Despite the highly publicized flag-waving in the streets of Pristina and regardless of whatever one might hear or read in the media suggesting the contrary, Kosovo is no more independent today than it was the day before last.
In the first place, it is not enough for the political leadership of a territory to declare independence for it in fact to be independent.
If it were, Kosovo would be independent not since yesterday, but since 1990: the first time that a self-styled parliament of the Serbian province declared independence. It remains to be seen in the weeks and months ahead which countries will recognize Kosovo’s declaration of independence as legitimate. The EU “big four” of Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy are expected to recognize Kosovo’s independence in short order, and, despite the relatively tepid “taking note” of the declaration by the State Department yesterday, it is widely assumed that the US will follow suit. But other EU states have made known their opposition to Kosovo independence. Some of these — notably, Romania and Greece — are traditional allies of Serbia and several are confronted by their own home-grown ethnic separatist movements (or in the most glaring case, Cyprus, even with a full-fledged already proclaimed “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” on roughly half of its territory).
Among the other established world powers on the UN Security Council, Russia’s opposition has been well publicized. Though it has thus far shown greater discretion, China too can be assumed to be hostile. It too is confronted by multiple ethnic separatist movements — not to mention an already de facto independent Taiwan — and it opposed the 1999 NATO bombing campaign that “liberated” Kosovo from Serbian control in the first place. Emerging powers like India — embroiled for decades in a bloody conflict with Muslim separatist insurgents in Kashmir — will have similar reasons to want to withhold recognition. And so too will innumerable smaller countries that are wracked by violent separatist movements around the globe.
Even leaving aside the question of international legitimacy, however, there is another still more fundamental reason for insisting that Kosovo did not become independent yesterday and will not be independent for the foreseeable future — if indeed ever. In its resolution, the Kosovo parliament declared that Kosovo is an “independent and sovereign state.” But in the very next sentence it states that this declaration is occurring “in full accordance” with the famous “Ahtisaari Plan” for Kosovo’s final status: so-named for UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Now, even a cursory glance at the Ahtisaari Plan — which can be consulted in full here — makes obvious that it does not in fact foresee independence for Kosovo, but rather what has been euphemistically described as “supervised independence.”
Kosovo is, needless to say, to be independent from Serbia — which de facto it has been, in any case, since the close of the NATO bombing campaign in June 1999 — and it is to have its “own” constitution and its “own” political institutions. But these political institutions as a whole are to be subjected to the higher authority of an “International Civilian Representative” invested with dictatorial powers. The International Civilian Representative or “ICR” is empowered, for instance, to annul any laws or decisions adopted by the local Kosovo authorities and to “sanction” or outright dismiss public officials. Lest there be any doubt about where the ultimate authority in Kosovo resides, the International Civilian Representative is to serve simultaneously as the “Special Representative” of the European Union. Whereas other countries or international institutions are supposed, in principle, to serve in the “Steering Group” to which the ICR reports — one of which, namely Russia, will undoubtedly decline the invitation — it is clear from the proposed composition of the “Steering Group” that the EU will in fact be able to appoint the ICR unilaterally. Indeed, it has already, in effect, done so by naming the Dutchman Pieter Feith as its “Special Representative.”
At the same time, the EU will dispatch a “Security and Defense Policy” mission — in the meanwhile re-baptized “EULEX” — which will be ultimately responsible for the maintenance of law and order (or in EU-speak, “the rule of law”) in Kosovo. The retired French General Yves de Kermabon has been named as “EULEX” head. Under the terms of the Ahtisaari Plan, the EU “mission” will have the authority, for example, “to reverse or annul operational decisions taken by the competent Kosovo authorities.”
Finally, it should be noted that the Ahtisaari Plan leaves in place the NATO-led military presence in Kosovo. The NATO-led force was recently reinforced by additional German troops and it presently amounts to some 16,000 troops in all: this for a population of some 2 million persons, making the foreign military presence in Kosovo comparable to the foreign military presence in Iraq, for example. Under the terms of the plan, moreover, the existing local Kosovo security force, the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), is in fact to be dissolved and replaced by a new force. The latter is to consist of not more than 2500 troops and is to be “lightly armed and possess no heavy weapons.”
The Kosovo “Declaration of Independence” meekly accepts — indeed “welcomes” — all these blatant encroachments upon Kosovo sovereignty. If words are to retain their sense, it would be more accurate to label it a “Declaration of Dependence.”
One detail of yesterday’s events makes the gap between popular national aspirations in Kosovo and the reality of Kosovo’s subjugation to European dictates especially clear. Think again of the images of the celebrations in the streets of Pristina and, more specifically, the flags being waved by the revelers: the dark red flags with the striking black two-headed eagle at their center. As so happens, the flag is in fact the flag of neighboring Albania. The choice is hardly surprising, since from the start the Albanian nationalist insurgency in Kosovo aimed not at independence for the province per se, but rather its separation from Serbia and incorporation into an enlarged Albanian “motherland.” When, however, the Kosovo parliament unveiled the “official” flag of the supposedly “new state,” it was not, of course, this Albanian flag. Indeed, it did not even in any way refer to or resemble the Albanian flag. Instead, reflecting the real dependence of this fictive state upon the European Union, the official flag is a pale blue imitation of the EU flag with a yellow map of Kosovo awkwardly stuck in the middle.
An article in today’s New York Times hopefully notes that yesterday’s declaration of independence may represent “the end of a long and bloody struggle for national self-determination.” As impressive as this might sound, it can well be doubted that the editors and authors of the New York Times know what the historically highly contentious principle of “national self-determination” in fact means. After all, even Woodrow Wilson himself — often, though mistakenly, thought to be the inventor of the expression — would admit after the First World War that when he first uttered “those words” he had been unsure of their meaning and that he had not realized that there were so many “nationalities.” Yesterday’s events in Kosovo, at any rate, were a parody of “national self-determination.” If the expression is to mean anything at all, then it must mean that the nations in question govern themselves. And this, the people of Kosovo most certainly do not.
John Rosenthal has written extensively on ethnic separatism and “national self-determination.” He is a contributing editor for World Politics Review.