Wednesday, 4 April 2007



24th March 1999:

'NATO carried out its threat to bomb Serbia, attacking a sovereign European country for the first time in the alliance's history.'

Many of us will by now have forgotten NATO's bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999. It was launched to stop the ethnic violence inflicted upon the Albanian majority in Kosovo. Since the war, Kosovo has been administered by the UN. Now, however, the question of its autonomy and independence has been raised once more.

The History of Kosovo.

If you will bear with me, I shall give you a brief overview of the history of this question. If you know it all already, do skip this section.

The Balkans have always been a region fraught with conflict. The Byzantine and Ottoman Empires have clashed with the Slavonic racial groups: Serbia and Russia being the main protagonists. The Austro-Hungarian Empire also had a large interest in the region. Such conflicts provided many of the causes of the First World War.

The present issue has been important throughout this last century. The BBC website describes its history:

"Path to autonomy

Serbs and ethnic Albanians vied for control in the region throughout the 20th century. In the 1960s the suppression of Albanian national identity in Kosovo gave way to a more tolerant line from Belgrade. Ethnic Albanians gained a foothold in the Kosovan, and Yugoslav, administrations.

But resentment over Kosovan influence within the Yugoslav federation was harnessed by the future leader, Slobodan Milosevic. On becoming president in 1989 he proceeded to strip Kosovo of its autonomy.

A passive resistance movement in the 1990s failed to secure independence or to restore autonomy, although ethnic Albanian leaders declared unilateral independence in 1991.

In the mid-1990s an ethnic Albanian guerrilla movement, the Kosovo Liberation Army, stepped up its attacks on Serb targets. The attacks precipitated a major, and brutal, Yugoslav military crackdown.


Slobodan Milosevic's rejection of an internationally-brokered deal to end the crisis, and the persecution of Kosovo Albanians, led to the start of NATO air strikes against targets in Kosovo and Serbia in March 1999.

Meanwhile, a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Kosovo Albanians was initiated by Serbian forces. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. Thousands of people died in the conflict.

Serbian forces were driven out in the summer of 1999 and the UN took over the administration of the province. "

Since 1999

Since 1999, the UN has administered the region. This year, however, they have made a huge development. In March, the UN envoy stated that independence was 'the only viable option' for the territory in a report to the Security Council:

"Independence is the only viable option for a politically stable and economically viable Kosovo... I propose the exercise of Kosovo's independence... be supervised and supported for an initial period by international civilian and military presences."

Thus the UN moved towards granting Kosovo its independence. Today, they are debating the plans.

Today's Debate

The USA and the EU have given support to the envoy's plans for independence, after talks between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians failed to reach an agreement in March. Today marks the start of days of formal debate (and informal discussion) of the issue amongst the Security Council members. To me, however, it raises grave issues. I must confess that my own personal opinion falls on the side of the Kosovan Serbs. Despite the fact that they are in the minority, their views are of great importance.

The Serbs are part of the Russian Orthodox tradition. This includes those Serbs who live in that part of Serbia called Kosovo. I wonder how we would feel if the UN tried to grant Wales its independence?

More critically though, such a decision would represent what the Serbian President calls 'the most dangerous precedent in the history of the UN'. he refers to the debate as an attempt to 'snatch' Kosovo. One must be careful of his political language, but he nonetheless has a very cogent argument. He claims that such a move would violate the Charter of the UN. If this is true, it would invalidate any possible justification. Certainly, it seems to me that the UN has no authority to change the sovereignty of two million people.

But what shocks me most is the fact that its not in the news. That's why I posted it here.


1 comment:

Gavin said...

Aha! First the Arab-Israeli conflict, then Northern Ireland, now Kosovo. All very good stuff, I might add.

Surely the Serbs are Serbian Orthodox, not Russian Orthodox? You boob. Correct me if I'm wrong.

The problem is this: it is a modern consensus that every people has the right to self-determination - it is a fundamental democratic principle. Therefore, a if a majority of people within the group favour independence, then it must be granted. BUT the problem arises with the definition of the people. I will demonstrate with the example of Northern Ireland.

If we treat the people of Ireland as one body (as they once were), then the vast majority favour independence. The 1 million (or is it 2?) Unionists don't matter in the bigger picture. However, when we look at Northern Ireland (a more recent political construct), on its own, a majority still favour the Union. So, according to the principle of self-determination, they should stay part of the UK.

Now, this is the issue: why do we treat the North separately when calculating the balance of opinion? How far to we take this prcinciple? Should we give Cornwall, or London, or the north, independence? If not, why not? How are they different?

The only way of defining one "people" when determining their collective will is on the rather hazy grounds of ethnic, religious and social factors. But what if these vary, as in Northern Ireland? The issue becomes geographical. If a million people in one part of a country want independence then it must be considered, but if these people are spread out it is a non-issue. Why?

On the other hand, very few would argue that, say, the Palestinians are not a people in their own right just because they are spread out and have no state of their own.

The problem is that there are no rules governing how nation states are divided up, they merely develop over time through historic, geographical and other features. I feel that no overriding principle of self-determination can actually make sense in practical terms, so we should be pragmatic and just do what works.