Kosovo – The Republic of Kosovo is a partially recognized state in Europe

Kosovo: American-style independence

Kosovo is a small piece of land in the south of former Yugoslavia. Today it is a partially recognized state, as many countries, including Russia, do not recognize Kosovo’s independence. Until now, the status of the country and its history cause a lot of disputes, in which Kosovo acts as a symbol of confrontation between the United States and Russia. Unfortunately for the country, it did not go beyond the role of a symbol in the political struggle of the superpowers.

Today, Kosovars are among the poorest inhabitants of Europe. In various ratings, Kosovo is usually compared in terms of living standards with Belarus and Moldova, but on the face of it, everything is much worse. There is virtually no manufacturing, with the exception of the Kosovo Steel Group, although the U.S. is planning to build a military plant there. As of 2015, a third of Kosovo’s population was living on less than 1.42 euros a day. The unemployment rate is as high as 45%, and residents prefer to leave for other countries in search of a better life. Most migrants seek asylum in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia, with some settling in Hungary. Those who are able to leave send money back home – that’s how they live.

According to the World Bank, Kosovo has a fairly high growth rate for the Balkans – 3% last year (Montenegro has 3.4%, Serbia has 0.9%). But without constant investment from the EU and the creation of new jobs, the country simply will not survive.

There is no money of its own here; euros are used. Back in 1999, the region converted to German marks to abandon the Serbian dinar. When Germany has passed to euro, Kosovo has inherited this currency: the mission of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) used euro, and Kosovars have not thought up the currency.

But since 2008, they have been printing their own passports that can be used to travel abroad. Kosovar can travel to the states that have recognized the independence of the republic. There is no way to get into Russia, but it is said to be possible to get into China or Spain. Only Greece and Slovakia have officially announced that they do not recognize the independence of Kosovo, but recognize the passports of citizens of the republic and are ready to let them in.

In the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia, Russia has always been on the side of the latter. But I have not noticed any special aversion to Russians in Kosovo, probably, because Russia did not take active actions against Albanian “liberators”. Many locals, including Albanians, are quite friendly. The Serbs have mixed feelings about the Russians. On the one hand, of course, they are “brothers”; on the other, there is anger that Moscow did not help to hold Kosovo during the difficult years.

The main reason of the negative attitude to Russians in Kosovo can be our soccer fans who at each match with Albanian and Russian teams (whether national teams or clubs) continue to shout that “Kosovo is Srbija!” By the way, Kosovo was recently admitted to UEFA, so expect at least some scuffles in the stands.

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Once upon a time the region was really Serbian, and there was even a Serbian patriarch in the city of Pec. That all changed when the Turks came. The Serbs were consistently driven out of Kosovo, although they fiercely resisted. The Albanians, on the other hand, liked the Turks with their Islam at first, so that in the middle of the XIX century the population was already divided 50-50. Then the Albanians decided that they didn’t need the Turks, either, and created their own state.

When Yugoslavia came together in 1918 out of little pieces, the Serbs had hope of kicking the Albanians out of Kosovo once and for all. But then World War II happened. The Italians just went and annexed Kosovo to Albania. The Albanians got excited and drove out as many Serbs as they could. When Yugoslavia was liberated after all, Tito took over. He hoped to reclaim Albania, so he actively encouraged Albanians to repopulate Kosovo.

With the arrival of Milosevic to power, the Albanian freedom came to an end, but then it was time for the breakup of Yugoslavia. On September 22, 1991, the Republic of Kosovo declared independence, and a month later Albania recognized it. Yugoslavia was not going to let go of its territory, and another massacre in the region began with the active participation of the Kosovo Liberation Army (an Albanian guerrilla-terrorist group), the Yugoslav army and then NATO. During the fighting, most of the Serbian population left the region, and it became almost entirely Albanian.

The situation escalated again in 1999, when the Albanians accused the Serbs of genocide because of the massacre in Racak. Whether or not there was a massacre of civilians is still debatable. But for NATO, it was an excuse to start bombing Belgrade.

Since 1999, Kosovo had been administered by the UN, which gradually turned over power to the local administration. The former Albanian field commanders ended up in power, which did not add to the love of the republic on the part of the Serbs. In 2008, the Republic of Kosovo proclaimed its own independence for the second time. By that time, the former Yugoslavian province had long since ceased to be subordinated to Belgrade.

Kosovo’s population is now almost entirely Albanians. Serbs live in a small group in the north of Kosovo and are not subordinated to Pristina. The republic lives its own life, tries to develop the economy, doesn’t have a special conflict with Serbia, because it is one of the main trading partners.

The independence of Kosovo has already been recognized by 108 states from 193 members of the United Nations. But Kosovo can’t become a full member of the United Nations while Russia and China, members of the Security Council, are against it. In fact, it has long been an independent territory, but in limbo. These Kosovars are strange guys: they could have long ago held a referendum on joining to Albania (as it is accepted in decent countries) and not to worry. Why torture Belgrade, which is still hoping and waiting?

