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The Absurdity of "Independent" Kosovo

By George Szamuely
February 15, 2008

With their unfailing passion for the inconsequential and their knack for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, NATO leaders appear determined to carve the province of Kosovo out of Serbia and grant it "independence." That they lack the physical, legal and moral power to bestow independent statehood to a part of a state that is neither a member of the E.U. nor NATO appears only to have emboldened them to use this issue to demonstrate Western resolve. Just as in the 1990s, and just as erroneously, a self-righteous West has seized on the Balkans as an opportunity to parade before the world in the unfamiliar guise of champion of democracy and national self-determination, and protector of Muslims.

Much as it did before the invasion of Iraq, the United States has said it will do whatever it wants to do -- namely, recognize independent Kosovo -- with or without U.N. sanction. Unlike Iraq, this time the Europeans intend to take an active part in the Easter egg hunt and are as determined to ignore the United Nations as the Americans. Confident that the new state of Kosovo will prove to be a reliable NATO/E.U. satellite, key European countries, and especially the ever-compliant British, promise to recognize Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence on the very day it happens.

The line from Brussels and Washington is that the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable and that the status of Kosovo needs to be settled once and for all. Final status means "independence" and only "independence." The Serbs have been told to forget about Kosovo and all the talk of historic patrimony and to focus instead on "Europe" (the grand name the European Union has arrogated to itself). Curiously, the Kosovo Albanians are not told forget about their national aspirations and focus on Europe. Yet their claim to statehood is particularly dubious since an Albanian state already exists in Europe. There doesn't seem to be any reason to have two Albanian states.

Kosovo's status is governed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, which envisages only self-government for Kosovo, and acknowledges the "sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." Kosovo's status can't be changed without a new resolution.

To be sure, the status quo is unsustainable. But this status quo is one entirely of NATO's making. Eager to demonstrate that it had relevance even though the Cold War had long ended, NATO pulverized Yugoslavia with cluster bombs, depleted uranium and cruise missiles for 11 weeks, in the name of its newly proclaimed mission of humanitarian intervention. As the adoring media told and, in subsequent years, retold the story, the United States and its supposedly supine European allies were knights in shining armor, selflessly killing and destroying in order to rescue the oppressed Kosovo Albanians from the bloodthirsty Serbs. NATO forces marched into Kosovo, stood by passively as more than 250,000 Serbs fled or were driven out of the province and then cowered in the safety of their barracks in March 2004 as the Kosovo Albanians went on a bloody anti-Serb rampage.

Meanwhile, making use of the engineering skills of Halliburton subsidiary, Brown & Root Services Corp., the United States built a giant military base, Camp Bondsteel, covering some 955 acres or 360,000 square meters. The camp also includes a prison. According to Alvaro Gil Robles, Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe, who visited the prison in 2005,
"What I saw there, the prisoners' situation, was one which you would absolutely recognize from the photographs of Guantanamo. The prisoners were housed in little wooden huts, some alone, others in pairs or threes. Each hut was surrounded with barbed wire, and guards were patrolling between them. Around all of this was a high wall with watchtowers. Because these people had been arrested directly by the army, they had not had any recourse to the judicial system. They had no lawyers. There was no appeals process. There weren't even exact orders about how long they were to be kept prisoner."
Shamelessly, but not at all surprisingly, the U.S. political establishment, particularly its Clintonian wing (the bunch that did so much to destroy Yugoslavia), seized on the March 2004 anti-Serb pogrom as evidence that the Kosovo Albanians deserved independent statehood immediately. On March 28, 2004, columnist Georgie Anne Geyer quoted Richard Holbrooke as saying "'The recognition of an independent Kosovo and eventual membership in the European Union would be the best way to bring permanent peace and stability to the Balkans.' The leadership in Belgrade 'should finally come to terms with the new reality and choose either Kosovo or the E.U. but if Serbia chooses Kosovo over the E.U., it will end up with neither.'"

