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Kosovo's Regional Recognition Almost Complete

Risto Karajkov, November 19, 2008

Location/Map of Kosovo. (Image: The World Factbook)


SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Kosovo's regional recognition can be considered almost completed with Macedonia's and Montenegro's acceptance of its statehood early last month. In what was obviously coordinated action, the governments in Skopje and Podgorica recognized Kosovo on Oct. 9, following resolutions by the parliaments of the two countries recommending recognition.

Belgrade was enraged by the move and promptly expelled both countries' ambassadors, a measure it had not taken in response to previous recognitions.

The coordinated Podgorica-Skopje action means that Kosovo is now recognized by all of its neighbors, with the exception of Serbia. Belgrade considers Kosovo part of its integral territory and continues to vehemently oppose the process of its international recognition. Overall, Kosovo has been recognized by 51 of the 192 U.N. member states to date.

That Pristina remains unrecognized by the vast majority of countries in the world indicates that the process is far from completed. Nevertheless, Kosovo enjoys the support of some of the world's richest and most powerful nations. "It doesn't really matter if Paraguay has recognized Kosovo," this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, was quoted as saying. "Well over 65 percent of the wealth of the world has." Ahtisaari was the U.N. envoy in charge of the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, and a key figure in the process which eventually led to the independence of the Serbian province.

Twenty-two of the European Union members have so far recognized Kosovo, even if Brussels itself cannot directly weigh in because of the remaining member states which oppose recognition. The U.S. has been the strongest supporter and advocate of independent Kosovo, and the recognition by Macedonia and Montenegro, like many others before, was encouraged by Washington.

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The recognition by Skopje and Podgorica can be argued to enhance regional stability, since it leaves Kosovo increasingly surrounded by countries which recognize its sovereignty. Besides Serbia, the only country from the former Yugoslavia which still hasn't recognized Pristina is Bosnia and Herzegovina. Further to the south, close Serb ally Greece has also withheld recognition.

But the move by Macedonia and Montenegro was not free of risk. They are the only two countries to share borders with both Serbia and Kosovo, and their economies are closely interdependent with Serbia's. Montenegro's recognition, especially, was felt in Belgrade as a betrayal, given the very close historic ties between the two countries. (Montenegro only declared independence from the union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.)

The timing of the announcement contributed to Serbia's bitterness. Only a day before, on Oct. 8, Serbia's motion to have the legality of Kosovo's independence reviewed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was accepted by the U.N. General Assembly, meaning the ICJ is now obligated to take the case into consideration. The opinion that the Court will render (in approximately 2-3 years time) will remain strictly consultative, but will nevertheless have great moral force. Serbia had been hopeful that the pending ICJ opinion might delay further recognitions.

Montenegro and Macedonia were emboldened in their move by the assumption that Belgrade would not respond with drastic measures. The first weeks after the recognition suggest this assumption was correct.

\While some deterioration in relations is inevitable, so long as they remain limited, Macedonia should benefit from the move. As a precondition to the recognition, it succeeded in having its border with Kosovo fixed. The unmarked border had been a constant source of tension in the past. In addition, the move pleases Macedonia's sizeable ethnic Albanian community and relaxes relations between Macedonians and Albanians regionally. Macedonia's confined ethnic war in 2001 was by and large a spillover from Kosovo, so more generally, anything that contributes to Kosovo's stability is good for Skopje. And last but surely not least, with the recognition, Macedonia pleases its major patron, the United States.

The move was far riskier for Montenegro. Over 30 percent of the population of the small country (around 650,000) identifies as Serb, and many more feel a strong attachment to Serbia. The government's decision was immediately met with street protests, some of which inevitably led to clashes with the police. Podgorica's major concern is to keep the instant outburst of displeasure from turning into systemic political instability.

Although difficult and not without risk, the move can nevertheless be expected to promote stability in the region, which can only come by taking painful steps, one after another. One thing is certain. Procrastination and the maintenance of a deleterious status quos has never proven to be good policy in the Balkans.


Risto Karajkov is a Ph.D. student in development and a freelance analyst. He writes frequently on Balkan afffairs for a number of media outlets and think tanks.

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