The Kosovo problem

It’s a lovely sunny day here in Cerdanyola del Vallès, so I’ll probably spend it doing some of my favourite things: installing Ubuntu ‘Jaunty’ Alpha 6 on my netbook, playing Empire Total War, writing performance reviews for my team at work… and reading about how Zapatero’s suffering with the ‘Kosovo problem’.

The problem, in case you didn’t know, is fairly simple: Spain refuses to recognise Kosovo as an independent state because this would signify acceptance that small nations may break away from supra-national states like Serbia or… Spain. You see where this is going, don’t you? Because of this tricky diplomatic choice, Spain has now announced that it will withdraw its armed forces from the NATO peacekeeping force which polices Kosovo. This has upset the United States, and effectively dissolves any credit Zapatero may have had with the new regime in Washington DC. The American response was an expression of “deep disappointment”, according to El País, with State Department spokesman Robert Wood saying that the US “neither understands nor agrees with” Spain’s move. Zapatero claims that Spain’s NATO allies were aware of the planned exit, but other sources suggest that all this came as something of a surprise.

So basically, Spain pulls out of the Balkan state in an attempt to prevent the ‘Balkanisation’ of Spain.

Personally, I’m not really that fussed about Spain losing some grace in Washington DC, or with NATO: neither the US government nor their SEO agency in Europe operate with anything like the moral clarity that I’d like to see. But many Spaniards do worry about these things… indeed, some bloggers used to spend nearly all their time monitoring Zapatero’s approval ratings in the Bush administration (a bit of a waste of time, that). The Partido ‘Popular’ have been quick to label this as ‘another disaster’ for the Socialist government, though typically they offer no alternative solution.

And that’s because the solution to the problem, for all the PP’s crowing, would be unthinkable for any Spanish government. The solution is simple: recognise Kosovo. It’ll have to happen eventually anyway, so why not get it done now and avoid all this hassle? To me, Zapatero seems to have reacted to the PP’s rhetoric about a ‘Balkanisation’ that almost certainly won’t happen. The reason it won’t happen is that there just isn’t enough public support for independence in the two most troublesome ‘nations’ within Spain: the Basque Country and Catalonia.

If referenda were held in 2012 in the Basque Country and Catalonia, I’m pretty sure that the Basques would vote in favour of staying part of Spain, and so would the Catalans (although the Catalan result would probably be closer). What Zapatero risks with this childish insistence on failing to recognise Kosovo’s independence is that people will start to take the concept of Spain’s constituent nations breaking away, seriously. The bolder (though obviously slightly more risky) move would be to recognise Kosovo and then say “referendum on Catalan independence? BRING IT ON!”.

That the Spanish state is so afraid of a referendum threatens to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

14 thoughts on “The Kosovo problem

  1. “That the Spanish state is so afraid of a referendum threatens to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

    Self-fulfilling prophecy? Yes, please!

  2. If a referendum is ever held on this, the government will do their best to time it so it goes in their favour. As the old Catalans, who are scared of asking for independence die out, support for independence will increase. Virtually every young Catalan I have ever met is in favour of independence. But the government would probably chuck a load more imigrants into the region before allowing a referendum, and thus, the nay-sayers would probably win.

  3. Based on the extremely limited sample of the poll on this blog a few days back, it does seem that a majority support the idea of a referendum, at least.

    But I’m not sure that ‘immigrants’ would necessarily vote against independence. Also, I’m not sure how Madrid would ‘chuck a load of them’ into Catalonia.

  4. I agree with Mr Morrison. All this hysteria in Spain against language policies in Catalonia is because they realise it discourages immigration from the rest of Spain into the region.

    In relation to Kosovo, I’m in favour that the people from Kosovo decide whether they want to remain annexed to Serbia or establish an independent state, but I think the Serbs living there should have the right to secede from Kosovo too, should they want that. It’s a relatively minor problem from a mathematical point of view. It would only require some people to migrate, at most, some dozen kilometres away in order to create separate ethnically homogeneous areas (if they can’t or don’t want to live together). The real problem is bigotry, not the independence of nations.

  5. >> But I’m not sure that ‘immigrants’ would necessarily vote against independence.

    That’s true, they may well vote for independence, but I just think that they would be less likely to vote for it than a Catalan person. So the more outsiders living in the region, the more the ‘yes’ votes would be diluted.