Holbrooke, permanent secretary of state in waiting, notoriously negotiated an agreement with President Slobodan Milosevic in October 1998. In return for the United States agreeing to put off the bombing of Yugoslavia for a few months, Milosevic agreed to withdraw Serbian security forces from Kosovo and permitted the arrival of an OSCE mission-the so-called Kosovo Verification Mission. The agreement wasn't binding on the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), whose members armed themselves and committed terrorist attacks, the purpose of which was to provoke the Serbian forces to retaliate and thereby to provide a pretext for the bombing the Clinton administration was itching to launch. Milosevic, well aware of the trap that was being laid for him, went out of his way to avoid being provoked. The Kosovo Verification Mission did not remain passive in all of this. Led by William Walker, U.S. ambassador to El Salvador during the 1980s, the KVM actively colluded with the KLA, going so far as to fake the Racak incident in January 1999 that served to trigger the NATO onslaught. It isn't surprising, therefore, that Holbrooke, who played such a crucial role in that earlier charade, should play an equally crucial role in today's Kosovo charade.

Another establishment ticket-puncher, this time a member of its Republican branch, also weighed in early demanding independence for Kosovo. Frank Carlucci, a former secretary of defense and national security adviser in the Reagan administration and a former chairman of the Carlyle Group, global private equity firm for ex-government officials, wrote in the New York Times on Feb. 22, 2005,
The only solution that makes long-term sense is full independence for Kosovo, and the only question that remains is how to get there. The best approach would be for Washington and its five partners in the so-called Contact Group-Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia-to initiate a process for a final settlement, or Kosovo Accord. First the powers would have to establish a timeline and some ground rules. The goal would have to be independence for the entire province, and all other options -- partition, or union with Albania or slivers of other neighboring states where ethnic Albanians live -- would be off the table from the outset. Given the events of last March, the Kosovo Albanians would be informed that that the pace of their progress toward independence will be set by their treatment of Serbs and other minorities.
So progress toward independence should depend on how the Albanians treat Kosovo's minorities. Holbrooke had no time for this. He ridiculed the notion that independence should in any way be connected to the Albanians' treatment of the Serbs. "Standards before status," he sneered in the Washington Post on April 20, was merely a delaying policy that "disguised bureaucratic inaction inside diplomatic mumbo-jumbo. As a result, there have been no serious discussions on the future of Kosovo."

Standards before status or status before standards, it really didn't matter too much. The United States pushed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to launch a fraudulent process that would -- so it was it believed -- result in an independent Kosovo. In June 2005, Annan appointed Norway's ambassador to NATO, Kai Aide, to determine if Kosovo has made sufficient progress in meeting accepted standards on democracy and minority rights to merit a decision on its final status. In October 2005, Aide duly reported to Annan that, yes, Kosovo had made splendid progress and that any further delay on resolving its final status would lead to catastrophe. Actually, the report said that the "Kosovo Serbs fear that they will become a decoration to any central-level political institution with little ability to yield tangible results. The Kosovo Albanians have done little to dispel it." The report concluded that "with regard to the foundation for a multi-ethnic society, the situation is grim." Nonetheless, there wasn't a moment to be lost. "What's important," Annan said, "is that talks begin soon."

Talks did indeed begin. Annan appointed former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari as his special envoy to lead the negotiations on Kosovo's final status. Talk about rewarding terrorism! The Kosovo Albanians rioted for several days in March 2004, and here they were, some 18 months later, about to be made a gift of independence. Ahtisaari was as likely to act the honest broker as Holbrooke. One of the posts he holds is chairman emeritus of the International Crisis Group (ICG), one of those George Soros-funded organizations staffed by out-of-office international worthies who invariably advocate for NATO expansion/intervention and unhindered U.S.-E.U. foreign investment. The ICG has for a long time been a fervent propagandist for an independent Kosovo. On its board sit such veteran bomb-the-Serbs alumni as Wesley Clark, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Joschka Fischer, Morton Abramowitz and Samantha Power.

The negotiations under Ahtisaari's aegis inevitably went nowhere, as they were meant to. Given that key NATO/E.U. officials had already declared that independence was inevitable, the Kosovo Albanians knew they only had to sit tight, reject any option other than independence and prepare to collect their reward within a few months.

