Who recognises Kosovo?

Kosovo's declaration of independence happened months ago but many countries have yet to recognise it

It was back on 17 February 2008 that the global media last shone the spotlight on Kosovo in the wake of its declaration of independence.

Since then there has almost been an eerie silence as the country strives for global recognition. Okay, not silence but it does seem to have gone on the backburner as issues like Afghanistan and China's manic Olympics shot to the fore.

Then last month the Wall Street Journal ran a piece about Kosovo under the title "Europe's unlikely charmer". For the intrepid traveller who makes the journey, the article notes “breathtaking mountains” and the “unspoiled medieval architecture” and makes recommendations about which hotels to stay in.

For Kosovo (or Kosova as it is known in the Albanian language) is a member of an elite, not to say, exclusive club. It's fiercely pro-US yet the vast bulk of its two million population is Muslim.

Such is the Kosovars love affair with Uncle Sam that a visitor to Kosovo will discover that it has what is reportedly the world's second largest replica of the Statue of Liberty, an avenue named after Bill Clinton and even a restaurant called Hillary.

The Kosovars' devotion stems from being rescued from potential genocide back in 1999. But as American holiday-makers rush to pack their bags and head for sunny Pristina [Kosovo’s capital], the rest of the world - or at least the larger part of it - is yet to recognize this new nation. This includes Russia, China, India, Africa, Central Asia and most of Latin America and the Middle East.

According to Betim Deva and Genc Kastrati, representatives for Kosovo Thanks You, a website that religiously keeps track of who has recognised their country: “The number of visitors to our website correlates with political developments. When a recognition occurs, the number of visitors grows. There were days when we received thousands of emails with various information and feedback.”

So far the Kosovars are making slow process. Of the 192 member states of the United Nations only 43 have recognized Kosovo.

And keeping track of recognition is no easy business. At Kosovo Thanks You the management team calls the whole process “Independence 2.0” and employs an extensive support network to help: “The network helps us with prediction of the recognitions based on various diplomatic sources and individuals.” This involves contacting embassies and foreign ministries to verify information.

So the question is, how much longer can recognition take? Dr Rick Fawn is senior lecturer of International Relations at the University of St Andrews with an expertise in Eastern Europe and Russia. “I doubt Kosovo will get full recognition in the near future,” he says. “Russia has too much at stake to change its position.”

Russia, a UN Security Council member has stood firmly by its long-term ally Serbia in defiance of Western powers it fears to be encroaching ever more boldly into its European and Central Asian spheres of influence. The Serbian President had warned even prior to the declaration of independence that his country would “never recognise an independent Kosovo” and continues to regard it as a “southern province”.

But Kosovo now has a flag, its own national anthem and only last month the Kosovars came up with their very first constitution. Surely Serbia cannot indefinitely ignore what’s happened?

“Kosovo is now involved in regional activities and Serbia will have to accept that,” says Fawn. “Increasing pressure on Serbia by the EU will show nominal - not official - recognition of Kosovo in some activities by virtue of EU and Western-led regional initiatives for the Balkans as a whole.”

But the most remarkable aspect has been the virtual lack of recognition Kosovo has received from the Middle East – save if one counts EU-aspiring Turkey. It is surprising because 90 per cent of Kosovars are Muslim. So perhaps the reluctance has more to do with regional alliances, such as the Russians' support of Iran, and of course fears of secessionist Kurdish and other movements.

And it's not just Middle Eastern nations that fear what independence could mean for their federation. “Kosovo has recognition from all the main western players, save a few that have some recognition or separatist issues of their own like Spain, Cyprus and Slovakia,” says Fawn. “But note that Canada and the UK - with separatist issues - still recognize Kosovo.”

However Kosovo has not been totally shunned by the Islamic nations. Looking outside of the Middle East, Afghanistan was one of the first to offer its recognition. Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are all listed under 'Countries that will recognize Kosovo' on Kosovo Thanks You.

Once those countries take the plunge others may follow in a domino fashion.

“We understand the recognition process is slow in itself,” say Deva and Kastrati. “This is a political process that requires time and clarity, something that is happening as we speak. In due time more countries will have recognized our Republic. It will take years for this process to conclude – same as with other countries around the world.”

And there are signs of hope already including messages of solidarity from people in Serbia and Russia. One such message on the website’s Wall of Independence was from Ivana in Belgrade, Serbia: “Dear neighbours, I would really like to congratulate you for independence. Finally, that happened... Hope one day we will be good neighbours and friends.”

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.