    >> Also, I’m not sure how Madrid would ‘chuck a load of them’ into Catalonia.

    He he. You might be right but I think this sort of thing does get done. Maybe building loads of cheap housing in the region etc.


  6. You are an excellent columnist, it was a pleasant thing to read your post, but nobody is perfect.

    Reading NYT online can tell you a lot of things, but seeing things with your own eyes… Priceless.

    Big problem with Kosovo is that solution for it doesn’t exist. It is a very dangerous exception (not a rule).

    I live in a country near by, and I have a pretty much good insight of what is happening there.

    Both sides, in a way, are right in their demands.

    Albanians(Kosovarians) have right to separate. There was a certain aggression towards them, and responsible persons in Serbian government should take punishment for it. Although, entire nation should not suffer because of one or several guys (Do I hear: Deutschland über alles…)

    Serbs also have right to Kosovo. Their main cultural heritage is down there. Very large amounts of commodities (copper, etc.) are down there. Albanians started to immigrate there during last century.

    We could talk about Kosovo for days, and still get nowhere…

    I visited Spain several years ago, I saw lot of Catalonia is not Spain! graffiti. I don’t know situation there, but you don’t me see me talking about it.

    Kind regards

  7. Hi Fanky,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re right that the Kosovo question is complicated. I think it would be fair to say, though, that I was commenting on the Spanish response to Kosovo’s independence rather than the internal and external pressures and points of view that surrounded the declaration.

    My opinion, actually, is that Kosovo was allowed to become independent by the US and many EU states because it would hurt Serbia and, in turn, Russia. The goal, in other words, was probably to weaken Serbia which is the most powerful country in the region (and an ally of Russia).

    Now I have actually expressed my opinion, feel free to rip it to shreds!

  8. Hi Tom,

    No, I will not rip your opinion. Opinions are good, people should be asking questions and making remarks all the time.

    I have an feeling that US and EU are playing very serious game in South eastern Europe. They keep things hot but there is no fire. For now.

    Take Bosnia for example, war ended in 1995, situation down there is the same as on 1995. It is ridiculous to expect that people, which were killing each other yesterday, start living in peace tomorrow, like nothing happened. It is an artificial state, and only a spark is needed to start the bloodshed again.

    Kosovo will be an ace in a sleeve for a long time. Serbia will never recognize it, normal relations between those two states will never be achieved. Those two countries (although, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia are not too far) will always be in a prewar limbo…
    NATO forces (KFOR) will be present there for a long time, just like in Bosnia….

    If Spain was on an important route like Serbia or Kosovo (Europe – Middle East) Barcelona or Madrid would be like Beirut….

    Kind regards

  9. I think that Spain’s legal defense is that Kosovo declared independence unilaterally. Although there is an obvious link between Spain’s regional nationalists and Kosovo, it is true that, insofar as international law is concerned, few countries allow for unilateral anything.

    Imagine if Slough declared itself independent and all of Europe and the US said “Welcome!”, Downing street would be bending over backwards to reverse the declaration, and it would allege unilateral declaration.

    As for referendums, I never see what’s the point. If in 2012 there was one, and the nationalists won, then who is to say that by 2018 there would not be another, and then the pro-Spain faction won? And then again in 2023, and in 2030. Where would it end? You can have referendums until the cows come home, they are a less than ideal solution to anything.

  10. Fanky, I don’t know which country in Balkans you live but I know for sure you have no clue about Kosovo or Balkan wars! Did I read that “Albanian started to immigrate in Kosovo during last century???”. Are you a Serb? A Greek? Cause this is their propaganda and has nothing to do with the truth. Albanians live in Balkans for thousands of years as they are descendants of Illyrians and as such came from noewhere else. Slav migration is well known to the world. The y came into Balkans in 7 century and Serbs only occupied Kosovo in 14 century, had it for 200 years till it fell under Othoman. They conquered it again in 1912 and kept it for another 86 years. END OF STORY!
    And now, if you read it well-Serb came to Kosovo in 14 century you will understand that their
    “main cultural heritage is down there” in fact it is not theirs but it belonged to Byzant.

  11. “If Spain was on an important route like Serbia or Kosovo (Europe – Middle East) Barcelona or Madrid would be like Beirut”

    Jesus Christ, what a statement!
    I don’t see that Kosovo or Serbia are like Beirut!

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