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July 22, 2010 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Kosovo's declaration of independence has been declared legal by the International Court of Justice.

On February 17, 2008 Kosovo declared indepdendence from Serbia in a unanimous parliamentary vote. Serbians, of course, did not take it sitting down:
The first sign of trouble in Kosovo came in the ethnic Serbian area of the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, where two hand grenades were thrown at international community buildings.

One exploded at a UN court building while the other failed to go off outside offices expected to house the new EU mission.

In Belgrade, demonstrators threw stones and broke windows at the US embassy as riot police tried to fend off a crowd of around 1,000 people.

The protesters, described as gangs of youths, also attacked a McDonald's restaurant, the Serbian government building and the embassy of Slovenia which currently holds the EU presidency.
Belgium, France, Italy, the UK, Croatia, Germany, and the United States released statements supporting Kosovo. (Discussed here.) Russia objected and called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Counsel.

On October 8th the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to take the case before the ICJ. (Discussed here.)

The ICJ decision was released earlier today.
posted by resiny (44 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is great news for Kosovars and map-makers.
posted by Mister_A at 12:09 PM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't know if they give out awards for "most distracting headline that is correct but misleading" but this has to be a nominee, right?

US asks Europe to 'unite' after Kosovo ruling
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:28 PM on July 22, 2010


Man, I cannot tell you what an issue this has been for one circle of friends of mine, all of them Balkans, most of them from the former Yugoslavia.

The very deeply-ingrained distrust and, in many cases, outright hatred for their neighbors perplexed me. So they'd explain, starting pretty much the same way: "You have to understand something about the history of the region", and proceed to tell me a series of events that indeed made them seem like oppressed people robbed of territory by their neighbors. But then I'd talk to one of these neighbors, and they'd again cite history, but tell me something completely different. A third had a different story still.

This didn't help me gain any clarity as far as the truth about Kosovo is concerned - for that, I had to go to independent sources - but it did teach me a lot about what Kosovo means to Serbs. It's not just land to them; it is an almost mythical area of spiritual importance to them. When they talk about Kosovo, they're take on the passion of talking about fighting for their very souls. Talk to Kosovars about Kosovo, and you'll get the same impression.

This is why I think it's important to look at this situation beyond the scope of Serbia Wants Land. It amounts to a religious war - and not just in the Orthodox v. Muslim sense - but in a spiritual sense combining history and mythology overlapping, and expertly spun by political leaders for decades now.

I'm really pleased with this news. We just need to appreciate the fact that this isn't the end of it by a long shot.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:43 PM on July 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


For those who want to learn more about the history of the region, by the way, Black Lamb and Grey Falcoln, though imperfect, is recommended reading.
posted by resiny at 12:48 PM on July 22, 2010


Yeah, I too doubt that this represents the dawn of a golden age of peace and prosperity for Kosovo or Serbia, but it seems like the right thing to me.
posted by Mister_A at 12:50 PM on July 22, 2010


It was so much easier in 1776.
posted by smackfu at 12:57 PM on July 22, 2010


Now that the ICJ has set the precedent recognizing the independence of any parliamentary body that says so without a popular referendum, I eagerly await the flood of new nation states, starting with Quebec.
posted by rocket88 at 12:58 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I haven't lived in Europe since the 70s, but it's really interesting how when you look at a map of the EU community, one of the first things you see aside from neutral Switzerland is that giant hole in the Balkans. With the EU having developed into an economic powerhouse since the 1990s war I am curious whether whether Serbians/Croatians/etc see visions of prosperity and fortune if they are brought into the EU fold. Does this shape attitudes there these days? Or is there too much ethnic and nationalistic strife going around still?
posted by crapmatic at 12:58 PM on July 22, 2010


(Serbians Serbs)
posted by crapmatic at 1:02 PM on July 22, 2010


> For those who want to learn more about the history of the region, by the way, Black Lamb and Grey Falcoln, though imperfect, is recommended reading.

