Kosovo Recognition a Tricky Question

Published on February 22, 2008, The Associated Press

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution


MADRID, Spain (AP) — Afghanistan was among the first to recognize Kosovo's independence, leaping at the chance to acknowledge a majority Muslim nation in Europe.

Taiwan did too, hoping Kosovo would reciprocate and poke a thumb in the eye of archrival China.

But Spain, with a worried eye on its own breakaway movements, said it would never affirm Kosovo's sovereignty.

The response to Kosovo's declaration of independence has as much to do with history and local politics as it does with heartfelt feelings for Kosovo and its people.

Rising violence and Russia's fierce opposition could push fence-sitters to shy away. The question is: Will the turbulence compel supporters to roll back timetables for naming ambassadors and opening consulates in the new state?

"It's understandable that some nations will want to wait and see how things develop before appointing an ambassador, or opening an embassy," said Alan Boyle, an international lawyer and academic at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland.

"Recognizing a state is a policy decision, but establishing diplomatic ties is a separate — and often political — decision," Boyle said. "One doesn't always follow the other: the U.S. recognizes Cuba, but doesn't have diplomatic links."

Some were adamant that a rollback on recognition was impossible, regardless of pressure from Serbia or Russia.

In Germany, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said rescinding recognition of Kosovo was "unimaginable."

Five days after unilaterally declaring independence from Serbia, nearly two dozen countries have recognized Kosovo — including major powers like the United States, Britain and France — and many more say they are planning to do so in the future.

On Friday, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci brushed aside concerns that his nation's statehood might not stand the test of time.

"Everything is clear. We have massive recognition," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Kosovo is an independent state — sovereign and democratic."

But with Moscow firmly opposed to what it sees as a slap from the West, and violence erupting in Serbia and in Kosovo's ethnic Serb enclave, it is too early to say who will ultimately win the recognition game.

On Thursday, rioters set the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade ablaze, and Moscow has said it would block U.N. recognition of the breakaway region. Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said Friday that Western nations made "a strategic mistake, similar to the invasion of Iraq," by backing Kosovo's independence.

Some nations have already mentioned the violence to support their position.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico — an opponent of independence — said the unrest was evidence that the West's support for Kosovo's move was a mistake.

"We can already see that the unilateral declaration of independence didn't help anybody," he said earlier this week.

But the main reason for opposition — both in Slovakia and elsewhere — still appears to be homegrown. Slovakia, which until 1993 was a part of Czechoslovakia, has a sizable Hungarian minority, and it fears Kosovo's move could encourage ethnic tensions at home.

Spain, one of the biggest Western European countries opposed to the move, has dealt for decades with the violent Basque separatist group ETA, which would like to carve out a homeland between Spain and France. Other Spanish regions — most notably economic powerhouse Catalonia — have been pressing for more autonomy in moves some say could lead to the country's eventual breakup.

"It's a sensitive issue," said Carlos Taibo, a political science professor at Madrid's Autonomous University.

Many nations are taking a wait-and-see approach. Jordan, the first Arab country to support NATO's military operations against Serbia in 1999, is not so eager to be out front this time. Officials in the kingdom say they will wait for the United Nations to pass judgment before taking sides. Many other Arab nations, such as Syria and Egypt, have also declined to commit, and no Arab country has formally recognized the would-be state.

"Our Arab region in particular is full of groups of many religions, faiths, identities and nationalities," read a Wednesday editorial in state-owned Egyptian paper Al-Akhbar by columnist Ibrahim Saada. "What if Iraq should split into four or five countries, and Lebanon into six regions?"

Similar fears have held back many nations in Africa, where only Senegal has so far recognized Kosovo's independence.

Tom Wheeler, a research fellow at the Johannesburg-based South African Institute of International Affairs, said there was also a concern among African countries not to look as if they were following the West in a "knee-jerk reaction."

"There is this fixed idea in Africa that colonial boundaries should not be changed," he said. "South Africa has been cautious about jumping too fast in any direction. They are going to watch from a distance for a little while."

Even among those that have recognized the new country, reasons have varied and often have had little to do with any burning camaraderie toward the people of Kosovo.

Taiwan has been locked in a diplomatic faceoff with China for decades, with each trying to establish diplomatic ties with as many countries as possible. China does not recognize Taiwan, which split the mainland in 1949.

George Tsai of Taipei's Chinese Cultural University said the Taiwanese move to recognize Kosovo was an attempt to score points against Beijing, which is a staunch supporter of the Serbs and has said it is "gravely concerned" about the independence declaration.

In Afghanistan, the government of President Hamid Karzai moved quickly to get behind Kosovo, a tiny region of 2 million people nearly 3,000 miles away.

In its declaration of recognition of Kosovo, Afghanistan voiced support for Kosovo's overwhelming Muslim population. But some in the war-ravaged Central Asian country said the decision was as much about maintaining strong relations with Washington.

Dr. Mehdi, a spokesman for the National Unity Council, a group that represents intellectuals in Kabul, said the move was purely political.

Afghanistan has "no economic or commercial links with Kosovo whatsoever. The reason for the recognition was just to keep America happy," said Mehdi, who like many Afghans uses only one name. "Since America wanted Kosovo independent, they put this on the Afghans' shoulders."

Hafiz Mansoor, a newspaper editor and Kabul-based analyst, said Afghanistan rushed the decision without even discussing it in the Cabinet or parliament.

"Some of the lawmakers do not even know where Kosovo is on the map," he said.

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