Kosovo and self-determination

I’ve been in Taiwan for the last couple of days, participating in a conference on human rights in China in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics which start in less than six months. The population of Taiwan is about 23 million, which is slightly more than Australia’s which currently stands at a bit over 21 million. Given the difficulties Taiwan has had over so many years in getting diplomatic recognition and being able to participate in any way in the United Nations, it has been interesting to see some countries – including Australia – very quickly giving diplomatic recognition to Kosovo within days of its declaration of independence. Kosovo’s population is around 2 to 2.5 million.

Perhaps not surprisingly, China is among those not recognising Kosovo. It not only fiercely opposes any type of separate recognition of Taiwan, but also stridently opposes any suggestion of self-determination for Tibet. No doubt Spain’s opposition is in part based on concerns about Basque separatists within their own state.

Self-determination is a very important principle, but not always a clear one. It is interesting to examine just when it is accepted and when it isn’t – and who by. It shows that the question of just what it is that constitutes a nation is not always clear cut. I was fortunate enough to be part of a group that met with Taiwan’s President this afternoon. He spoke about the Kosovo situation. It does highlight the oddity that a place like Taiwan, which is obviously a self-governing and autonomous country, finds it difficult to have its recognition of Kosovo recognised.

UPDATE: In a nice example of just how fraught it can be making any sort of comment on this sort of thing, I’ve discovered that the above remarks of mine have got me labelled as “Basquephobe of the week” by a blogger who campaigns for Basque independence. I guess it gives me another award to add to CV of achievements, although I must say I don’t know anywhere near enough about the situation in the Basque region to have an informed opinion on the issue (or even an uninformed one).

Leaving aside this blogger’s not-so-minor error of labelling me as a US politician – thus giving the writer a seriously wrong-headed excuse to bash US politicians – it is interesting how what I thought was a determinedly neutral piece can immediately be seen as vehemently anti-something (in this case anti-Basque). It seems that merely using the term “Basque separatists” is enough to place one in the category of ‘Basquephobe’, which is something I should remember if I’m ever going to mention that topic again. Seeing I have dipped back into this post to add this update, I may as well add for the record that my personal view on Kosovo is that it did seem unnecessarily quick for Australia to announce formal diplomatic recognition, although I imagine the eventual end outcome of an independent nation will be much the same, regardless.

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  1. I have only one question. Does Kosovo have the infrastructure to support itself?

    Other than that I note China is a lot closer to Australia and Australia relies on it a lot, to go against them at this stage would be politically unwise.

  2. Andrew Bartlett:
    The matter of independence or self-government or greater local autonomy for minority groups is an exceedingly sensitive issue in several countries, including in the United States itself [no, not tiny groups of religious gun-nuts out in the woods but specific major racial/ethnic groups].

    That’s why, after such a brilliant presentation of our Apology to The Stolen Generations, Prime Minister Rudd, in stark contrast, made such a careless off-hand statement on Kosovo …. it could be seen as an insult to the Serbian people themselves. There was not a single word of condolence or hope for the Serbians at a time of, for them, great loss.

    Although I am not partisan on the issue myself – I shall act as “devil’s advocate” for the moment and put what is probably a widespread Serbian view

    …. How would you Australians like it if a lot of foreigners came into part of your country then took that over many years later and declared it independent? How would you like it if Sydney, Bathurst, Newcastle and Tamworth was taken over by foreigners and declared independent? ….

    No, the irony did not escape me – but it would be more constructive if we listened to the Serbs as well as to the Kosovars. Let’s not fall into the trap of demonizing everybody on one side and worshipping all those on the other.

  3. if you’ve been reading newspapers and history books, your sympathy for serbia would be greatly reduced.

    there is no principle here, except money talks, armies yell, and justice is mute.

  4. I don’t know about Kosovo firsthand. I have the feeling that certain intelligence agencies are involved. Therefore, you see certain countries accepting Kosovo as an independent nation. You also see countries like Russia who are not amused. Contrary to what we’ve been told, Russia means what it says. I just hope this area of the world is not a staging ground for yet another war just like it was for world war one. The difference being that there were no nuclear weapons in world war one.