The Russians are remembered here from 1999, when our paratroopers beat everyone with their famous Pristina dash. At the moment when President Clinton and the NATO command opened the champagne and celebrated the victory, Yeltsin decided that the celebration would not be complete without our paratroopers. And since we were not invited, we will come. And we did.

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On June 10, 1999, the main NATO military operation in former Yugoslavia was over, and on June 12, they wanted to introduce peacekeeping troops in Kosovo. Ours were standing 700 kilometers from Pristina, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the night of the 12th, 200 of our paratroopers on APCs and trucks moved into Kosovo and easily captured the Slatina airport. The airport was important because it was the only airport in the region, and it could accept any type of aircraft, including heavy military transports. And it was through this airport that the Americans planned to begin a ground operation. Our people had entrenched themselves at the airport, set up their checkpoints and started popping the champagne, too.

On the morning of the 12th, guests from NATO came in tanks and helicopters. The reception was not exactly warm. The British helicopters were not allowed to land by our paratroopers. The British tankers ran into the Russian barrier, behind which there was a simple Russian soldier with a grenade launcher. An awkward pause hung, but conflict was avoided. The commander of the British force in the Balkans, Michael Jackson, declared that he “will not allow his soldiers to start World War III. Instead of attacking, he gave the command to surround the airfield.

As history showed, Yeltsin could not take advantage of the success of our paratroopers and soon leaked everything to the Americans. The Slatina airport was recognized as a joint base of peacekeeping forces under Russian protection. In 2003, we abandoned Kosovo altogether. At that time, Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin said: “We don’t have strategic interests in the Balkans, and we will save twenty five million dollars a year by withdrawing peacekeepers.

Today, the Kosovars think of the Americans as heroes who helped them to free themselves from Serbian oppression.

01. The central street of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, is called Bill Clinton Boulevard: a thank-you to the Kosovars for saving them from the Yugoslav army. By the way, the boulevard is crossed by George Bush’s street (presumably the younger one, because it was under him that the States recognized Kosovo’s independence). And for some reason, several Kosovar towns have streets named after Woodrow Wilson.

02. The street was inaugurated in 2002 by the president of Kosovo Ibrahim Rugova.

What is Kosovo and why it is not recognized

Kosovo national soccer team

Kosovo national soccer team

World Cup qualification 2022

qualification for World Cup 2022

Ukraine national soccer team

Ukraine national soccer team

A lot of history and some soccer – Aleksandr Tkach explains who our neighbors played with today.

Why is Kosovo a disputed territory?

The Balkans and Yugoslavia have always had enough problematic regions, but even by local standards, Kosovo is a special case. Here, unlike other hotspots, interethnic tensions have essentially existed for the last hundred years without interruption.

Kosovo, as it is now, came to Serbia in 1913 at the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. By then it was a backward backwater where Albanians had already outnumbered Serbs – but 500 years earlier there had been an early Serbian state here, after whose collapse at the hands of the Turks the Serbs began migrating en masse north to Austria-Hungary. Ironically, for Albanians, Kosovo was also symbolically important: in the late nineteenth century, it was here that the idea that Albanians were a distinct people who deserved more than a place in the long line of loyal Muslim subjects was born. Having broken away from the Ottoman Empire, about half of the Albanians found themselves in an even more alien state.

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Why did the case end in war?

After World War II, the Yugoslav leadership tried a variety of methods in its relations with ethnic Albanians. At first, it was the stick: Serbs were appointed to key positions in Kosovo, and separatism was actively prosecuted. In the 1970s, it was the carrot: industry started to develop in the depressive region, it was given a de-facto status equal to the other Yugoslav republics, a university was opened in the capital Pristina and Albanian higher education was expanded. Nevertheless, these concessions were still not enough for Albanians, and they were already too much for Serbs.

Slobodan Milosevic, who came to power after Tito’s death, tightened the screws again, but things only got worse. The Albanians, who made up 90 percent of the population of Kosovo at the time, “went into denial. They boycotted all Serbian authorities, created the own parallel shadow education, public health services and the taxation, have ceased to go to elections and have declared creation of independent Republic Kosovo.

In 1995, after the war, Croatia and Bosnia separated from Yugoslavia, but the final agreements didn’t say a word about Kosovo – the West recognized the right of self-determination of the republics, but Kosovo didn’t have this status. Disillusioned Kosovars switched from Mahatma Gandhi tactics to those of the OUN-UPA. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an armed insurgent organization that attacked Serbian police officers, carried out intimidation and ethnic cleansing against the local Serbian population and did not shy away from terrorizing Albanians who continued to “cooperate” with the Yugoslav authorities, gained weight in the region.

In response, Milosevic launched his own ATO, which dragged on and turned into a full-scale guerrilla war. The parties to the conflict tried to establish the right ethnic balance in the region, competing with each other in brutality against civilians of the “wrong” nationality. The Yugoslav army, police and volunteer units on one side and the KLA on the other conducted intimidation operations and ethnic cleansing that took the lives of at least 8,000 Albanians and at least 2,000 Serbs.

How did Kosovo become independent?

