22 February 2008


Dear readers,

I usually try to resist commenting news when they are still too hot topics, but there are cases when the opportunity is too nice to be ignored. Kosovo indepen-dance is one of these. I know it is a heated debate, but it is also a perfect occasion to make a couple of useful comparisons and use the thought framework that has been presented in previous posts.

So Kosovo declared independence unilaterally, an easy shot considering the UN is administrating the Albanian populated Serbian province. Even easier because the UN administration was a de facto EU one, and most EU countries had made clear that they were ok with Kosovar's independence. What's left of Serbia, of the Serbian world (that is essentially Republika Serpska in Bosnia) and of Serbian allies (Russia and China, primarily) is of course outraged. And rightfully so, I would add, as the declaration in question as well as the recognition by the USA and most bigger EU countries is obviously in breach of most international laws. It is certainly nothing new and Russia as well as China have practiced intensively in this field too in the past (Afghanistan, Chechnya, Tibet, Taiwan, Abkhazia, etc., only to name a few).

But let's face it, they are legally right now and they are letting the world know. Serbians are enraged too, which is understandable, even considering that they are themselves partially responsible for what is now happening to them. If they had behaved a bit better with their various minorities in the past decades, they probably would still enjoy a complete national territory. Imagine that Texas would rebel and declare independence under UN/EU supervision, because the Chicanos are considered second class citizens there, and see what the US reaction would be. There would certainly be a nasty fight... Remember Alamo and all that crap. Ok, it would never happen you would say. Why? Well, for one simple reason: the USA are a strong military power and an influential diplomatic one (still) and they can ignore UN decisions and laugh at the EU if they want to. It's called the "reason of the strong" or the law of force.

And that's what happened in Kosovo, no legal process, but a succession of strength conflicts, more or less violent. Serbia oppressed ethnic Albanian Kosovars, Albanians created a guerrilla to answer this, Serbian forces and paramilitary crushed the rebellion and killed many civilians, the UN whined, the Russians laughed, NATO bombed the Serbians to smithereens and invaded Kosovo. I am not saying that it was wrong to invade Kosovo. I supported it when it happened. It is what happened afterwards which went very wrong. The international community let Kosovars think that they could get independence, despite the fact that there is absolutely no treaty, international agreement or UN charter article which allows a part of a national state to split from it if it is not a federal entity. Kosovo was not a federal republic inside Serbia, it was simply a province with an ethnic majority different from the rest of the country. The Kosovar reaction was only predictable: they declared themselves independent, despite the fact that the Serbian minority in the North of the province will never recognize an independent Kosovo government as a legal entity.

Russia and China (but also Spain, Cyprus and various other countries) were quick to denounce the move and quicker to warn other countries that recognizing Kosovo independence was opening the Pandora box. And again they were right. Basically, the EU and the USA have said to the world that Kosovo is a unique case, not an example to follow. Ridiculous: first, ethnic groups, oppressed or not in various country will only see that they can get away with an independence claim if they have the military strength to back their word; second, even if you only follow the Kosovo path exactly, that still paves the way to huge conflicts. So waht is now the guideline to break away, Kosovo style?

First, of course, there need to be some oppression and you have to make the world know about it. Because if you are being oppressed and nobody cares (like nationalities in Central Asian dictatorships, for instance), it does not count. It has to be on Western telly and it has to be easily Googled, otherwise, you can suffer in silence. Second, you have to rebel and get some military power. Having foreign sponsors (preferably Western) helps, but if you can do well on your own, it is fine too. The most difficult part is to get the UN to intervene. The UN is notoriously slow to react and if you have an enemy in the Security Council (or if your oppressor has a really good ally there) you are basically screwed. See Darfur or Palestine, for instance, it does not matter that their plight has been thousand times worse than this of the Kosovars: China is supporting Sudan and the USA are supporting Israel, so their rights will never be recognized. Also the problem is that to get the UN to react and send NATO, EU or ANZAC troops to the rescue, there must be some pretty horrible violations of Human Rights (like slaughters, genocide, tortures, etc.). You might not be ready to play that game, especially if the ones tortured or raped are family members. But sometimes, you don't have a choice... The rest of the story is a piece of cake. Once the connection with the "motherland" is severed by force, declaring independence is a matter of PR and making it look good institutionally. And now that Kosovo got it, nobody can even tell that there is no precedent.

You think that I am a cynic and a pro-genocidal Serbian? You could not be more wrong. Remember the previous posts. I don't believe in nation states. They are a product of imperialist XIXth century and European colonization. I am actually enjoying the fact that the Pandora box is open. It is only showing how obsolete the UN has become, how stupid the post World War II border intangibility rule has become. I am, by the way, not ok either with the much quoted right of people to rule themselves. It is only another disguise of the nation state principle. You can always find a subgroup to oppress. The other, the different, the guy with an accent is always the enemy. No, the true path is in supra national non-imperial systems. And if some old empires and nations must die to reach this stage, so be it. So yes, let's allow Taiwan to become officially independent, let's Palestinians have their own state(s), let's Abkhazia, Transdniestria, Kurdistan, Chechnya or Tibet be independent. Let's get rid of Corsica (if there is truly a majority for independence there), of Pays Basque or of Friesland. Who cares?

The point is, they will be independent for a while. Then they will realize that you are nothing in this globalized world if you are alone. And they will want to join the EU, the ASEAN or whichever supranational group they may realistically belong to. Then the real winner will be the citizens. That is of course if the supranational entities in question are anything else than a club of unelected people, irresponsible before their populations...


Anonymous said...

More people thinking like me in this world.
Nations are so 19 century.

every once in a while, you hear people screaming about how bad religion can make a man.

Though religions (all of them) contributed to the death of a gazillions people during history, nations contributed even worse - the 2 latest centuries were pretty grim, and I didn't see that many religions behind WW1 or 2.

Jean-Baptiste Perrin said...

On numbers, I agree with you.

Nations and nationality or ethnic wars have killed more people than any other cause apart from old age and sickness, obviously. This said, religion (I mean as in organized religion, not personal faith) comes just after it.