bosnia report
New Series No. 6/7 September - December 1998
Kosova Must Control Its Own Destiny
by Paul Garde

Kosovo is currently the theatre of a bloody war in which the Albanian population, constituting an overwhelming majority of some 90%, is unanimous in claiming independence, while the Serbian regime strives to crush this claim by all means, including the destruction of entire villages and the massacre of civilians. The international community condemns these methods and wants to urge the parties towards a compromise; but it excludes the solution of independence for Kosovo, on the pretext that the territory is legally part of the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and independence for it would run counter to the principle of maintaining existing frontiers. Let us examine the basis for this stance of the big powers, which converges precisely with the position of Milosevic.

According to the terms of its 1974 Conü stitution, Article 2, the SFRY (Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia) was made up of six republics (one of which was Serbia) and the two autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. It thus had eight constituent units. During the years 1991-3, four of these - Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia - proclaimed their independence, approved by popular referendum, then sought international recognition and, after their candidacies had been examined by the Badinter Commission, won their recognition and their seats in the United Nations.

On the territory of the four others - the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, the provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo - no process of the kind was carried through. First, in 1989-90, Serbia illegally usurped the constitutional powers hitherto exercised by Vojvodina and Kosovo. Then, in 1992, Serbia united with Montenegro in a federation called FRY, which was approved by a wide margin in referenda held in Serbia, Montenegro and Vojvodina, but not in Kosovo where the voting process was almost totally boycotted. Not recognized as continuing the former SFRY, but not asking either for recognition as a new state, the FRY does not have a UN seat and its international status remains uncertain.

In Kosovo, meanwhile, the independence of a 'Republic of Kosovo' was proclaimed and approved by a wide margin in a referendum as early as 1991, since when the institutions of this republic have functioned regularly, albeit clandestinely.

What, therefore, is the basis for the refusal of the big powers to recognize Kosovo, although the preliminary procedures - parliaü mentary vote, referendum - were the same as for the four republics? All they can invoke, it seems, is a single passage in the above-mentioned Article 2 of the 1974 Constitution, referring to the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina 'which belong to Serbia'. This isolated reference, casually inserted in a relative clause, without any consequeÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ nce being drawn from it, is in flagrant contradiction with all the rest of the text, which on innumerable occasions mentions 'republics and provinces' jointly as distinct entities endowed with equal competencies. The upshot was that Serbia had no power over the two provinces, as the Serbian jurist Kosta CavoÐki quite rightly noted (while deploring the fact): 'The autonomous provinces, each taken separately, and Serbia, reduced to its strict limits, are equal to one another and virtually independent from one another, in the same way that Macedonia is independent from Montenegro and vice versa.' So there is no difference in this respect between the four republics, whose independence has been recognized, and Kosovo, which has been denied it.

The same 1974 Constitution, from the very first words of its preamble, asserts the 'right of secession' of the 'peoples of Yugoslavia'. To be sure, in Titoist jargon the term 'people' designates Yugoslavia's six 'constituent' South-Slav ethnic groups, while the term 'nationality' is used for all the other, non- South-Slav ones, including the Albanians. But Article 245 of the same text stipulates that: 'the peoples and nationalities enjoy equal rights'. Accordingly, if the peoples have the right of secession, the nationalities possess it likewise.

The preamble also says: 'The peoples and nationalities exercise their sovereign rights in the socialist republics and the socialist autonomous provinces.' It may thus be concluded that the peoples and nationalities can exercise their right of secession only in the framework of a republic or province. This was the case for four of the 'peoples' in the four currently recognized republics. It is the case also for one of the 'nationalities': the Albanians in Kosovo.

By contrast, an ethnic group forming a minority in its republic or province cannot exercise this right, whether it is a 'people' - like the Croats in Bosnia, or the Serbs in Bosnia and in Croatia - or a 'nationality', like the Albanians in Macedonia or the Hungarians in Vojvodina. So the international community was quite right never to agree to recognize as states either the 'Krajina', or 'Herceg-Bosna', or Republika Srpska (which is just an 'entity' within Bosnia-Herzegovina). And it is also quite right to reject any secessionist tendencies that may manifest themselves among the Albanians of Macedonia. Against all these claims, the principle of maintaining existing frontiers holds good. The case of Kosovo is different: it is identical with those of the four republics already recognized.

So it is not true that the independence of Kosovo would create a dangerous precedent for the regions located further to the south, especially Macedonia, and thus destabilize the Balkans. The integrity of Macedonia should continue to be actively defended against the claims of all its neighbours, in the name of the same principles.

But let us suppose that this analysis of a now defunct constitution is considered pointless, and that for a moment we accept (in the name of other principles - but which ones?) the Serbian and big-power thesis that this province 'belongs' to Serbia, and that its 1.8 million Albanians are a 'minority' among the 10 million 'Yugoslav' citizens. It must then be acknowledged that this minority is unlike any other.

In the first place, it is the most numerous in eastern Europe, outstripping the Hungarians of Romania (1.6 million), the Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1.3 million), the Russians of Lithuania and of Moldova (1.1 million), the Turks of Bulgaria and the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina (0.8 million), the Serbs of Croatia and the Russians of Estonia (0.6 million), the Hungarians of Slovakia and the Albanians of Macedonia (0.5 million), and so on.

It is also the most compact, grouped as it is almost entirely on the territory of Kosovo itself, where it constitutes an overwhelming majority, whereas all the other minorities are dispersed among other populations (except where they have elimiÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ nated the latter by ethnic cleansing, as the Serbs and Croats have done in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Serbs had done in Croatia in 1991 before being driven out in their turn four years later).

It is the only one whose territory, marked off by a constitutionally guaranteed frontier, for fifteen years (1974-89) enjoyed a very extensive autonomy assuring it almost total control of its own affairs: an autonomy of which it was deprived only by an act of violence.

Lastly and most importantly, it is the only European minority whose members have been deprived for nine years of all their rights, driven from their jobs and subjected to constant police harassment; the only one that for six months has been the victim of systematic massacres, expulsions and destruction of its villages at the hands of the state to which it is subjected.

In short, even if the Albanians of Kosovo are considered a 'minority', it must be acknowledged that their problems are of a quite different nature than those of Europe's other minorities, and do not create a precedent for the latter, which are susceptible to quite different solutions. Not just the most basic rights of the population of Kosovo are threatened, but its very survival.

No settlement will be viable if it does not ensure that the murderous, destructive power of the FRY is definitively rendered unable to do harm within the long-established borders of Kosovo; unless it makes the inhabitants of that country wholly and irreversibly masters of their own affairs. Such a situation should be called 'independence'. It might also - by virtue of a few juridical subtleties, a few confederal links (on an equal footing) between Kosovo and the neighbouring entities - be called 'autonomy'.

But whatever the name, until such a situation has been created no peace will be possible in the Balkans.

This article is translated from Le Monde, 24 October 1998


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