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Kosovo survival dependent on other nations

Sunday, February 24, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:26 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Guest host Byron Scott, a veteran newspaper and magazine journalist, is a professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism and director of the campus European Union Center. Stuart Loory is the regular moderator of the weekly radio program “Global Journalist.” It airs at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays on KBIA/91.3 FM or at www.globaljournalist.org.

Scott: During our young century, three new nations have been born — East Timor, Montenegro and, about a week ago, Kosovo. After the initial celebrations, what may happen for this newborn nation in the Balkans? This is a test for the powers of the world, not only the United States, which was among the first nations to recognize Kosovo, but also the United Nations. Since 1998, the U.N. has had a peacekeeping force in what, until Feb. 17, was part of Serbia. The European Union, which is about to send a 2,000-person force to the area, has accepted Kosovo as a European concern. France, Great Britain, Germany and Austria have recognized Kosovo’s nationhood, but other EU nations have not. Those who haven’t recognized Kosovo also include Russia and China. What is the mood in Kosovo as the elation begins to wear off?

Jeta Xharra, Kosovo director, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, Pristina, Kosovo: The elation is beginning to wear off, and there is a sigh of relief that many countries in the world have started to recognize Kosovo. Also, things that were supposed to happen immediately after the declaration of independence, like the constitution, which guarantees rights for minorities, and the U.N. special envoy, are being approved. The constitution needs to be in place for other countries to believe Kosovo will recognize and ensure minority rights.

Scott: What is the perspective from Serbia?

Dejan Anastasijevic, journalist, Vreme newspaper, Belgrade, Serbia: Serbs in Serbia and Kosovo are angry. The general feeling is this was unfair to Serbia and it was a violation of international law because, for the first time, part of a country has been removed from that country without U.N. consent.

Scott: What role does the EU play?

Elitsa Vucheva, reporter, EU Observer, Brussels, Belgium: The EU has a big role, but it’s divided. European Union foreign ministers have agreed to leave it to each member state to recognize or not recognize the new republic. Britain, France and Germany recognized Kosovo, while others like Cyprus, Romania and Spain said they wouldn’t. Somehow, the EU has to be united.

Scott: Many of the countries that haven’t recognized Kosovo have breakaway republics like Chechnya. Is the international point of view that this will set off a “domino effect?”

Xharra: Kosovo is a specific case, and it’s fought for this independence. This has been a part of the dismantling of the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo was an autonomous province of the former Yugoslavia, but Serbia wasn’t. The dismantling shouldn’t be a precedent for the rest of the world. The 2 million Albanians in Kosovo shouldn’t have paid the price for the rest of the international law. Most Western European countries that recognize Kosovo’s independence hold that belief. It’s cynical for Russia and China to call on international law in light of the human rights abuses to their own people.

Anastasijevic: The first country to recognize Kosovo was Afghanistan, which cannot be called a paragon of democracy or a human rights haven. One of the countries which refuses to recognize Kosovo is Spain. Another is Greece, the birthplace of European democracy. So saying countries that aren’t democratic are against independence, and countries that are democratic are on Kosovo’s side, isn’t accurate. The problem is more complicated and serious than ideological or East-West. It sets a precedent for international law.

Scott: Cyprus and Greece have refused to recognize Kosovo. But Turkey, whose ethnicities dominate the northern part of that divided island, has recognized Kosovo. Is there a sense to this pattern?

Vucheva: Everybody says Kosovo is a unique case, but that doesn’t mean the problem is solved. Even if the countries that refuse to recognize Kosovo signed a document, the situation on the ground is different. It’s not because Spain signs a paper that says Kosovo is unique that the Spanish population doesn’t fear an increased level of separatism, or that Cypriots don’t fear an effective split of the Turkish part of their land. They also have to take into consideration their own populations. In a way, they hope that this will serve as a precedent, but they also have problems with their minorities.

Xharra: It’s up to the countries to prove their cases. Kosovo has proven its case. There has been a 20-year strive to get the world to support independence. Whether other cases can raise that diplomatic support is up to them. The world order is not as strict. It can allow support to build gradually. It’s not like Kosovo became independent immediately when Kosovo’s Albanians wanted it to. Albanians declared their independence in 1989, but it didn’t mean anything.

Anastasijevic: As a reporter who witnessed some of the war crimes committed by Slobodan Milosevic’s troops in 1988 and 1989, I understand that most ethnic Albanians in Kosovo don’t want to live under Serbia’s domination. On the other hand, the Serbs in northern Kosovo bordering Serbia also refuse to be dominated by Pristina. Many were victims of Albanians who evicted them from their homes after 1999. They simply cannot accept being dominated. They see the northern part of Kosovo as part of Serbia. If one says the Albanians have a right to their own state in Kosovo, then one also has to recognize this right for the Serbs.

Scott: Will Kosovo survive as an independent state?

Vucheva: For 10 years Kosovo has been under international government, so it cannot govern itself overnight. The EU is hoping to achieve several goals. The first priorities will be to get the economy and the education system back on track and to attract foreign investment. But the EU should be careful not to turn Kosovo into a protectorate run by the international community. It should involve the local population and slowly turn Kosovo into the state that it wants to be.

Xharra: After the euphoria in Kosovo, we’ll be faced with huge unemployment that was with us before. Kosovo was the poorest region of the former Yugoslavia. It needs development, but in the last 20 years the focus has been its political status, not developing the economy or education. Now we’ll face each other and deal with problems that weren’t a priority before.

Scott: What is the U.S.’s responsibility in Kosovo’s future?

Xharra: Kosovo Albanians feel grateful for the quick decision-making by the U.S. on the NATO bombing. They know Europeans would have taken much longer and many more people would have died before Kosovo would have seen an intervention if it had depended on Europe. However, Kosovars know they will rely on Europe in the future because the EU has proven to be the greatest institution in transforming states. Relations with America will remain more symbolic than the practical relations Kosovo will have with Europe.

Anastasijevic: The Serbs saw the U.S. as the chief sponsor of Kosovo’s independence. But the U.S. isn’t sincere in pursuing this independence because its main motive isn’t democracy or quality of life in Kosovo. The real motive is disengagement because America has troops and diplomats in Kosovo, and those people are needed in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. America wants to declare victory, run away and leave it to Europe to pick up the pieces.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Eunjung Kim, Hui Wang and Catherine Wolf.


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