The reality is that Kosovo's independence is long overdue

Kosovo issue remains unresolved after 14 years of back and forth

Niña sujetando las banderas kosovar y albanesa en el Buleverda Madre Teresa en el centro de Pristina.

Kosovo celebrated its fourteenth anniversary as an independent country. Fourteen years in which the young country has had to manoeuvre to conform to the requirements imposed by the international community in order to be seen as an equal by the rest of the sovereign states.

The centre of Pristina, the Kosovar capital, has been dyed blue for days. Blue flags, always accompanied by the red flag with the black Albanian eagle, flooded Mother Teresa Boulevard. Thousands of Kosovars took to the streets celebrating what they had worked so hard to achieve. "We are Albanians, but we identify ourselves in another direction, which is Kosovo. We have worked for this political state that is Kosovo, and we have paid the price for it", claimed Erëmirë, the director of Kosovo Oral History just over a year ago. 

Not only Kosovars have taken to the streets, but expatriates have also gathered along Zahir Pajaziti Square in the city centre to show their support for independence. The United States, Germany and Switzerland, mainly. These representations are the ones that invest the most in the Balkan country. The former, since Kosovo is their centre of military operations in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. The latter, as they are the countries that host the most Kosovars, with an estimated 300,000 Kosovars settled in Germany and around 155,000 in Switzerland.

Niños sujetando banderas kosovares durante el Día de la Independencia en Pristina.

Kosovo's independence was declared unilaterally in 2008. After a year and a half of conflict with the country of which it had previously been a part, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, now known as Serbia, which ended in 1999 with 78 days of NATO bombing and years of UN control of the territory, the Pristina parliament voted 'Yes' to self-determination. Almost instantly, powers such as the United States, Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom accepted this independence. Today Kosovo is recognised by a total of 117 countries. The latest was Israel in February last year.

Kosovo - Serbia talks

Since independence, Kosovo has had many meetings and encounters with the international community. The talks with Serbia have been the most important. Both sides have managed, since their first meetings in 2006, to reach agreement on many points, but they still disagree on many: independence is the most important of these, but Serbia's influence over Kosovo's Serb communities is not far behind. Kosovo's Serb-majority areas, especially the four northern municipalities bordering Serbia (Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zvečan and Zubin Potok), are only partially integrated and are a potential hotspot of violence, where NATO's special mission in Kosovo, KFOR troops, are still obliged to remain on alert. In the same vein, Serbs elected to the Kosovo parliament and appointed to government posts openly follow Belgrade's orders.

Niños sujetando banderas kosovares durante el Día de la Independencia en Pristina.

EU-mediated talks with Serbia officially began in 2011, but failed to reach a successful conclusion and have been broken off. In 2018, Pristina and Belgrade outlined an attempt at a landmark agreement based on a possible swap of territories, but it foundered in the face of internal controversy and opposition from within the EU, promoted by the five member states that refuse to recognise Kosovo (Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Romania and Slovakia). Talks resumed in 2020, but broke down again due to the indictment of the then Kosovar prime minister, Hashmi Thaçi, for war crimes.

That same 2020, a new party won the presidential election in Kosovo, Vetëvendosje, led by Albin Kurti. Since then, Pristina's tone towards Belgrade has been much more aggressive, and in late summer of the same year tensions between the two sides reached their highest point since the war due to the new regulation of Serbian number plates on Kosovar territory. Since then, the two sides have not engaged in talks beyond easing tensions in Serb municipalities in the north of the country.

It should be noted that until all disputes between Pristina and Belgrade are resolved, both sides will be excluded from the EU, and Kosovo from the UN and NATO.

Músicos de la banda en el desfile por la Independencia tocando instrumentos típicos albaneses.
War crimes

The Kosovo war ended 23 years ago, lasted a total of 16 months, claimed the lives of 13,535 people, according to the updated 2015 Kosovo Memory Book, and forced more than 500,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was founded in May 1993, but it was not until 1998 that the tribunal's first public reference to Kosovo was made. Since then, ICTY investigations and sentences have been obstructed and denied by Belgrade. Moreover, many of the crimes committed by Yugoslav forces on Kosovo territory were not covered by the tribunal as it only covered crimes up to the end of the war in June 1999, while the Kosovo Special Tribunal had jurisdiction until 31 December 2000. 

This has meant that no one has been prosecuted for war crimes committed in Kosovo, including the organised transfer of hundreds of bodies to Serbia, where they were dumped in mass graves. Already in 1999, the then ICTY chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, reported that the 2,108 bodies exhumed so far in Kosovo did not represent the total number as evidence of tampering had been discovered.

Músicos de la banda en el desfile por la Independencia tocando instrumentos típicos albaneses.

War crimes convictions, as well as genocide recognition and forgiveness by Serbia, are demands that the Pristina government is making, not only of the country of which it was a part, but also of the United Nations. Serbia's treatment of war criminals and the delay in the sentencing of Serbian military personnel, many of whom have yet to be executed, continue to create tensions in the former Serbian province. Moreover, Thaçi's conviction awakened the ghosts of the past in the country. While many Serbs remain unconvicted, Kosovars saw their former prime minister put on trial for his role in the last Balkan war. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly complained that Serbia's domestic prosecutions for crimes have diligently prevented high-ranking police and military officers from serving time. Moreover, the government has welcomed as heroes those convicted by the UN tribunal who were released after serving their sentences.

