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Kosovo’s Independence: Genuine Liberation or Front for US-NATO Expansion?

StoryFebruary 19, 2008
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Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Monday. The move was welcomed by the United States, Turkey and some European Union countries Monday, even as it was sharply condemned by Serbia, Russia, China and Spain. While supporters have welcomed the decree as an act of liberation, critics call the move a front for advancing US-NATO aims. We host a debate between George Szamuely, a New York-based writer and longtime commentator on the Balkans, and Isa Blumi, professor of Middle East and Balkan history and a former member of the Kosovar provisional government. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Kosovo has declared independence from Serbia Monday. The move was welcomed by the United States, Turkey and some European Union countries Monday, even as it was sharply condemned by Serbia, Russia, China and Spain. President Bush publicly announced his support for Kosovo while speaking on NBC’s Today Show from Tanzania.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, as I said yesterday, the Ahtisaari plan is our blueprint forward. We’ll watch to see how the events unfold today, but the Kosovars are now independent. It’s something that I have advocated, along with my government.

AMY GOODMAN: At a news conference Monday, Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci thanked the United States for recognizing the new state.

    PRIME MINISTER HASHIM THACI: [translated] Thank you, President Bush. Thank you, government and citizens of America. The Kosovo institutions, the people of Kosovo, will always be grateful, as a government and as a people, to the American nation.

AMY GOODMAN: The Serbian government, meanwhile, has condemned any international recognition of Kosovo and recalled its ambassador to the United States. Serbian President Boris Tadic told the Security Council at an emergency meeting Monday Kosovo’s independence violates international law.

    PRESIDENT BORIS TADIC: [translated] This illegal declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanians constitutes a flagrant violation of UNSC Resolution 1244, which affirms a sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia, including Kosovo and Metohija. Serbia, let me recall, is a member state and a founder of the UN. If a small peace-loving and democratic country in Europe, a member state of the UN, can be deprived of its territory illegally and against its will, historic injustice will have occurred, because a legitimate democracy has never before been punished this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of Serbs in Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia have taken to the streets to oppose international support for Kosovo. Protesters have targeted embassies of the United States and Slovenia, which holds the EU, the European Union, presidency, as well as United Nations and European Union buildings.

This is an unidentified Serbian protester in Kosovo.

    SERBIAN PROTESTER: [translated] Kosovo is Serbia and will always be Serbia. From 183 world countries, let them all recognize the independence of Kosovo, but if Serbia does not recognize it, it will never be a country. Never ever.

AMY GOODMAN: For Albanian Kosovars, however, it’s a historic moment. Thousands celebrated late into Sunday night. This is Visar Arifaj, speaking just before independence was declared.

    VISAR ARIFAJ: [translated] The thing is, it doesn’t matter what kind of lives we’re going to have. The thing is that we’re going to be free, so we can do whatever we want, and we don’t care if the power cuts off or if we’re going to need visas. But we’re independent, and we don’t depend on anyone. And that’s the thing.

AMY GOODMAN: We now host a debate on Kosovo’s independence. George Szamuely is a New York-based writer, longtime commentator on the Balkans — his latest article appeared in CounterPunch; it’s called “The Absurdity of an ‘Independent’ Kosovo” — joining us in our firehouse studio. Isa Blumi is a professor of Middle East and Balkan history at Georgia State University, has written extensively on Balkan history and politics, was a member of the Kosovar provisional government in ’98 and 1999. He joins us now from Atlanta, Georgia.

Professor Blumi, let’s begin with you. Your response to Kosovo establishing itself as the newest nation in the world?

ISA BLUMI: Well, at one level, of course, this is a long-awaited process, one that from 1912 onwards has been a struggle that for much of this long history of occupation and brutalization of the people who live in Kosovo has been an unrecognized struggle for some kind of representation, right of representation, or some kind of assimilation into a functioning state. So this, on one level, is, as you can hear from the people in the streets of Pristina and among the diaspora throughout the world, a breath of fresh air. It’s a relief, an expression of relief.

On the other hand, of course, there’s a lot of work to do. I’m not particularly happy with the way the situation has developed since 1999. I think that the process has been co-opted. I think one of the most important ways to think about what has actually happened over the last — at least since the mid-1990s, is that, in many ways, the contingencies on the ground, largely created by the persistence of the people of Kosovo to resist tyranny, has forced the hand of the international community in a way that now we are seeing the end result after a frustrated effort of first trying to suppress the demands of the Kosovar population for some kind of political representation in the outside world. Now, they have, as a last resort, managed —- [inaudible] managed and overseen process of independence, which I’m very doubtful will actually translate into real sovereignty, real independence for the people of Kosovo. So it’s a -—

AMY GOODMAN: George Szamuely, you have been very critical of the independence of Kosovo.

GEORGE SZAMUELY: Yes, I think that this is, in effect, a native seizure of prime real estate. This is — Kosovo will not be any kind of an independent state. It will be a native satellite, a kind of hinterland for the United States Camp Bondsteel. I think what the United States and a few of its usual cast of suspects of EU allies have done is seized part of another country and in violation of international law, in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, have eschewed any attempt to negotiate a resolution of this problem and have just simply announce that, well, this was now to be a new state. They have no intention of respecting its — in any case — sovereignty. I mean, one only has to look at the Ahtisaari plan to see that there’s no way that Kosovo will actually be self-governing.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

GEORGE SZAMUELY: Well, the place will be run by a high representative. This is, you know, like a colonial viceroy. Its security and foreign policy will effectively be dictated by Brussels and Washington. It will have the usual NATO military presence. On almost all key issues, whether it’s on foreign policy, on security, on taxation, those issues will be decided on by the high representative on orders from Washington or Brussels.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Blumi, your quick response?

ISA BLUMI: I fully agree that this is a managed process, and it’s one that I think, in the short and medium term, Kosovars will come to realize, much like they responded to some eighty years of unrespected demands and interest in independence, will react accordingly. I think we have a dangerous period ahead of us once Kosovars realize just how little of this sovereignty and independence actually exists for them. That being said —-

AMY GOODMAN: George Szamuely?

GEORGE SZAMUELY: Well, I think the -— yes, I mean, that’s certainly dangerous, but I think what is very dangerous is that the United States and the key EU countries have abandoned any attempt at following the dictates of international law, and they’ve even abandoned the very principles that they enunciated during the breakup of Yugoslavia, which was that they would recognize the individual territorial — federal territorial units of the SFRY as the new nation states. So then they suddenly turned around and said, well, yes, we’ll recognize it for every other republic in Yugoslavia, except Serbia. Serbia will just have, you know, a vast chunk of its territory just taken away from them.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. It has been a packed news day. I want to thank you both for joining us. George Szamuely, his piece appears at CounterPunch, called “The Absurdity of an ‘Independent’ Kosovo.” And Professor Isa Blumi from Georgia State University, speaking to us from Atlanta.

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