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The Kosovo Effect

1. The recent Declaration of Independence by the legislature of Kosovo and the prompt “recognition” of the new State by USA and many EU governments have the potential for far-reaching and not-too-desirable effects on many other similar situations and “separatist” movements around the world. Of immediate international consequence would be the effect on Taiwan (which is holding its referendum on 22 March 2008). The effect on LTTE in Sri Lanka would be of great significance to India. This paper will consider only these two issues and not the entire scene that would include the effects on other “separatist” movements.

Kosovo and Taiwan

Historical

2. (a) Kosovo had been the battleground where contesting entities had been fighting (for centuries) for sovereignty over the territory. The fight was between the Turkish Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire at one time, then between the Turks and the Serbs and later between the Albanians and the Serbs. When the victor-imposed Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) created the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Kosovo was made a part of Serbia. The Kingdom was renamed in 1929 as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During World War II, Kosovo was a strong base for Tito-led AVNO (Anti-Fascism Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia). After the war, when the new state of SFRJ (Socialist Federated Republics of Jugoslavia) was proclaimed, Kosovo (along with Vojvodina) became one of two “autonomous” provinces of the Republic of Serbia. Many places in Kosovo are of religious and cultural significance to the Serbs; and Kosovo has many important landmarks (like Jajce) of the Partisan struggle during World War II.

(b) The first “foreign” or “outside” presence in Taiwan (also known as Formosa, or beautiful island) could be traced to the establishment of a commercial base on the island by the Dutch, in 1624. Troops from southern Fujian defeated the Dutch in 1662 and the Qing dynasty formally annexed the island to the Fujian Province of China, in 1683. In 1887, Taiwan was upgraded into a regular province of China. Imperial Japan, which had been trying to since 1592 to control Taiwan, defeated China in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95; and Taiwan was ceded to Japan “in perpetuity” by the Treaty of Shinonoseki. Around 1935, Japan started the process of assimilation and appointed tens of thousands of Taiwanese in the Japanese Army. During 1942-45, Japan based a massive camp for Allied Prisoners of War in Taiwan; and the Japanese Navy used it as an operational base. The signing of the (victor-imposed) Instrument of Surrender on 15 August 1945 signalled the end of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. The KMT-ruled Republic of China accepted the surrender of Japanese forces in Taihoku on 25 October 1945. Since that date till now, Taiwan has been in the possession of the “Republic of China”. By the time the Civil War (Maoist Revolution) ended with the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949, the KMT had moved the seat of government of the “Republic of China” from Nanjing to Taipei; and about 1.3 million refugees had moved from the mainland to Taiwan.

Changing Status

3. (a) The resentment of the Albanian majority in Kosovo against discrimination caused by Serbian nationalism and chauvinism was held in check during the Tito (who hailed from Croatia) era, mainly because of his iconic status. However, when SFRJ ultimately broke up into its component units, the demand and justification for an independent Kosovo became stronger. The Declaration of Independence by Kosovo could, in effect, be termed as a reversal of the earlier non-consensual and externally-imposed inclusion in Serbia. An independent status for Kosovo had been recommended in 1997 by the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General, but was not accepted by Security Council. The status of Kosovo since 1999 has been of a territory under UN administration and NATO (read EU in recent years) protection. Even now, Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence may not get the approval of UNSC, because of possible veto by Russia and China. The new state, however, has received and would receive recognition from many powerful states. Kosovo is a new addition to the list of religion (Islam) based states; and is the first such one in Europe. It is likely to remain non-viable (politically, economically and militarily) for a long time. A realistic assessment would be that it would effectively be an EU protectorate for the foreseeable future.

(b). Since the establishment of the PRC in 1949, Taiwan has been the only remnant of the erstwhile Republic of China. USA continued to have diplomatic, commercial and military relations with Taiwan for more than two decades – considering it to be the legitimate government of China. Even now, some governments continue with that policy; and many countries have commercial relations with Taiwan, without having diplomatic relations. In effect, the present effort at asserting an identity separate from China (based on a resolution passed by the Democratic Progressive Party on 30 September 2007) is aimed at accepting the reality of the past six decades. The referendum on 22 March 2008 is about seeking admission to the UN as “Taiwan” instead of as “China”. It is about giving up the fantasy of being the “sole” government of China and living with the reality of being a small remnant of old China; and changing the name of the country from “Republic of China” to “Taiwan”.

“Recognition”

4. (a). In a different era, diplomatic recognition of a State was normally based on whether or not that entity had the attributes of a nation-state. However, recognition has increasingly become a political act rather than a legal determination. Governments decide on the recognition of a new state (or of a state which has undergone a systemic change) on the basis of self-interest and not of any prescribed values. This self-interest is considered from two angles, i.e. whether according recognition would further one’s interests with the new entity and whether such act would adversely affect one’s relations with other countries; and a balance is struck between the two considerations. To expect value-based decisions on “recognition” is to ask for a utopian international order.

(b). In the case of Kosovo, USA and some major EU countries seem to have determined that the recognition of Kosovo as an independent (Islamic) state would further their overall interests. The anger aroused in Serbia may be considered inconsequential and the opposition of Russia (and China, because of implications to the Taiwan situation) would not, in their determination, detract from the advantages. That Russia would feel marginalized and that China may feel offended may be considered to be additional bonus. However, in the case of Taiwan, though it would more be a case of the change of name (in accordance with reality) of an independent country than of a declaration of independence, recognition of the changed entity may be more difficult to come by. Recognition of Taiwan would offer very little extra commercial benefits and would lead to direct confrontation with PRC. Very few major countries may want to take that risk. I doubt if the people of Taiwan want this and if the referendum would give a clear mandate in favour of the change in name and status of their country. They may find it difficult to live with being spurned even after such a change.

LTTE

5. The historical facts relating to the claims of Kosovo and Taiwan to be independent states would not apply to many guerrilla movements, including LTTE. It would therefore not be easy for these to become valid precedents for them to follow. The Declaration of Independence by Kosovo and the change of name by Taiwan are very different from the LTTE’s demand for a separate Tamil State.

6. The sovereignty over Tamil majority areas in Sri Lanka has never been contested in history. Tamil and Sinhala peoples had been living in reasonable harmony for centuries, till the post-independence phenomenon of aggressive Sinhala nationalism and chauvinism imposed severe discrimination against the Tamils. Essentially, this may be the only common feature between Kosovo and the Tamils in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. The concept of Tamil “Eelam” is very different from the concept of an independent Kosovo. A Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Pirabhakaran is very unlikely to find any supporters in the international community, as recognition of an independent Tamil Eelam may not pass the dual tests of self-interest. If one looks at the analogies of Kosovo and Taiwan, I doubt if the Tamils in Sri Lanka would appreciate the idea of their homeland becoming a “vassal” or “client” of any external state or group of states.

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(This paper was prepared on 20 March 2008 by Mr.R.Swaminathan, Vice President of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. He can be contacted at rsnathan@gmail.com)

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