When Kosovo declared independence on February 17, 2008, attention swiftly turned to foreign parliaments and assemblies across the world to see who would recognize Europe’s newest state. By the end of 2008, Kosovo had the recognition of the United States, Turkey and all but five of the member states of the European Union — the exceptions being Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus.
Eight and a half years later, while 112 nations worldwide have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, it is still not a member of the United Nations, and the same five EU members have yet to recognize Kosovo. This state of partial recognition has left Kosovo in something of a state of purgatory, often complicating admission into international organizations and the usual benefits of statehood.
Opposition to Kosovo’s independence is most fiercely advocated by Serbia (with strong support from Russia), who insist that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration breaches international law and violates its territorial sovereignty. Although in 2010 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law, a common factor behind the five EU non-recognizers’ position is often viewed as being based on internal concerns.
Toward independence (1)
MARCH 24, 1999:
NATO launches an aerial bombing campaign against the Milosevic regime in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The military intervention is an attempt to end the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo and concludes with a ground operation in June of the same year which drives Milosevic’s state apparatus out of Kosovo.
JUNE 10, 1999:
The United Nations Security Council adopts resolution 1244. The resolution places Kosovo under an interim UN administration, with duties performed by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). UNMIK is also tasked with establishing provisional institutions of local self government and facilitating a political process to determine Kosovo’s future status.
Relations between Kosovo and each of the five members of the EU yet to recognize the state have developed individually since 2008, with varying results. In this five part series, K2.0 looks at the internal and external factors that have affected diplomatic ties between these five nations and Kosovo.
Kosovo and Greece
Of the five EU members that have not recognized Kosovo’s statehood, Greece has perhaps played the most cooperative diplomatic role with the new republic; facilitating the movement of citizens, increasing trade, and sending and receiving delegations.
However, public interest is always one of the key notions affecting international relations and Greece’s foreign policy towards Kosovo is no exception. Ioannis Armakolas is the head of the South-East Europe program at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), an independent, non-profit and policy-oriented research and training institute. He told K2.0 that the issue of Kosovo is not a priority in Greek foreign policy. “Issues with Turkey, Albania, and the name issue with FYROM are more important,” Armakolas stated. “Kosovo is not on the agenda of Greece.”
Greece’s lack of official interest in recognizing Kosovo seems to be a reflection of Greek society’s general views. In 2013, the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society (KFOS) conducted telephone interviews with 1,013 Greek citizens across the country as part of an investigation into mutual perceptions of the two countries entitled “Being Greek, Being Kosovar.”
When asked the question ‘[What] should [..] bilateral relations between Greece and Kosovo look like?’; 68 percent of Greek respondents answered that Greece should ‘seek the best possible relations with Kosovo, but without recognizing its independence.’ Twenty six percent of respondents said that Greece should have ‘no relations whatsoever’ with Kosovo.
Toward independence (2)
DECEMBER 2003 - OCTOBER 2005:
The UN issue a set of standards that have to be met by Kosovo’s Provisional Institutions of Self-Government before Kosovo’s final status will be discussed. Twenty two months later a UN commissioned report states that further progress in standards can not be made until Kosovo is clear about its future status.
Kosovo’s future status is discussed at a meeting in Vienna by representatives from Kosovo and Serbia, with the negotiations mediated by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari. However, after a number of meetings no agreement is able to be reached, leading Ahtisaari himself to formulate a plan aimed at resolving the deadlock.
Open to Kosovo
Despite this reticence towards Kosovo from the public, the Greek authorities have been more open to bilateral relations than many of their non-recognizing counterparts. They have one of the most active diplomatic representations in Prishtina and opened the first fully functional liaison office in Kosovo. Various Greek governments have also been open to Kosovar officials, receiving Kosovar delegations and making official visits to Kosovo.
In March 2013 Kosovo’s foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj was invited by his counterpart Dimitris Avramopoulos to discuss bilateral relations, the issue of recognition, regional development and European integration. It was the first visit of a Kosovar diplomat to Greece.
At the meeting, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the then Greek foreign minister, reconfirmed the support of Greece towards Kosovo beginning the European Integration process and seeking membership to international organizations. The minister though, did not give any signal of a possible recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
Following Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, travel to Greece was possible for Kosovo passport holders through a visa issued on a special paper, though for six years it was not issued into the Kosovar passport and Schengen visa holders were not permitted entry into Greece. In 2014 there was a change of policy and Greece started issuing Schengen visas directly into Kosovar passports. This change made the movement of Kosovars to Greece a lot simpler, and raised hopes of a possible shift of the Greek position on Kosovo.
Opportunities also exist for Kosovars to seek education in Greece, with a number of bursaries available for students from Kosovo to study in various private universities across Greece.
Toward independence (3)
April 3, 2007:
After further meetings and negotiations with both sides, Ahtisaari presents his plan for the future status of Kosovo to the UN Security Council. The Ahtisaari Plan is quickly approved by authorities in Prishtina and statements of support for its findings are issued by the United States and in the European Parliament. However, a rejection from the government of Serbia and strong Russian opposition prevents the plan from being adopted.