  5. al loomis
    If you’ve been reading newspapers and history books your sympathy for the KLA, the Taliban branch, would be greatly reduced. If you listened to Kosovar refugees in Australia (as I did) you would learn that many Kosovars were running away from the Kosovo Liberation Army.You might also learn that Kosovo Albanians are not indigenous in Serbia, and up to 1989 Serbs were actually majority (60%) in Kosovo.
    Serbia has a long history (since 1172,) and since 1371 has been a bastion of Christianity fighting off Turkish invasions. Turks conquered the Balkans and eradicated Christianity in Albania.
    I think that supporting Islamic fundamentalists may be ‘a good idea at the time’ but now, we somehow dislike the Taliban totally created and funded by the West.
    Supporting the Islamic Republic of Kosovo we automatically support David Hicks and alike fighting for the independence of Kosovo – the place occupied by NATO – and for some reasons bombarded by NATO- we should allow Mr. Hicks to write memoirs about his friends in KLA and get paid for it.
    I would refer you to some opinions of American media and American army people (Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Lt Col, USAF – “Chronology of the Conflict in Kosovo”) as well as Prof.Dr. Michel Chossudovsky, a professor of Economics, University of Ottowa, Canada.(“Dismantling Yugoslavia; colonising Bosnia” and “The KLA: gangsters, terrorists and the CIA”)
    Also a good reading is ‘The Rambouillet ‘negotiations’and the history of KLA. But I still fail to understand why Mr. Bush promised Albania ‘a greater Albania'(although he lost his watch in the crowd) and why 2 islamic republics have been created in the Balkans with the full support of the Western democracies. Is it only AMBO Project (oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea) and the gold, cadmium and other sought after minerals in Kosovo?

  6. since everyone in yugoslavia separated from serbia as fast as they could, while suffering mass murder in some cases, i will stick my neck out and guess the serbs are the baddies.

  7. Al Loomis:

    As I said, I am NOT partisan on this issue.

    All I did was suggest we look for more than just what is served up to us in the mainstream news media: the anti-U.S. and anti-Moslem violence is given full coverage as were the atrocities committed by some Serbs following the break-up of Yugoslavia …. but where are the articles explaining the Serbian perspective and why they acted – and reacted – as they did? A similar thing happens with the biased treatment of Palestinians by our press and TV which demonize ALL Palestinians.

    Yes, I have read the dreadful history of the Balkans, from many perspectives. That is why my sympathy is reserved for those who have suffered and lost much – whatever side they are on.

    You are right about a lack of principle though.

    Zen [5]:

    Yes …. and some Serbs left their homeland to get away from Milosevic and his crew.

    Andrew Bartlett:

    There are many reasons governments fear autonomy and independence movements. Amicable divorce – such as the division of Czechoslavakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia – is rare; so too with Kosovo.

    For example: China’s determination to hang onto Tibet has a lot to do with fear of losing their main water supplies and well as of a foreign power gaining influence there – though after the return of Hong Kong and Macau, I am puzzled by why they did not work out a system of greater self-management for the region without causing “splitism” and with possibly even going so far as to seek the mutually beneficial return of the Dalai Lama. There are plenty of models to use as a starting point – San Marino, Monaco, Vatican, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, etc., etc. The Chinese have thousand of experts on political science, many of whom would be quite capable of developing new arrangements within the basic ideological framework and the defence and economic needs of the P.R.C. – yet the news media here presents China as recalcitrant on issues of local self-management or autonomy

  8. Al loomis,
    Have you ever heard of “Operation “STORM”?. Have a look at it, it is available on the Internet and it is not written by Serbs or Serb sympatisers.

    There are several issues that really worry me personally:

    Serbia was the only Western ally, in the region, during the WWII. Croatia and Slovenia were siding with Hitler.
    Osama bin Laden has a Bosnian passport

    75% of married population in Yugoslavia were mixed marriages and no religion was ever an issue. It was a secular State.

    Mixed marriages are not allowed by KLA -Kosovo government.
    Will EU and NATO allow minority Serbs in Kosovo to declare independence from KLA?

    Labelling Serbs as terrorists and the nation ‘rightly punished’ is like labelling all Arabs and Muslims as terrorists.

    81% of Australian population believed that Muslims had thrown their children overboard.
    Many countries believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The whole country is in ruins now although they were no threat to the West.

