The Big Question: Why are so many countries opposed to Kosovo gaining its independence?

Why are we asking this now?

Because Kosovo this week declared itself to be Europe's newest country. Some 17 years after the dissolution of Yugoslavia – and after a ghastly cavalcade of ethnic cleansing, gruesome atrocities, forced expulsions and a civil war that killed 10,000 before Nato intervened – the people of Kosovo have declared themselves independent.

Since 1999 they have lived under a United Nations protectorate while conducting negotiations with the neighbouring Serbs to find a mutually acceptable constitutional status for the region. When the talks broke down, the provisional government unilaterally declared independence as the Republic of Kosovo. Some 90 per cent of the two million people are ethnic Albanians, just 10 per cent Serbs. Now the creators of the world's 193rd independent country have sent 192 letters to governments around the world seeking formal recognition of their independence.

What do the Serbs think?

They are very unhappy. They regard Kosovo as the heart of its state since medieval times, even though 90 per cent of its population is of a different ethnicity. The Serbian prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, described Kosovo as a "fake country".

So who's on what side?

The countries who participated in the Nato strikes against Serbia to end the atrocities, led by the United States. President George Bush has already officially recognised Kosovo as an independent state. So will most of the big European nations – Britain, France, Germany and Italy – and the Japanese government is "moving toward recognising" Kosovo, pronouncing developments in line with Japan's criteria for recognising states.

Other EU members – Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, have said they will not. Other countries opposed to an independent Kosovo include Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The neighbouring Balkan states are also divided. Croatia and Macedonia are pro Kosovo, but Bosnia and Herzegovina is not. Other states, like Malta and Portugal, want Kosovo's future be decided at the UN Security Council.

Why is the international community so divided?

In part it reflects each government's differing sense of whether the ethnic Albanians, now Kosovans, were primarily the victims of the Serbs in the war a decade ago. "Serbia effectively lost Kosovo through its own actions in the 1990s," said the Irish foreign minister, Dermot Ahern. "The bitter legacy of the killings of thousands of civilians in Kosovo and the ethnic cleansing of many more has effectively ruled out any restoration of Serbian dominion in Kosovo."

In part it reflects convictions about the solutions to intractable foreign relations problems. In part it is a reflection of the domestic priorities of some governments who fear that support for Kosovo's unilateral declaration could fan separatism in their own countries.

What are the arguments?

The Americans, and most of Nato, believe that a definition resolution of the status of Kosovo is essential for the Balkans to become stable. "A negotiated solution was not possible," said the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "Peace and stability are the order of the day," said the British foreign secretary, David Miliband. Such is the population imbalance between ethnic Albanians and Serbs that autonomy was inevitable.

The other side counters with high-minded arguments about the inviolability of national sovereignty. "We will not recognise [Kosovo] because we consider," said the Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, "this does not respect international law".

But it is perhaps significant that those opposing recognition mostly have problems with their own separatist or secessionist movements. "Cyprus, for reasons of principle, cannot recognise and will not recognise a unilateral declaration of independence," the Cypriot Foreign Minister, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, said. "This is an issue of principle, of respect of international law, but also an issue of concern that it will create a precedent in international relations."

It had, she said, perhaps protesting too much, "nothing to do with the occupied Cyprus, it's not because we're afraid that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) would declare independence because they already did it in 1983 and got a very strong reaction from the (UN) Security Council."

There was similar talk from Sri Lanka. "We note that the declaration of independence was made without the consent of the majority of the people of Serbia and is a violation of the Charter of the United Nations, which enshrines the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states," a Sri Lankan government statement said, suggesting Kosovo could create an unmanageable precedent in "the conduct of international relations and the established global order of sovereign states".

Those on the other side dismiss this. Kosovo, said the British Foreign Secretary, was a "unique situation which deserves a unique response".

What about the Russians?

It too has its secessionists. Usman Ferzauli, the man who styles himself the Foreign Minister of Chechnya, has just, helpfully, backed Kosovo's declaration. But when he talks about "leading an armed struggle against the world's most aggressive and militarised power for the latest 14 years" he is not talking about the ethnic Albanians but their fellow Muslims in Chechnya, who enjoyed a brief period of autonomy before Moscow re-established control.

There are bonds of cultural and ethnic kinship between the Serbs and Russians. Europe is increasingly wary of the Slavic Bear. The Russians still have their carrier fleet anchored not that far away. Russia insists there is no basis for changing a 1999 security council resolution on Kosovo's status – and says that Belgrade must agree to any change.

What is likely to happen?

The US and the European members of the UN Security Council will back Kosovo's independence. But Russia and China will not. Russia will block Kosovo's membership of the United Nations. Serbia will use all diplomatic means at its disposal to block Kosovo's recognition – and will probably block Kosovo's access to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe.

The real questions are less glamorous and more profound. Unemployment in Kosovo is over 40 per cent, corruption and organised crime is bad, and wealth per person is just 5 per cent of the EU average. The troubles are far from over yet.

Is independence for Kosovo a good thing?

Yes...

* 90 per cent of its people are non-Serbs and should be allowed to determine their own fate

* Serbia effectively lost Kosovo through its own actions in the atrocities and ethnic cleansing of the 1990s

* Kosovan independence is the logical working out of the collapse of Communist Yugoslavia after the Berlin Wall came down

No...

* Kosovo has formed the heart of the state of Serbia since medieval times

* All the people of Serbia should have been allowed to vote on the issue of Kosovan independence

* It sets a dangerous precedent for other parts of the world where rebels want to break away

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Structural Engineer

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Structural Engineer Job...

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape