Time for course correction

Updated on Feb 11, 2008 10:06 PM IST
States are not created by the UN. They come into existence by the will of their people and the world accords recognition. AG Noorani examines...
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None | ByAG Noorani

Kosovo’s independence can no longer be delayed. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy on Kosovo Martti Ahtissari said in his report on March 26, 2007, “I have come to the conclusion that the only viable option for Kosovo is independence, to be supervised for an initial period by the international community. My Kosovo Status Settlement sets forth these international supervisory structures.” Ban endorsed, both, his report and his comprehensive proposal, which has aroused criticism in Kosovo for restricting its independence.

Russia opposes the proposal for independence. On January 31, 2006, President Vladimir Putin said: “If someone thinks that Kosovo can be granted full independence as a State, then why should the Abkhazia or South-Ossetian people not have the right to statehood?” Fears of secessionism led some others to join him, overlooking the fact that Kosovo was acquired by Serbia only in 1913 thanks to the ‘Great Powers’. Putin does not stop at rewriting history. He grossly misquoted the unanimous UN Security Council Resolution 1244 that was passed on June 10, 1999, to bring to an end Nato’s military action against Serbia: “There is a UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which states that Kosovo is an inalienable part of the Federation of Serbia.” It said nothing of the kind. It merely recognised that Kosovo was a part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), not Serbia. The word “inalienable” was not used. The UNSC held in Resolution 1022 of 1995 that Josip Tito’s Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia “has ceased to exist”. Slobodan Milosevic’s FRY was a new entity, not its successor. Slovenia, the first of the constituents of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to become independent, has the presidentship of the European Union (EU) till the end of June. Its Foreign Minister Dhitrij Rupel asserted last month that Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, who comprise 90 per cent of the country’s population, have the same right to self-determination that Slovenia had won. His aim is to accelerate EU membership applications of the five other former Yugoslav countries: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. Why jibe at Kosovo?

On November 17 last year, Kosovo voted to power Hashim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo in a vote for independence. The final text of the conference on Kosovo held in February 1999 at Rambouillet, France, said, “Three years after the entry into force of this agreement, an international meeting shall be convened to determine a mechanism for a final settlement for Kosovo, on the basis of the will of the people, opinion of relevant authorities, each party’s efforts regarding the implementation of this Agreement, and the Helsinki Final Act.” Kosovo’s Parliament had declared independence from Serbia on July 2, 1990, and had incurred brutal retaliation from Belgrade.

Serbia stakes its claims in spurious revivalist, revanchist terms that sadly pass muster in some places. It centres on its defeat to Ottoman Turkey in the battle of Kosovo in 1389 where its ruler Lazar was slain as was the Ottoman ruler Sultan Murat I. Lazar became a cult figure in the 19th century. Writer and historian Noel Malcolm delved into 31 archives — British, French, American, Italian and those at the Vatican — to write a definitive history of Kosovo. He demolishes the myth that Kosovo was once part of the medieval Serbian empire until its conquest in 1389. Russia was the original nucleus of medieval Serbia around 610. “Kosovo did not fall within the Serb territory... Serbian expansion into Kosovo began in earnest only in the late 12th century.” Bulgaria took over Kosovo in the 850s.

Serbian expansion began during the 1180s. Only by 1216 did the entire Kosovo come under Serb rule. It ended in 1389 after 173 years. The Ottomans ruled over Kosovo for 523 years till 1912. The Serbian empire had disintegrated soon after the death of Tsar Dusan in 1389. Lazar ruled over “a patch work of principalities” with only a strip of Kosovo. The whole idea of a national-religious celebration “is a 19th century invention”. Milosevic revived the slogan in 1987. It helped him to capture the party and launch bloodshed in the Balkans.

Serbia and Kosovo always went separate ways except for that interlude. They were conquered by the Ottomans separately. A.J.P. Taylor’s classic The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918 shows how that was achieved. In 1912, after over 500 years of Ottoman rule, the Serbian army returned to Kosovo to the resentment of Albanians. But Serbia’s title to Kosovo does not rest on conquest; not that conquest can confer title. As Malcolm points out, “The leaders of the Balkan States had felt confident enough to start the war against the wishes of most of the Great Powers; but once the fighting was over, they knew that their territorial expansion would be subject to the approval of those countries, just as it had been in 1878.” And was at Dayton in 1995 on Bosnia. Austria saw to it that Serbia was denied access to the sea. Italy and Britain agreed. The Great Powers granted Kosovo to Serbia by the Treaty of London on May 17, 1913.

It was a peace treaty between the Ottoman Turkey on the one hand and Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia on the other. By Article 2, Turkey ceded its territories in Europe to the west of an arbitrary, straight line from the Aegean port of Evnos to the Black Sea/port of Midia, excluding Albania. Turkey renounced claims to Crete and the Aegean Islands and gave the Great Powers the right to determine the question of the Ottoman Aegean Islands and Albanian issues, including borders. Albania was a Great Power creation. Serbia was deftly denied access to the sea. The Great Powers were Britain, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italy and Russia. Both sides made them arbitrators on financial issues, borders and much else. For it was they who had arranged the entire deal; including Turkey’s cession of land to its four adversaries. In World War I, the arbitrators fell out. Austria expelled Serbia from Kosovo in 1915. It was, in turn, expelled by French and Italian forces plus Serbian units.

It is the Great Powers who gifted Kosovo to Serbia.

A non-attributable paper of the Foreign Ministry of one of the P-5, an arbitrator in 1913, recorded in August 1993 that Kosovo was “assigned to Serbia by the international community in 1913”. In 2008, the world community can correct the wrong and recognise Kosovo’s independence. States are not created by the UN. They come into existence by the will of their people and the world accords recognition. Russia’s veto cannot block Kosovo’s independence.

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