In March 2007, Ahtisaari reported to the new U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that "the negotiations' potential to produce any mutually agreeable outcome on Kosovo's status is exhausted. No amount of additional talks, whatever the format, will overcome this impasse." Therefore, he announced,
"I have come to the conclusion that the only viable option for Kosovo is independence, to be supervised for an initial period by the international community. My Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, which sets forth these international supervisory structures, provides the foundations for a future independent Kosovo that is viable, sustainable and stable, and in which all communities and their members can live a peaceful and dignified existence."
Washington, London, Brussels and other capitals immediately embraced Ahtisaari's proposal and his noble, but entirely vacuous, sentiments. Since a massive NATO military presence had not sufficed to ensure that Kosovo's "communities and their members" lived an even minimally "peaceful and dignified existence" (as even Kofi Annan's envoy Kai Aide had admitted), the idea that in an independent Kosovo the province's minorities would be flourishing was laughable. Kosovo's Serbs -- the few that remain -- live behind barbed wire and need armed escort whenever they step outside their enclaves. According to a recent European Commission report, "only 1 per cent of judges belong to a minority group and less than 0.5 per cent belong to the Serbian minority. Only six of the 88 prosecutors belong to minority groups." Overall, the report concluded, "little progress has been made in the promotion and enforcement of human rights."

None of this really matters. The United States, the European Union and Ahtisaari himself are as serious about protecting Kosovo's minorities as they are about creating an independent state there. In fact, the last thing one would call the state that Ahtisaari envisages is "independent."

To be sure, land would be taken away from Serbia, and the Kosovo's Serbs, Turks, Roma and other minorities would be booted out, even as NATO/EU officials will doubtless go on avowing their commitment to a multicultural, multiethnic, multi-whatever Kosovo. To be sure, Brussels will probably succeed in bribing a few Serbs to come back to -- or even make a home in -- Kosovo. These "returnees" will then be touted as evidence that Kosovo is embracing "European values."

However, there is no plan to permit Kosovo's Albanians to run their own affairs. First of all, as in Bosnia, ultimate power will reside with an internationally-appointed bureaucrat. This position of colonial viceroy known as the International Civilian Representative (ICR), will be held by one of the West's innumerable, interchangeable has-been politicians moving from one sinecure to another. The ICR will, for example, have the authority to "[t]ake corrective measures to remedy, as necessary, any actions taken by the Kosovo authorities that the ICR deems to be a breach of this Settlement." Such corrective measures would include "annulment of laws or decisions adopted by Kosovo authorities," "sanction or remov[al] from office [of] any public official or take other measures, as necessary, to ensure full respect for this Settlement and its implementation," final say over the appointment of the "Director-General of the Customs Service, the Director of Tax Administration, the Director of the Treasury, and the Managing Director of the Central Banking Authority of Kosovo." There's democracy for you.

In addition, the European Union is to establish a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) Mission. This mission "shall assist Kosovo authorities in their progress towards sustainability and accountability and in further developing and strengthening an independent judiciary, police and customs service, ensuring that these institutions are free from political interferenceand shall provide mentoring, monitoring and advice in the area of the rule of law generally, while retaining certain powers, in particular, with respect to the judiciary, police, customs and correctional services."

The ESDP mission will have "[a]uthority to ensure that cases of war crimes, terrorism, organised crime, corruption, inter-ethnic crimes, financial/economic crimes, and other serious crimes are properly investigated according to the law, including, where appropriate, by international investigators acting with Kosovo authorities or independently." The mission will have the authority to ensure crimes are "properly prosecuted including, where appropriate, by international prosecutors acting jointly with Kosovo prosecutors or independently. Case selection for international prosecutors shall be based upon objective criteria and procedural safeguards, as determined by the Head of the ESDP Mission." The mission will have the "authority to reverse or annul operational decisions taken by the competent Kosovo authorities, as necessary, to ensure the maintenance and promotion of the rule of law, public order and security." The mission will have "[a]uthority to monitor, mentor and advise on all areas related to the rule of law. The Kosovo authorities shall facilitate such efforts and grant immediate and complete access to any site, person, activity, proceeding, document, or other item or event in Kosovo."