I'm glad you added the "imperfect" part, but I'm still going to issue my standard caveat: it's a wonderful book with an unconscionable pro-Serb slant that, given the horrors of the 1990s, is hard to read without discomfort. It's exactly the kind of twisted history Marisa Stole the Precious Thing was talking about. By all means read it for the anecdotes and wonderful descriptions, but don't believe a single thing she says about history and politics without verifying it elsewhere.
posted by languagehat at 1:05 PM on July 22, 2010


Anytime anyone in a debate about geopolitics says "You have to understand something about the history of the region," it rings hollow. Who cares what the history of the region is? They stole your ancestor's land generations before you were born? Big deal. Blacks in America are descended from people kidnapped from Africa, sold here as property for generations, during which there was liberal raping of the women and killing of the men without consequence, until the Constitution was amended to ban slavery nearly 100 years after it's founding. Then, for 100 years after that, the ruling whites enacted very clever laws to ensure that blacks were treated more poorly under the law than even the poorest whites, until the 1960's when after numerous riots, the assassination of a non-violent leader and the assassination of an ostensibly violent one led to laws banning segregation. Only then could black americans enjoy enjoy the simple pleasures of ordinary racism. And the United States won't even given them a paltry $20,000 reparations check.

Until you can tell an equally horrific story of uninterrupted brutality, exploitation, dehumanization, and oppression spanning nearly 500 years until the present day, leave your neighbors alone and make the best of what you have.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:55 PM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now that the ICJ has set the precedent recognizing the independence of any parliamentary body that says so without a popular referendum, I eagerly await the flood of new nation states, starting with Quebec.

Except that "the Court has not been asked to give an opinion on whether the declaration of independence is in accordance with any rule of domestic law but only whether it is in accordance with international law. The Court can respond to that question by reference to international law without the need to enquire into any system of domestic law."

Whereas Quebec is in fact governed by domestic law and thus can't secede without a popular revolution. Which is what the Supreme Court said.

In fact, this ruling even mentions Quebec! At paragraph 55-56, "the Court observes that the question in the present case is markedly different from that posed to the Supreme Court of Canada." ... "The question put to the Supreme Court of Canada inquired whether there was a right to “effect secession”, and whether there was a rule of international law which conferred a positive entitlement on any of the organs named. By contrast, the General Assembly has asked whether the declaration of independence was “in accordance with” international law."

Now that you've set the precedent of commenting on the issue without reading the actual decision, I less-than-eagerly await a slew of other ill-informed commentary.
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:59 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Misha Glenny's The Balkans is another good, if occasionally meandering and now somewhat dated, book on the topic.
posted by Rangeboy at 2:23 PM on July 22, 2010


Pastabagel: "Who cares what the history of the region is?"

A wild guess would be the people who live there. Or are the rest of the world not allowed to have its own grievances because the United States oppressed non-white people? Nice ethnocentrism there.
posted by brokkr at 2:24 PM on July 22, 2010


Adding to the list of recommended books, I'd add Madness Visible. You can read an excerpt here.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:30 PM on July 22, 2010


I think you entirely missed Pastabagel's point.
posted by spicynuts at 2:30 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I think you entirely missed Pastabagel's point.

Could you explain it, then? Because I have literally no idea what point he's trying to make.
posted by languagehat at 2:41 PM on July 22, 2010


languagehat: "I have literally no idea what point he's trying to make."

As I understand it, it can be summarized as: "Unless you've had it as bad as the African slaves and their descendants in the US, you should ignore whatever may have befallen you."

I have no idea what relation this has to the International Court of Justice declaring that Kosovo can legally declare its independence.
posted by brokkr at 3:15 PM on July 22, 2010


Until you can tell an equally horrific story of uninterrupted brutality, exploitation, dehumanization, and oppression spanning nearly 500 years until the present day, leave your neighbors alone and make the best of what you have.

As much as I understand what you're trying to say here, it's overly simplistic. Who leave who alone? The Serbs leave the Kosovans alone? The Kosovans leave the Serbs alone? These wars aren't just fought out of vengeance; they're fought out for the very definition of "we" and "them" and who counts in either case. There's a fundamental disagreement with the idea of land, people, history, government, belonging, and nationality. Even if each of those people were the most forgiving, peaceful people out there, those disagreements would not automatically resolve.