February 17, 2008:
Faced with no progress in negotiations, the Assembly of Kosovo unilaterally declares itself independent as the Republic of Kosovo, though Kosovar Serbs boycott the Assembly meeting. The Assembly obligate themselves to follow the provisions outlined in the Ahtisaari Plan, with its recommendations forming the basis for Kosovo’s constitution. The Kosovar institutions also agree to the deployment of over 2,000 corps from the EU Rule of law mission (EULEX), to monitor and assist the judicial system. The mission is still operational up until 2018.
Since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, economic trade has markedly increased. Greece was the seventh biggest exporter of goods to Kosovo during 2014 with more than 137 million euros worth of exports; a sharp increase compared to 2008, when Greek exports only totalled just over 80 million euros worth of goods.
Greece’s long history of amicable relations with Serbia has meant that Serb influence has occasionally impacted on Greek-Kosovar diplomacy. In 2015, when Kosovo was campaigning to become a member of UNESCO, Greece initially pledged to support Kosovo’s membership application. Greece’s new foreign minister from the freshly elected Syriza government, Nikos Kotzias, publicly stated that Greece “will support Kosovo’s membership in international bodies and security organizations.”
However, this support was not forthcoming. Kosovo failed in its UNESCO membership bid, with the Greek delegation abstaining from the vote despite these previous promises from Kotzias. The abstention surprised a number of onlookers, including Armakolas. “I was expecting that Greece would vote in favour of Kosovo in UNESCO,” he said.
There was speculation that the Serbian lobby had put pressure on the Greek position regarding Kosovo’s application to UNESCO. After Kotzias’ public statement, Serbian foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, sent an official note to his Greek counterpart questioning his declarations in support of Kosovo’s membership. A month before the voting on Kosovo’s bid, Serbian prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, asked his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras to vote against Kosovo’s application.
However, the notion of Greek recognition of Kosovo should also be viewed from a wider geopolitical perspective. The hesitation of Greece to recognize Kosovo is also partly due to the side effects such a move could prompt in the region.
Border disputes have chequered Greek-Albanian relations for centuries, and Greek communities continue to inhabit areas of southern Albania whilst the Cham Albanian population still resides in north-western Greece. Rhetoric still exists around an expansion of borders to include these communities amongst the more nationalist elements of both countries’ political spectrums.
Struggle for recognitions
AUGUST 2008 - JULY 2010:
Serbia responds to Kosovo’s declaration of independence by seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, asking if it had violated international law. Two years later the conclusion was clear, though not a binding-ruling: the declaration had not violated international law.
Two years after the beginning of a technical and political dialogue, Kosovo and Serbia sign an accord, considered by many as “a landmark agreement” to help normalize relations. Point 14 of the accord states that “it is agreed that neither side will block, or encourage others to block the other side's progress in their respective EU paths.”
DECEMBER 2014 - MAY 2016:
Kosovo find sporting success in December 2014 and again in May 2016, being admitted as a full member of the International Olympic Committee and FIFA respectively. However, in November 2015 Kosovo fails by three votes to be admitted into UNESCO, after a state funded campaign against Kosovo’s membership is run by Serbia.
JULY 22, 2016:
Suriname become the 112th country to recognize Kosovo as an independent state in July 2016. However, Russia, China, India, Brazil and more than 80 other states worldwide are still yet to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty.
“Last year, the municipality of Prishtina celebrated the day of Chams, and for Greek diplomacy this is not welcomed,” said Armakolas, adding that “sometimes [Athens] is confused, and even fearful whether recognizing Kosovo means that later it will join with Albania. Things need to be clarified, and it is the duty of Kosovar diplomacy to lobby as much as possible and build trust.”
The sensitivity of the ‘Cham issue’ to the Greek authorities was made clear recently when EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn described the issue as an “existing one,” that Albania and Greece still needed to resolve. Athens responded angrily, accusing Hahn of siding with the Albanians and insisting that the Cham issue “does not exist.”
Responding to the controversy, Greek foreign minister Kotzias said that “Greece surpasses [Albania] in every field, it has 10 times the GDP [of Albania], and strong systems of defense and security,” a declaration viewed by many commentators as a direct threat towards Albania. In the same interview, Kotzias also issued a reminder of Greece’s position of power within international organizations. “Let’s solve the problems with countries that aspire to join Europe, before starting the negotiations with the European Union,” he stated.
Months earlier, Kotzias had paid a visit to Albania where his rhetoric was not so confrontational. In his speech, delivered in Tirana, Kotzias included the following lines: “Like the German-speaking peoples of the 20th century, the Albanians are organized in two states and have a special position in a third: Germany, Austria and the Swiss cantons, in the first case, and Albania, Kosovo and the Albanians of FYROM, in the latter.” His choice of words seemingly giving recognition of Kosovo’s statehood, in contradiction with the official position of his government.
With the constructive role Greece has played in recognizing Kosovar passports and its openness to meet Kosovar officials, recognition seems to be the last stage in completing normal bilateral relations between Greece and Kosovo.
Armakolas believes that the independence of Kosovo is an unchangeable fact and that Athens will eventually share this view: “Regional issues will make Greek diplomacy realize the independence of Kosovo is irreversible and eventually [they] will recognize [Kosovo], someday.”K
Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.