By Ignacio Ramonet
The question of Kosovo, pending for the past eight years, is again high on the international political agenda. President George Bush upset foreign chancelleries when he declared, probably under the heady influence of the hero’s welcome he received in Tirana (Albania) on 10 June, that at some point in time, sooner rather than later, you’ve got to say, “Enough is enough, Kosovo is independent”. Kosovo would, he said, issue a unilateral declaration of independence soon and Washington would recognise it without waiting for the United Nations Security Council to reach a decision (1).
One might well ask why 50 years has not sufficed to establish an independent state in Palestine, with the tragic consequences we see before us, and why the question of Kosovo suddenly has to be settled without delay.
In the Balkans diplomatic haste often spells disaster. Remember how German and Vatican eagerness to recognise Croatia’s secession in 1991 precipitated the break-up of former Yugoslavia, the war between Serbia and Croatia, and the war in Bosnia. Without minimising the sinister role of former president Slobodan Milosevic and the extremist advocates of “Greater Serbia”, the European powers also bear some responsibility for these bloody conflicts, the worst in Europe since the second world war. Haste also played a part in the 1999 war in Kosovo, when some European states and the United States broke off negotiations with Belgrade (2), bypassed the Security Council debate and proceeded, without a UN mandate, to use Nato to bomb Serbia for months and force Serbian troops out of Kosovo.
UN Security Council resolution 1244 brought the offensive to an end in June 1999. Kosovo was placed under UN administration and Nato units – the 17,000-strong Kosovo peacekeeping force (KFOR) – are now responsible for the country’s defence. Under the terms of resolution 1244, Kosovo belongs to Serbia. This is decisive, because the powers involved in the recent wars in the Balkans always respected the internal frontiers of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a matter of principle. The plans for “Greater Croatia” and “Greater Serbia”, which threatened to dismantle Bosnia-Herzegovina, were rejected and opposed on this principle. And Serbia, with support from Russia among others, is now rejecting the plan proposed by international mediator Martti Ahtisaari on this same principle.
Independence may be the only possible solution for Kosovo because the obstacles to keeping it within Serbia’s administrative ambit are so enormous. But any such step can only be considered in close and lengthy consultation with Belgrade, which is anxious to protect the Serb minority in the province.
The immediate independence that Bush wants to see, independence not negotiated within the UN framework, could lead rapidly to the establishment of a “Greater Albania” and this in turn would automatically reignite Croatian and Serbian irredentism at the expense of Bosnia. Not to mention the explosive international precedent it would set for many entities that are similarly tempted to declare unilateral independence: Palestine (Israel), Western Sahara (Morocco), Transnistria (Moldova), Kurdistan (Turkey), Chechnya (Russia), Abkhazia (Georgia), Nagorny Karabakh (Azerbaijan), Taiwan (China) and even, in Europe itself, the Basque Country and Catalonia (Spain, France), to name but a few. Is Bush prepared to support these claims for independence, as he says he will in the case of Kosovo?
We have seen the appalling damage this US president’s irresponsible initiatives have caused in the Middle East. His heavy-handed intervention now in an area as explosive as the Balkans, one of the most dangerous places in the world, is a source of consternation and dismay.