Dear fellow travellers
The Kosovo issue rumbles on. Contrary to popular opinion, the question of who has recognised the would-be state and who has not is far from being a simple east versus west divide. True, Britain and the United States both gave a positive nod to Kosovo within twenty four hours of the Kosovo Assembly declaring independence on 17 February 2008. And Russia has consistently refused to recognise Kosovo, emphasising always its support for Serbia in the dispute over Kosovo's long term status. Nine further countries have recognised Kosovo's independence since the start of 2009, bringing the ayes up to sixty-two in all.
Yet there are a few surprises among the list of countries that still decline to recognise Kosovo. They include Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia. The quartet's status in the no camp highlights the difficulty within the European Union of striking a common note on foreign affairs matters.
Many citizens of Kosovo, mainly ethnic Albanians, have applied for and now hold a passport from the fledgling republic. But some travellers are finding themselves in difficulties. Many countries that do not recognise Kosovo deny entry to travellers holding the republic's passports. Not so Greece and Slovakia who, while standing firm against recognition of Kosovo, are prepared to issue visas to citizens of Kosovo holding local passports.
Meanwhile life on Kosovo's border with Serbia is shaping up to be interesting. In recent weeks, local Serb communities in the north of Kosovo have been hampering efforts by the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) to control people and goods moving into Kosovo from Serbia-proper. Curiously, the Belgrade government has not been quite as supportive of that unilateral initiative by Serbs in Kosovo as one might have expected.
Belgrade knows all too well that there is enormous public appetite in Serbia for a relaxed visa regime with the European Union, which if implemented would greatly enhance freedom-of-movement for Serbian passport holders (including those who live in Kosovo). And the EU has been intimating to Belgrade that any consideration of easier travel to the EU for Serbs will be linked to Serbia working much more closely with EULEX to control the passage of goods and people across the border between Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia, it seems, is being nudged into accepting the existence of a border that Belgrade has long maintained does not actually exist.
The EU's Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn was in Belgrade earlier this week, reassuring local politicians that Serbian admission to the EU is still on the agenda. A dangling carrot is a wonderful way of ensuring compliance, is it not? But it will be interesting to see the reactions of Serbian communities in northern Kosovo as EULEX tries to enforce border controls locally. Remember that last year, official buildings erected at the border were torched by local Serbs living in Kosovo who fervently believe that their villages are still legitimately a part of Serbian territory.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe)
If you found this issue of our e-brief of interest, you might like to look back to an earlier newsletter issued on the eve of Kosovo's declaration of independence in February 2008. You can find that earlier piece here.