Monday, December 3, 2007

here is what they think about ... always relative to others ...

Kosovo's future: The day after independence

Nov 22nd 2007 From The Economist print edition

The next Balkan headache for the European Union

FOR months the future of Kosovo has been uncertain. In March Marti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, presented a plan for conditional independence to the United Nations, which has run the province since the end of the war in 1999. Russia stepped in to stop this, and has since treated Kosovo as a bargaining card with the West. The crude message was that, even though Kosovo is surrounded by the European Union and NATO, a resurgent Russia can still get its way there. Now it looks as if this may have backfired. Kosovo has a population of 2m, 90% of whom are ethnic Albanians who have long demanded independence. Serbia's leaders say they cannot have it, since Kosovo was always a Serbian province and not a Yugoslav republic before the country fell apart. Serbia has proposed various models of autonomy, drawing on such examples as Hong Kong and the Swedish-populated Aland Islands, formally part of Finland. But Kosovo's Albanians have rejected them all. A final bout of diplomacy intended to reach a compromise has, predictably, failed so far to find one.

The diplomats will present a report on their work to the UN on December 10th. Russia and Serbia want the talks to go on after that. But their chances of success are diminishing. “The intriguing thing,” comments Mr Ahtisaari, with not a little hint of satisfaction, “is that the Russian attitude has reinforced the unity of the EU. I don't think that was their original intent.” Kosovo's Serbs were told to boycott the election on November 17th by their leaders, and only 40-45% of Kosovar Albanians turned up to vote. The election was won, with 34% of the vote, by Hashim Thaci, a former political leader of Kosovo's guerrillas who fought against the Serbs in 1998-99. After the poll he said Kosovo would declare independence immediately after December 10th. But privately he told Western diplomats he could wait until spring; he then said nothing would be done before consulting the Europeans and Americans. Many countries wonder if Kosovo's independence is a good idea. Some fear a precedent for separatists, from Abkhazia to Catalonia. At one time, the European Union looked set to be divided over recognition. But a likely German decision to say yes, plus what seemed a scary bid by Russia to exploit Kosovo to divide the EU, has converted many doubters. Only Cyprus is likely to resist to the bitter end. Slovakia and Greece seem resigned to accepting Kosovo's independence.

This is a big success, says Ivan Krastev, a Balkan analyst, “but the problems will come later. It must be understood that EU unity cannot expire on the day after the recognition of Kosovo.” What this implies is a large EU commitment to the region, beyond replacing the UN mission in Kosovo with an EU one. It is not clear that all European governments are prepared for this.
Several things need to be done in the wake of Kosovo's probable independence. The most delicate are careful handling of the Serb breakaway northern bit of Kosovo and the reinforcement of pro-European voices in Serbia. The second may involve some unpalatable decisions, such as setting aside the condition that Serbia's advancement towards EU accession must be conditional on the arrest of Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb general wanted by The Hague war-crimes tribunal. Another place causing concern is Macedonia, where recent violence involving ethnic Albanians has set nerves jangling. Macedonia hopes to be invited to join NATO next April. That would warn off predators in what by then may be a newly independent Kosovo. But it may not happen, for Greece threatens to veto a Macedonian invitation as part of its 15-year-long campaign to get it to change its name.


The independence precedent If Kosovo goes free

Nov 29th 2007 SUKHUMI AND TSKHINVALI From The Economist print editionWhy

Georgia's enclaves would love to follow, but will probably fail

KOSOVO Albanians and Serbs met in Austria this week for last-chance talks before a United Nations deadline of December 10th, after which Kosovo is likely to declare independence unilaterally. Serbia's old ally, Russia, blocks any UN resolution. But plenty are watching south of Russia in the enclaves of Georgia. As Maxim Gunjia, the cheery young deputy foreign minister of Abkhazia, says, “because Russia does not want Kosovo to be recognised, it does not mean that we do not want it.” When the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia fell apart, sovereignty passed to their constituent republics. But Kosovo was a province of Serbia. Its independence, argues those worried by precedents, will be seized on by separatists from Catalonia to Chechnya (to say nothing, nearer home, of the Bosnian Serb republic). As Russia's Vladimir Putin once asked, “If people believe that Kosovo can be granted full independence, why then should we deny it to Abkhazia and South Ossetia?” Why indeed, ask people in these two enclaves, which are among the four “frozen conflicts” left from the wreckage of the Soviet Union. The enclaves broke away from Georgia in nasty wars in the early 1990s, but no country recognises their independence. Two other frozen conflicts are in Transdniestria, which split from Moldova, and Nagorno-Karabakh (see article). Recently the presidents of three of these Russian-backed places met in Sukhumi, Abkhazia's capital.

Abkhazia is a backwater, much of it in ruins. In contrast to the Balkans, it has received no international largesse. This would change, argues Mr Gunjia, if the world would only recognise Abkhazia. That is unlikely. Western countries are wedded to the territorial integrity of Georgia; so, despite its support for the secessionists, is Russia. Leyla Taniya, an analyst, sighs that Russia cares for Abkhazia only “as a card that can be played” directly against Georgia or in the great game with the West over the region's future. “Those rules which work for Kosovo will work for South Ossetia,” insists Alan Pliev, South Ossetia's deputy foreign minister, in Tskhinvali, the capital. But the situation in each place is different. Kosovo has 2m people, 90% of them ethnic Albanians, who have long been in the majority. Only 200,000 people live in Abkhazia. Before the war in the early 1990s only 18% of them were Abkhaz; even today they make up no more than 45% of the people, the rest being Armenians, Russians and Georgians. More than 200,000 Georgians from Abkhazia are refugees in Georgia who are unlikely to be allowed to return. Georgians accuse the Abkhaz of ethnic cleansing. The Abkhaz say they have reclaimed what was lost by deportations to Turkey in the 19th century and to Siberia in the 20th century, as well as through later Georgian settlement (Stalin was Georgian). Today Russia supports the Abkhaz and South Ossetians with money, troops and passports. Both places use the rouble; Russian money is flowing in, especially to Abkhazia. The Russian passports let locals travel, but may also allow Russia to claim its citizens have been attacked if Georgia tries to retake the enclaves.
Yet even if Kosovo declares independence, Russian recognition is unlikely. It might, says Inal Pliev, a journalist in Tskhinvali, be Russia's “holy duty”, but reality intrudes. South Ossetia is a tiny patchwork with perhaps as few as 50,000 inhabitants in the Ossetian-controlled part. Much of the land is controlled by Georgians. It is linked to Russia by a tunnel through the mountains; on the other side is the autonomous Russian republic of North Ossetia.

“Our aim is unification with North Ossetia,” says Alan Pliev. “We don't know if that would be as part of Russia or as a separate united Ossetian state.” The deputy speaker of parliament, Juri Dzittsojty, is cautious. “I would prefer there to be an independent and united Ossetia, but today it is not possible. It is safer to be with Russia. The main aim of the struggle is to be independent of Georgia.” And tomorrow? If Russia recognised the enclaves, that might encourage bits of Russia that wanted independence. This is why Russia is unlikely to act even if Kosovo is widely recognised. Yet the Georgians are nervous. David Bakradze, the state minister for conflict resolution, says he is not worried about Kosovo, but about “the misuse of Kosovo”.

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