“One can lead a column to Prishtina every day”

Interesting when two hobbies cross-connect. One: that odd, isolated episode at the end of the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, when a Russian unit based in Bosnia suddenly rushed through Serbia and occupied Prishtina airport just ahead of the advancing NATO troops. — It ended up being an empty gesture, but only just; the Russians were ready to funnel thousands of soldiers into the airport, and would have if Hungary and Romania hadn’t stood firm and kept their airspace closed. And it wasn’t entirely without consequence: it re-established Russia as the Great Power Protector of choice for Serb nationalists, a position it still occupies today.

Two: Russia’s problems in Ingushetia. Ingushetia is a province in the northern Caucasus next to Chechnya, and it’s just a hell of a mess. It’s full of refugees, the economy has collapsed, bombings and shootings are a constant background drumbeat. Nobody pays much attention to the North Caucasus — it’s formally part of Russia; the Chechens are quiescent at the moment; Shamil Basayev is dead, and the Beslan atrocity didn’t seem to lead to anything — but Ingushetia is a bubbling low-intensity conflict with the potential to erupt into something nastier. Continue reading

And Macedonia makes 50

Montenegro and Macedonia recognized Kosovo yesterday. Coincidentally, this raises the number of countries recognizing to exactly 50.

Macedonia and Montenegro are small countries, but they have outsized importance because (1) they’re neighbors of both Serbia and Kosovo, (2) they’re EU-members-to-be, and (3) they’re former Yugoslav Republics. So while this is no surprise, it’s still interesting.

I had some thoughts on this, but Radio Free Europe has already beaten me to most of them. (Yes, yes, I know about RFE. It’s a good article anyway, check it out.) One particularly interesting point: by co-ordinating their recognition, the two countries have given each other a certain amount of cover, diplomatically speaking.

I’ve said before that I expect a slow trickle of countries recognizing Kosovo gradually tapering off, until a plateau of between 50 and 60 is reached sometime next year. We’ll see soon enough!

South Ossetia Kosovo Counterfactual Poll!

We haven’t used the poll function for a while.

So okay: the Russians say that they’re only recognizing South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence because the wicked, lawless West set a precedent with Kosovo. And at first glance, this seems plausible! After all, the Georgia crisis came just six months after Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. South Ossetia and Abkhazia had previously made declarations of independence, but nobody — not even the Russians — had recognized them.

Kosovo, said Moscow, made the difference. And not just Moscow. Many commentators, including some who were sympathetic to the Kosovars, quickly agreed.

But… Continue reading

Kosovo 46, South Ossetia 2?

I wanted to write a post comparing Kosovo and South Ossetia, but Dan Drezner has already written it. It’s a week old now, but still good:

It’s been more than a week since Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. The number of other countries that have followed Russia’s lead is…. well, maybe one (Nicaragua), as near as I can tell. Belarus keeps promising that they’ll get around to it, and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has defended Russia’s recognition decision; since that initial promise, however, Belarus appears to have decided to sit on their hands. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has expressed similar support of Russia’s recognition decision – but I haven’t seen any actual recognition from Caracas either… Vedomosti reports that, “It appears that the Russian government has reconciled itself to the fact that no other country has recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday the reluctance of other states to recognize the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories was not critical.”

As they say, read the whole thing — there are lots of interesting links and some thoughtful discussion of whether recognition was really such a good idea for Russia.

You want to bring along a grain of salt, because Drezner — like a lot of American conservatives — is a mild Russophobe. I note that he thinks the war was a serious economic setback for Russia, a position that Harvard B-School professor Noel Maurer sharply disagrees with. (Key quote: “Markets do not punish successful aggressors.”) Read ’em both and decide for yourself.
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Miss Kosovo

(This story is a week old. Somehow, inexcusably, I missed it until now.)

Anyway: the Miss Universe pageant was held last weekend. It was in Vietnam this time, and a nice young lady from Venezuela won, but what’s interesting to your hardcore Balkanologist is that

1) the pageant accepted Kosovo as a country, and

2) Miss Kosovo made it into the top ten. (To be precise, she placed sixth in swimsuit and eighth in evening gown.)

