Baltics support Kosovo independence

The Baltic Times
Talis Saule Archdeacon, RIGA

Just a day after Kosovo declared independence, all three Baltic states announced that they would throw their support behind the Balkan country”s ambition to establish a separate state.

Baltic support for Kosovo was widely anticipated given the common history of repression at the hands of a larger, despotic state and the Baltic states” own fight for independence in the late 1980″s.

Formal announcements of the Baltics” support resounded immediately after a key meeting of the EU”s foreign ministers on Feb. 18 in Brussels, though many politicians did not hide their support in the first hours after independence was declared on

Feb. 17.

“I am convinced that security in Europe is impossible without a stable Kosovo,” President Valdas Adamkus said in a press release.

“Lithuania – as a member of the European Union and NATO – has always underlined the importance of security and stability [in the region],” the president said.

Naturally, support for Kosovars” independence was split in the Baltics, with ethnic Russians claiming the declaration was illegal and should be revoked.

“I am inclined to think that it is not a responsible decision. It seems to me that recognition of Kosovo”s independence is fraught with unpredictable consequences. This decision will not facilitate stability in Europe,” Vladimir Velman, an ethnic Russian and Centrist MP from Estonia, said in a TV interview.

“A precedent has been set for tens, and maybe hundreds, of other territories. And this might result in conflicts in these territories,” said Juris Sokolovskis, cochairman of For Human Rights in a United Latvia.

Granted, European nations themselves are split over Kosovo”s declaration, a fact which has stymied attempts to release a joint statement on the issue. Many of the large Western European states – such as France, the U.K. and Germany – support the move for independence, while those with their own thorny regional issues – such as Spain and Greece –denounced the move.

Baltic leaders underlined the importance of European unity on the controversial issue.

“Latvia considers a solution for the issue of the status of Kosovo as crucial for the political and economic stability of the Western Balkan states, as well as for their future development,” a Feb. 18 statement released by Latvia”s Foreign Ministry said.

Despite hardset differences in opinion between individual European countries, the EU agreed to send some 2,000 police and peacekeeping troops, including representation from the Baltics, to the region.

“The EU has already decided to send a mission – a mission of stability, a mission of rule of law. It should contribute to the stability of the Balkans,” EU Foreign Minister Javier Solana told reporters on Feb. 16.

Though Russia has indicated that the move for independence sets a dangerous precedent, Baltic leaders – like many in Brussels and Washington – have stressed that this is a unique situation and should be used as an example for other would be countries.

“The uniqueness [of the situation] lies in the fact that the Serbian authorities have not had any real administrative functions in Kosovo for a long period of time – many duties were performed by the international community,” Latvian Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins told the Baltic News Service after the Feb. 18 meeting.

“The negotiations that involved Pristina [the Kosovar capital] and Belgrade [the capital of Serbia], as well as efforts over the past year to clinch a deal, did not yield any success and ended in a deadlock,” the minister said.

By that logic, however, the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could easily chart their own path independent of Tbilisi. Indeed, this would seem to be the case.

“Abkhazia and South Ossetia will move toward independence step by step, in accordance with international law,” South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity was quoted by Interfax as saying. “We have our speed, independent of Kosovo.”

Baltic leaders have warned, however, that the newly formed country needs to tread carefully in order to avoid sparking a widespread conflict similar to those the region has suffered in the past.

“It is important that the events of 2004 would not be repeated – then the Albanian majority attacked Serbs in Caglavica, Kosovska Mitrovica, Obilic, Pristina and elsewhere, killing at least 28 people and chasing more than 3,600 from their homes,” Silver Meikar, an Estonian MP and expert on Serbia, told journalists on Feb. 18.

“The Kosovo authorities must ensure freedom of movement to minorities in reality and make it possible for thousands of Serbian refugees to return to their native places if they wish to do so,” he said.

Many Baltic leaders said Kosovo needs to turn toward Europe for support and guidance during these turbulent times.

“It is extremely important for the European Union to find more and broader cooperation opportunities with Serbia and once again confirm that all Western Balkan countries have a European perspective,” Adamkus said.

The majority of Kosovo residents – more than 90 percent of whom are ethnically Albanian – have demanded independence since the early “90s. Those demands escalated into an armed conflict which ultimately led to acts of “ethnic cleansing” led by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. NATO launched an air attack on Serbia in 1999, forcing approximately 1 million Albanians and Serbs to flee the country.

Serbia considers Kosovo to be the cradle of the Serbian nation and the declaration of independence illegal.

Kosovo will most likely follow a plan drawn up by U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari for “supervised independence” – a plan which has been rejected by Serbia as unrealistic. Under the plan, a 120 day transitional period will follow the declaration, after which full independence will come into effect.

The Baltics have largely expressed support for the transitional independence plan.

“We”ve always supported Ahtisaari”s plan. Ahtisaari always predicted that Kosovo would receive independence. Estonia is prepared to recognize Kosovo”s independence and to begin diplomatic relations with [Kosovo],” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said.