There is also to be an International Military Presence (IMP) established by NATO; it is to "operate under the authority, and be subject to the direction and political control of the North Atlantic Council through the NATO chain of command. NATO's military presence in Kosovo does not preclude a possible future follow-on military mission by another international security organization, subject to a revised mandate." Furthermore, the IMP is to "have overall responsibility for the development and training of the Kosovo Security Force, and NATO shall have overall responsibility for the development and establishment of a civilian-led organization of the Government to exercise civilian control over this Force, without prejudice to the responsibilities of the ICR." The IMP will be "responsible for: Assisting and advising with respect to the process of integration in Euro-Atlantic structures" and advising on "the involvement of elements from the security force in internationally mandated missions."

So, Kosovo will have no say on taxation, on foreign and security policy, on customs, on law enforcement. The only thing independent about "independent" Kosovo is that it will be independent of Serbia. In fact, there is not the slightest pretense that duly elected Kosovo authorities will have any say about anything other than perhaps refuse collection, though, doubtless even here, the authorities will have to follow E.U. guidelines or pay a penalty.

Not that this talk of "mentoring," "monitoring," "training," "assisting," "advising" and "investigating" should be taken too seriously. After all, the United Nations hasn't taken it too seriously during the past 8_ years; why should the European Union? Given the E.U.'s contempt for international law, its pride over its member-countries' participation in the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, its dismissive attitude toward Serbia's concerns about the loss of its sovereign territory and its jurisdiction over its nationals, the idea that the E.U. is now ready to draw its sword and to come to the aid of Kosovo's minorities is laughable. The soaring rhetoric over Kosovo's supposed extraordinary progress, under U.N. auspices, contrasts starkly with the reality. According to Amnesty International's recent report on U.N.-style justice in Kosovo,
[H]undreds of cases of war crimes, enforced disappearances and interethnic crimes remain unresolved (often with little or no investigation having been carried out); hundreds of cases have been closed, for the want of evidence which was neither promptly nor effectively gathered. Relatives of missing and 'disappeared' persons report that they have been interviewed too many times by international police and prosecutors new to their case, yet no progress is ever made.In terms of recruitment, it appears that at no stage were serious efforts made to identify and recruit the most highly qualified, experienced and appropriate candidates in the world for the job.A significant concern regarding the fairness of the trials conducted by international judges and prosecutors is the lack of attention that has been given to the rights of the defense.Many of the trial proceedingsare conducted in a language not understood by the accused or their counsel. They are not simultaneously translated in full, but simply summarized. In some cases, translated transcripts of trial proceedings are not available until long after the time for an appeal has passed.It is disturbing that of the war crimes cases conducted only onehas involved a non-Albanian victim. In that case one of the 26 victims was Serb.
Some of the problems Amnesty mentioned: Trials are conducted "in absentia"; there's "use of anonymous witnesses"; "reconstructions of the crime" take place "without the accused and defense counsel being present"; "poor translation and interpretation and use of summaries by interpreters instead of verbatim interpretation"; "poorly reasoned, unclear and 'incomprehensible' decisions; "judgments based on eyewitness testimony contradicted by forensic evidence or the prior testimony of the witnesses"; "discrepancies between the evidence and the verdict or insufficient evidence to support the verdict"; and "significant differences between the oral judgment and the written judgment." Otherwise, the judiciary is in great shape, and likely to get even better under E.U. guidance.

No report about Kosovo's dismal human rights record or its economic and political failure as a ward of international busybodies, no invocation by Serbia and Russia of international law, the Helsinki Final Act or U.N. Resolution 1244 makes any difference: Washington says it will do what it before the invasion of Iraq -- ignore the United Nations and recognize independent Kosovo. Brussels says it will do likewise. Unlike 2003, however, the Russians this time have a card up their sleeves. If Kosovo is to be permitted to secede, the Russians have argued, then why not other nationalities or ethnic groups living as minorities within someone else's state? As examples, President Vladimir Putin pointed to South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria. But he could have mentioned innumerable others: the Hungarians in Slovakia and Rumania, the Basques and Catalans in Spain, Corsicans in France, the Flemish in Belgium, Russians in Estonia and Latvia, the Turkish Cypriots.