Kosovo in the International Community

It has already been pointed out that until Kosovo finds common ground with Serbia, both will be excluded from the EU, and Kosovo in turn from NATO and the UN. However, Kosovo has taken more than a few steps to gain a foothold in the international community, on whatever terrain.

In May 2016, the Commission proposed to the European Parliament and the Council to exempt Kosovar citizens from visa requirements for travel to the EU, on the condition that Kosovo fulfils two requirements, the first concerning border demarcation with Montenegro, the second calling on the country to reduce organised crime and corruption.

Jóvenes haciendo la señal del águila albanesa.

In March 2018, the Kosovo Assembly approved the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro, fulfilling the first of the requirements. In the same year, the European Commission confirmed, in turn, that the Kosovo authorities had established and strengthened a strong track record of investigations and court rulings aimed at condemning organised crime and corruption. At the time, the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, called on "the European Parliament and the Council to swiftly adopt the proposal that will lift the visa requirement for Kosovar citizens. This will be a day of great importance for Kosovo, for the whole Western Balkans region and for Europe as a whole".

Kosovo delivered, but the EU continues to delay that promise, largely due to the weight of the five members that still do not recognise Kosovo. However, all of these countries have been taking steps towards rapprochement with Kosovo, most notably Greece.

The Greek government upgraded the status of the Kosovar trade delegation in Greece last year, and the Greek foreign minister visited Pristina. And while all these moves do not mean recognition of the Balkan country, Kyriakos Mitsotakis' government prioritises stability in the region.

Bulevard Madre Teresa en el Día de la Independencia de Kosovo 2022.

The other four refuse recognition because of their respective internal problems. Slovakia fears that the possible recognition of Kosovo will cause the ethnic Hungarian population in the south of the country, which makes up 10 per cent of the population, to demand greater autonomy. However, in 2012, the Slovak government decided to recognise the Kosovo passport, allowing Kosovo nationals to enter if they had a Schengen visa. It was the first of the five countries to take this step.

In 2013 Romania also accepted the Kosovar passport but, similarly to Slovakia, it does not want to set a precedent for the country's Hungarian community, especially in the Transylvania region where this ethnic group accounts for more than 80 per cent of the population. This makes recognition impossible for the time being.

The eternal conflict that divides the island of Cyprus between the Greek Cypriot-majority Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish majority Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus makes recognition of Kosovo impossible as it could be used by Turkey in its claim to the northern part of the island.

Spain, meanwhile, is Kosovo's toughest nut to crack. It is the only one of the five that does not accept Kosovo passports, i.e. it is the only EU member state that does not allow Kosovars to enter its borders. And although Spain tries to justify its non-recognition of Kosovo with "respect for Serbia's territorial integrity", as Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya declared in her meeting with her Serbian counterpart Nikola Selakovic last year, the reality is that Spain does not want Kosovo to be used by Basque and Catalan secessionist forces.

Joven cubriéndose con la bandera kosovar.

That is why, since the self-proclamation of independence, Spain has vetoed any dealings with Kosovo. Lulzim Peci, the founder of the Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED) and Kosovo's ambassador to Sweden until 2013, says that "it was impossible to even have a normal conversation with the representatives of Spain. They didn't want to have any contact [with us]'. Proof of this was the 2018 European Summit with the Western Balkans, where the then Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, was the only European representative absent because of the "presence of Kosovo".

Now, Sánchez's government seems to have relaxed this stance, and last year's summit was the first time that the leaders of the two countries had sat at the same table. Spanish politics are divided over Kosovo; while Sánchez's government speaks of 'normalisation', the Popular Party described the rapprochement as 'surrender'. For their part, the Basque Nationalist Party and EH Bildu did not hesitate to use the Prime Minister's attendance at the summit to call for the recognition of Kosovo "once and for all", without avoiding the comparison with their cause. "What has to happen will happen, whether you recognise it or not, in Kosovo, in Scotland, in Catalonia or in the Basque Country", said the PNV representative, making clear the reality of Spain's non-recognition of Kosovo.

Monumento NewBorn en Pristina con la decoración del 2022, dedicada a las mujeres.
The reality of independence

These five countries, as well as Russia's continued veto, in its clear pro-Serbian stance, make it difficult for Kosovo to enter into any activities of the international community. The EU has long urged all parties to move towards a settlement in order to allow Kosovo's entry into the community, but many are trying to prevent this. The International Crisis Group explains that there are three main possibilities for a solution to the Kosovo conflict. "One would be an incentive for Serbia: a combination of donor development support and accelerated EU membership as payment for recognition. The second would be to exchange Serbian recognition for the creation of autonomous districts for Kosovo Serbs and Serbian Albanians. The third would be to return to the land swap approach that was at the heart of the 2018 draft agreement."

Either way, the reality is that Kosovo's independence has long been a done deal. Long before that unilateral declaration of independence. This is how Kosovo Albanians have felt since the time of Illyria, as Rexhep Qosja rightly pointed out in his book 'La qestion albanaise' (The Albanian Question). This is what Josip Broz Tito said when he proclaimed Kosovo an autonomous province. This is what 117 states around the world declare. This is what the reality of the country shows: borders with Serbia, Montenegro and Albania, currency and languages different from those used in Serbia, and its own government and constitution. And this is what thousands of Kosovar Albanians and expatriates have been celebrating all week on Mother Teresa Boulevard, where everything is blue.