Joy, Fury Over Kosovo Independence Declaration

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

( - Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence has sparked reactions that make it clear the final chapter in the upheavals that roiled the Balkans at the end of last century has yet to be written.

Within minutes of the announcement in the capital, Pristina, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica called the newly declared entity a "phony state" and said "as long as the Serbian people exist, Kosovo remains Serbia."

In a televised statement, the nationalist prime minister criticized "the president of the U.S." in particular, saying America had shamelessly breached international law by supporting independence for Kosovo.

Newly reelected president Boris Tadic in a statement appealed to NATO's KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo to protect the Serb minority there from possible outbreaks of violence by members of the Muslim ethnic Albanian majority.

Angry protestors in Belgrade marched on the U.S. Embassy, chanting "Kosovo is Serbia." At least 30 policemen were injured, local media reported. The ultra-nationalist Radical Party is planning a mass rally in the capital on Thursday.

Earlier, Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci set off celebrations by declaring an independent state, which they said would be "democratic, secular and multiethnic."

The territory of two million people has been under U.N. supervision since a NATO campaign in 1999 ended Serb atrocities against the Albanians and forced the withdrawal of Belgrade's troops from the province.

As Kosovar Albanians celebrated the announcement, Serbia's Russian ally called an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting which reflected the international split over the issue.

The U.S. and most European governments, including permanent council members Britain and France, are supportive of "supervised independence." Russia is firmly opposed, as is the remaining permanent member, China.

"Kosovo's unilateral act can produce a series of results that will lead to seriously negative influence on peace and stability in the Balkan region," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in Beijing on Monday.

Lui said the sides should continue to seek a proper solution through negotiation.

Months of negotiations have, however, had little success, and Sunday's announcement has been expected ever since a Dec. 10 deadline on reaching an agreement on Kosovo's final status passed without resolution.

Because Russia has vowed to use its Security Council veto to block independence, Kosovo's international status will remain in limbo. While it may boast trappings of statehood including a new blue-and-gold flag, it will not immediately obtain membership of the world body.

The forthcoming days will see some governments recognize the new state, with the United States and many European Union (E.U.) countries among the first, along with some Islamic nations, including Saudi Arabia and Albania.

The E.U. is split, however, with at least six of the 27 member states -- Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Cyprus and Slovakia -- unlikely to recognize an independent Kosovo, largely because of concerns about secessionist movements in their own neighborhoods.

A number of other countries, including Group of Eight members Canada and Japan, have indicated that they will not recognize the new state immediately.

'It creates no precedent'

One country that is more concerned than most is Georgia, which since the early 1990s has grappled with two breakaway regions of its own -- the pro-Moscow enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia has long hinted that if the West supports an independent Kosovo, it would in turn throw its backing behind an independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Interfax news agency quoted a top Georgian lawmaker as saying the government of Georgia would not recognize Kosovo's independence.

Georgia's West-leaning President Mikhail Saakashvili has frequently accused Russia of trying to destabilize Georgia by stirring up tensions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In a statement released after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the leaders of the two territories, Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, "the declaration and recognition of the independence of Kosovo will doubtless have to be taken into account as far as the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is concerned."

President Vladimir Putin has warned that independence for Kosovo will set a legal "precedent" that could be cited elsewhere. Apart from Georgia, other secessionist situations in the former Soviet region remain unresolved in Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Moldova (Transdnistria).

At Sunday's Security Council session, U.N. envoy Alejandro Wolff disputed the argument, telling reporters "we have knocked it down over and over again. This is an unprecedented situation, it creates no precedent."

In an earlier statement, delivered to the Security Council late last week, Wolff said the recent history of the region made Kosovo different from other conflicts.

"The situation in Kosovo is sui generis and provides no precedent for any other part of the world," he said. "It hasn't ever been, it isn't, and it shall not be a precedent. There is no purpose served in pretending otherwise, and the United States will act consistently with this fact in how it looks at other conflicts."

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and American Enterprise Institute senior fellow, joined former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and senior Bookings Institution fellow Peter Rodman late last month in calling for a reassessment of U.S. policy on Kosovo.

They noted that notwithstanding the U.S. insistence that Kosovo would not set a precedent, ethnic and religious minorities in other countries have already signaled their intention to follow Kosovo's example.

Bolton, Eagleburger and Rodman also voiced concern about what they called "the dismissive attitude displayed toward Russia's objections," and asked, "On an issue of minor importance to the United States, is this a useful expenditure of significant political capital with Russia?"

'Stand up to threats'

Critics of U.S. policy on Kosovo include the non-profit American Council for Kosovo, whose director, James George Jatras, warned in a recent op-ed article for UPI that the issue "could transform into a full-blown global crisis."

Kosovar Serbs' concerns about what independence would mean for them were "well-founded."

"Since 1999, some 150 Christian shrines have been destroyed or desecrated," Jatras said. "At the same time, hundreds of mosques have been built, mainly with Saudi money and propagating the intolerant Wahhabi brand of Islam."

He argued that there was no clear U.S. interest in supporting independence for Kosovo.

"Why should we provoke a needless fight with a newly muscular Russia? Especially after Sept. 11, why should America want to be midwife to the birth of a new Islamic country in Europe?"

Heritage Foundation scholars Nile Gardiner and Sally McNamara called for the West to be united in supporting full independence for Kosovo.

"The Western powers must stand up to any threats coming from Belgrade and Moscow and support full membership for Kosovo in the United Nations as a sovereign state," they wrote in a weekend memo.

Gardiner and McNamara said the U.S. and E.U. should encourage Serbian leaders to seek E.U. membership, while making it clear that any attempt to sabotage Kosovo's sovereignty would only isolate Belgrade and weaken its chances of joining the E.U.

Among the most recent declarations of independence by territories without the consent of legal governing authorities are the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983, and Rhodesia in 1965. Neither won international recognition.

See also:
Kosovo Conflict Fears Rise (Dec. 07, 2007)
Christians Will 'Disappear' in an Independent Kosovo, Bishop Warns (Feb. 12, 2007)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow