Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 22
22 February 1999

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I T A:
Kosovan Independence?

Catherine Lovatt

The conflict in Kosova has reached a crucial turning point. The options: compromise or full-scale war. In Rambouillet, France, talks are being held between the major players to determine a solution. However, the demands of the Serbs differ greatly from those of the divided Albanian leadership. The Serbs cling to the national ideal of a unified Serbia and the Albanians to the ideal of an independent Republic of Kosova, whether it be by peaceful or violent means. Independence for the Albanian majority of Kosova is one possible remedy but may be detrimental to the search for a peaceful solution to the present Balkan crisis. Until recently the deteriorating relations between the Serbs and the Albanians have been largely ignored by international peacekeeping organisations. Their failure to address the problem before the escalation of violent conflict has reduced the number of possible solutions and made Kosovan independence seem out of reach. The argument that they are attempting to resolve the problem while violent conflict is in its infancy holds little weight. Following the Dayton Agreement, attention was focussed on the region, with the international powers unified against Serbia and favouring Kosovan independence. Serbia would remain the 'pariah of Europe' until the resolution of the position of Kosovan Albanians. The Albanians have been ejected from public life, living in fear of the organised Serbian police and enjoying few human rights. The recognition of the problem at this early stage did not go completely unnoticed but was faced with indifference and has ultimately delayed any process of reconciliation.

The Rambouillet talks have been the first involving all the main parties in the dispute with NATO officials acting as intermediaries. Both sides have, be it tentatively, agreed upon a virtual autonomy for Kosova guaranteed by a NATO led peace force. Kosova is to be ruled by its own institutions but remain part of Serbia. The agreement is to be re-discussed in three years time. Robin Cook, the British foreign secretary, has said that it would provide an opportunity to build 'a stable and peaceful Kosova without surrendering any of their own views as to what should be the long term future for Kosova after three years'. (Guardian, 3 February 1999) On paper, this agreement appears to appease both sides but in reality falls short of both Serbian and Albanian demands. Without a cease-fire the agreement is a sham. If fighting continues, there has been no real solution.

Milosevic himself plays a central role in the outcome of a potential cease-fire. At present, he will not adjust his position. In his first statement at the peace talks he said that any peace agreement must affirm 'unequivocal respect for the territorial integrity and state sovereignty of Serbia and Yugoslavia' (CBCNEWS 11 February 1999). Milosevic will not agree to independence and the Albanians will not accept anything less. Stalemate.

The question therefore remains; should Kosova be allowed to secede? The international community is foremost favouring peace and in doing so are verging towards support for the Albanians and an independent Kosova. In many respects this would be beneficial for both the Serbs and Albanians but only if the process of transition is slow and unforced. In releasing the Albanian Kosovans, the Serbs would not only diminish their 'pariah' status in Europe encouraging economic and political benefits but they would also add to the stability of the whole region. At present, the escalation of violent conflict and a failed attempt at peace would lead to uncertainty. Alliances would be sought and tensions could spread into neighbouring regions. Albania and Macedonia, with its large Albanian minority, could side with the Kosovan Albanians against an isolated Serbia who have now lost their support from Russia. Stability hangs in the balance. This situation is not aided by the NATO hard line. The threat of NATO air strikes if agreement is not reached at Rambouillet within the allotted time has worsened the situation. Milosevic regards the threat as criminal and is already drawing battlegrounds. The crisis is running out of control and independence is growing ever more unlikely.

Independence would not only improve Serbian status and aid stability in the region but it would mean the legitimate recognition of the Republic of Kosova disseminating Albanian opposition. However, the problem is much deeper. Kosovan independence may be the goal of the Kosovan Albanians but this can only be achieved if long rooted problems of ethnicity and nationalism are resolved.

