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Kosovo and Cyprus

A lot of my work involves steady slogging against the prevailing political winds. So when I get not one but two favourable gusts filling my sails on the same day, it is definitely worth noting.

Kosovo has declared independence, after years of restraint; and it seems likely that the international community by and large will recognise it - most of the EU member states will decide to do so at tomorrow's regular meeting of foreign ministers, and various other international actors have been lined up at least to facilitate the process. It's no big secret that I've been in favour of this for a long time; I'm glad that we appear to have a fairly soft landing for this process, though of course there are many pitfalls ahead. As one of my Kosovo friends said last year, this was one of the least unexpected developments in the Balkans in the last two decades: the ground had been well prepared, and the choreography is being duly executed.

The unexpected good news is that the Greek Cypriot president, Tassos Papadopoulos, has lost his bid for re-election, by quite a narrow margin but none the less he is out. There's still some way to go - in particular the two remaining more moderate candidates must now compete for Papadopoulos' hard-line votes - but the prospects for a Cyprus settlement suddenly look a bit better. As usual the Cyprus Mail has a trenchant commentary (written before the election took place) as part of its regular Tales from the Coffeeshop series; you may have to concentrate to interpret the columnist's nicknames for the personalities involved - eg: 'The ad contained the following statement by the five-star, luxury hotel suite freedom fighter: “My history does not allow me to be silent.” As if there is anyone in Cyprus who does not know his history as a windbag.'

There is a possible connection between the two events. The two situations are more closely linked than may be immediately apparent; certainly I have always been conscious of the similarities. Papadopoulos is practically the only Greek Cypriot president who could not even manage a modest lurch towards a settlement, and the voters have duly taken note. It may possibly be that a crucial bloc of Greek Cypriot voters realised that his policy towards the Turkish Cypriots was dangerously similar to the Serbian policy towards the Kosovars, which has so visibly and catastrophically failed today. Sometimes the 'domino effect' can be a positive one.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 17th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC)
Kosovo has declared independence

Well done for all your work that has in some way moved affairs in this general direction.

Feb. 17th, 2008 10:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. For personal reasons I dont keep up to date with Cyprus events as much as I might have done in the past.
Feb. 18th, 2008 11:38 am (UTC)
Do you see there being a real possibility of Cyprus having a communist President and this potentially being a positive thing? iirc AKEL have cosied up to DIKO before so it may be easier for Christofias to attract the votes?
Feb. 18th, 2008 12:56 pm (UTC)
The Cyprus communists aren't very Communist! No idea which of them is likely to win - the two-horse race polls in the run-up to this weekend showed Christofias ahead but clearly underestimated Kassoulides' support in general. While Christofias is the former coalition partner, Kassoulides is closer to DIKO on most ideological grounds, so it is tough to call.
Feb. 18th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
(Please forgive that all my info comes from the BBC and the Kronezeitung) The thing that really interests me, especially regarding the EU countries responses is how those countries who do not have sections that are trying to split off seem to be far fonder of the idea than those countries which do.

Admittedly I'm also amused by the Austrian government's reaction which appears to be mostly trying to keep everyone happy.
Feb. 19th, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
The thing that really interests me, especially regarding the EU countries responses is how those countries who do not have sections that are trying to split off seem to be far fonder of the idea than those countries which do.

Eh, isn't the United Kingdom expected to recognise Kosova soon?
Feb. 19th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
And Turkey was practically the first to recognise!
Feb. 19th, 2008 09:39 pm (UTC)
And congratulations on your role in it!

I must admit to being somewhat ambivalent on the Kosovo issue. On the one handm I definitely think they should be independent if they want to be, which the great majority clearly do. I believe that the rights of people ought to trump the rights of states, so self-determination should trump state sovereignty. Besides, if a people are determined to be independent, it is pretty much futile (as well as very bloody) for a state to attempt to hold on to them.