The West responded with fury to the Russians' argument. "Russia's position is cynical. It has no power to regain Kosovo for Serbia and the Kremlin plays its own secessionist games in Georgia and Moldova. President Vladimir Putin has simply been using Kosovo as a handy stick to beat the West and to remind the world that Russia still wields a Security Council veto," the New York Times thundered in an editorial on Dec. 6, 2007. Holbrooke accused Putin of seeking "to reassert Russia's role as a regional hegemon." The suggestion that Kosovo has any bearing on any other territorial dispute was "spurious," he declared. Kosovo "is a unique case and sets no precedent for separatist movements elsewhere." Why? "[B]ecause in 1999, with Russian support, the United Nations was given authority to decide the future of Kosovo." This is a typically shameless Holbrooke lie. The U.N. was authorized to set up an interim administration "under which the people of Kosovo can enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

Moreover, given the utter failure of the U.N. administration to fulfill most of the provisions of 1244, invoking this resolution as authorizing the U.N. to do something is particularly egregious. According to 1244, among the responsibilities of the interim administration was "Demilitarizing the Kosovo Liberation Army," "Establishing a secure environment in which refugees and displaced persons can return home in safety" and ensuring that "an agreed number of Yugoslav and Serbian personnel will be permitted to return to perform the following functions: Liaison with the international civil mission and the international security presence.Maintaining a presence at Serb patrimonial sites; Maintaining a presence at key border crossings." Needless to say, none of this ever took place. In any case, even if the U.N. was given the authority to decide Kosovo's future, then that's precisely what Russia, as permanent veto-wielding member of the Security Council, is insisting on by rejecting unilateral secession.

That Kosovo was "unique" has been the Western officials' mantra for months. On Dec. 19, Zalmay Khalilzad, permanent U.S. representative to the U.N., told the U.N. Security Council that "Kosovo is a unique situation -- it is a land that used to be part of a country that no longer exists and that has been administered for eight years by the United Nations with the ultimate objective of definitely resolving Kosovo's status.The policies of ethnic cleansing that the Milosevic government pursued against the Kosovar people forever ensured that Kosovo would never again return to rule by Belgrade. This is an unavoidable fact and the direct consequence of those barbaric policies."

On Dec. 21, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried said "Kosovo is obviously a unique case because there's no other place in the world where the UN has been administering a territory pursuant to a Security Council resolution. So there's nothing else like it, so it clearly isn't a precedent. It is our view that Kosovo is not a precedent, not for any place. Not for south Ossetia, not for Abkhazia, not for Transnistria, not for Corsica, not for Texas. For nothing. Nothing." On Nov. 28, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns declared "It's a unique situation. Milosevic tried to annihilate over one million Kosovar Albanian Muslims. He was denied that by NATO. We fought a war over it. And the United Nations and NATO and the EU have kept the peace there for eight-and-a-half years. And now, fully 94 or 95 per cent of the people that live there are Kosovar Albanian Muslims."

The sheer absurdity of Burns' hysterical statement illustrates the lengths to which Western officials will go to justify what obviously can't be justified. Milosevic tried to annihilate over one million Kosovar Albanian Muslims? The Foundation for Humanitarian Law led by Nata_a Kandi_, much beloved and much bankrolled by Western governments and non-governmental organizations, runs a project seeking to establish the number of dead and missing in Kosovo. According to an article in the Croatian magazine, Globus, "The project has documented 9,702 people dead or missing during the war in Kosovo from 1998 to 2000. Of this number, as things stand now, 4,903 killed and missing are Albanians and 2,322 are Serbs, with the rest either belonging to other nationalities or their ethnic identity remaining uncertain." One should add also that these numbers say nothing about how people were killed, whether in combat or otherwise, and by whom. And there's no clarification as to how many were killed by NATO bombs. What these numbers do reveal is that it was the Serbs, not the Albanians, who suffered disproportionately in Kosovo. If Burns is right and "fully 94 or 95 per cent of the people that live there are Kosovar Albanian Muslims," that means that there are 19 times as many Albanians as there are Serbs in Kosovo. Yet, according to these numbers, the Albanians' casualty numbers are only slightly more than twice the size of the Serb casualty numbers.

