Kosovo and Nationalism

The world’s newest country was born on Sunday, and world politics is in full gear. Most western countries, including the U.S., UK, Denmark and Australia, have recognised Kosovo. Russia and China are biting their lips, however, and will likely veto an official UN recognition. Their reaction is understandable, because they fear a trend of secession in other places, notably Chechnya and Tibet.

National pride and a quest for power is an understandable feeling, especially to an avid Civilization player like myself. But the world of today, supposedly long after the end of colonialism, ought not to harbour such attitudes. Nationalism only evolved in the 19th century, and it should have no prominent position in the 21st. As the world has grown smaller, and borders diminished, being part of a nation-state means less than being part of a global economy and culture. Hence the rise of regionalism which – in Europe, for instance – results in smaller countries, but greater integration.

We went to war in Kosovo to protect an ethnic group from genocide; mandated in no small part by the UN declaration of Human Rights. This document, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, states for instance that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country” (Article 13,1) and that “Everyone has the right to a nationality” (Article 15,1). But it still assumes the existence of countries.

The concepts of nationhood and borders are, like most societal structures, a human construction. Nothing mandates that people should have different rights just from being born on either side of a line on a map. Fundamental change is probably unlikely, but there should at least – as in the case of Kosovo – be an undeniable right for a group or region to leave a country and declare independence. This means recognising the free existence of entities such as Chechnya, Tibet, Taiwan, Greenland, Kashmir, Quebec, Scotland, and others that may so please.

3 responses to “Kosovo and Nationalism

  1. Nationalism, radicalism and a dash of fundamentalism is the recipe for a meal very likely to give indigestion.
    As the Cold War ended Yugoslavia ceased to be a pillar of stability in the Balkans. The Serbs have not been able to stay in control. I was shocked when the war broke out in the former republic of Yugoslavia.
    Personally I never understood why anyone would go to war about anything other than self protection or the protection of others. I have no problem with rooting out evil, however. Perhaps these people felt they did just that.
    So we are recognizing the new republic.
    The good thing is that we (The West) finally have some Muslim friends. No Muslim country in the world boasts the pro-Western fervor of the Albanians of Kosovo. We saw the thank you posters.
    The question remains whether Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence is legal.
    I hope Russia will show restraint. It would be too stupid for the rest of us to go to war with each other over this.
    For my own country we lost land to Swedes and Germans in the past. These parts of Denmark were part of the realm for some 750 and 1130 years. But would we go to war to get back Anglia, Slesvig, Holsten, Skaane, Halland and Blekinge? Surely we would not. We might get them back as regions though. As my friends from Stockholm said when I teased them this would happen: Please take it back. We don’t want them.
    As far as I know Kosovo was a part of Serbia for some 500 years. But the Serbs conquered Kosovo from the Byzantines in the first place and the lost it to the Ottomans until about just before WW1

  2. Good points, Michael, especially about having more Muslim friends. Unfortunately we are in dire need of those.

    You question whether a unilateral declaration of independence is legal. But by which law? Serbia might outlaw it, but so what? Isn’t it just a matter of not recognising Serbian dominion and thereby Serbian law?

    It would be cool if Skane were to become Danish again – but that should be their decision, not that of people in neither Stockholm nor Copenhagen.

  3. Pingback: Beijing: Boycott or Engagement? « Kenneth Birch

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