That said, there are aspects of the way things have happened - not to say the initial war, though that is in the past - that I find disconcerting. I could write lots, but I'd rather frame it in the form of a few questions, on which I'd value your (decidedly partisan but much better informed than mine) opinion:

1) Do you think that the new Kosovan state, aided by the EU mission etc., will be capable of guaranteeing the rights of the Serb and Gypsy minorities in Kosovo, including facilitating the return of those who've fled? As I understand it they've not been very successful in this so far, so how will this be improved?

2) Is Kosovo being treated differently to other secessionist territories by the US and EU? (Be that the ones Russia is interested in such as S. Ossetia or others such as Somaliland). Do they in other circumstances insist that the invioability of state borders must come first? If so, what is the justification for treating Kosovo differently? (Not of course that one has to approve of their attitude elsewhere just because one does in the case of Kosovo.)

3) On a similar vein, is there any reason why Russia shouldn't, say, organise a referendum on independence or merger with Russia in S. Ossetia? (Not that they would very likely because, aaatish-Chechnya), but is it in principle any different?

4) Unless there is in fact a justification in international law for saying that self-determination should always come above state sovereignty (is there?) Kosovan independence means that a sovereign state will have had a portion of its territory forcibly removed as a result of military action unauthorised by the UNSC. Is this concerning in any way?

These are not intended as trick questions. As I say, I think Kosovan independence is in the end both desirable and inevitable, but I do wonder about some of the issues raised!
Feb. 20th, 2008 03:59 pm (UTC)

1) They've been more successful than certain propagandists would like one to think, though still, of course, not successful enough. The word went out from both government and opposition parties after March 2004 that refugees were to be allowed to return without hassle; the slow pace of returns since then is at least as much due to deterrence from official Belgrade as to local obstruction. Having said that, it's an area that the internationals will have to keep an eye on. Having said that, it's not actually been used as a criterion for sovereignty or recognition anywhere else!

2) Yes, but (and I realise that this punts the question a bit) the relevant UN Security Council regulation is different as well. Chris Borgen addresses this issue pretty convincingly.

3) There's already been a referendum in South Ossetia! Not that anyone paid any attention; not that they did either when the Kosovars held one in 1992.

4) I don't recall the Bangladeshis or Eritreans seeking permission from the UN Security Council either.
Feb. 20th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)
1) *nods* Somewhat encouraging. No, shouldn't be a precondition for sovereignty, just a rather significant concern!

2) Interesting. Seems international law is more favourable to secession than I thought (and than the Russians are suggesting), but still more restrictive than I would personally like. This condition that the would-be secessionists constitute a 'people' sounds like a dangerously 'blood-based' definition of nationhood. Again with Bangladesh, bit hard to say that they were a 'people' as distinct from... which exact people? Who are the Pakistani 'people'? And this would seem to me to tend to exacerbate the problems of defining the borders of any potential secessionist entity. What about mixed regions,etc.

Anyway, it does sound fairly convincing that Kosovan independence is not the flagrant disregarding of international law the Serbs and Russians make it out to be.

(On a tangent, that Canadian ruling would seem to suggest that the Turkish Kurds have a darned good case for 'external self-determination' - clearly a 'people', have had human rights abused, no ability to exercise 'internal' SD, and no obvious solution in sight within the Turkish state (though things are improving a little). But there'd be the huge problem if something like this were ever seriously considered of where you'd draw the boundary, who's a Kurd and whose not (e.g. large number of self-defined Kurds who are Turkish-speaking), what about the Turkish minority in Kurdish areas etc. Again the problem with the 'people' definition.)

3) D'oh, yes of course there was! So more broadly I guess the answer is that there is no absolute set of rules that govern all cases, but it'll be a mixture of the various principles of IL and what one might call 'facts on the ground'. Though I tend to the view that in practice all the major powers will regard 'what pleases them as honorable and what suits their interests as just', and apply principles of state sovereignty or self-determination in different cases accordingly. I really know too little about it. Is there a good (legal and/or moral) case why S. Ossetia should be compelled to remain part of Georgia regardless of the wishes of their inhabitants?

4) I mean external military intervention, which applies in the case of Bangladesh though not Eritrea. But then if there are cases where a group may potentially have a 'right to secede' then the ramifications are not as far-reaching - it does not confer a general precedent for invading and carving up states.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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