After nearly four decades of striving for independence, and a decade under international rule, Kosovo is finally ready to declare independence. Will Slovenia be the first to recognize Kosovo as an independent state?
The Final Chapter of Balkan Turmoil?
Kosovo’s road to Independence
The desire of Kosovo Albanians to attain their own state can be traced back to the early 1970s, at least in terms of active protests. It was then that a large Albanian nationalistic body was first organised with the goal of achieving the status of a full republic within the former Yugoslavia. The reluctance of the Federal Yugoslav government to accede to their demands led to violent riots in 1981, and ultimately culminated in the Kosovo war which only ended after the 11-week NATO air campaign in March 1999.
The first time the former Yugoslav Autonomous Province of Kosovo declared independence was in 1990, at which time they were only recognized by Albania. Experts speculate that this time around when Kosovo declares independence, Slovenia could be the first to recognize the state, followed immediately by the majority of other EU Member States, including France and Great Britain, along with the US. Others, most notably Slovakia and Romania, will not do so immediately, while Russia and, of course, Serbia will be opposed. Both these countries have stated that they already possess detailed plans on how to proceed in the event that Kosovo gains independence. While Russia has not revealed their plan to the public, Serbia has stated that they will cut all diplomatic ties with the countries that will recognize Kosovo as an Independent state.
Serbia and the EU
In the wake of deciding on the future status of Kosovo has been Serbia’s Accession to the EU agreement. Slovenian Foreign Minister, Dimitrij Rupel, has voiced his wish that Serbia would be allowed to join the EU as soon as possible, and with as little hindrance as possible. These statements were met with great disagreement in the European Parliament, whose members are adamant that before the solution to the question of the status of Kosovo, and, at least, until the surrender of Ratko Mladić, a Bosnian Serb General accused of many crimes against humanity in the Balkan War, to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Serbia should not be allowed to start the accession process.
On 28th January the European Parliament successfully drafted a new, temporary plan for cooperation between the EU and Serbia, which the latter is expected to sign in the coming days. The plan, however, deals with Serbia without Kosovo as part of its territory and the Serbs are reluctant to sign such an agreement, as they still regard Kosovo as the cradle of the Serbian nation.
However, the current economic situation in Serbia, as well as in Kosovo, is very poor, a situation which would be resolved if Kosovo is granted independence, and Serbia begins its accession to the EU. The victory of Tadić over his more radical opponent Tomislav Nikolić in the Serbian presidential election gives hope that the status of Kosovo will be resolved peacefully and diplomatically, and that Serbia will begin the process of joining the EU as the most sensible path for its future development.
Plans for a peaceful solution
In preparation for the declaration of independence, many preparations regarding security have been put in place. In the north of Kosovo, 40 extra police officers have joined the ranks of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) police in the region, while NATO has also deployed reinforcements to the area; 500 Italian soldiers having joined the already stationed regiment of KFOR at the base near Kosovska Mitrovica. The Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has assured the media that any kind of violence in the province will be dealt with swiftly and efficiently by NATO, so as to protect all the citizens of Kosovo, both Serb and Albanian.
The EU mission to Kosovo, which will in time replace UNMIK, is slated to proceed later this year, with the name for it already chosen (EULEX) and most of the preliminary legal documents drafted. The main goal of the EULEX will be to assist the police and judicial body in Kosovo, primarily in fighting organised crime.