So, as much as you wish you could say "Knock it off", it does have a little bit more complexity than a Star Trek: the Next Generation episode. The blood-lust is a symptom of the problem, not necessarily the reason for it.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:42 PM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mean, good for them and all, but I was't aware that the ICJ had suddenly started mattering.
posted by valkyryn at 3:46 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wonder what would've happened had the ICJ been involved in the American declaration of independence. They probably would've thought the founders were an inconsequential sect of nutty idealists and laughed them off the global stage.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:59 PM on July 22, 2010


Great, since that's been settled, I guess the U.S. will be moving out of all 3.86km2/1000 acres of Camp Bondsteel any day now...
posted by ennui.bz at 4:38 PM on July 22, 2010


Does it matter at all that Serbia and Russia don't agree with this ruling?
posted by snsranch at 4:43 PM on July 22, 2010


Does it matter at all that Serbia and Russia don't agree with this ruling?

Technically it doesn't matter at all, full stop. The ICJ is entirely advisory, these rulings are not enforceable. Aka what valkyryn said above. It's a chip to play, but only so far as the opponents are willing/want to be seen to abide by the decisions and play nice.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:48 PM on July 22, 2010


As I understand it, it can be summarized as: "Unless you've had it as bad as the African slaves and their descendants in the US, you should ignore whatever may have befallen you."

You may be interested in the etymology of the word slave.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:31 PM on July 22, 2010


Thanks, Lemurrhea. I'm worried that this may cause some kind of retaliation against Kosovo, but so far things look good. I hope they stay that way.
posted by snsranch at 6:02 PM on July 22, 2010


Does it matter at all that Serbia and Russia don't agree with this ruling?

No. Serbia wants to be part of Europe, and that is going to mean accepting for now and eventually reconciling themselves to Kosovo's independence. Kosovo is not controlled by Serbia, and it never will be again. Kosovo's independence is recognized by pretty well every country, and that's good enough. Just as it doesn't matter if China doesn't recognize Taiwanese independence, it doesn't matter what Serbia thinks of Kosovo. They're independent, and they have enough international support to stay that way. They just need to focus on not being a broken state because of massive corruption and criminal activity.
posted by Dasein at 6:27 PM on July 22, 2010


Just as it doesn't matter if China doesn't recognize Taiwanese independence, it doesn't matter what Serbia thinks of Kosovo.

But see, it does matter that China doesn't recognize Taiwanese independence. China happens to be a major world power, and no one is really willing to piss them off over this. True, Taiwan may be functionally independent, but Beijing does not and will not brook any attempt to truly permit Taiwan to become a recognized sovereign state.

Serbia, on the other hand, will basically just take it, because they don't happen to be the world's second or third largest economy with the world's largest standing army.
posted by valkyryn at 6:51 PM on July 22, 2010


Yes, I can see that the China/Taiwan analogy isn't the best, but I get the point. Thanks Dasein for helping me better understand that aspect.
posted by snsranch at 7:22 PM on July 22, 2010


When I was in Croatia a couple of years ago a local told me that they refer to Serbia as Nokia- because every year there's a new version and they keep getting smaller.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:32 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can't we all just substitue Palestine for Kosovo and Israel for Serbia in the context of reading this and hope that they can't sort this out equally and the US can maintain its moral superiority without compromising policy in support of genocidal regimes?
posted by jsavimbi at 7:38 PM on July 22, 2010


Can't we all just substitue Palestine for Kosovo and Israel for Serbia in the context of reading this

No.
posted by resiny at 8:12 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


valkyryn, the point re Taiwan is that it is sovereign because the world effectively treats it as such (in addition to the fact that it carries out the functions of a sovereign states). Obviously that doesn't eliminate the threat of war, but the point is that it's okay for some countries to ignore your declarations of sovereignty depending on how you are treated in reality.

Israel should only be mentioned in this thread to the extent that it is certainly a sovereign country in spite of the fact that several countries don't recognize its existence.
posted by Dasein at 8:30 PM on July 22, 2010


the point re Taiwan is that it is sovereign because the world effectively treats it as such
Derailing away, but having no seat at the UN or other multilateral bodies (recall the difficulties getting represented at the WHO despite the obvious humanitarian aspect) isn't quite being treated as fully sovereign I reckon.
posted by Abiezer at 10:04 PM on July 22, 2010


valkyryn, the point re Taiwan is that it is sovereign because the world effectively treats it as such (in addition to the fact that it carries out the functions of a sovereign states).

