Kosovan independence was legal, says Hague court

Joe Biden throws US support behind the fledgling nation as International Court of Justice sanctions

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has today ruled that Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008 did not violate international law or the 1999 United Nations resolution that placed Kosovo under interim UN administration.

Although Serbia has pledged to continue the fight to reabsorb the territory, the ruling is a landmark decision for potentially separatist regions around the world.

Currently, 69 countries recognise Kosovo as a nation, including the US, the UK and much of the rest of the EU, though hardly any countries in the Middle or Far East have followed suit.

The US vice-president, Joe Biden, who met the Kosovar prime minister in Washington yesterday, even went as far as to affirm that even if the UN were to rule Kosovan independence unlawful, the US would continue to recognise it has a nation. However, to qualify for membership of the United Nations, Kosovo will need at least 100 countries to endorse it -- something it looks more likely to achieve following today's ruling.

Serbia argues that the Kosovo region is the birthplace of its national identity. Indeed, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić told the New York Times in January that he realises how Serbian fervour for the place looks to the rest of the world, but argued:

This place, Kosovo, is our Jerusalem; you just can't treat it any other way than our Jerusalem.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has historic roots in the Kosovo region, and the Serbs suffered a historic defeat to the Turks in Kosovo in 1389. This feeds into the Serbian mythology surrounding the area as the birthplace of the Serbian state.

Although today's ruling is a landmark for Kosovo and for other separatist groups in the region (Ossetia and Chechnya in particular), Serbia has no intention of conceding. Following the ICJ's announcment in The Hague, Jeremić restated his country's intention to keep fighting. He said:

Serbia will not change its position regarding Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence and necessity of a compromise. Our fight for such a solution will probably be long and difficult, but we will not give up.

Looking back

You might like to read Kim Bytyci's take on the 2008 Serbian elections from the New Statesman's archive.

Syed Hamad Ali wrote for the NS in July 2008 of the countries that had recognised Kosovo -- also well worth a read.

And, in August 2008, Elena Jurado of the international think tank Policy Network offered her thoughts in the NS on the role of Russia in the region as more states attempt to separate from the former USSR.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.