Panel talks Kosovo independence

A discussion of “Kosovo: Past, Present, and Future” treated attendees to a comprehensive analysis of the current struggle for Kosovar autonomy.

The panel — which Law School Dean Harold Koh called “a better briefing than anything presented at the State Department” — included a number of experts on Kosovo and the Balkans. The discussion, which was also the inaugural event of the Law School’s “Global Conversations Series,” sought to provide background information leading up to a planned meeting of Albanian and Serbian diplomats in New York on Friday to discuss the possibility of Kosovar independence.

Panelists and students mingle after a discussion about Kosovo’s past and future. The event, held at the Law School on Tuesday, focused on the possibility of independence for the region, now a province of Serbia.
Charles Francis
Panelists and students mingle after a discussion about Kosovo’s past and future. The event, held at the Law School on Tuesday, focused on the possibility of independence for the region, now a province of Serbia.

The panel consisted of Yale professor Ivo Banac, University of Pristina professor Dastid Pallaska, 2007 Yale World Fellow Verena Knaus, 2006 Yale World Fellow Garentina Kraja, Laurie Ball LAW ’09 and Jonathan Finer LAW ’09.

With the support of neighboring Albania, Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians are currently seeking full independence from Serbia. The bid for independence is currently supported by the United States, while Russia, which historically had strong ties to Serbia, has chosen to back the Serbian delegation in opposing Kosovar independence.

Many of the panelists expressed doubt that the negotiations begun in early 2006 would ever result in a solid multilateral agreement on the question of independence.

“Kosovo has become a pawn in U.S.-Russian relations,” Ball said. “It is unlikely that the U.S. or Russia will concede at this point.”

Kosovo’s population is largely ethnic Albanian, but it has been administered as an autonomous province of Serbia since the Kosovo War in the 1990s. During that war, the government of Serbia — headed by Slobodan Milosevic — conducted a nearly successful attempt to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its Albanian population. More than 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed.

NATO intervened in Kosovo in March 1999 to stop the violence, and NATO forces still have a presence in the province.

According to Pallaska, the presence of NATO and UN forces following the intervention has created greater confusion rather than security, as for a long time there was no clear system of laws in force in Kosovo. Additionally, dialogues between the government of Kosovo and the U.N. have failed to secure the whereabouts of approximately 2,000 people who went missing in the war.

“One of the most terrible open wounds of the war is the issue of missing persons and the return of remains,” said Pallaska.

The economic stability of Kosovo has also recently come into question, Knaus said, and many families still depend on the income of relatives working abroad. Knaus suggested that this instability is further exacerbated by the lack of educational opportunities for the region’s many young people.

“A lot of young people are locked away in villages,” Knaus said. “They are trapped in a system of subsistence farming that prevents the economy from expanding.”

Finer, a former reporter for the Washington Post who visited the region in August 2007, described the country as deeply divided and said that Serbians are generally unwilling to even entertain the idea of living in an Albanian state. According to Finer, one Serbian civilian said he would rather leave Kosovo in a coffin than live in an Albanian nation.

The consensus of the panel was that tension was still relatively high in Kosovo and that it is unlikely that a Security Council resolution will be passed by the Dec. 10 deadline the Albanian government has established for a multilateral agreement on Kosovar independence.

“Kosovo will most likely unilaterally declare its independence,” said Ball, “And then we’ll have to wait for the aftermath.”

Political science professor David Cameron praised the panel for raising important questions regarding the future of Kosovo. Echoing the speakers, Cameron said he thinks an international agreement is impossible.

“Everyone would love a diplomatic solution, but it is almost certain that it’s not going to happen,” he said. “Sometime after Dec. 10, perhaps next spring, there will most likely be unilateral action.”

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