A New Power Play in the Balkans: Kosovo's Independence

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ABSTRACT

This article discusses Kosovo's independence from a framework of political and legal perspectives and assesses regional and global responses to the declaration of independence. Kosovo's independence, it is argued, has revealed shifting strategic landscapes, security concerns and domestic developments in regional and international politics with significant implications for all actors in the region. Russia, for instance, calculated to restore its lost 'superpower' status and control Serbia's strategic oil industries while Turkey's prompt recognition of independence has increased its impact in the region. Kosovo's independence will be a test case for keeping peace and stability in the Balkans within the new dynamics of regional and international politics. The way to escape from regional and international rivalries in Kosovo and its environs is to enhance the forces of cooperation in this volatile region and avoid zero sum games among regional and international actors.

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Kosovo's status has been one of the most contentious issues to arise in the aftermath of the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. For the Milosevic administration in Belgrade, which abolished Kosovo's autonomy in 1989, the province was an integral part of Serbia. Kosovars responded to Milosevic's policy by declaring independence in 1991 following a popular referendum, although their declaration did not receive international recognition. Kosovo declared its independence for the second time in 2008 with a stronger international backing, due to the involvement of a number of regional and international actors. In between these two declarations, Kosovo assumed a central role in the regional politics of the Balkans, a shift with strong implications for international security. The Kosovo case exemplifies the ways in which ethnic communities in a multicultural setting may face problems in an environment of domestic hostility and regional rivalry. This article will discuss Kosovo's independence from a framework of political and legal perspectives. It will also pay attention to regional and global responses to Kosovo's declaration of independence, given that the area has already been securitized to the level of urgency both regionally and internationally.

Historical Background

Kosovo's struggle for independence began after Milosevic's abolition of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989. As a response, in July 1990, the Albanian delegates of the Kosovo Assembly declared Kosovo an "independent and equal entity within the framework of the Yugoslav Federation, and an equal subject with its counterparts in Yugoslavia." (1) In the September 1991 referendum, 87.01% of the population voted in favor of an independent and sovereign state of Kosovo. The Serbian government responded with strong opposition, firing tens of thousands of Albanians from their jobs, banning the teaching of the Albanian language, and transferring a heavy police force to Kosovo territory. These harsh measures left the Kosovo Albanians no choice but to engage in passive resistance, while the territory of Kosovo fell behind even in restoring autonomy. This already tense environment was worsened by the Dayton agreement's avoidance of the Kosovo problem. Taking matters into its own hands, the UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army) was formed and began to attack Serbian targets in Kosovo. The UCK attacks triggered bloody and brutal Serbian military and paramilitary attacks on Kosovo Albanians in 1998 and 1999.

The escalation of violence paved the way for NATO's military intervention in 1999, and Serbian forces were driven out of Kosovo. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 initiated the deployment of an international civil and security presence in Kosovo under United Nations auspices. Since then, the province has been under UNMIK, the United Nations interim administration in Kosovo, which is soon expected to be replaced by the European Union police and justice mission to Kosovo, (EULEX). …