Putting aside (1) for the moment, (2) is a pretty huge deal. The Top Ten are always dominated by big countries, and this year is no exception: the USA, Russia, Italy, Australia, Mexico, Spain. It’s very rare for a Balkan country to get in. For a girl from Kosovo to come this far… well. Continue reading

Kosovar independence in the General Assembly

Following up to my earlier post, some discussion of the international reaction to Kosovar independence.

At the moment, 43 countries have recognized Kosovo’s independence. (I’m defining “country” here as “member of the UN General Assembly. Sorry, Taiwan.) Since the UNGA has 192 members, that means that more than three quarters of the world’s countries have not recognized Kosovo.

Is that good or bad for the Kosovars? Continue reading

Kosovo and the UNSC

Anybody who’s interested in Kosovo has long since bookmarked this incredibly useful page. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see that it lists every country that has recognized Kosovo (current tally: 43) plus the official statements of almost every country that hasn’t.

That’s plenty of fun reading by itself, but it gets even more interesting when you compare it to another list: the members of the United Nations Security Council. Continue reading

Letting Serbia decide for itself

This analysis from Reuters of the dynamic between the EU and Serbia in the run-up to Serbia’s general election 3 weeks from now points to an extremely ham-handed attempt by some EU countries to influence the outcome, which seems like a strange way to handle an election in any country, let alone one with as fraught a regional situation as Serbia.  The issue is whether the EU should offer a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, but the incumbent PM Vojislav Kostunica has made clear that he wants no part of it and views it as an attempt to get Serbian ink on a document that would implicitly recognise the independence of Kosovo —

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Some thoughts on Greater Albania, Part 2

So, the Albanosphere: about 7 million Albanians in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro, plus another million or so recent emigrants and gastarbeitern scattered across Europe and the US.

I’m going to leave the diaspora mostly out of the picture. They’re very important, but I can’t spent all my days writing blog posts. I’m also going to leave out the Arvanites and the native Albanians of Italy, Croatia, Turkey and Romania. The Arvanites identify as Greeks of Albanian descent, not Albanians (long story), and the other groups are small.

So what can we say about the rest of the Albanians? Continue reading

Haradinaj walks

The Hague has acquitted former Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj of various horrible war crimes.

This is not much of a surprise. One, while the case against the KLA leadership generally is pretty strong, the case against Haradinaj personally wasn’t so much. Two, Haradinaj put up an aggressive and very competent defense. And three, various witnesses were assaulted, intimidated, or otherwise convinced to change their stories. Testifying against a popular KLA commander-turned-popular politician: not so easy.

In this context, I should probably give a link to the recent Human Rights Watch report noting that the criminal justice system in Kosovo still sucks. The report mentions intimidation of witnesses as a particular problem. Which is no surprise to anyone who’s spent much time in Kosovo.

That said, I’m not sure they would have been able to nail Haradinaj even if everyone had testified. He’s a very smart, very charming guy; he put up a very good defense; and the standard for conviction is very high. The prosecutors case consisted of a lot of “bad things happened when you were around, you were in charge, you would have to have known” type stuff… ironically, a bit similar to the way they tried to make the case against Milosevic a few years back. If Slobo had lived, he might have walked on most of his counts too.

Anyway. In the usual zero-sum way of Balkan politics, the Serbs are going nuts — all parties united; everyone agrees that this totally proves the Hague is victor’s justice — while the Albanians are dancing in the streets. Longer term… well, Haradinaj will be back in politics now. He was actually a pretty good Prime Minister during his brief term. It’s not clear how much of that was telling the international community what it wanted to hear, and how much was sincere. We may soon find out.

In other Balkan news, the Greeks vetoed Macedonia’s entry into NATO, but Croatia and Albania got in. Probably worth a post, but I have a limited quota for arguments with Greek nationalists (“yes, your country has ethnic minorities… no, really it does…”) and I’ve about used it up.