International House of Dan: February 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kosovo Declares Independence

Following months of speculation and amid mounting tension between Belgrade and Pristina, Kosovo has formally declared its independence from Serbia. The United Nations Security Council, at the request of Russia, has convened a closed emergency session, and will hold an open meeting on Monday to allow Serbian President Boris Tadic to be voice his opposition to the Kosovar move.

On Thursday, the youthful Foreign Minister of Serbia, Vuk Jeremic, made the case against secession before the Security Council, stating in part "Let me be very clear. The Republic of Serbia will never accept any violation of its territorial integrity. We will never recognize Kosovo's independence. Whe shall not waiver, we shall not yield, should this cowardly act proceed unchecked. Not now. Not in a year. Not in a decade. Never. For Kosovo and Metohija shall remain part of Serbia forever." Mr. Jeremic's statement relied heavily on Security Council Resolution 1244, and its provisions regarding the territorial sovereignty of Serbia. Despite its firm language, the statement is clear that as an EU applicant, Serbia has no intention of using force against Kosovo, but urged the international community to protect the territorial integrity of Serbia.


The history of the Balkan conflicts at the end of the last century is well known. For purposes of the present issue, the establishment of the UN interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in 1999 is a good starting point. UNMIK helped establish the institutions necessary for Kosovo to assert its independence today, but it did not set a date for the future determination of the region's status. In 2003, Serbia joined with Montenegro to replace the FRY, but the following year saw a resurgence in Serbo-Albanian violence in Kosovo. The international community re-opened negotiations on the future of the region in 2006, the same year that Montenegro invoked Article 60 of the Constitutional Charter of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro and asserted its own independence by referendum.

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo outnumber Serbians by 9 to 1, according to some estimates. The religious undercurrent in the conflict is that Albania is largely Muslim, while Serbia is Eastern Orthodox. While ethnic and religious differences have historically fueled violence in the area, the current situation, on its face, is political in nature.

What Makes a State?

Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention of 1933 sets forth the most widely accepted criteria for statehood. They are "a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states." On its face, Kosovo appears to meet these criteria, but in practice, there are additional considerations in the determination of statehood. Most of these considerations are external and political, as evidenced in the cases of Palestine and Taiwan, where, as with Kosovo, progress is stalled because the state attempting to prevent secession is either independently powerful or has powerful allies.

In a likely appeal to its allies in Moscow and Beijing, Mr. Jeremic remarked in his statement that "there are dozens of Kosovo-s throughout the world, just waiting for secession to be legitimized, to be rendered an acceptable norm. Many existing conflicts would escalate, frozen conflicts would reignite, and new ones would be instigated."

The Road Ahead

The unilateral withdrawal by Kosovo from Serbia would not present some of the problems seen in past Balkan dissolutions. For one thing, Serbia has already disavowed the use of force in order to protect its relationship with the EU. Additionally, the issues of state succession to international organizations, rights and obligations should not arise because Serbia's existence is not in question. Kosovo would have to start from scratch in establishing its place in the international community. An important starting point would be admission to the United Nations.

Kosovo may face difficulty taking this initial step though, as Article 4(2) of the UN Charter requires a recommendation by the Security Council before the General Assembly may vote on the admission of a new member state. The problem there, of course, lies with the possiblity of a Russian veto on such a recommendation, as ties between Moscow and Belgrade have remained strong. Further support for Serbia will likely come form China, who would oppose the independence of Kosovo as a precedent for separatists in Taiwan.

It seems likely that the Balkans have become the latest arena for the Bush administration to face off against Vladimir Putin. What seems unclear is the position that the EU will take on the matter. Some member states oppose Kosovar independence because they fear the effect it would have on their own separatist movements (among these are Cyprus, Spain and Greece). The EU position, however, appears to be one guided by pragmatism rather than self-interest; French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, has described Kosovar independence as "inevitable".

6 Months Later...

Time flies.

Since the last time I wrote a blog I went to Brussels, Belgium for a few months to work on some EU antitrust projects, and I am now back in Chicago and out of the document review contract attorney business. I am now working as an associate in the Katz Law Office, in Little Village, handling criminal defense, immigration, and state and federal civil litigation.

For the first time since... well, ever, really, I seem to be on the path toward settling down into a relatively normal and predictable life. What better time to revisit my neglected little blog? I will attempt to comment on one issue or story per week, but I have learned better than to make any promises with regard to my future activity on this blog.

So without further ado, some thoughts on the Kosovar independence.