Kosovo-Jerusalem controversy and the politics of being 'recognised'

Priszen, Kosovo. Photo by Besart Ademi on Unsplash

Kosovo’s quest to become recognised as a state has been hindered by the effects of colonialism. The recent move to open an embassy in Jerusalem is the latest geopolitical trip.

The new embassy

In a controversial move in March, Kosovo officially opened its Israeli Embassy in Jerusalem. In return, Israel recognises Kosovo’s statehood and diplomatic relations between the two are normalised.

Very few countries have embassies in Jerusalem - the international norm is to situate it in the less controversial Tel Aviv, due to the disputed claim to Jerusalem in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Kosovo has quite overtly affirmed its minority position within the international political dispute. It is ironic that Kosovo has allied with a larger and oppressive State as opposed to the oppressed disputed territory with which it shares a similar historical struggle.

The establishment of Kosovo’s Jerusalem Embassy was strategic and thought out, though not solely by Kosovo. It was a key aspect of the so-called “Washington Agreement'' signed in the US Oval Office on September 4, 2020.  The official diplomatic recognition of Israel by Kosovo and the Jerusalem Embassy provisions were one aspect of a wider political agreement put together by the US aimed at solidifying Kosovo’s international status further and thereby boosting economic cooperation between Kosovo and Serbia. President Donald Trump opened a US embassy in Jerusalem in 2018.

History

Kosovo was part of Serbia following the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992. The population was largely made up of ethnic Albanians, who were subjected to discrimination by the Serbs, eventually leading to a bloody war, brutal human rights violations and ethnic cleansing. Thousands were killed.

In 2008, Kosovo declared independence. Since then, general recognition of Kosovo’s statehood has caused international division as Serbia has refused to legally recognise its independence, and still maintains the belief that it has jurisdiction over it. The fact Kosovo has not been legally recognised by the state it has seceded from has created a tense legal and political situation that has involved many other states.

The politics of recognition

The concept of ‘recognition’ is essential in international law and relations, despite the fact recognition isn’t actually a legal requirement of a ‘State’ under the Montevideo Convention (which is arguably a very outdated, colonialist list of requirements). Simply put, recognition is the idea that other states are who ‘recognise’, and therefore legitimate, the legal statehood of a new entity that is claiming such. The doctrine of recognition is what essentially, though not legally nor officially, shapes the legal personality of states or aspiring states: a state that hasn’t been recognised will have a hard time existing as a political and legal entity.

In terms of the ‘power states’ (i.e. the members of the UN Security Council) the UK, USA and France have recognised Kosovo and overtly supported its independence, resulting in many other states following suit. However, Serbia has the support of the other two members, Russia and China, and this has created problems for Kosovo, most crucially in the fact it prevents any possibility of joining the United Nations. Another long term effect of colonialism - the battle over statehood by recognition falls mainly within the UN Security Council.

Israel, now at least, is another more powerful country willing to vouch for it. But the US’s move to get Kosovo to locate the embassy in Jerusalem will have forever tarnished the UN’s view of Kosovo, since by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel it has gone directly against a UN resolution. The US essentially led Kosovo to believe that the recognition of it by Israel will strengthen its global position when it has undoubtedly worsened it – evident from strongly negative responses from Turkey and the EU. Kosovo has limited its chances of membership in the most influential international organisation in exchange for recognition from one other country.

Relationship with the US

President Trump saw himself as a quasi-Messianic figure in the Israel-Palestine conflict, therefore the deal being signed in Washington is also a tale of power-boasting on the part of the US.

In truth, the agreement did next to nothing in the aspect of boosting economic cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo, and instead just supported the foreign policy desires of the US - the agreement included pledges from both territories not to buy from China, and they also agreed to plug into several US intelligence networks.

Kosovo has made a very bold statement through its actions about its allegiance to the US which it undoubtedly sees, and always has seen, as an important cog in the affirming of their international status. Mirroring that, the US has always seen Kosovo as an important cog in securing one of their main foreign policy objectives - power maintenance. Trump wanted a foreign policy win in September to look good for his upcoming election – Kosovo being the perfect puppet for this.

Kosovo would not have as much widespread recognition (particularly by the UK and France) were it not for the US’s overt support that it has consistently displayed politically since 2008. The US has maintained a significant presence in the political and social establishment of independent Kosovo,  holding a large military base in Kosovo under the justification of ‘democracy promotion’.

Consequently, Kosovo deems the US as its greatest aid in gaining recognition from other states, and displays its gratitude even by naming major streets after US Presidents: a subtle echo of colonialism in spite of presumed good intentions.

The US involves itself at least partly for political gain: asserting its continual colonial-esque dominance over Kosovo and maintaining its global military hegemony whilst at the same time serving its Middle Eastern objectives.

The Biden administration will undoubtedly continue heavy involvement in Kosovo. Biden has been a key figure in the territory since their declaration of independence when he was Vice President, and has continued that presence in his new presidency – just last month he wrote to the Serbian President pleading for their cooperation with Kosovo.

Conclusion

It is clear that the US is not going anywhere - which is somewhat sad in demonstrating the fact that whatever their intentions, the influence of the once colonial powers means that States such as Kosovo can never achieve true sovereignty even when their goal of recognition is finally achieved.

The politics of recognition are at their root problematic. It means that territories that are coming from decades of war, mass poverty, and mass discrimination, still cannot find political freedom since they are seeking legal ‘validation’ from other countries, often being the historic colonial powers. Kosovo's recognition essentially depends on the geopolitics of other, more powerful, countries, and this inevitably means it is used as a tool in wider foreign policy objectives.

As of 2021 Kosovo still maintains the status of a disputed territory, and it doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.