    How many people believed that some bacteria (anthrax) can be spat into an envelope and kill entire NY population?
    Khomeini and Pol Pot were once regarded, by the West, as great leaders and ‘liberators’.

    Turkey is expanding not only in the Balkans (Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia -next)
    Should Jerusalem belong to Palestinians only, because there are in majority there?

    No federal system is perfect (including USA and Australia). But what would happen if i.e. Tasmania or Qld decided to declare independence?.
    Many Kosovars did not even speak Serbian because they had their schools in their own language. Our Aboriginies are denied that.
    We do not even allow our Aboriginies to carry their flag (along with Australian) during sports event. Remember Kathy Freeman?
    (Read the latest article by Andrew Bolt in ‘Herald Sun’ (Feb.13. 2008))

  9. You are obviously not holding any strong views Senator!?And some good thoughts are recorded here,but what are the long term developmental thoughts that lead Rudd,to his statement!?Which he has moved on to knew first priorities since the Kosovo statement,some time ago since this post of mine!?Are there any statements of Rudd s in public for his statements or the ALPs!?

  10. The Kosovo situation is a very difficult one. Serbia held a referendum last year on the independence of Kosovo and the people decided to keep Kosovo a Serbian territory.

    I am very concerned that some people equate being a Serbian to being a terrorist or a butcher. The reality is that Slobodan Miloseviv was the butcher who was responsible for the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and other Balkan states as he was the one giving the orders.

    Serbs in general are actually really nice people if you get to meet them. I am partly of Hungarian-Serb heritage myself.

    Personally, I think that there is a need for moderate voices in Serbia and that is what we have seen from their new Government who have repeatedly called for calm over Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

    There are lingering international legal uncertainties as to the legitimacy of Kosovo’s declaration of independence as it was done unilaterally and was not officially sanctioned by the United Nations. This is why Kevin Rudd’s immediate recognition of Kosovo’s independence was premature.

    There are autonomous provinces in Serbia like Vojvodina where my Mother came from that automatically gives ethnic minorities representation on the regional government (she was part of the Hungarian ethnic minority.) Serbia was pushing for a similar arrangement in Kosovo.

    I would like to see an autonomous Kosovo as a first step over a period of transition and then a mutually agreed upon declaration of independence made with the full support of the United Nations Security Council. This would help provide stability and foster a cooperative relationship between the new Serbia and the world’s newest country Kosovo.

  11. Desintegration of Yugoslavia was pre-planned long time ago. Similarly, war in Iraq and now probably Iran. First, you demonised the leaders you have supported in the first place.

    Washington Post published an article detailing how the USA funneled $77 million into the effort to bring Kostunica (current Prime Minister of Serbia) to power.

    On October 5th 2000 Kostunica’s supporters violently overthrew Slobodan Milosevich’s government.
    They set the Serbian Parliament on fire, they took the Radio-TV Serbia by force and ransackled Party headquarters.
    When Kostunica’s supporters set the Serbian Parliament on fire the Western media were elated.. The Clinton administration praised them for their courage and dedication to democracy.
    Well, now, Kostunica is compared to Hitler by some enthusiasts in the media.

    Hashi Thaci (Kosovo leader and the leader of narco-traffic cartel KLA trading human organs, young girls and committing all possible attrocities across Europe) is a ‘democratic hero for Kosovo’ (‘Hashi’in Gega means ‘snake’ and this is Thaci’s KLA’s nickname).

    Ever since the Balkan war I lost all my respect for any humanitarian organisation. Civilian Serbs were denied any human status. Australia would not accept Serbian refugees.

    We are USA allies so we have to support our allies. That is why our government was quick to recognise TOTAL DEPENDENCE of Kosovo. I have no problem with it.
    However, it would be easier to swollow if our allies told our public that in the interests of the West we have to support construction of American bases in Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Turkey and Croatia. Perhaps I could understand that.
    Strategically though, it would have been wiser if ALL interested parties had waited for the UN resolution declaring Kosovo’s independence to legalise the status of the province. Otherwise, it is enough for our Aboriginies to, one day, declare and an independent republic of Kimberley…

  12. Everyone:

    Some points to consider.

    i. The demonizing of a whole race is monsterous. I too have known good decent Serbs and good decent Albanians. Very very few Serbs were ever murderous fanatics; very very few Kosovars were ever murderous drug-lords and white-slavers.

    ii. Everyone was too squeamish after all the “ethnic cleaning” a few years ago to consider the obvious practical move: the possibility of a non-violent partition of Kosovo on ethnic/religious lines with tightly supervised property exchanges to ensure there was not widespread destruction of housing and infrastructure nor the ruin of arable land. Neither Serbs nor Albanians would have been very happy but outright war could have been avoided.

