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.”