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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Kosovo breakaway could raise Scot Nats' hopes

The Guardian: The breakaway British region of Scotland could be among the beneficiaries of this week's expected UN recommendation that Kosovo be granted provisional independence from Serbia, leading in time to full sovereign status. If the plan backed by the US, Britain and Germany is formally accepted by the UN security council, it will be taken as an important international legal precedent by would-be separatist movements from Georgia to Moldova to Chechnya, and possibly also the Scottish National party.

Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president who is the UN's point man on Kosovo, will put forward his proposals on Friday, when he meets the Kosovo contact group in Vienna. If he follows the expected script and backs independence, the implications will be explosive not only for Serbia but for EU unity and Russia's touchy relations with the west.

Kosovo has been part of Serbia since the Middle Ages. By comparison, the Act of Union binding Scotland and England dates back a mere 300 years, to 1707. Serbs view Kosovo as integral to their history and nationhood. Most are adamantly opposed to a breakup, as shown by nationalist success in Sunday's election. But opinion polls suggest many English voters view the prospect of Scotland's secession with equanimity.

In contrast, Europe is facing the contested, potentially violent separation of Orthodox Christian Serbia from a 90% ethnic Albanian, Muslim southern province which, despite ongoing tensions, remains home to a significant, stubborn ethnic Serb minority. If in such unpromising circumstances Kosovo can gain the UN's blessing, self-determination and self-rule may become the new boom business for minorities everywhere - and the dismemberment of nations, rather than their unification, a new UN pastime.

Russia's sympathy for Belgrade's rejectionist stance is routinely cited as a powerful reason why Kosovo's aspirations will be unfulfilled. President Vladimir Putin, in a weekend meeting with Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, reiterated his view that a solution "must not be imposed from outside". This has something to do with Slav solidarity; and with Moscow's wish to maintain, or re-establish its influence in its post-Soviet near abroad.

But Mr Putin's implication that Kosovan independence is undesirable because it will inflame secessionists elsewhere is seen in some quarters as disingenuous. "Russia wants the Kosovo process to be a precedent for Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria - all territories where Russia wants separation from Georgia and Moldova respectively," a European analyst said.

Agim Ceku, Kosovo's prime minister, indicated this week that European disunity was a bigger obstacle. "A common EU position in support of independence" was essential, he told the International Herald Tribune. "As leader of the EU, Chancellor Merkel can use her moral authority and Germany's political clout to build a European consensus." But Ms Merkel will have to persuade Greece, Spain, Cyprus and others that Mr Ahtisaari's provisional independence is the right way to go.

The EU, the US and the UN will also, crucially, have to persuade the Serbs. Despite many blandishments, including resumed talks on Serbia's EU candidacy, the anti-independence, hardline nationalists of the Serbian Radical party still emerged as the biggest party in Sunday's elections. Protracted coalition negotiations between the second-placed Democrats and other pro-western groups are now likely.

The looming Kosovo independence row will not help this process and could derail it. By comparison, things look much simpler north of the border.
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