The ICJ Opinion on Kosovo

Reposted from Nationalities Blog.

The ruling has been far more favorable towards Kosovo than most observers have expected. Striking is not only the clear verdict, but also the fact that it was supported by a majority of the judges which give the opinion additional weight. It has been clear since the hearing in late 2009 that supporters of Kosovo’s independence argued on the narrow premise of the legality of the declaration of independence (which is also the scope of the question under consideration), while its opponents sought to widen the opinion to consider the question of secession at large. In its opinion the ICJ has accepted the narrow decision which follows the logic of the court: On one side, it does not want to change international law, especially on the controversial topic of secession, and on the other hand it does not want to offer an opinion out of place with reality, such as declaring the independence illegal when it is clear that it is irreversible. The ruling is far from revolutionary and does not set a precedent in international law: It is clear that declarations of independence are not illegal–their relevance arises from recognition. Whether or not recognition of declarations of independence break international law appears to be a question to be answered another time.

In terms of the implications for Kosovo and Serbia, the opinion strengthens the hand of Kosovo. Probably a number of countries which have been sitting on the fence since the UN General Assembly requested the ICJ opinion just under two years ago are now likely to recognize Kosovo–most importantly they might include one or the other EU member state. However, more significantly neither Russia nor China are likely to recognize Kosovo. As a result Kosovo will be a winner but will have few tangible gains from the decision as UN and EU membership will not be closer. The ICJ opinion does not appear to state that independence of Kosovo is legal thus countries that refrained from recognizing Kosovo due to their own secessionist conflicts are unlikely to change their mind.

Thus, the greatest risk of the ICJ opinion is that as a result there is likely to be little willingness in Kosovo for new talks with Serbia, while hoping that time will play into Kosovo’s hands. And yes, time plays in Kosovo’s hands and Serbia has to clearly define a new policy towards Kosovo, but time without talks with Serbia will not resolve the causes for the deadlock of Kosovo’s state-building project.  However, now there is an opportunity for talks between Kosovo and Serbia: Serbia has exhausted its alternatives and has to come to terms with the reality of Kosovo as an independent country and Kosovo will need to realize that it will not move forward without some kind of settlement with Serbia. Such a settlement would need to include a water-tight promise by Serbia not to impede Kosovo’s UN and EU membership, some face-saving trade-off for Serbia in terms of a role in Northern Kosovo (including border adjustments, although the opinion has weakened Serbia’s argument) and kick-starting Kosovo’s EU integration process. The key challenge will be for Kosovo not to overplay the hand it has been dealt by the ICJ opinion and end up with little more than before.

Wrong priorities

The rest of the article from the BBC website actually made more sense. But as the headline reads, I am expecting a string of follow up articles: “Iran ‘urged to finally meet international commitments: Kyoto Protocol or sanctions” or “UN presses Gaza on keeping beaches clean” or maybe “US government warns: Rising problem of fly-tipping in Iraq”

The Politics of Eurovision

So Serbia won for the first time the Eurovision contest (the last and only time Yugoslavia won with Riva in 1990, the country fell apart…). Goran‘s blog at B92 is great on the domestic debates on Marija Serifovic and the fact that she does not resemble the conventional singers who make it Serbia…
Yesterday I was able to witness Terry Wogan’s legendary commentary for the first time…and instead I got Jacques Chirac. Wogan’s view of Eastern Europe was awfully reminiscent of Chirac when he called the countries of Eastern Europe “mal élevée” (badly educated). Wogan, annoyed at the apparent block voting, even called a new wall (I shall not comment on the tastelessness of this suggestion). Teaming prejudice, his commentary displayed a great degree of ignorance. He was upset at the voting along certain geographic blocks (ex-Soviet Union, Baltics, Balkans, etc.) and apparently had particular disdain at the East European for this habit.
His commentary ignored the fact that although Western Europe might be economically more powerful, there are simply more countries in “Eastern Europe”. Of the 42 participating countries, only 16 are from ‘Western Europe’ (without Greece), so a disbalance in favor of the East should not surprise anybody (and let’s not forget that the only four countries which do not have to earn their place are… Germany, France, UK and Spain). Furthermore, the accusation of block voting ignores the real regional political dynamics. Geographic proximity often makes voting for each other more difficult. Nationalist stereotypes would suggest that it would be easier for Turkey to, let’s say vote for the UK, than Armenia. This is in fact the fascinating bit of the competition how televoting meant that politically problematic votes (like Turkey for Armenia, Croatia for Serbia) are no longer excluded by ‘politically correct’ juries. Eurovision-Citizens calling in have often demonstrated to the break some conventional animosities. When Austria supports Germany, Turkey Armenia, Croatia Serbia, etc. then this is voting despite (past) political considerations, not because of them.
Geographical patterns exist, but they are not rigid blocks but rather patterns determined not only by geography or supposed regional sympathy. Musical tastes differ across Europe and not everything will appeal everywhere, and this after all the fun of the whole spectacle.

UN awards

Spam of the day:


Did you know that the UN is handing out awards these days? You can expect my disappointment when it was not for my contributions to global peace.

Many international mediators of Kosovo

Blic published today a nice little list of all the international negotiators Serbia and ex-Yu has seen come and go (and in some cases come back again). Some forgotten (does anyone remember Vitalji Churkin’s efforts) others more prominent.
Any further additions to the list welcome.

No. 1: Jacques Poos, the foreign minister of Luxembourg who uttered those famous words about the hour of Europe dawning.

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