As Abiezer points out, in a lot of ways it really doesn't. In addition to the difficulties he points out, its uncertain status creates, well, uncertainty, which is actually a big deal. Uncertainty is why we charge interest. The more unstable the political situation, the harder it is for Taiwanese businesses to attract foreign investment, and the more of a premium they must pay for it.
posted by valkyryn at 4:04 AM on July 23, 2010


Pastabagel: That is an astonishing bit of US and ethno centrism. I completely fail to see what 'my human tragedy is bigger than your human tragedy' has to do with any of this.

Six million people died in the Holocaust. Stalin killed millions in labour camps. Just like your weird derail, neither of those things have any immediate bearing on this thread, Kosovo or it's slow crawl towards nation statehood.

Why did you even post in the thread if you're so dismissive of the topic?

Seriously, the ethnic and internecine strife in Europe and the Balkans goes back thousands (literally thousands, like back to the Neolithic) of years. You can't handwave it away or discount it by (bizarrely) touting the oppression of African-Americans as the trumping human tragedy of the world. I mean, what?
posted by Happy Dave at 7:05 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well said, Happy Dave!
posted by Tarumba at 8:24 AM on July 23, 2010


I'm not pastabagel and don't necessarily agree with his point, but:

I think he was trying to say that just about every nation of people has a history full of being conquered and conquering, of subjugation and liberation and countersubjugation. But in most of the world, people generally don't hold serious warfare-level ethnic grudges that they claim are based on ancient disputes. And, we probably shouldn't act like those ethnic grudges are remotely reasonable.

I mean, if you met an English person who seriously distrusted and maybe hated anyone from Norway because of Viking attacks, or who seriously distrusted and maybe hated anyone from France because of the Norman invasion, you probably wouldn't think that the history of Britain is complex and that the Viking attacks or Norman invasion really were terrible things... you'd probably instead think that you were talking to someone who was insanely xenophobic.

Or if you met someone from Tlaxcala who really distrusted and disliked people from Mexico City because of the wars against Tenochtitlan, your first reaction would probably be more that the person you were talking to was xenophobic to the point of being unhinged, not that the precolumbian history of central Mexico is complex and bloody.

I get pastabagel's point that we shouldn't look at these long-standing ethnic grudges and just say that the history of those peoples is complicated and you have to understand what something means to them, when we wouldn't say that about people who were behaving in insanely xenophobic ways in other parts of the world. And I know that this was what MSTPT meant, but discussions of what Kosovo means to Serbs or similar discussions of "You have to understand the history here..." make me uneasy to the extent that they can blur into a rationalization for ethnic grudges or contain the same elements as the justifications that insane xenophobes offer for their grudges.

I don't know that I really agree with it. Pastabagel's point, if I understand it, makes it too easy to dismiss Serbs as just terrible people who need to grow up. While something must have gone terribly wrong in the Balkans for these ethnic grudges to persist so virulently, just chalking it up to one side being Snidely Whiplash also isn't sensible, and it would be interesting to understand what happened in the systems of education and manipulation by cynical politicians and so on that happened to drive them into such a dark place. Especially since I doubt there are many places on earth where cynical leaders with the right institutional tools and enough time to use them couldn't also whip up serious ethnic hatreds.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:47 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, it really sounds like he's playing Oppression Poker, and US slavery is the royal flush.

Who cares what the history of the region is? They stole your ancestor's land generations before you were born? Big deal. Blacks in America are descended from people kidnapped from Africa, sold here as property for generations, during which ... [et cetera]. Until you can tell an equally horrific story of uninterrupted brutality, exploitation, dehumanization, and oppression spanning nearly 500 years until the present day, leave your neighbors alone and make the best of what you have.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:57 AM on July 23, 2010


I see your far-better explained point ROU_Xenophobe and I agree with MSTPT's take on it.

I'll also note that your analogy re: England and the Vikings is a little faulty, in that that particular emnity dates back nearly a thousand years, with no violence in the near past. The UK still has jokey emnity with the French and Germans as we fought them both within the last couple of centuries. Critically though, we weren't all fighting over the same patch of land that everybody wanted to live on, Lebensraum and the French rule of Europe aside. Everybody's homelands were fairly well defined and went back, mostly, to their pre-war borders after each conflict.

