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
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
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