a matter of international law.)

For now, it will be important to actually watch the reaction within Kosovo. The ethnic geography could lead to a conflict within the nascent country. Although the main reaction throughout Kosovo has been joyous, there are isolated incidences of violence:

The first sign of trouble in Kosovo came in the ethnic Serbian area of the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, where two hand grenades were thrown at international community buildings.

One exploded at a UN court building while the other failed to go off outside offices expected to house the new EU mission.

I’ll write more on Kosovo as the situation progresses.

4 Responses

  1. First, thanks for indicating some very interesting issues one should look into when discussing Kosovo.Secondly, there’s a huge difference between rhetoric today in Kosovo (what went on in the streets, what was aired on TV, with “INDEPENDENCE” in capital letters written all over) and the Ahtisaari plan… to be honest, I believe Kosovo leaders are a bit misleading when they are voicing their commitment to the Ahtisaary plan. Secondly, I was wondering if you think there’s any legal rationale behind a declaration of independence in the case of Kosovo.

  2. Corina:

    Thank you for your comments.

    I will analyze the legal rationale in a post later this week.

  3. Now it has been just expectable to see any state of a federal system self determine it self in the light of the Post-Cold war era evolutions of international law and specially the general practice of other states concerning the issue of the right of self determination; but there is a question left unseen about people who are non members of a federal state, hopeful to self determine on the Uti Possidetis Facto basis; concerning the situation with Kurds in the Trio of Iran, Turkey and Iraq, should we expect another secession incident on the basis of the right of self determination, if any claim’s been brought up by a group or band by any chance, while these people have never been inhabitants of a state in a federal state? Can we expect any further evolution in the right and the notion of Uti Possidetis Facto and since this right has been recognized as an Erga Omnes Right by the ICJ in West Sahara Case and also considering the fact that United States is spurred with a totally policy oriented vision toward international law and is playing a really effective role in the region?

    I just want to point out a legal problem, and I don’t really want to get in the trouble of claiming that there is such a claim of secession among Kurds or calculating the possibilities of it at all, cause I am Iranian and as far as I can say there is no such a view in Kurd public and not even political activists of that province.

  4. Here’s what I posted over at IntLawGrrls:

    Balkinization may indeed turn out to be a dangerous slippery slope.

    At the risk of being thought pedantic or patronizing (or both!) may I suggest we carefully examine two chapters from Allen Buchanan’s brilliant book, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law (2004): Ch. 8, “Self-Determination and Secesssion,” and Ch. 9, “Intrastate Autonomy.” I think Buchanan provides us with a legal and moral argument, hence the relevant criteria, for assessing the merits (or lack thereof) of the Kosovo case for sovereign statehood. For a taste of his argument, I quote from the beginning of the former chapter:

    “Two main theses are advanced. (1) International law should recognize a remedial right to secede but not a general right of self-determination that includes the right to secede for all peoples or nations. From the standpoint of international law, the unilateral right to secede–the right to secede without consent or constitutional authorization–should be understood as a remedial right only, a last-resort response to serious injustices. Accordingly, the international legal order should support states’ efforts to preserve their territorial integrity so long as they do a credible job of promoting basic human rights, but deny that states have a right to suppress secession when secession is a remedy of last resort against serious injustices. In affirming a remedial understanding of the right to secede, international law should unambiguously repudiate the nationalist principle that all nations (or ‘peoples’) are entitled to their own states. (2) The international legal order should encourage alternatives to secession, in particular by working for greater compliance with existing international human rights norms prohibiting ethno-national and religious discrimination and in some cases by supporting intrastate autonomy regimes, that is, arrangements for self-government short of full sovereignty. Restricting the unilateral right to secession to cases of severe and persisting injustices would encourage states to take a more flexible stannce toward intrastate autonomy arrangements, because it would dispel the fears of a slippery slope toward state-breaking that a general right of self-determination for all peoples or nations understandably evokes.”

    I hope a taste of Buchanan’s argument prompts the desire to sit down to a full-course meal.

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