Contrast with the Balkans where schisms of violence have rolled through the region pretty regularly for centuries, borders have always been fuzzy and many areas, Kosovo and Bosnia in particular, were patchworks of different ethnic and faith groups, all of whom believe they have ultimate claim on the land. Whether it's the Croatian Ustaše siding with the Nazis in the 1940's or the shelling of Sarajevo in the Nineties, it's pretty far from solely a centuries old grudge with no recent basis.

That centuries old grudge may be used as a justification or a motivator by the populist politicians and military readers on all sides, but it's not the sole cause. People didn't kill each other in the Balkans for an idea, they killed each other because they, or their grandparents, remembered other groups killing them before Tito slammed a lid on the whole boiling cauldron of strife for forty years. Some of it was myth, some of it was real, all of it had horrendous consequences for the region and the people that live there.

So yeah, the history of the region is important stuff to know, even if it only allows you to sort through the lies, blustering and justifications of the genocidaires.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:12 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll also note that your analogy re: England and the Vikings is a little faulty, in that that particular emnity dates back nearly a thousand years, with no violence in the near past.

...which is another reason I don't really agree with pastabagel. I just thought my comment was already long enough.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:33 AM on July 23, 2010


I completely fail to see what 'my human tragedy is bigger than your human tragedy' has to do with any of this.

Could you explain it, then? Because I have literally no idea what point he's trying to make.
posted by languagehat at 5:41 PM on July 22


My point is that the statement "You have to understand something about the history of the region" which always precedes some rationalization or justification for the actions of the side the person talking is supporting, and is almost always directed to Americans, is always, without exception, fraudulent. As if that knowing the history will help to make sense of what is happening. It doesn't. History doesn't help sort through the lies, because the history changes every time someone writes a new book about it. History is the present's imaginary past.

History is important if the question is "Why are they fighting over this?" History can explain how this, whatever this is, because an important issue. But history is not important if the question is merely "Why are they fighting?" Slavery does not explain the civil rights marches of the 60's. The south in the 60's explains the marches in the 60's.

The reasons Serbs are told to hate/resent/fear/begrudge Kosovars (and vice versa) is because of history. And if the history wasn't compelling, I guarantee you they'd drag religion into it. But the reason the US supports Kosovo's independence and Russia doesn't has to do with right now, with what is at stake for them right now. The reason Kosovo needed independence is because of right now.

Making the statement "You have to understand something about the history of the region" is to encourage maintenance of the status quo. And yet the people involved in every single one the of conflicts in which this statement is routinely made--Israel/Palestine, the Balkans, Sudan, Iraq/Iran, etc, i.e. these people who know their history better than anyone else-- can't seem to resolve their goddamn conflicts. The conflicts go on forever because each new generation is taught more about what happened in 1967, or WWI, for example, than they are about what happened in the last 10 years. They are taught their history so they can be plied and swayed with it.

The immediate past, which is exhaustively documented in primary source materials, is somehow untrustworthy television to be immediately forgotten, but the distant past, for which there is no extant memory but which was described by a professor in another country ten years ago, constitutes the canonical History of the Region.

The reason that I brought up the repression of blacks in America is because of how brilliantly that movement has unburden itself of an actual and atrocious history. At every point in the past, the grievance was a present one - slaverly, segregation, racism. That it is connected to a pattern is interesting, but does not guide the way through to resolving the problem.

It wasn't top play some oppression card, it was raised precisely to stop the raising of the oppression card by others in other situations.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:21 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd say we're pretty damn far from unburdening ourselves of the history of slavery and segregation, but otherwise I agree that "history" is no excuse for genocide.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:54 PM on July 23, 2010


> My point is that the statement "You have to understand something about the history of the region" which always precedes some rationalization or justification for the actions of the side the person talking is supporting, and is almost always directed to Americans, is always, without exception, fraudulent. As if that knowing the history will help to make sense of what is happening. It doesn't.

I think your point is utterly wrong, but I thank you for clarifying it.
posted by languagehat at 3:03 PM on July 23, 2010


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