So Kosovo continues to creep — soooo slowly — towards some sort of independence.
Serbia is having a Presidential election this weekend, with a runoff two weeks later. There’s a tacit agreement that nothing should happen before then… the assumption being that Kosovar independence might tip the balance between the incumbent President (moderate and basically decent Boris Tadic) and his challenger (odious populist-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic).
Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica — who, honestly, seems to be getting dumber and more stubborn with each passing year — has said that if the EU sends a mission to Kosovo, Serbia won’t sign a Stabilization and Association agreement with the EU. Brussels has said it will wait a bit (i.e., until after the election). I can see the case for that, but once the election is over… well, this strikes me as the sort of bluff that’s crying out to be called. “Oh, we won’t take the next step towards EU candidacy!” “Fine… don’t.”
At this point it looks like the EU is going to split on recognition. Britain, France, Italy and Germany are probably going to recognize. Spain, Romania, Greece and Cyprus won’t. The UN never will, until Russia comes around. So we’re going to end up with a Balkan Taiwan: a de facto state without a UN seat, recognized by some nations but not others. That should be interesting.
Of course, Taiwan is a rich country. Kosovo isn’t and won’t be any time soon. Kosovo’s economy continues to stagger. There’s hardly any industry. The large coal and metal mines are operating at a fraction of capacity. Per capita income is the lowest in the region. Unemployment is over 30%. Billions of dollars of foreign aid don’t seem to have helped much.
Serb nationalists like to bring this up, as demonstrating the essential inferiority of Albanians: see, the stupid Shqips can’t do anything right! Albanians point out that Kosovo was always the poorest part of Yugoslavia, that it was systematically raped by the Milosevic administration, and that the UN administration has been sluggish at best and often incompetent and corrupt. Independence and self-government, they say, will fix that.
They’re both wrong. Albanians can run a developing economy just fine. We know this because in Albania they’re doing just that right now. Albania has been growing around 5%-6% per year since 2000, it’s attracting large amounts of foreign investment, and its per capita income is now just about the same as Serbia’s. (In fact, Albania’s per capita GDP is actually higher than Serbia’s… if Kosovo is included as part of Serbia.) On the other hand, independence isn’t going to do much for Kosovo’s economy; getting rid of UNMIK will get rid of a lot of cumbersome bureaucracy, but it won’t magically attract investment, nor will it make the native Kosovar leadership any more competent.
Anyway. The most likely outcome right now seems to be that Tadic will win the election: he beat Nikolic three years ago, after all. And then, not too long after, there’ll be some kind of very qualified, managed independence for Kosovo. Which will be recognized by most of Kosovo’s neighbors, BTW — Albania of course, but Macedonia, Croatia and Montenegro have also made it clear that they’re ready to recognize.
Longer term? Well, Serbia still holds a northern sliver of Kosovo. It’s possible there might be a counter-secession. That would be interesting.
And Russia? Man, who knows. It’s not clear to me what the Russians are after here. It’s not like backing small, poor Serbia has huge strategic implications for them. Sentiment? Internal politics? Improving their bargaining position vis-a-vis Abkhazia and South Ossetia? I’d be interested to hear from someone better informed.
Anyway. After nine years of de facto independence, six years of negotiations, and a bonus-extra year of foot-dragging, something might finally be about to happen with Kosovo. Fingers crossed.