The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh resulted in far worse casualty numbers. The U.S. State Department itself admits, "More than 30,000 people were killed in the fighting from 1992 to 1994."According to the CIA, "over 800,000 mostly ethnic Azerbaijanis were driven from the occupied lands and Armenia; about 230,000 ethnic Armenians were driven from their homes in Azerbaijan into Armenia."

In any case, if bad treatment of the local population were to disqualify a state from exercising sovereignty over part of its territory, then an awful lot of countries would be eligible for enforced amputation: Turkey would have to be stripped of Turkish Kurdistan; Israel would long ago have been given the boot from the West Bank and other occupied territories; Indonesia would be denied Aceh and Papua; Pakistan would lose Waziristan.

Kosovo's claim to independent statehood is based on one fact only: The Albanians are the overwhelming majority in Kosovo. They are Muslims in a Christian state to which they don't want to belong. Yet this argument is convincing only to the willfully ignorant. First, the majority of Kosovo may be Muslim; but the Kosovo Albanians are only a small minority within Serbia as a whole. Kosovo would vote overwhelmingly for independence; Serbia would vote overwhelmingly against. Serbia is a legal entity; Kosovo is not. A Serbian vote trumps a Kosovo one. Second, there is nothing unusual about an overwhelmingly-Muslim inhabited province existing within a state that is overwhelmingly non-Muslim. There are the Muslim Moros who inhabit Mindanao in the Philippines. There is the Xinjiang province in China. There is Kashmir, overwhelmingly Muslim, many of whom live under Indian rule. Russia is replete with provinces in which the population is overwhelmingly Muslim -- Tatarstan, Bashkiristan, Dagestan, Chechnya. Northern Cyprus is overwhelmingly Muslim -- yet, except for Turkey, no country in the world recognizes it as an independent state. Muslim Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces in Thailand are waging an insurgency to free themselves from Bangkok's Buddhist rule. And of course, there is the West Bank, yet another Muslim population, subjected to the rule of non-Muslims. In all of these cases, there has been an Islamic insurgency, a war seeking to liberate Muslims from the rule of non-Muslims, and considerable government repression. Yet, Western leaders do not splutter about unsustainable status quos, they do not demand immediate U.N. Security Council action, they do not insist that independence must be granted immediately and they do not threaten to ignore the United Nations and embrace a seceding state.

Moreover, Kosovo has hardly made an even remotely plausible case for its having earned independence. First, for all the talk of "Kosovars" and "Kosovans," the residents of Kosovo identify themselves as either Serb or as Albanian; the languages they speak is either Serbian or Albanian. Creating a second Albanian state in Europe makes no sense whatsoever. It doesn't govern itself. It is a ward of various international bodies. Economically, it is a basket case, and lives off vast handouts. Kosovo is an example of an ethnic minority grabbing a piece of territory, permitting unrestricted immigration by its co-nationals from a neighboring state, ethnically cleansing the territory of all other groups and thereby creating an artificial overwhelming ethnic majority, and then demanding that these actions be rewarded by the bestowal of independent statehood.

By comparison, the provinces whose demand for recognition the West rejects have been self-governing entities for years. A newly-independent Kosovo would have poor relations with Serbia and would be subjected to an economic blockade. Its electric grid is integrated within Serbia's electric grid. Its debt has been taken care of by Serbia.

Compare Kosovo with Transnistria. Transnistria declared itself independent of Moldova in 1990. Transnistria functions as a presidential republic, with its own government and parliament. Its authorities have adopted a constitution, flag, a national anthem and a coat of arms. It has its own currency and its own military and police force. Yet the U.S.-E.U. position is that Transnistria has no right to independence, and that Moldova's territorial integirty must be respected. In 2003, the U.S. and E.U. announced a visa boycott against the 17 members of the leadership of Transnistria, accusing them of "continued obstructionism." In 2006, Ukraine introduced new customs regulations on its border with Transnistria, declaring it would only import goods from Transnistria with documents processed by Moldovan customs offices. The U.S., E.U. and OSCE applauded Ukraine's action, even though it was effectively imposing a blockade. In 2006, Transnistria held a referendum in which 97.2 percent of voters voted for independence. The OSCE refused to send observers, and the E.U. immediately announced that it wouldn't recognize the referendum results. This is the same OSCE, E.U. and U.S. that, a few months earlier, had leapt to recognize the results of Montenegro's independence referendum, despite the fact that the vote in favor of independence was a bare majority, rather than the two-thirds normally required for a constitutional change, and that Montenegrins living in Serbia were denied the right to vote in the referendum.

