Kosovo: Between Kiribati and Kuwait

Commentary

Kosovo?s independence will require restraint and calm by all parties. Even so, it will present a number of key challenges for the EU.


Kosovo will fit in nicely at the United Nations, between Kiribati - created in 1999 - and the sheikdom of Kuwait. With the Micronesian Kiribati, Kosovo shares the name of a leader - remarkably both were ruled by a President Tito. Like Kuwait, Kosovo will owe its independence to the U.S army.

On Sunday, all three will be independent states although it may be some time before Kosovo takes it seat in the world body as Russia is likely to block its membership. Most analysts assume there will be a peaceful, albeit contentious end to Kosovo's ten-year limbo. But Balkan history suggests this benign scenario could be derailed. Either way, Kosovo presents the European Union (EU) with at least three challenges over the medium-term.

Moves and countermoves in Pristina are likely to escalate conflict in Belgrade between the pro-Western president Boris Tadic and his nemesis, the nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. New parliamentary elections are likely in which the Serb Radical Party will be expected to do well.

The Serbian electorate appears divided between the draw of Europe and the glories of the nationalist past. For years, the EU had assumed there would be an inexorable march of progress across the continent, driven by the lure of expansion. But many in Serbia are tempted to march to the beat of Moscow's drum instead. Fears of increasing regional separatism elsewhere in Serbia have also hardened attitudes against Kosovo's independence.

In the recent presidential elections, Miroslav Nikolic, the SRS, leader ran a successful campaign based on an anti-corruption, pro-change, pro-reform, pro-EU, pro-Russia platform. He presented himself as the candidate of change and his party is likely to capture between 30-40% of the votes in any elections. In this case, the key issue will be whether Mr. Tadic's DS or Mr. Kostunica's DSS strike a deal with the SRS and form a government.

Whoever comes out on top - or rather with the least blame - in the days immediately after Kosovo's independence may well determine the respective strengths of DS and DSS and thus the post-electoral coalition. It is not unlikely that Mr. Kostunica, a wily operator, will be able to find his way back to power. If this happens, the EU will have to deal with a split and increasingly radicalized Serbia. How will the EU rebuild links with the largest country in the Balkans?

The second challenge to the EU from Kosovo's independence, as my colleague Ulrike Guérot points out, is the way in which it shows how the Union tilts its institutional balance towards smaller states, as regional entities or countries within larger member states i.e. Bavaria, Padonia, Catalonia or Scotland have no representation at the EU table although, in terms of GDP per capita or population, they greatly outrank a country like Kosovo. Until now, Russia, Cyprus and China have been most concerned about the precedent set by Kosovo's independence. But in the longer term it may affect Europe too.

Third, for the foreseeable future, Kosovo will be dependant on EU hand-outs, rife with crime and simmering with ethnic tensions. Will the EU have to take an increasingly direct role in the management of the country, much like the international community has had to do in Bosnia? Does this mean that the EU will take on a sort of imperial role that it criticises the U.S for? Ivan Krastev once asked whether the EU is ready to endorse what he calls "imperial Europe"? Is there a risk that imperial fatigue may set in, as Europeans tire of aiding Kosovo, and this ends up further undermining the EU's enlargement?

Whatever happens in the next few days, Kosovo's independence presents a number of key medium-term challenges for the EU, the Serbs and the Kosovars. One day Kosovo's UN envoy will be able to sit between his Kiribati and Kuwaiti counterparts and find more parallels between their countries, after which he will attend the once-weekly meeting of EU ambassadors alongside Serbia. However, to make this a reality, restraint, calm and forward-looking will be required not only after Kosovo´s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) - and what threatens to be a UDD (a Unilateral Declaration of Dependence) by the Kosovo Serbs - but in many years to come.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.

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