Monday, May 18, 2009

Kosovo: what after independence?

(this article has been translated from its original french version and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Editor or anyone else associated with this blog. The original article can be emailed on request)

The Parliament of Kosovo declared its independence over one year ago, in February 2008. Supported by the United States, France, Germany, and Turkey, among others, the tiny Kosovar state seeks to emancipate itself from the yoke of its obstructive Serbian neighbour, and establish itself as an independent and viable state. Serbia on the hand, considers Kosovo to be an integral part of its historic territory.

Yet Kosovo’s current situation as an enclave does not make things easy, especially for the transit of goods and energy through its territory. I vividly remember the horrendously long lines of trucks trying to cross over from Macedonia. On the security front, the presence of foreign European troops on its territory (French, German, Italian, Swiss…) provides it with a temporary security umbrella meant to deter Serbia from trying to recapture its ‘lost province’ by force.

But for the time being, and for the foreseeable future, Kosovo will remain a ‘protectorate’ of the European Union. Lets look at the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, almost 14 years after the signing of the Dayton Accords : the country remains administered by the United Nations and without a clear future. The worst-case scenario would be for Kosovo to become another Bosnia – a puppet state who’s structures only stand thanks to UN support.

So what does the future hold for Kosovo ? Is it possible to reconcile Kosovars and Serbs ? Certain voices argue that granting entry to ex-Yugoslavia into the EU would serve to diminish tensions in the Balkans. Nothing could be less sure. While an integrated EU-led approach targeting enhanced socio-economic cooperation could certainly bring about rapprochement between the states, expecting Serbia’s grievances towards Kosovo to diminish is a giant leap of logic.

A war, even if unthinkable at the moment, cannot be ruled out in the long-run. Serbia certainly has ambitions to join the EU, but it has also made it irrevocably clear that Kosovo’s independence is impossible for it to accept. However, Serbia’s only source of support at the moment, Russia, is insufficient to push Serbia into a military confrontation: images of NATO bombardments in Belgrade vividly remain in the minds of Serbs. Kosovars on the other hand, are baskiing in their newly-gained independence and would want nothing less than to rejoin Serbia, where they felt oppressed and discriminated against by the Serbian government.

So what then ? A union with Albania perhaps ? For Albania, this would be a golden opportunity to create a ‘Greater Albania’ and reunite Albanian speakers in the region. However, as one of my Kosovar friends put it to me, Kosovars fear such a union would simply replace Serbian tutelage with an Albanian one. Instead, Kosovo banks on rapid economic development and a privileged partnership with the EU to solidify its independence.

Having said this, turning our backs on Serbia by failing to reach a regional politico-economic solution to the problem would be a grave mistake in the long-run - the wounds of the past would remain dangerously open…

Mathieu Lepaon is an international relations student and reservist in the French Army.

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