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Kosovo Dominoes: World hotspots in a nutshell

By George Thomas - posted Friday, 10 December 2004

Following the unopposed victory in a recent election in Kosovo, which Serbs boycotted, and the election of the former KLA leader, Ramush Haradinaj, as President, Albanians now expect to declare independence and be recognised by the international community. However, Kosovo is still the legal province of Serbia and guaranteed as such by UN Resolution 1244 of 1999. There are serious regional and international dangers in recognising an independent Kosovo.

The Unravelling Effect

The premature recognition of the Unilateral Declarations of Independence (UDI) by Slovenia and Croatia against the wishes of the federal authorities in Belgrade, caused all Yugoslavia to unravel leading to widespread bloodshed in Croatia and Bosnia where sizeable Serb populations lived carrying memories of their destruction during World War II. The consequences of Kosovo’s UDI, however, will not be in Kosovo but in other Muslim majority provinces in non-Muslim majority states elsewhere in the world: Chechnya, Xinjiang, Kashmir, Panni-Marathiwad and Mindanao.

Kosovo and Kashmir

For example, there is not much difference in the demographics and political situations in Kashmir and Kosovo. Like Kosovo, Kashmir has a 90 per cent Muslim majority with a 10 per cent minority of Hindu Pandits. Kashmiris, like Albanians want independence and have sought to get this by armed struggle. Like the 10 per cent Serbs of Kosovo, the 10 per cent Hindu Pandits have all been driven out of Kashmir. Like the Serbs who see Kosovo as the cradle of their Orthodox Christian religion and their historic civilization, Hindus see Kashmir as the abode of the gods and the cradle of their civilization. Indeed, Hindu Pandits are the original inhabitants of Kashmir, settling there as part of the Aryan invasions into India around 1500 BC. If Kosovo gets independence, it will set a precedent for Kashmir’s independence. And if Kashmir gets independence, India could unravel, beginning with the ongoing struggle for independence in the Hindu majority state of Assam, and in the Christian majority states of Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya. It could revive the struggle for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan out of Indian Punjab. The rest of the Indian states may follow like in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.


Kashmir and Xinjiang

Less noticed or reported is the struggle for independence among the majority Muslim Uighur population of the southwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. China has placed a lid on the situation in Xinjiang concealing it from the outside world, but the situation there is not fundamentally different from Kashmir. While China has pacified the earlier Tibetan struggle for independence - through ethnic cleansing and ethnic swamping by Han Chinese reducing pacifist Buddhist Tibetans into a minority - the same policies have not worked in Xinjiang. Uighurs will not be expelled, and Han Chinese are afraid to move into Xinjiang and swamp the Muslim Uighur population, as they are likely to face violent retaliation.

Xinjiang and Chechnya

Xinjiang is no different to the Muslim majority province of Chechnya in Russia where a violent struggle for independence has been taking place since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Insurgency in Chechnya, and Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow, Ossetia and elsewhere have not been contained or deterred by Russian military policies. Kosovo’s independence will escalate this violence. And if Chechnya gets independence, other Muslim provinces of Russia such Dagestan, Ingushtia, Tartarstan may also resort to violent independent struggles.

Mindanao and Panni-Marathiwad

Then there is the Muslim majority province of Mindanao in the Philippines, and Panni and Marathiwad provinces in Thailand. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been fighting a war of insurgency and terrorism for decades against the Philippine authorities. At a broader level, the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist organisation of Southeast Asia, which is allied with Al Qaeda, seeks a larger Muslim independent state bringing together all the Muslim territories of Southeast Asia. The source of much of world terrorism is from the Jemaah Islamiyah.

Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia

And what about the consequence of Kosovo independence for the former Yugoslavia itself? If Kosovo Albanians are granted independence and join up into a greater Albania, it will unsettle Macedonia’s Albanian territories. This will justify an independent Republika Srpska in Bosnia and eventual merger into Serbia. Croatian Herzegovina in Bosnia would have the same right too. Krajina Serbs would have at least a moral right to return and re-establish the Serbian Krajina republic in Croatia. Serbs were the majority in Krajina and Republika Srpska but a minority in Croatia and Bosnia as a whole. These former internal boundaries of Yugoslavia drawn by the communist Croatian-Slovenian dictator Tito, were allowed to remain intact when Croatia and Bosnia bolted from Yugoslavia. Likewise, Kosovo is a part of Serbia granted autonomy within Serbia by Tito and later undone by Milosevic. Albanians are a majority in Kosovo but a minority in Serbia. Meanwhile, the secession of the Kosovo region of Serbia, would justify the pro-Russian eastern region of Ukraine seceding from Ukraine and joining up with Russia should the pro-Western leader, Viktor Yanuchenko, win the third run-off in the elections scheduled for December 26, 2004.

Demographic Transformations in Texas, New Mexico and California

Kosovo did not always have an Albanian majority of 90 per cent. Serbs were reduced to a minority by illegal immigration from impoverished and backward Albania into more prosperous Kosovo in Yugoslavia: Serbs were driven out of Kosovo through Albanian intimidation and by better prospects in Serbia, and by higher Albanian birthrates, the highest in Europe. If demographic transformations justify secession and independence, would Texas, New Mexico and California have to be returned to Mexico when Mexican-Americans outnumber other Americans in these states? After all, these states were wrested from Mexico by force in earlier centuries. Kosovo would set a bad precedent.

Muslim-Non Muslim Relations

The loss of Muslim majority provinces in non-Muslim majority states would raise the question of whether Muslims and non-Muslim states can coexist. The problem also occurs among non-Muslim minorities in Muslim majority states. There has been brief violence among Hindus in Bali, Christians in Acheh, and Catholics in East Timor: all current and former provinces of Muslim Indonesia. Among the Catholic Ibos of Nigeria and now other Christian-Muslim conflict in other parts of Muslim Nigeria; and the treatment of Coptic Christians in Muslim Egypt. Muslim secessions from non-Muslim states would generate native European antagonisms against immigrant Muslim populations in France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and other parts of Europe.


Legal Obligations and International Consequences

Finally, NATO’s war against Serbia in Kosovo was ended by UN Resolution 1244 only when it met Milosevic’s demand that there be no NATO occupation of Serbia, and that Kosovo will remain part of Serbia. There is a UN legal commitment here until it is reversed in the Security Council. Before the West takes Serbia apart again, it should consider the serious political consequences that this may cause for India in Kashmir, Russia in Chechnya, China in Xinjiang, for Thailand in Panni-Marathiwad, and Philippines in Mindanao. Foresight is necessary before allowing Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.

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About the Author

Raju G C Thomas is the Allis Chalmers distinguished professor of International Affairs at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His most recent book is as contributing editor of Yugoslavia Unraveled : Sovereignty, Self-Determination, Intervention, Lexington Books, 2004

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