Kosovo and Separatism

Last week, I counted Kosovo’s declaration of independence as a good thing. I still think that, on balance, it was. But I’m increasingly interested and perhaps troubled by how much I didn’t and don’t know about the whole thing.

And sadly, what commentary I’ve seen about it hasn’t really clarified the issue for me. Most visible opponents of Kosovo’s independence seem vaguely allied with Serbia or to have some related ax to grind. It’s often cited that those countries that have most prominently failed to recognize Kosovo’s independence have separatist movements of their own–Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia. I’m not swayed by this argument, because none of those have provoked–whether merited or not–outside intervention on behalf of one of the parties.

The basic argument here is made by Serbia’s foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, in a New York Times Op-Ed, in which he says:

Recognizing the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia legitimizes the doctrine of imposing solutions to ethnic conflicts. It legitimizes the act of unilateral secession by a provincial or other non-state actor. It transforms the right to self-determination into an avowed right to independence. It legitimizes the forced partition of internationally recognized, sovereign states.

Now aside from the need to discredit any commenter who has a horse in the race he’s covering, there is a legitimate point to be heard here. After all, Serbia had been willing to offer Kosovo nearly complete autonomy if it had remained a province of Belgrade. This, to one not schooled in Kosovo’s grievances, seems like an admirable solution.

And if you believe, as many seem to, that NATO intervention in the Kosovo issue was illegal and illegitimate, it stands to reason that this is indeed a great historical injustice. I have to plead ignorant on the question of whether or not the intervention was legitimate, my interest at the time that it occurred was minimal and my learning since–even after reading the Wikipedia article on the topic–has been limited. And, it seems, no news source I can get my hands on wants to tackle this difficult issue fraught with pitfalls.

The more interesting point, to me, is the question of Slobodan Milosevic. Even Mr. Jeremic admits that what he did was bad, but he makes the interesting claim that punishing the state for it is illegitimate.

A historical injustice is being imposed on a European country that has overcome more obstacles since we democratically overthrew Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000 than most other nations have in a much longer time. Recognizing Kosovo means saying, in effect, that Serbian democracy must be punished because a tyrant — one who committed heinous deeds against the Kosovo Albanians in the 1990s — was left unpunished. Such misplaced revenge may make some feel better, but it will make the international system feel much worse.

Again, limited by own ignorance, I can’t really accede to or deny this version of history. And so here I am, unsure. I’m tempted to reach out and blame the news media–or the weak narratives of Wikipedia articles–for my inability to come to meaningful conclusion on the question of Kosovo and separatism. I’m sure that’s unfair.

But I do wish I had some answers instead of all these questions. Maybe the best non-resolution to the issue I’ve seen is offered by Al Eislele, who said, “The tortured history and complex nature of the Serb-Kosovo conflict leaves non-expert observers like me open to criticism.” Perhaps that, then, is the nature of foreign policy.

politics, world

A Good Week For International Change

IrotzabalFidel Castro

If there are four big pieces of international news this week, it would be hard to make them anything but these. And if there were for big pieces of good international news this week, it would be hard to make them anything but these:

  1. The Kofi Annan-led mediation team seems to be getting close to a real resolution to the months-long violence in Kenya that has left over one thousand dead.
  2. Kosovo, a former province of Serbia under United Nations control for nearly a decade, declared independence. Little–though sadly not none–violence or meaningful disruption followed this long-feared move.
  3. In a largely symbolic but long anticipated move, Fidel Castro has announced that he will officially resign his posts of president and commander-in-chief of Cuba.
  4. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appear willing and able to accept the results of Monday’s election, preventing the type of chaos that was unleashed in Kenya when Mr. Mbeki refused to accept the legitimate results of the election in his country.

Surely this list isn’t all sunshine and daisies. There’s still a long road toward peace and stability that Kenya must travel before it regains some of the stability and sheen it had less than a year ago. Kosovo still has a large Serbian population in it which will likely continue to cause disruption. That will also be exacerbated by Serbia’s unwilling to accept the legality of the fracture. While Fidel’s Castro role in Cuba’s day-to-day activities has clearly diminished, it’s hard to see Cuba becoming a free and open country while he’s still alive and his brother retains power. Though Pakistan’s begun the transition back to civilian governance, it’s still a mess of country with large ungovernable portions. The legislative future is still far from smooth while the newly-elected parliment is to be checked by a president it doesn’t like but can’t impeach.

Indeed, too, there are large problems in many other places around the world. Civil wars still rage, the rule of law is still a dream in far too many countries, totalitarian leaders still have meaningful influence in far too much of the world.

But seen from a distance–the only way I know how to see international affairs–this has been a good week. Certainly we’d need many good weeks like this to see a meaningful trend toward openness, democracy, and prosperity sweeping over the world. Probably we’d really need something closer to many years like this week for us to reach something like satisfaction about the way the world is now.

But we should be glad for what we’ve gotten this week. Too rarely does so much good news come without a break of the bad, the terrible, or the catastrophic. Though I have no idea what tomorrow will bring these countries and all the others in desperate need of change, I’m thankful for what progress we’ve had so far.