Kosovo, one of the youngest countries in the world. Being only twelve years old, the country has yet to be fully recognised by the international community. Although it may appear down to Serbia’s resistance, the country’s struggle for independence may be due to a deeper, more nationalistic issue.
Kosovo has always existed in one form or another. It was colonised by the ancient Serbian Kingdom, ruled by the Ottoman Empire and was most recently part of Yugoslavia. Since medieval times, Serbia has regarded Kosovo as the heart of its state, even though 90% of its population is of a different ethnicity.
Kosovo was part of Serbia from 1912. Then, in 1918, Serbia was part of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was created with the merger of the States of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs with the Kingdom of Serbia. Serbia and Kosovo together made up the Kingdom of Serbia.
In the 1980s, Kosovo celebrated autonomy. However, the Albanians’ wanted more freedom. This raised the question of a Republic of Kosovo.
Slobodan Milosevic, at the time President of the League of Communists in Serbia, wanted to keep Kosovo part of Serbia. In Kosovo, he rallied the minority Serb population and used the Kosovo issue to take power.
In 1989, Milosevic was elected as president of Serbia. When he came to power, he put Kosovo under the control of Serbia. Ethnic Albanians’ rights were lost – their status, political rights, economic freedom and education rights.
Communism collapsed and Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. Yugoslavia’s dissolution divided the identity, language, culture and religion of each region. Republics declared independence. In Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, wars broke out as ethnic Serbs living in these countries opposed. Milosevic wanted to carve out a greater Serbia from these conflicts and he sent troops to support the Serbs across the former state.
Over time, Christian majority countries were released from the union without too much argument. Muslim majority countries did not receive the same treatment, clarifying that the issue was, and unfortunately still is, divided along ethnic lines.
During this time, Kosovo declared independence. This announcement and request was ignored both by Serbia and the international community.
In the late 1990s, a guerilla war began. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), began to attack Serbian police units. In response, Serbia sent in more troops to defeat the KLA.
On January 15th 1999, Serbia attacked the town of Racak, killing 45 innocent Kosovo civilians. This was a turning point; journalists and observers saw the dead bodies. As Serbia took territory from the KLA, thousands of Kosovo Albanians fled their homes. Images shocked the West.
In March 1999, the US and Western Allies intervened. They bombed Serbia for 78 days. Serbia finally capitulated. Milosevic withdrew his forces from Kosovo and NATO tanks rolled in.
Kosovo Albanians returned whilst tens of thousands ethnic Serbs fled north to Serbia. Nine years later, Kosovo declared independence for a second time.
Today, most Kosovo Serbs consider themselves citizens of Serbia. They don’t recognise the Kosovo state and they don’t feel a part of it. This divide is creating unnecessary segregation; the two countries must join forces to unite.
As of 2nd March 2020, Kosovo has received 115 diplomatic recognitions as an independent state. 2018 was the last time a country recognised Kosovo; it was Barbados. However, in that time, 15 states have revoked their recognitions.
Even though these states are mostly small island nations, these rejections are still significant in Kosovo’s aim for full recognition. The country must strive for full recognition, and nothing less, in order to become part of the international community.
Countries in Eastern Europe are hesitant to recognise and support this relatively new nation. It may allow support towards independence movements in de facto states or encourage the start of others. These include Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, or Transnistria in Moldova. The neighbouring Balkan states are also divided. Croatia and Macedonia are pro-Kosovo, but Bosnia and Herzegovina are not. Other states, like Malta and Portugal, want Kosovo’s future to be decided at the UN Security Council.
Russia, China and five European Union nations have also sided with Serbia.
US involvement in Kosovo in universally supported; it is the most pro-American country in the world. Earlier in his term, President Donald Trump sought to end the crises. Now, he has done anything but solve it. Richard Grenell, a Trump administration diplomat, wanted a “quick foreign policy win.” Unfortunately, this situation cannot be solved overnight.
It seems that the approach is dependent on one overruling factor. The response reflects each government’s differing sense of whether the ethnic Albanians (now Kosovans) were primarily the victims of the Serbs in the war over a decade ago.
In July 2020, the European Parliament issued a resolution, calling on all members to recognise the country. As seen in the past, these resolutions rarely do anything. In 2019, the European Parliament expressed concern at the growing number of attacks on LGBT people in Poland. In 2020, the incumbent president was re-elected, marking the start of an ever-intensifying campaign against LGBTQ+ people.
The European Parliament also called on all its member states to allow visa-free travel to their countries despite recognising the country or not. According to the Passport Index, Kosovo’s citizens have one of the least powerful passports in the world, with visa-free or visa on arrival travel to only 42 countries. In comparison, with the United Kingdom’s passport, one can travel to 120.
Kosovo is still not a United Nations member. Since it cannot be considered a State, it does not fulfil the basic requirement for membership set out by the UNESCO Constitution. It can’t sit in on discussions on its own country, or guide talks on a deal.
The conflict even worked its’ way into the world of football. In 2018, Swiss players Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, made an eagle shape after celebrating a goal against Serbia. The symbol is commonly associated with Albanian nationalists. The pair, with Kosovar-Albanian roots, simply declared that “We are footballers, not politicians.”
In 2018, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on goods entering the country from Serbia. Although this is now removed, it was a failed attempt to put pressure on a heightening situation.
The independence of Kosovo is also a geographical problem. Both presidents have discussed border areas, territorial swaps and swapping boundaries. But this just creates a large issue of what distinguishes Kosovo.
In 1389, at the Battle of Kosovo, the Serbs had a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. This became memorialised and part of the national folklore. It is used as a symbol of “national struggle.” This struggle is very much Serbia continuing to hold onto Kosovo.
The division is engrained into Kosovo. The New Bridge in Mitrovica symbolises the segregation between Serbs and Albanians. The bridge has a strong, NATO presence and each side has its own mayor.
Arguably, all the people of Serbia should have been allowed to vote on the issue of independence. This situation sets a dangerous precedent for other parts of the world. However, the argument of who owns Kosovo creates a similar problem for a referendum.
Kosovo was an independent country at its foundation. Now, it is being rejected that opportunity to leave.
The independence movement in Kosovo raises question over who has the rights to own a state. This situation may seem miles away but closer to home, Scotland has frequently raised the idea of independence. The parliament in Westminster, the central power, could deny this right for a second referendum. Scotland, potentially, has the ability to hold this referendum without consent.
Some Serbs entitle Kosovo as “their Jerusalem,” the heart of Serbia. This comparison encapsulates the stark reality of this nightmare: Serbia values Kosovo and isn’t prepared to give it up.
Once Serbia tried to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of all Albanian Muslims, it effectively lost all political and moral legitimacy. Kosovo doesn’t want anything to do with Serbia, but this has to change.
Kosovo and Serbia have been facing mounting pressure from the West to reopen negotiations after a series of failed negotiations. Talks resumed via video conference in July, marking a resumption of negotiations between the two countries.
However strong Kosovo is tied to Serbia, togetherness is required in an ever most heightening situation. Their governments and peoples will have to work together and bury their bloody past.
Featured Image credit: Wikimedia Commons