Kosovo's future hangs in the balance

29 Jan 2008 00:01:00.000


The international community "cannot afford to fail the people of the Balkans yet again" as Kosovo heads for independence, according to an expert at The University of Nottingham.

Professor Stefan Wolff, Director of the Centre for International Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution, School of Politics and International Relations, said Kosovo's future is crucial for stability in the Balkans and will set an important precedent for similar conflicts worldwide, from the Basque country and Northern Cyprus to the Caucasus, Iraq, and Taiwan.

The government of Kosovo is widely expected to declare independence in the very near future - in the teeth of strong opposition from Serbia and Russia. Formally a province of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999 after a Nato-led bombing campaign drove out Serb forces, who had been accused of persecuting Kosovo's majority ethnic-Albanian population.

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International mediators have so far failed to persuade Serbia and Kosovo to agree on Kosovo's future status. The region's new government - led by a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim Thaci - is now expected to declare a permanent parting of the ways from Serbia. The issue of Kosovo is also an important one for Serbia's development as a democracy, as it concludes its own presidential elections on February 3.

Professor Wolff has extensive research expertise in the settlement of ethnic conflicts and post-conflict reconstruction in deeply divided and war-torn societies and is an advisor on conflict resolution to governments and international organisations.

He said: "The way in which Kosovo gains its independence seems clear. Serbian, and Kosovo Albanian intransigence has made it impossible for a consensual solution to be achieved in negotiations. A new resolution in the Security Council confirming the conditions of Kosovo's independence is equally unlikely because of Russian opposition.

"Hence, a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo will be followed by recognition of Kosovo's independent statehood by the US, the EU and its member states, and by countries organised in the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference."

Professor Wolff said the three most immediate dangers of this scenario are:

·         violence in Kosovo and increasing instability in the region,

·         a split in the European Union,

·         a further worsening of relations between the West and Russia.

He said: "Violence in Kosovo in the event of the region's declaration of independence is likely given the radicalisation of elements in both Serb and Albanian communities in Kosovo, the lack of trust and in many cases even contact between them, and the abundance of small arms and explosives.

"The danger is initially less one of organised campaigns of violence strategically directed by political leaders in either community, rather than one in which demonstrations, celebrating or condemning independence, can turn into riots and escalate into prolonged inter-communal violence that is difficult to control and contain.

"Throughout the region, the potential for increasing instability must not be underestimated either. Albanian communities in southern Serbia could quickly find themselves to be the target of revenge attacks by Serbian extremists 'concerned' about the fate of their ethnic brethren in Kosovo. Elements within the large Albanian population in Macedonia might easily take a declaration of independence by Kosovo, and its subsequent international recognition, as an indication that the post-Yugoslav borders are far from set in stone.

"Renewed calls for independence by Albanians in Macedonia would pose a serious threat to the political stability of a country that is hoping to join NATO later this year alongside Croatia and Albania. Nor should it come as a surprise to anyone if Serbs in Bosnia would argue that they should have the same right to self-determination as Kosovo Albanians.

"The second immediate danger is a split in the EU. Several countries have serious domestic concerns about recognising Kosovo following a unilateral declaration of independence, among them Romania, Spain, and Slovakia. The most serious opposition can be expected from Cyprus, fearing that Kosovo would strengthen Turkish Cypriot claims to their own state "€” despite the fact that Turkish Cypriots accepted the Annan Plan for reunification in 2004, just before Cyprus's accession to the EU, unlike their Greek Cypriot counterparts.

"While the procedures for the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy now allow for 'constructive abstentions', that is, countries disagreeing with a particular Union position can abstain from voting rather than using their veto, the EU's ability to act in unity over Kosovo would be seriously undermined, and with it its aspiration to take the lead role in supervising Kosovo's transition to independent statehood.

"With the UN discredited among the local population after nine years of administering Kosovo, the EU potentially incapacitated because of a lack of unanimity, it might fall once again to the US to provide leadership. It is obvious that this would seriously undermine the credibility of any EU aspirations to take on a more global role in providing peace and security."

Russia's position on Kosovo has remained unchanged, Professor Wolff said, in that it remains opposed to Kosovo's independence unless Serbia agrees and it has threatened 'serious consequences' if the West were to recognise an independent Kosovo against the wishes of Serbia. While it is unlikely that Russia would rush to recognise the independence of break-away regions in Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan, Western recognition of Kosovo in the face of clearly stated Russian opposition would do nothing to improve the anyway strained relations between the two.

This would further strain cooperation between the EU and NATO and Russia and put serious pressure on cooperation in the Security Council, he said - a situation that either side can ill-afford in a situation in which the crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the shaky peace process in the Middle East, and the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea demand more than ever constructive and joint approaches among the major players in the international community.

Professor Wolff added: "Kosovo's independence is inevitable, and this fact, a reality on the ground for almost a decade, must finally be accepted. The possible negative consequences that it might entail are not automatic. They can be avoided if politicians in Prishtina and Belgrade, Skopje and Banja Luka, Nicosia and Brussels, Moscow, Washington and New York show vision, responsibility and leadership.

"Neither the international community nor local leaders can afford to fail the people of the Balkans yet again."

                                                            - Ends -

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 70 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THES) World University Rankings.

It provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation "€” School of Pharmacy).

Its students are much in demand from 'blue-chip' employers. Winners of Students in Free Enterprise for three years in succession, and current holder of UK Graduate of the Year, they are accomplished artists, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators and fundraisers. Nottingham graduates consistently excel in business, the media, the arts and sport. Undergraduate and postgraduate degree completion rates are amongst the highest in the United Kingdom.

Story credits

More information and interviews are available from Professor Stefan Wolff, Centre for International Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham, stefan@stefanwolff.com
Tim Utton

Tim Utton - Deputy Director of Communications

Email: tim.utton@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8092 Location: University Park

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