So the UN seems set to adopt a plan which would allow Kosovo to make a giant step on the road to independence. This is hardly surprising, and frankly I see no other realistic way forward. But obviously not everyone is happy. And some of those who seem not to be happy have considerable ability to make mischief, and not the least among these, the Putin regime in Moscow.
Doug Muir and I have been blogging this week about the Serbian elections (here and here) and perhaps the biggest issue which arises from those elections is just which way Kostunica will fall. A lot depends on this decision, and this UN proposal, coming at precisely this time, may well serve to give him a sharp push in the wrong direction. Call it the law of the inopportune moment. Offering a share of power to the Radicals would constitute a major problem for Serbia, and in the medium term for the whole EU. But rising nationalist feelings, especially when they come on the back of desperation, are often hard to contain.
I would say that the biggest strategic danger is that the Serbs allow themselves to become a proxy for the ambitions, and mischief-making abilities, of Russian nationalism in the region.
This week a lot of people are gathered in Davos, and on the agenda somewhere is the topic of demography. Amongst those participating is demographer Nicholas Eberstadt who has repeatedly drawn our attention to the real and present danger constituted by a Russia which, on the back of low birth rates and reduced life expectancy, faces imminent demographic meltdown.
Only this week the Eastern Europe correspondent at The Economist Edward Lucas had this to say (in the Economist latest Europe.View column.
‘Forget, for a moment, the headline stories from central and eastern Europeâ€•the pipeline politics, the corruption scandals, the treasonous tycoons. The big story in the ex-communist world is people. Too few are being born. Too many are dying. And tens of millions have changed country.’
This is the new reality of Eastern Europe, and it is one we would do well not to lose from sight, for if we do we may find ourselves getting bogged down in the detail of things whilst missing the big picture which is unfolding before our very eyes. (Claus Vistesen has an in-depth review of the world bank report to which Edward Lucas refers here).
Seb is reasonably optimistic, and understandably so given all that the Kosovars have gone through, but we should never forget the darker side of things, which lies out there in wait of us, if it can catch us unawares. In the context of what is happening right now in Russia and Serbia I would say that vigilance was the watchword.
Divided We Stand, United We Fall?
by Seb Bytyci
It is now obvious that Kosovo will get some from of independence. Be it “Conditional independence,” “supervised independence,” “independence lite” or any other name you want to call it – Kosovo will split its ties with Serbia. It would be pointless to call for independence at this time, however I will try to pen some ideas regarding why I think Kosovo’s independence will be beneficial for both Kosovo and Serbia.
First and foremost, the benefits of a defined status will be seen immediately among the Kosovars. When I was in Kosovo last summer, the air was stiffling; people were desperate. Besides the lack jobs and money, the psychological barrier of the status quo was so big that it stiffled any type of creativity. Hopefully, as an independent country Kosovo will attract investment and the living standard will improve.
Second, after Kosovo’s sovereignty is recognized internationally, Serbia will be able to remove a huge burden off its back. Nonetheless, that will happen only if Serbia chooses to do so. True, ultranationalists won most of the votes in the last election; however that does not mean Serbia is not going to recognize the fact that it doesn’t have to deal with the issue of Kosovo anymore. Polls show that most Serbs are ready to accept and do expect that Kosovo will become indepedent.
Third, the closure of the issue, and ideally mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia, would enable genuine reconciliation to take place between Serbs and Albanians. This is very important for the future of the Balkans.
Last, but by no means least, Kosovo’s independence would mean the end of an unstable period in the Balkans. Not only do Kosovars suffer from the status quo,but the whole region does. Hopefully, when I check the news on the Balkans in the future headlines will include words like growth and free trade, instead of war crimes,and ethnic tensions.Furthermore, if Kosovo is forced back into Serbian rule, only more human suffering will ensue.
However, there is a risk that Serbia will refuse to wake up to the reality. And that may be encouraged by Mr. Ahtisaari’s proposal. If the wording of the resolution on Kosovo is too vague, and it doesn’t guarantee that Kosovo will be a compact functional state, Serbia may be led to believe that it can one day reconquer Kosovo. Ahtisaari may risk earning the nickname Ah-Tito-saari. Former Yugoslav dictator Tito did give Kosovo that status of an equal federal unit, however Kosovo didn’t get the name Republic. This led to the occupation of Kosovo by Serbia in 1989.
In any case, we are going to have to update our maps very soon. Either through a UN resolution, or unilateral recognition, Kosovo is going to be recognized as an independent state. Almost certainly, Serbia will not recognize the new state immediately. Nevertheless, Serbia will recognize the independent Kosovo, either indirectly (through multilateral agreements) or directly, in the medium term. It is also quite likely that Serbia will have to change its constitution if it wants to join the EU.
The immediate aftermath of independence is hard to guess. Some Kosovar Albanians may be unhappy with the settlement and decide to protest in the street. Some Kosovar Serbs might try to cut ties completely with the Kosovo government and join Serbia. Which is highly unlikely to happen, for many reasons, the not least of which is the NATO military presence in all Kosovo areas. Some Serbians might go into the streets to protest the settlement, too. Most Kosovars – including me – will be consuming large amounts of alcohol as part of the celebration of the hard earned freedom.