Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Kosovo showdown looming

The deadline for answering the Kosovo question is looming. Some sort of government needs to be put in place by 10 December, when the UN mandate ends. I’m particularly interested in these developments because I send my rent cheque to Kosovo every month as that’s where my landlord is (weird story). If Kosovo becomes independent, he and his family will probably move back here (since he is Serbian) and I’ll be out of a home!

Essentially the problem is this: a majority of the people living in the Serbian province of Kosovo are ethnic Albanians (Albania being the neighbouring country to the west). As with other areas in the larger Yugoslav civil war, a big part of the conflict was tension between the Muslim Albanians and the Christian Serbs. During the Yugoslav civil war in the 1990’s, Albanians in Kosovo conducted a peaceful secessionist movement. In 1995, after the Dayton Agreement ended the Bosnian War but did not address Kosovo, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed in 1996 with the goal of attaining an independent Kosovo. They employed guerilla-style tactics against Serbian police forces, paramilitaries and regular civilians. The situation devolved into complete chaos and Serbs began massacring Albanians, triggering a US-led 78-day NATO campaign in 1999. An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians and 3,000 Serbs were killed during the fighting, a majority of them civilians and many through a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

It was a source of great shame for Europe, which had allowed genocide to occur right in their own backyard and relied on the US to fix the situation. But even more shameful is the fact that the problem still hasn’t been fixed. It’s now eight years later and Kosovo is still under UN control with no solution in sight. The ethnic Albanians want an independent state but Serbia will not tolerate this because Kosovo is an ancestral homeland for the Serbs and contains sites of great religious importance. Also, if an independent state is declared and the UN forces leave, the minority Serbs who still live in Kosovo will undoubtedly fear for their safety and flee, creating a refugee crisis.

Serbia is refusing to recognize independence, and Russia is backing them on this. The US would fully support independence. Britain, France and Germany all support independence. But it is essential that the EU have a united stance on the matter in order to stop Serbian and Russian saber-rattling (Serbia would one day like to be part of the EU after all). The problem is the EU states Greece and Romania object to independence, and the way the EU works right now, just one member state can veto any foreign policy decision or decree. So in situations like this, the EU is rendered virtually impotent.

For those in the US, imagine if foreign policy decisions in America could be vetoed by just one state in the union. There basically wouldn’t be any foreign policy, because the US would be incapable of acting on anything.

Those who want to get rid of the veto ability and create an EU foreign minister point to cases like this to argue their point. But the UK, now with new foreign minister David Milliband, still insists that EU foreign policy should be slow and deliberative and wait until it has the unanimous consent of all the states of Europe. Others, such as France’s foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, insist that for Europe to be taken seriously on the world stage it must be able to respond quickly with a united voice. Indeed, he has been the loudest person pointing out that a united front of objection to the Iraq war from Europe would have prevented it. Instead, the US was successful on intimidating smaller countries desperate for its support and playing the larger countries against one another in the run-up to the war.

So it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It is important for Europe, after its moral failing and inaction in the late 90’s, to show leadership in the long-awaited resolution to the Kosovo problem. However, the current structure of the EU will make this a difficult task.

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