    The winner-takes-all result now means that a major war over Kosovo cannot possibly be avoided – it’s too late – all Australia can do now is to find some way to avoid having Australian military units tangled up in the war …. except in carrying out humanitarian duties in a third country [by being stationed in ….Italy? Greece? Bulgaria? Slovenia? Romania? Libya?]

  13. Graham.
    It is yet another example of ‘ooops, we got it wrong again, so let’s send more troops there’. How noble.The foreign troops have been there for the past 15 years bombing the country.
    You’re right, the conflict in the Balkans has nothing to do with the people or their ethnicity or religion. It’s big politics. Thanks to our support for Al Qaedia and demonising Serbs, we helped to introduce Sharia Law to the region. Osama got Bosnian passport in Vienna in 1993.
    No troops will rebuild ALL mediaeval bridges over the Danube or rebuild 1400 historical monasteries in Serbia, hospitals, schools, an no one will bring back to life half a million Serbs killed in somebody’s else’s conflict.

    Pre-conflict Yugoslavia was a multi-ethnic country with high standards of living, free medical care, free education, literacy over 90% and life expectancy 72 years. Average annual income was $38.000 in Slovenia and Croatia and about $14.000 in Serbia..
    The Kosovo region had university and schools in Gega (Albanian). Kosovo is not a nationality. It is a historical Serbian region with Albanian-speaking- Muslims who ran away from Turks and Enver Hoxha, Albanian communist leader.
    During WWII Bosnian and Albanian Muslims formed the 13th SS Division (Handschar) and 21st SS Division (Skanderberg). Serbia was fighting both communists and nazis. Serbs saved 500 American soldiers captured by Nazis.
    Today’s Bosnian leader, Alija Izetbegovic – 4 wives,(a member of Handschar) is realising his dream: to create Caliphat in the Balkans and destroy not only Israel but also eradicate christianity..Iran, Saudis, Turkey and now Kosovo are helping with this dream.
    in 2000, NATO forensic teams from 15 countries could not find any evidence of’ Milosevic’s killing fields’against Albanians.
    In 2006 German intelligence service BND had confirmed that the 2005 terrorist bombing in Britain and 2004 bombing in Spain were organised in Kosovo.

    Long live Kosovo and Western media!!

  14. Zen [14]:
    You are right about Yugoslavia being a successfully multi-ethnic country [though not without important problems]. You are right too about some Albanians preferring to be refugees rather than live under the charming rule of Enver Hoxha.

    Less correct though about the much publicized Skanderbeg unit of the Nazi Waffen-S.S.: despite the magnificent title of “Division”, their actual numbers were somewhat less – I don’t have the reference works beside me at the computer just now but, from memory, “platoon” or “company” might have been a more appropriate term for a unit of that size. That said, their propaganda value was useful to the Nazis then and again to political groups now.

  15. Andrew Bartlett:

    Tonight’s SBS-TV “Dateline” [3rd item] was on a Uighur autonomy activist visiting Australia.

  16. Since our government was very quick to recognise the independent State of Kosovo I am sure that the Federal Government now will feel free to recognise Tibet, Palestine, Kurdystan and Flamands. After all we believe in equal rights and opportunity for all.

  17. How many of these countries have actually declared their independence? (And I fail to see how equal rights necessarily extends to having your own country.)

  18. Re comment #17:

    I’m sorry, I can’t read much French. I don’t know a great deal about Puerto Rico either, but I would say that the possibility of independence should be a matter for the people of that territory (or if they want to become a fully fledged state of the USA for that matter).

    Whist the international community regularly ignores it, the right of self-determination is contained within the ICCPR. It may be pragmatic to ignore it, but we should at least be aware that that’s what we’re doing, rather than forgetting about it completely.

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