Interview for Radio Kosovo

Here’s a short interview for Radio Kosovo I gave today on the prospects for Kosovo (in English).

And nobody will be satisfied: Thoughts on the arguments at the ICJ over Kosovo

A few days ago was the deadline for Serbia and Kosovo to submit their arguments in the case at the ICJ over whether the declaration of Kosovo’s independence and the subsequent recognition are illegal. Here are some thoughts I shared with Koha Ditore on the argument, published in an article today:
It is likely that Serbia will base its argument on a conventional understanding of international law, which has taken a very restrictive approach to self-determiniation. Self-determiniation in the sense of international independence has only be granted to processes of decolonization and to cases of state dissolution. The ICJ has previously ruled on the principle of uti possidetis, i.e. the ICJ decided in 1986 in a border dispute between Mali and Burkina Faso that the border at the end of the colonial rule as definitive. Thus, this means a)  countries only can achieve independence by decolonization; b) state dissolution or c) mutual agreement. The argument of Serbia would likely rest on this practice with no country newly emerging since 1945 not following this pattern. Thus, Serbia is likely to emphasis that Kosovo has no right to self-determination in international law. There might be arguments about precedent or regional and global implications, but I think that these are less important at the ICJ than the international law.
There are three strategies for Kosovo, a) to argue that the massive human rights violations of Serbia in 1999 in Kosovo changed the status quo and could have given greater arguments for self-determination. This link between the state soverignty and the right to protect has been made by international lawyers, but remains contested. Thus the ICJ would significantly expand the interpretation of self-determiniation if it would follow this argument, which I think would be unlikely. b) Kosovo could argue that at the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Kosovo was one of the Federal units like the republics and had the same right to independence as the other units. While the Badinter Committee rejected this interpretation, this was not legally binding and never tested in court to my knowledge, so the argument could be made and this might be an easier way out, as it would not fundamentallly alter the global terms of self-determination. c) Kosovo could argue to claim that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not indicating an aspiration, but an existing reality. Serbia has no authority over Kosovo and thus, Kosovo was de-facto independent before it claimed de-jure independence. This argument has its appeal, as it does not enter the question of whether independence or not it is justfied, but whether it exists of not. However, the ICJ might be reluctant to follow this argument, as other de-facto sovereign territory might make similar claims, such as Somaliland, not to mention Abkhazia or S. Ossetia.

I would be surprised if the ICJ would take a clear stance in favor of one argument. I would expect it to take a decision which will make nobody entirely happy, but which will essentially state that international recognition of countries is a matter or fact and a political decision rather than of international law. Of course any unclear decision is de facto in favor of Kosovo, as Serbia could only hope stopping international recognition if it were clearly found illegal. It most likely will emphasise that while Sebria retained formal sovereignty over Kosovo, it had no effective sovereignty over the territory. I would be surprised if countries recognizing Kosovo were found breaking international law, even if the court will most certainly shy away from any decision which would establish a new precedent in the domain of self-determination.

Kosovo’s Fauna

From the “Fauna in Kosova” brochure of the Kosovo post…besides the fact that the pigeon and cow feature prominently among the fauna of Kosovo (I am all in favor of giving space to the less ‘fancy’ animals) there are some other gems here:

Duck: “Lives in Albanian lands, in Kosova and Albania.” If we define Albanian lands by the habitat of ducks, count Canterbury in (and a few other places). Hhmm, by the way note that the stamp on the left pictures the famous swan-duck of Kosova.

Dog of Sharr: “a very old type of dog, extremely clean and faithful. Dog of Sharr is a native race of dogs in the Sharr region.” Let’s not forget the other side of the mountains in Macedonia, please.

The Cow: “Busha is a typical Kosovar cow and is one of the oldest races. This cow is very milkweed…” ok, enough of the my cow is an older race than yours game, but how can a cow be milkweed?

UNMIKs political correctness

Vetevendosije! published in their recent newsletter this wonderful exercise in political correctness… maybe it’s time for a regional international talk spell check (when typing FYROM, it automatically adds a footnote stating “Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.” replacing Bosnian with BHS…)

“UNMIK has sent a circular to its staff with the new terminology that they should use. The language to be used clearly indicates UNMIK’s position of hovering indecisively somewhere between Prishtina and Belgrade.”

1) The Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) will now be called Kosova’s institutions or Kosova’s authorities but the use of the term ‘of the Republic of Kosova’ is prohibited.

2) Instead of the word ‘Serbia proper’, only the names of local towns will be used. If the term ‘Serbia’ is used, then a footnote must explain the views of both sides.

3) The term ‘Declaration of Independence’ must not be written with capital letters – because this would give it meaning.

