Rene Magritte, the celebrated Belgian surrealist painter, once painted an apple and wrote on it, “This is not an apple.” He did the same on a pipe. Today, he could as well paint his country, Belgium, and certainly Kosovo, the youngest nation in the world, and write, “This is not a country.” Belgium is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions, with its majority Dutch-speaking, many French-speaking and few German-speaking citizens unable to decide what and for whom the state stands for. Kosovo is a self-inflicted pain and the world will not be able to withstand it given the can of worms its creation has opened. Mitrovica, witnessing intense violence, may emerge as a flashpoint of new conflict. Serbia is thinking of inviting Russian troops into Serb-dominated northern Kosovo as peacekeepers that may undermine the authority of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping mission, creating the potential for conflict leading to the partition of Kosovo.
Kosovo’s independence has dealt a blow to the nation-state. Many wonder if the nation-state in the 21st century is going out of fashion and whether a model of multi-cultural living, the hallmark of the nation-state, is on way to redundancy. In any case, China and Russia seem moving towards 19th century-style nationalism, militarism and assertive-ness. Many states would follow them.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence has won enthusiastic to grudging approval from some and vociferous to mild disapproval from others depending on which side of the fence one is sitting. But it has placed India on the horns of a dilemma. New Delhi is only studying the evolving situation as there are “several issues” involved in the declaration. There was a time when India took pride in being right than in being diplomatic. Today hard realities of “national interests” and pragmatism have become the main yardstick of its foreign policy. Silence and discretion are in, moralising is out. That perhaps explains what Shashi Tharoor says, why India feels comfortable with the “Burmese junta, than its janata”. India’s flirtations with the US and the desire to occupy the UN high table with the help of Washington are also coming in the way of taking a principled stand on global issues.
But New Delhi’s virtual silence on Kosovo is fraught with far-reaching consequences. It is unfortunate that even on an issue that concerns its own minorities and sub-national movements, India has chosen to look the other way. As the CPI-M mouthpiece People’s Democracy says, “at least on such a vital issue as the sovereignty of countries with minority populations and the challenges to a basic principle of international law, India should speak up.” Kosovo has created a new precedent and twisted international law that separatists all over the world would use to further their interests. Kashmiri separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Shabbir Shah and Yasin Malik have already said that they see Kosovo as a ray of hope. North-East militants and the Naxalites would not be far behind in extracting some mileage out of Kosovo. Spain’s Basque and Catalan separatists have also welcomed Kosovo’s independence with a banner like, “Today Kosovo. Tomorrow Catalonia”. Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia have also intensified their autonomy demands, an obvious road to independence. Many believe the upsurge of violence in Tibet is not unrelated to Kosovo.
WHAT is the American gameplan in Kosovo? Russia certainly sees a red signal. Kosovo is a dress-rehearsal for redrawing boundaries in Eurasia and the Middle East. It is a new balkanisation, part of American and German geo-strategic plan, to tame Russia. The goal is to drive a wedge in the Balkans to advance a spurious form of European integration. A clear pattern is discernible. Since the former Yugoslavia was a thorn in the American-German flesh, it has been systematically targeted. The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 was a well-devised plan. It was no coincidence that Bosnia-Herzegovina was divided along ethnic and religious lines—Serb, Croat, Bosniak, Christians and Muslims. To these ethnic-religious divides have been added further sectarian divisions within Christianity—Eastern Orthodoxy versus Roman Catholicism.
Facts speak for themselves. Bosnia’s Constitution was written at a US Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio by American and European experts. Efforts are now on to establish a Greater Albania which will bring together what are now Albania and Kosovo as well as adjacent parts of Serbia and Montenegro, Western Macedonia and the north-western regions of Greece.
Kosovo has created a new divide even in the ranks of European states. While, Germany, Britain, Italy and France have recognised Kosovo, countries like Spain, Greece, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus have opposed Kosovo’s independence. There is a perception among multinational, multi-ethnic and multicultural states that Kosovo’s independence will give a new lease of life to separatists in their own midst—Basques in Spain, Tiroleans in Italy, Hungarians in Romania and the like.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has reacted most vehemently calling Kosovo’s independence as the “beginning of the end of Europe”. Moscow is right in maintaining that Kosovo’s independence will rekindle fire in the frozen conflict zones—Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria etc. Way back in 1992, South Ossetia had declared independence from Georgia. Only thanks to the presence of Russian peacekeepers a bigger conflict was avoided. Russia has not recognised South Ossetia as yet, but it could exercise that option. Moscow has also hinted that the Kosovo precedent could be invoked in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. In fact, Moscow has decided to withdraw from a CIS treaty imposing sanctions against Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia. It is not hard to imagine what happens if Russia decides to use the Kosovo approach to resolving conflicts in its own backyard. Even supposing Russian troops are sent to Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, it could create a flashpoint of conflict.
Is the US trying to appease the Muslim world by its support for Kosovo and thus seeking to make up for the folly of the Iraq war? It is possible that some Muslim regimes may see the American gameplan in that light. But what kind of message is Washington conveying to the Iraqi Kurds? The US says it is backing a federal Iraq where Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians as also Shias and Sunnis could live together. Can Iraqis be blamed for thinking that the federal formula is a cover to break the country?
The West’s stance is inconsistent and self-contradictory. If it supports Kosovo’s independence, why does it oppose the independence of Flanders in Belgium? Few believe Kosovo will actually be free; it will become a protectorate of the EU. What is worse, Kosovo is likely to see the Serb-dominated parts walking away. In pursuing their geo-strategic interests, the US and Germany may end up reviving old chauvinist passions and creating a monster that may turn their dream into a nightmare. It is too dangerous to fiddle with the Balkans’ fault lines. The US smiles at Kosovo only to frown at Russia. Come on America! Your bare teeth are showing.
The author is the Associate Director, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.