The West, which was watching the war, demanded that Milosevic stop the Kosovo operation and make a compromise with the Albanians. He stubbornly refused, and a year and a half later NATO began bombing Serbia. Milosevic surrendered, agreeing to withdraw his security forces from Kosovo. The next ten years passed while trying to find a way of the existence of Kosovo that would suit both Albanians and Serbs. The process was deadlocked, and in 2008, the Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence.

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In the first year it was recognized by 55 countries of the world, including the USA, Great Britain, Germany and France. Now there are already 110 such countries, which is more than half of the UN member states, including 23 out of 28 members of the EU.

The Western position is as follows: Kosovo is not an Albanian state, but a multinational state of all the peoples living there, because according to the constitution both languages are state languages, the country’s flag outlines its borders, and the parliament has a quota for Serbs. The creation of such “new type” states (the previous one was Bosnia and Herzegovina) is the only remaining way to prevent a new war in the Balkans.

However, in practice Albanians make 92 % of the population of Kosovo, and Serbs – only 1,5 %, and the experience of existence of Bosnia can hardly be called successful. As a result, the low standard of living and dissatisfaction with Kosovo’s “artificiality” led to the fact that in 2015 it was second only to Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan in the number of candidates for refugees in the EU. Four percent of the population of the two-million-strong country applied for asylum, 70% of whom wanted to go to Germany; 98% of the applications processed were rejected.

Why not recognize Kosovo?

In addition to Serbia and its traditional patrons Russia, as well as China, countries that have imagined themselves in Serbia’s shoes have refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence. First of all, Spain – for the Madrid authorities, the precedent of Kosovo looks like advice to Basque terrorists from ETA: “If you were more persistent, you would have got your way. Also in Europe, Greece (because it is also a traditional ally of Serbia), Romania and Slovakia (because they are afraid of Hungarian separatism), Bosnia (where local Serbs have veto power), and the former Soviet Union countries do not recognize the new state. Ukraine at first refrained from recognizing Kosovo’s independence rather than resenting it. There was no danger for Crimea and nobody wanted to quarrel with European partners who massively recognized the new state. But it was decided to be on the safe side. So, paradoxically, the official position of Ukraine on Kosovo evolved gradually, from evasive “we need to think” under Yushchenko to quite definite “we will not recognize it” under Yanukovich.

Why were they admitted to UEFA and FIFA in the first place?

Kosovo started to be accepted into international sport federations in 2008 (and in table tennis, by a long tradition, it was done even earlier). The country was admitted to the IOC in 2014 and to the IAAF athletics federation in 2015. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro – although Brazil did not officially recognize Kosovo – a team of eight athletes performed and won one medal – gold for judoka Milinda Kelmendi.

The process of Kosovo’s soccer recognition has been much slower and more ambiguous. FIFA rejected the first application for membership in 2008, saying that we do not accept those who are not recognized by the international community. In 2012, Kosovo was still allowed to play friendly matches with teams from FIFA countries, not just Abkhazia and Kurdistan. After Serbian protests, the permission was cancelled, but in 2014 it was restored, with the condition that the team’s uniforms would not bear any state symbols and that the national anthem would not be played. Even the May vote at the UEFA Congress ended with a very competitive result of 28 to 24. All countries not recognizing Kosovo voted against it – besides Ukraine, they were Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.

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Kosovo was greatly helped by the fact that its attempts to gain entry coincided with those of Gibraltar. The Iberians were once rejected by UEFA and FIFA under pressure from Spain, which threatened to deprive Real Madrid and Barcelona of European Cups. However, Gibraltar appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (CAS), which obliged them to accept them. In the end, the vote at the FIFA Congress was unequivocal: 172 to 12.

Was it possible to play with Kosovo in Ukraine?

It all depends on the desire of the country’s political leadership. The fact is that recognition of a country’s independence and the validity of its passports for crossing the border are not really the same thing. Neighbors Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Bosnia, which do not recognize Kosovo (and voted against it at the UEFA Congress), nevertheless allow citizens to enter using Kosovo passports.

Even Russia is ready to let Kosovar athletes into the country – but in a special way. In 2014, the Russian embassy in Serbia already gave an official explanation of this: an exception is made for those who go to the country with a Kosovo passport for international competitions and other events with a similar status. A year after that, the Kosovo team even took part in the World Aquatics Championship in Kazan. In general, if soccer Kosovo suddenly withdraws from Group I, its team will be allowed to the 2018 World Cup.

Ukraine itself also allows citizens of unrecognized countries. For example, passport holders of Taiwan, whose recognition is fraught with problems with China, obtain visas and enter Ukraine like any other foreigners. Of course, changing the rules for the Kosovars is not done in a day – but such problems and chaos, as occurred during the match in Krakow, most likely, could have been avoided. The Ukrainian basketball team could have also benefited from this measure: During their EuroBasket 2017 tryouts, they were to play the Kosovars in Vilnius.

FIFA and UEFA plan to separate the Kosovars in the draw only with the Serbian national team. All other countries, even those that do not recognize Kosovo, will have to play them equally with those that recognize their independence. However, there will be no Kosovo clubs in the European Cups of the 2016/2017 season: neither the national champion nor the Cup Winner could pass licensing.

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