The mentality of both ethnic groups is a barrier to the recognition of some form of independence. The contest over who are the rightful inhabitants of Kosova is one example of this attitude. Until 1989 Kosova had some degree of autonomy when Yugoslavia had been highlighted as a centre of the Western Multicultural idea. This mirage was destroyed in1989. The collapse of the 'ethnic success story' (Guardian Feb 3rd 1999) drew attention to the mono-ethnic notions of Croats, Bosnians and Serbs. The Croats expelled its large Serbian community in the face of Tudjman's guns, Bosnia is split into three definitive sections - Serbs, Croats and Bosniacs - and the Serbs are attempting the 'Serbianisation' of the Albanian Kosovans. These mono-ethnic ideals are justified through nationalist rhetoric Balkan stereotypes and historic relics. The Serbs regard Kosova as the cradle of their nation, the birthplace of Serbian Orthodox religion and the home to many of their national monuments. The Albanians compose 90% of the population and argue they are the descendants of the original inhabitants of Kosova. Therefore, they claim the right to self-determination.

It is true that Serbs have a long history in Kosova. However, does that mean that nationalist rhetoric enforced through extreme propaganda and the subjugation of other peoples should hold precedence over basic human rights? Prior to 1912 Kosova was neither part of Albania or Serbia but part of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, the Serbian conviction that Kosova is an ancient Serbian land demands few contemporary rights. Jonathan Steele argues that the more relevant historical issue is who lived in Kosova when Serbia reimposed their rule in 1912. The answer confers contemporary rights onto the Albanians. In 1903 the Serbs composed 25% of the population and in 1912 this had fallen to 21%. The Serbs saw the repossession of Kosova as restoration, the Albanians as occupation. It is this mentality that commands the contemporary conflict. Nationalist rhetoric and historical arguments can only inflame the situation rather than provide a legitimate claim on power.

The Serbian maltreatment of Albanians in Kosova and the international attention now being drawn towards the region limits the level of support granted for Serbian claims. Until the Serbs recognise and resolve their human rights issues, support will not be forthcoming. One possible method of gaining support would be to grant Kosovan independence. However, the Albanians are not without fault. Rugova, leader of the de facto Kosovan government, could do little to prevent anti-Serb sentiments and the escalation of violence against Serbs in the region, despite his peaceful approach to a solution. At first underground and now as an alternative Albanian leadership, the Kosovan Liberation Army (KLA) increased waves of violence until war resulted, neglecting Serbian human rights.

Minority and human rights issues would be central to any decision to support Kosovan independence. If granted, the Albanians, with support from the international community would have to confer strong minority rights on the Serbs and other minorities to prevent an exodus. However, many Serbs are already leaving due to the heightened war and ethnic hatreds. It is possible that without special rights the Albanians could forcibly expel any remaining Serbs and themselves turn to the mono-ethnic state as the only possible chance of success. This seems unlikely but not impossible. The motive behind KLA actions is not necessarily one of revenge but one of necessity. The passivity of Rugova and his colleagues produced a situation where little was done to protect Albanian rights against a strict Serbian dominated police force. The response of the KLA was to react rather than delay and face further subjugation. Their aim is to achieve independence and they felt they had little choice but to fight.

To achieve the Albanian goal support from the international community is essential. The region of Kosova is economically poor and although they have elected their own government and established their own system of institutions transition into an independent republic is a long and difficult process. The right to self-determination must be legitimate and accepted domestically and internationally. If the Albanians of Kosova were to neglect the rights of other ethnic groups then much international support would be lost.

Independence for Kosova hangs in the balance. At present such a radical move would cause greater tensions and raise instability in the region. The autonomy agreed upon in Rambouillet is a transitional step towards independence but the failure to agree on a cease-fire disables the possibility of autonomy. The long propagated Nationalist rhetoric of both the Serbs and the Albanians alongside their inbred mentality of loathing and ethnic hatred presents a further obstacle and encourages the degenerative cycle. Independence for Kosova seems unlikely. Neither side will compromise nor see the advantages of compromise. However, a gradually constructed legitimate republic may be the only chance for peace.

Catherine Lovatt, 22 February 1999


Back to the
Miorita Archive
main page

Back to Central Europe Review


Articles galore
in the

Find out more about our Virtual Internship Programme


Book Shop


Music Shop

with your comments
and suggestions.


Copyright (c) 1999 - Central Europe Review and Internet servis, a.s.
All Rights Reserved