Compare Kosovo with South Ossetia. Ossetians have their own language. South Ossetia had been an autonomous oblast within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia. In 1990, the Georgian Supreme Soviet revoked its autonomy. The OSCE declared its "firm commitment to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia." In November 2006, 99 percent of South Ossetians voted for independence from Georgia. The usual gaggle of international bodies howled with indignation. The European Union, OSCE, NATO and the USA condemned the referendum. The Council of Europe called the referendum "unnecessary, unhelpful and unfair.[T]he vote did nothing to bring forward the search for a peaceful political solution." The OSCE declared South Ossetia's "intention to hold a referendum counterproductive. It will not be recognized by the international community and it will not be recognized by the OSCE and it will impede the peace process." NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said "On behalf of NATO, I join other international leaders in rejecting the so-called 'referendum'.Such actions serve no purpose other than to exacerbate tensions in the South Caucasus region."

Nagorno-Karabakh can also make a vastly stronger case than Kosovo for independence. Since 1923, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast had been part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, even though about 94 percent of its population was Armenian. In November 1991, the parliament of the Azerbaijan SSR abolished the autonomous status of the oblast. In response, in December 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum, which overwhelmingly approved the creation of an independent state. Yet the E.U., the OSCE and the United States took the line that Nagorno-Karabakh must remain a part of Azerbaijan, irrespective of the fact that almost 100 per cent of the populace wants out. Interestingly, in declaring itself independent in 1991, Azerbaijan claimed to be the successor state to the Azerbaijan republic that existed from 1918 to 1920. The League of Nations, however, did not recognize Azerbaijan's inclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan's claimed territory. This makes Nagorno-Karabakh's inclusion within Azerbaijan even more questionable. If the states that seceded from the Soviet Union are to be regarded as independent states, it's hard to see on what basis parts of those states are to be denied the right to independence.

In 2002, Nagorno-Karabakh held a presidential election; in response, the European Union presidency declared "The European Union confirms its support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and recalls that it does not recognise the independence of Nagorno Karabakh.The European Union cannot consider legitimate the 'presidential elections.'...The European Union does not believe that these elections should have an impact on the peace process."

In December 2006, Nagorno-Karabakh held another referendum on independence: Something like 98 per cent favored independence. The European Union immediately announced it wouldn't recognize the results of the referendum and said "that only a negotiated settlement between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenians who control the region can bring a lasting solution.The E.U. recalls that it does not recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. It recognizes neither the 'referendum' nor its outcome." The E.U. added that holding the referendum pre-empts the outcome of negotiations and that it "did not contribute to constructive efforts at peaceful conflict resolution." The E.U.'s attitude here is strikingly different from its attitude on Kosovo. On Kosovo, the E.U. holds Serbia's refusal to relinquish its sovereign territory as the reason for the failure of negotiations, which supposedly is the justification for Kosovo's declaration of independence.

The West's entire approach to Kosovo has been marked by sordid dishonesty and bad faith, supporting national self-determination and the right to secession in one place and territorial integrity in another, cheering on ethnic cleansing by one ethnic group and demanding war crimes trials for another, trumpeting the virtues of majority rule when it's convenient to do so and threatening to impose sanctions and penalties on majorities when that's convenient. For the Americans, Kosovo is nothing more than the hinterland of a giant military base, a key presence in the eastern Mediterranean should Greece or Turkey prove unreliable. As for the duly grateful Albanians, they are expected to repay their benefactors by agreeing to be cannon fodder in future imperial wars. For the Europeans, Kosovo is an opportunity to show the world that Europe counts for something and to conduct various pointless social experiments in multiculturalism and multiconfessionalism -- particularly pointless since Kosovo will be one of the most ethnically homogeneous places in Europe.

George Szamuely lives in New York and can be reached at

Reproduced with the author's permission from:

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