4) The word ‘border’ (which is the standard term indicating an international state border) will still not be used to describe the northern border between Kosova and Serbia. Previously it was called an ‘Administrative boundary line.’ Now it will be called a ‘boundary line’ written in small case letters.

5) Even institutions previously called ‘UNMIK customs’ or UNMIK Railways will not be called Kosova customs, but just ‘customs’.

6) The ‘North’ of Kosova, will now be called ‘northern Kosovo’, and the ‘North’ of Mitrovica will now be called ‘northern Mitrovica’ – The first term is geographic. The second appears to have administrative and political connotations.

7) The process of ‘transition’ of the competences of UNMIK to the PISG and the ICO/EULEX will now be called ‘reconfiguration’ – This indicates merely a change in the structure and organization of the institutions and not the transition of powers from one institution to another. It means that UNMIK is never leaving.

Dayton Lost, Kosovo too

Forgotten in the whole discussion on the independence declaration of Kosovo has been the news that the Dayton Peace Agreement has been lost. Luckily somebody found it
. Currently the Serbian government is trying to find the independence declaration of Kosovo so that it can be ‘lost’ to.

Kosovo’s pro-independence parties

Here’s the bad headline of the day from the IHT: “Early tally gives edge to pro-independence party in Kosovo“. So PDK won narrowly over the other parties which are not pro-independence? It is hard to distinguish parties in Kosovo on the issue of political program, but still, emphasizing the only thing which does not set them apart is not exactly a journalistic highlight…

Kosovo, Kostunica’s heavenly kingdom

Kostunica has the choice to give up Kosovo and choose the heavenly kingdom to follow the example of good old Knez Lazar. As Kostunica noted, a new Kosovo battle is being fought between Serbia and the USA. So Lazar will have the illustrious company of Milosevic and Kostunica keeping him company… Lucky him.

Morphing Tadic into Kostunica

After extended attempts to transform Tadic into Kostunica, the experiment finally succeeded (see above). The government looks a lot like continuity with the previous one. In particular DSS has had relatively few losses, considering that in fact the heavy-weight ministries which DS gained were previously held either by G17plus (finance, defense) or by SPO (foreign affairs). Good news, no more capital investments, although Velja “Kobsicijade” Ilic can still build highways and enrich political life with his astute observations.
The silly ministry of this government is the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija. In fact, I think there should be two ministries, one for Kosovo and one for Metohija, guided by a joint council on Kosovo and Metohija…

Kosovo Status

As serious discussions on Kosovo in the UN Sec. Council are approaching, it might be time to think of scenarios. I can see three scenarios that might happen.

The first one would be that the UN Sec. Council votes to endorse the Ahtisaari plan. This would primarily mean Russia backing down from its insistence on an agreed solution (i.e. Serbia agreeing to any plan for Kosovo). Considering that Russia has made a considerable investment in preventing a vote, including the visit of UN Sec. Council members to Kosovo, any simple backing down of Russia seems unlikely at this point. Secondly, if Russia was isolated, pressure might mount, but it seems like not only some other UN Sec. Council members, but also some EU members are less than enthusiastic about the plan which would secure Kosovo’s independence. Thus, this outcome seems increasingly unlikely.

In the second scenario, Russia would successfully block the resolution and/or push for a resolution to continue negotiations. Besides the fact that the odds for any negotiated solution between Kosovo and Serbia are infinitely small, such a resolution is unlikely to be endorsed by the USA and UK. Instead, this scenario would mean no resolution. In this case, a unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo would be recognized by some countries, the UN mission would loose all legitimacy, and the North of Kosovo would secede. The risk for violence in Mitrovica or against Serbs in enclaves elsewhere would be great, as would be a turn to the nasty in Serbia (esp. if there will be new elections). Exactly for this reason, EU and USA will try to avoid this outcome.

The third, and in my view most likely, scenario is that the UN Security Council will pass a compromise resolution which does not fully endorse Artisaari plan, but acknowledges it (or something along these lines), transfers the international administration from UN to EU and offers to take final decision (maybe on the basis of the Artisaari plan, just like the UN Sec. Council Res. 1244 takes account of the Rambouillet plans) within a closely defined time frame (i.e. one year or less). This would allow Russia to claim victory, while preventing a chaotic vacuum in Kosovo. The key challenge will be on how to secure support from the Kosovo Albanian elite to prevent a unilateral declaration of independence or violence. While not exactly the ideal case scenario, this solution might allow the EU mission to prepare Kosovo for independence and avoid a void, which would be worse in terms of precedent setting and potential violence than no resolution at all.

Interview on Kosovo Status

Here’s a short interview for RFE I gave on the Kosovo status discusion in Serbian and in Albanian

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