Independence for Kosovo

With Flag and Anthem Chosen, the Parliament of The Serbian Province is Ready to Claim Autonomy

Kosovars rally in support of their independence, with their newly adopted flag in hand | Photo: AFP

“Kosovo’s independence is only a matter of days,” announced Kosovo’s newly elected prime minister, Hashim Thaci, after a meeting in Brussels Jan. 23 with Javier Solana the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

According to Thaci, Kosovo’s parliament is ready to proclaim independence any day.  The national flag and anthem have already been chosen and now it is only a question of picking the date and following the right procedures in accordance with the USA and most of the EU countries. Sources close to the Kosovo government say that independence might come as early as Feb. 15, although the exact date is expected to be declared during the first week of February, once the presidential elections in Serbia are over.

Thousands of kilometers away, in New York, Washington, Detroit, Michigan and Chicago, however, the Albanian and Kosovar communities are perplexed as to whom to support among the several Democrat and Republican candidates for the U.S. presidency. On one hand there is Mrs. Clinton, whose spouse is still seen as a national hero in Kosovo, as it was he who led the NATO military intervention in 1999.

But on the other hand, it was President Bush, during his visit to Albania in the summer of 2007, who openly declared the strong American support for Kosovo’s independence. The strong pro-American sentiment is very common in both Albania and Kosovo, whose leaders see the US as their strongest international ally. The Kosovar leadership has repeatedly stated that independence can only be proclaimed in close cooperation with and under full approval of the United States.

It would be a safe guess to assume that the word “patience” has become very unpopular in Kosovo nowadays. They’ve heard enough about that.  In fact, “be patient” pretty much sums up the message they have been receiving for years now from the powers that be in the West that have supported the Albanian drive for independence.

But it is probably hard for outsiders to understand how exhausting and nerve-racking the waiting has been for Kosovo’s population. Negotiations have followed negotiations, months and years have gone by, but independence which has at times seemed like a done deal has remained elusive.

Now there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel – which is just as well because patience was indeed beginning to wear thin.

Following the expected failure of the 120 days of negotiations, the US and most of the EU have finally recognized the impossibility of ever reaching any agreement between Serbs and Albanians on the issue of status. What is more important to Kosovar Albanians, though, is that most in the EU seem to have finally made up their minds that some form of independence is unavoidable. Indeed there seems to be a new momentum now and a recognition and acceptance of the fact that even unilateral independence, without a Security Council resolution is preferable to an untenable status quo.

The reasons behind this apparent determination to bring things to a conclusion are manifold. For one thing, there is the realization that the belief Kosovo could yet again revert to Serb rule was based much more on naïve wishful thinking than a rational analysis of the situation. Such a move would indeed cause a whole new round of conflicts and instability that could very quickly envelop the whole region.

Then there was the Russian factor. Indeed Russia has done far more to guarantee EU unity on the independence of Kosovo than the Albanians could ever have hoped for. At a time when relations between Russia and the West are at their worst since the end of the Cold War, the Russian attempts to divide the EU to reveal its inherent weakness were bound to be a wake up call for unity for most EU capitals. Not that such a result was guaranteed. Objections to the independence of Kosovo were many,  and for a time it seemed the Russians would be successful in sowing discord.

Yet in the end these attempts seem to have had the opposite effect than the Russians planned.

Faced with their failure to secure support for their position on Kosovo, Serbia now seems determined to make life as difficult as possible for the new state – which it does indeed have the potential to do. An economic blockade is a real possibility, and no one yet seems to know with any certainty how the situation will develop in the Serb controlled North,  where the potential for violence is very real.

To solve the blockade problem, the Albanian government has already started constructing a new highway, worth more than €500 million Euro, that will connect Pristina to Durres, the main harbour in Albania, making it easier for Kosovo to reach the sea.

The EU, however, seems to be more concerned with the security issue, and Germany and Italy have increased the number of troops in the UN administered province, while debate is growing over whether the UN mission in Kosovo should be replaced by one from the EU.

Thus it is now crystal clear that independence is the only solution, and action is expected before March 1. However, it remains far from clear how the situation in Kosovo will develop. The questions of what will happen the day after independence is declared, and how the new country will be governed, still remain open.

For now, Kosovo’s people and politicians are only thinking about independence. But time has certainly come to think a lot further.

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