Saturday

4th Apr 2020

Opinion

Serbia should stop comparing Catalonia to Kosovo

  • Kosovo became 'Newborn' with its declaration of independence in 2008. (Photo: Wikipedia)

After the turbulent situation in Catalonia following the independence vote on 1 October, Serbia was quick to accuse the international community of double standards regarding Kosovo.

Whenever there is an issue regarding territorial disputes, international recognition or independence, Kosovo is the first topic to be brought into the discussion by Serbia.

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  • Kosovo citizens from the Albanian majority - 93 percent of the population - were committed to gaining independence. (Photo: European Parliament)

But, in fact, Kosovo's independence is completely dissimilar to the Catalan scenario.

Kosovo has different historical, legal, and factual specifics in relation to other such cases. This makes it a unique case and, as a result, incomparable with other situations.

For a start, the country went through a long negotiation process with Serbia to attain its independence, facilitated by the international community.

Kosovo's independence

The negotiations in Vienna were a direct result of a UN-led international process for determining Kosovo's political status.

A former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, who served as the UN secretary-general's special envoy, was the international mediator during the negotiations on Kosovo's statehood.

That was followed by the declaration of independence, which was in full accordance with international law and in compliance with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999.

Moreover, this was also asserted by the International Court of Justice's opinion of 22 July 2010.

In this advisory opinion, the court concluded that "the adoption of the declaration of independence of 17 February 2008 did not violate general international law."

Accordingly, the UN's principal judicial organ concluded that "the adoption of that declaration did not violate any applicable rule of international law."

Following on from that, on 9 September 2010, the UN general assembly welcomed the EU's willingness to facilitate a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo to normalise bilateral relations.

The EU's involvement follows its stated intention of promoting peace, security and stability in the Western Balkans.

In 2011, Kosovo and Serbia started a regular technical and political dialogue under EU mediation, with the aim of normalising relations before mutual diplomatic recognition takes place.

As a result, the first trilateral agreement between Kosovo, Serbia and the EU was reached in April 2013.

Differences to Catalonia

Kosovo had been a part of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which no longer exists.

During its existence, Kosovo had the same state attributes as the other federal units, including a constitution, and had its representatives in all federal institutions - in the collective presidency, the assembly, the executive council or federal government, and the constitutional court.

It also had its own presidency, assembly, government, police, territorial defence, constitutional court, intelligence service, central bank and secretariat for international relations.

At the federal level, Kosovo had the right to veto, and equal participation - along with other federal units - in all key federal institutions such as: the collective presidency, the federal government and the federal assembly.

Kosovo's well-defined boundaries - as well as the international borders of the former Yugoslav Federation and those of other entities - were protected by the constitution, and could not be changed without the consent of the federal units, for instance the parliament of Kosovo.

The dissolution of the former Yugoslavia began with the violent destruction of Kosovo's federal status in 1989 by Serbia, which illegally stripped Kosovo's autonomy through the police duress and military force.

Now, to compare with the Kosovo case, Catalonia's autonomy was not illegally revoked by Spain.

The Catalan people did not face the violent repression, crimes against civilians and ethnic cleansing by Spain - the way Serbia did in Kosovo toward Albanian majority.

The events in Kosovo between 1989 and 1999, caused by Serbia, were characterised as a humanitarian catastrophe and a serious threat to international peace and security - something that fortunately did not happen in Catalonia.

Kosovo's independence is also a result of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, which was confirmed by UN Resolution 777.

In Kosovo, there were almost 1 million people forced to flee the country and some 25,000 people killed by the Serbian regime. This was not the case in Catalonia.

Kosovo citizens from the Albanian majority - or 93 percent of the population - were committed to gaining independence. This is not the case in Catalonia, where there is division between proclaiming independence and mediating with Madrid.

The factors mentioned above, regarding Kosovo, are not found in any other cases - including Catalonia - making Kosovo's independence completely unique and also in line with norms in international law.

Serbia - what about Crimea?

While Serbia is complaining of the EU's double standards and finds similarities between Kosovo and Catalonia, we should not forget Serbia's attitude towards Russia's annexation of Crimea.

In fact, Serbia never condemned the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, despite the fact that Ukraine was a state and Crimea formed an integral part of its territory.

Even before the USSR's disintegration, Crimea's status as part of Ukraine's territory should have been respected from the perspective of international law.

In light of this, EU member states confirmed that Kosovo's independence was legitimate under international law and diplomatic policy, whereas the annexation of Crimea was an act of illegitimate of aggression by Russian power.

Serbia, as an EU candidate country itself, should align with EU foreign policy and condemn the annexation of Crimea. Although this was required by the EU, Serbia has never showed any will or commitment to align with the bloc on this matter.

Every intention of Serbia to compare Kosovo with other cases in the world is to buy time. It is to avoid fulfilling the EU-facilitated agreements reached with Kosovo, and an intention to block the independent country on its path towards international recognition and state building.

Following the vote in Catalonia, Serbia should instead pay more attention to a possible referendum for the independence of Vojvodina or Sanxhak, instead of Kosovo, whose independence is a one-way road, especially after the signing of the first contractual agreement with the EU - the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.

Kosovo's independence is already determined, and this agreement is the country's first step towards the EU accession negotiation process.

Mimoza Ahmetaj is a former Kosovan minister for EU integration.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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