Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why Kosovo Should Be Allowed to Become Independent

KosovoRecently, there have been some postings on The Brussels Journal arguing against Kosovo's independence. I don't agree with them, probably because I have a completely different background as a Flemish nationalist. But I think I have some good arguments in favor of Kosovo's independence too.

Michael Huntsman called Kosovo the EU's bastard child, and uses some historical reasons why Kosovo should not become independent from Serbia. Sure enough, Kosovo is of immense national importance to Serbian identity and heritage, but why then did they start to leave it a long time ago? It's true that Albanians in Kosovo have committed atrocities to the Serbian minority too, and not only vice versa, but fact is that the Serbians became a minority long before that. It seems to me that the Serbian people, man by man and woman by woman, decided a long time ago that Kosovo wasn't that important to them after all, and today's regret only comes after the fact.

There's a parallel here to intellectual property rights. If you make an invention, you can obtain a patent for it to make sure that you, as the inventor, get a fair chance of making some money out of your work. However, if you neglect that chance, i.e. you don't use your patent or you don't try to stop your competitors from using your invention without paying you your rights, you simply loose your rights. The same is true for peoples and their countries: if enough individuals give up a part of their country and move out, voluntarily, thus leaving it to another population, you can't really blame the newcomers from wanting to govern that part of the country the way they want to once they've become a large majority, and in the long term, even declare its independence from the rest of the country.

But what if we accept the argument that Kosovo should be a part of Serbia because of historical reasons? Much of the reasoning behind this seems to be that we shouldn't start to change borders just because populations have moved over time. But what does this say about, for example, the Ukraine? Indeed, the history of Russia doesn't start in what's the Russian Federation today, but in Kiev, with Kievan Rus'. If Kosovo can't be independent from Serbia, does that mean that the Ukraine should become a part of the Russian Federation? I know there's at least one presidential candidate in Russia who thinks that would only be fair.

And here's another one: Northern Ireland – how is it possible that it is part of Britain, when not just history but the name in itself already says it's part of Ireland? It turns out that not even the etymology of the name of Kosovo (of косово поље, kosovo polje, blackbird field) makes a clear argument against Kosovar independence.

Does this mean that it suffices to move enough people into a part of another country to gain rights to declare independence or event annex that part to your own country? Of course not: there's a clear distinction between what happened in Kosovo (the Serbians moved out) and what happened in e.g. Tibet (the Chinese moved in, first with brutal force, then with a clear policy to become a majority in the population). Seen from that perspective, one could wonder why China is refusing to recognize Kosovo's independence.

In another article, John Laughland uses the argument that Kosovo's independence would stir up trouble, making references to a.o. the Serbians in Bosnia, Northern Cyprus, Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. First of all: I don't think it's a good argument to do some injustice to the Kosovars too, just because the EU does some injustice to the Serbians in Bosnia. Secondly, the situation on Cyprus is so complex that I really don't know whether it makes an argument for or against Kosovo's independence. Next, Transnistria is in such a mess that it's not clear to me whether its population really wants independence from Moldova or not, but my feeling is that the same goes for them as for the Serbians in Bosnia. And finally, as for the case about South Ossetia and Abkhazia, yes, why not call Russia's bluff and clear out the situation in those regions, but only on the condition that there would be held some fair elections or a fair referendum. And while we're at it, make sure the same happens in Chechnya too. But there's no reason to keep Abkhazia and South Ossetia part of Georgia just because they're a part of Georgia, and Georgia happens to be our ally – at least for now.

John Laughland has also another argument against Kosovo's independence, or more correctly, he asks why Kosovo declared its independence now, after eight years of relative peace and calm. First of all, it seems to me that the right on self-determination necessarily includes the timing of the declaration of independence, but apart from that, it should be clear that it's much easier to declare independence in a period of relative peace and calm then when you're under attack and you even haven't got a properly elected government or parliament. East Timor didn't declare its independence in the worst of times either, but when things had more or less settled down. Furthermore, it is clear that the current government of Kosovo has used its time to make sure enough countries will recognize its independence from Serbia so that it doesn't become a pariah state like e.g. Northern Cyprus, and I really don't know what would be wrong with that either. Finally, the successful independence of nearby Montenegro surely played a role too in the timing of the Kosovar government.

Speaking of Montenegro, Joshua Trevino argues in his article that Kosovo isn't ready for independence, nor politically neither culturally. But didn't they say the same thing about Montenegro almost two years ago? So far, Montenegro's independence has been a success. (And let's hope it continues to be!)

In his article from December last year, Fjordman is concerned that an independent Kosovo would become an Islamic state, a «new thug state [that] will serve as a launching pad for Jihad activities against non-Muslims, just like an independent Palestinian state would do in the Middle East». This may very well be the case, but I'm not sure that the solution to this is to keep Kosovo inside the Serbian republic. In fact, the Serbians already have enough problems on their own, that we shouldn't give them an extra problem of trying to keep al-Qaeda out of a province over which they haven't had much control anyway. On the contrary, those elements in Kosovo who used the Kosovar struggle for independence as a cover for their real agenda, will have to find a new cover, or be open about what their agenda is.

Whatever their practical arguments are against Kosovar independence, no one seems to argue that the Albanian speaking population in Kosovo is part of the Serbian nation. Like I already said in the beginning of this article, it has probably a lot to do with our different backgrounds, but this simple fact tells me that the Serbian and Kosovar people shouldn't be forced to live together in one state. If the Kosovars want to go their own way, or even join Albania in a few months or years from now, they should be allowed to do so. As for the Serbians, the best thing they could do is to get over this as soon as possible, how difficult that may be, and rather look to the future than to the past.

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