Why is Kosovo so controversial

Background current

The International Court of Justice in The Hague published its eagerly awaited opinion on the independence of Kosovo on Thursday (July 22nd, 2010). Accordingly, the unilateral separation of Kosovo from Serbia is lawful and compatible with international law.

Kosovo's declaration of independence of February 17, 2008 does not violate general international law, said the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Hisashi Owada, when reading the legal opinion in The Hague. The judges' decision was 10 to 4 votes. The report was commissioned by the UN General Assembly at the request of Serbia.

The German Federal Government sees its position confirmed by the report: "It supports our view that the independence of the Republic of Kosovo and its territorial integrity are irrefutable facts," said Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Serbia and Kosovo to resolve the disputes and look forward together. EU Foreign Affairs Representative Catherine Ashton announced that the EU wanted to work for reconciliation between the two states. The future of both lies in the European Union, said Ashton in Brussels.

With the proclamation of the state sovereignty of Kosovo, the youngest state on the European continent emerged in 2008. At the beginning of October 2008, the UN General Assembly approved Serbia's application to
to have the declaration examined by the highest legal authority of the United Nations. Serbia considered the declaration to be contrary to international law and continued to see Kosovo as part of the country.


Kosovo's independence has divided the international community since it was declared in 2008: 69 states have recognized the sovereignty of the new Balkan state so far, including Germany, the majority of EU states and the USA. However, a majority of the states consider Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence to be contrary to international law - alongside Russia and China, the EU members Spain, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia.

The membership of Kosovo has been controversial for over a hundred years. Albania and Yugoslavia have always laid claim to the province, and there is also a long tradition of political independence efforts.

In Yugoslavia under Josip Tito, Kosovo was granted the status of an autonomous province within the Republic of Serbia after 1945. In 1989 Serbia ended the autonomy of the province under President Slobodan Milosevic. As a result, after a referendum in 1991, the Kosovar Albanians for their part proclaimed the sovereign "State of Kosovo". At the beginning of 1996 the underground organization "Kosovo Liberation Army" (KLA) started armed resistance against Serbia and tried to force the secession with bomb attacks on Serbian institutions.

During 1998 offensives by the Yugoslav Army and the Serbian Special Police killed around 1,500 Kosovar Albanians and displaced over 300,000. After a renewed escalation of violence and the failure of the peace negotiations between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs in March 1999, NATO launched air strikes on targets in Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999 - without a UN mandate. During the 78 days of military intervention, the clashes in Kosovo continued. Around 10,000 Kosovar Albanians were killed. Well over a million fled or were displaced.

The war ended in June 1999 with an international peace plan. On the basis of UN resolution 1244, Kosovo was placed under international administration. This comprised a civil and a military component: the Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Kosovo Force (KFOR). As a multinational military formation led by NATO, the latter was supposed to guarantee the security of Kosovo. She is still there today.

Some states see a dangerous role model in independent Kosovo: The ICJ's opinion could also see other autonomy movements strengthened in their goals, for example in Abkhazia, South Ossetia or the Basque Country.


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