Kosovo’s long-drawn-out ‘will-they, won’t they, when-will-they’ independence  saga is concluded on Sunday February

Bought the t-shirt? Memorobilia for sale in Pristina, on the eve of independence (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

17 last, when erstwhile UN  protectorate’s recently-elected Prime Minister Hasim Thaci annouced the world’s newest state on February 17. The declaration was a long-thought-out  and carefully-choreographed move being done in conjunction with the EU and  the US, but will not have UN Security Council backing, and is  almost-certainly in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1244  (1999), which placed the province under UN trusteeship but with formal  sovereignty remaining with Belgrade. Ironically therefore, the new Kosovo, therefore, will not be entitled to UN membership, as Russia for one will not recognise it.

No careful choreography may offset the longer-term carelessness of the move.  Kosovan independence is being resisted by Serbia and its Russian ally, with  the former seeing Kosovo as integral and historically-Serb land, and the  latter fulfilling its old role as Orthodox-Slavic big brother, as happened  in the run-up to World War I. Some analysts think that the move does not  defy international law, but others see the decision as politicised. Either  way, it is likely that the legal precedent will be overshadowed by the  geopolitical row that looms, as Russia and Serbia called Kosovo “a false  state” within minutes of Thaci’s Sunday afternoon declaration. The immediate  fear for NATO-led peacekeepers is that violence in the northern Kosovar city  Mitrovica, which is divided by the Ibar River into Serb and Albanian halves, will spark a reaction from Belgrade, which then may partition the new  Kosovo, sticking Serb-dominated regions onto its own territory.

An EU police and judicial mission is lined-up to move into Kosovo, with  foreign ministers meeting the day after the declaration, to discuss how the  EU replacing the UN mission that ran the province as a protectorate since  NATO airstrikes drove the Serbian Army out in 1999.  After the various  Balkan wars during the early 1990s, Kosovo militias led by the KLA launched  a rebellion against Serb rule in 1996, after the Dayton Accords ended the  war in Bosnia-Hercegovina a year before. Since 1989, Slobodan Milosevic  curbed human rights and undermined local autonomy in Kosovo for the majority  Albanian population, prompting the rebellion.

Now the fear is that Kosovo’s secession will lead to destabilisation in the  Balkans, with the Republika Serbska – part of Bosnia-Hercegovina – seeking  to break way and join with Serbia proper, as a response to Serbia losing the Albanian-majority Kosovo. The Albanian minority in Macedonia may well see  the example set by Kosovo, and understand that armed resistance to Slavic  rule can lead to independence under western patronage. Nobody knows for sure  how this will pan out, and the biggest fall-out might not be in the  immediate region, but elsewhere in eastern Europe, where other would-be  secessionist movements will take their cue from the Kosovo precedent.

The biggest spin-offs may be in the former USSR, where various  ethnically-demarcated regions aspire to independence since the post-Communist shake-up broke up the creaking and vast empire run from  Moscow.

Russia may use this Kosovo precedent to undermine neighbours who have  secessionist movements of their own to contend with. Since the election of  pro-western President Mikhail Saakashvili in 2004, Russia has upped the  ante, enhancing support given to regions such as Abkhazia, Ajaria and South  Ossetia, who wish to break way from the already-tiny Caucasus state, and  have largely run their own affairs since 1992 in any case. In Moldova, the  crime haven Transdinestria is a Russian-speaking sector beyond the control  of the ethnically-Romanian administration in the capital Chisinau. Under the  Cosa Nostra-style rule of the Smirnoff family, Transdinestria is independent in all but name. And Russia of course fears that Chechnya, Dagestan and  other Muslim regions in its own territory will take inspiration from the  Kosovo example – though given that hundreds of thousands have died in  Chechnya since the mid-1990s, with scarcely a whimper of protests from the  west, Russia might not have the same concerns about having portions of  territory breaking off as Serbia has.

Russia is not so much concerned with Serbia, as it is abput reasserting its  great-power status. It controls most of the pipelines supplying Europe’s  gas, and is not afraid to use those switches for political gain. And Putin is seeking to undermine European attempts to set up pipeline alternatives into the Caspian that would bypass Russia, and reduce western European  dependence on Russian gas – by inking a Black Sea pipeline agreement with Bulgaria, a new EU member.

Perhaps the EU is so keen to get into Kosovo to try offset the malign  side-effects of what would be a virtual mafia state. It is thought that
almost all of the leading political figures are linked to crime bosses and  networks in the transational Albanian mafia, profiteers of the heroin trafficking system that is traceable back to the world’s largest opium grower Afghanistan, and in the seedy and sickening slave trade in women and girls from east to west. Organised crime makes up around 20% of Kosovo’s  GDP, a proportion that would be much higher minus the massive western  subventions that have come in to Kosovo as overseas aid since 1999.

And while nobody can deny that Kosovars suffered during the death throes of  Slobodan Milosevic’s blood-soaked tyranny in Yugoslavia, it seems a moot  point whether ring-fencing this mountainous, coal-rich mafia-dominated Muslim province for independence does any more than allow the US and EU demonstrate that it will protect Muslims against Christians – the Serbs –  and thereby gain brownie points with regard to policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israel/Palestine. Such notions are naive in the extreme, and will have little impact on how the west and the US in particular is viewed. To juxtapose, Vladimir Putin was given red-carpet treatment in Saudi Arabia in
Spring 2007, despite the horrors perpetrated by his army against Muslims in Chechnya. Meanwhile, despite the fact that the US collaborated with Iran (!) to run guns to Muslim Bosnian fighters in the early 1990s, Osama bin Laden’s statements decry the (non-existent) US role in killing Bosnian Muslims.

No wonder Sudan, for example, mistrusts western intentions with regard to UN troops in Darfur, and EU troops behind them in Chad, if the precedent is the creation of new states on humanitarian grounds. Iraqi Kurds might expect
similar support from the US should they seek to form a new state around the oil city Kirkuk, which would elicit a ferocious response from Turkey, a NATO member. Kosovo, like many sub-state regions around the world, might deserve freedom, on its own merits, but there will likely be ramifications for other parts of the world.

But in the meantime, hundreds of thousands thronged the Pristina streets last Sunday, waving Albanian flags to mark the occasion and gathered in the minus-ten winter chill for an open-air concert on the main boulevard in Pristina, Mother Teresa Avenue, with stage set close to a bronze state of the future saint, with the most famous Albanian woman of the past century leaving a caring arm draped over the shoulder of a haggard-looking Calcutta street kid. An apt visual metaphor for the new country then, as the independent Republic of Kosova – to use the now-official Albanian title – will need support from the west for the foreseeable future, if it is to survive as a viable state amid the escalating great-power stand-off, and potential for renewed violence locally.

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