In-depth | Recognition

Recognition denied: Slovakia

By - 07.11.2016

Five-part series on the non-recognizing EU states.

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.

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.

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.

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 Slovakia

Schools of thought in Slovakia regarding Kosovo seem to vary considerably; both amongst the political class and the public. It is a division that has led to a relationship filled with seemingly contradictory actions.

Slovakia’s rejection of the ‘new reality’ of Kosovar independence is often attributed to internal disputes that recognition of Kosovo could produce. For some, there is a fear that such a move would set a precedent for the Hungarian minority in southern Slovakia.

Over half a million ethnic Hungarians live in southern Slovakia, out of an overall population of 5.4 million. Ethnic tensions between the large minority and the Slovak state occasionally arise. Only a year after Kosovo announced independence, a political war of words transpired over the use of the Hungarian language in Slovak schools. Bratislava is fearful that any recognition of Kosovo’s independence could incite the Hungarian minority to demand a broader autonomy.

“I think that the unilateral secession of ethnic groups from their home country is not in Europe’s interest. Nor is it to address territorial disputes,” Mikulas Dzurinda, the then foreign minister of Slovakia, said in 2010, when clarifying his position on Kosovo.

Toward independence (2)

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.

Dzurinda was Slovak prime minister at the time of the NATO aerial bombing campaign in 1999, during which Slovakia’s government took the decision to allow NATO ground forces to use Slovak territory in order to attack Serbia. “The core of the problem in Yugoslavia was a genocide being carried out on the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo,” Dzurinda said in 1999. At that time, Slovakia was aiming to join NATO, which became possible in 2004 along with EU admission, which might explain his seemingly differing approaches.

While Slovak officials gave the green light to NATO’s aerial bombing campaign, it seems that the Slovak public struggled to swallow the move. According to Milan Nic, the research director at the GLOBSEC Policy Institute, there exists an “emotional legacy” in Slovak public opinion stemming from long-standing opposition to the campaign.

“The people here and the media went more crazy about the fact that NATO was attacking towns in Serbia, and that was more important than the ethnic cleansing that was happening on the ground in Kosovo,” Nic told K2.0.

Nic believes that Kosovo should do more to introduce a new face to the eyes of Slovak public opinion. “When I talk with friends from Tirana or Prishtina, I always argue that [Albania and Kosovo] need to increase [their] profile through cultural events,” he explained. “The political space is very limited, because the toxic political discussion has very little to do with reality.”

Cultural exchange though, has not always been entirely absent and political discussions not always toxic. In September 2016, Kosovo’s then deputy minister of European integration, Ramadan Ilazi visited Bratislava. The trip was organized by an NGO from Prishtina, the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society (KFOS), and Ilazi was accompanied by a group of members from Kosovo’s civil society. At the meeting, Ilazi thanked the Slovak state for their support for Kosovo’s European perspective and requested a liaison office be established in Slovakia for Kosovars, to work alongside the Slovak office that currently operates in Prishtina.

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.

This was not the first time delegations have been received. KFOS has continually worked to develop relations between Slovakia and Kosovo, including a visit to Slovakia of young contemporary Kosovar artists working in art, theater production and film in 2014.

Parliamentary delegations from Slovakia have also been received in Prishtina. In 2013, the Kosovo parliament reported that during an official visit, the head of the Slovak parliamentary delegation, Ivan Stefanec, said it was his mission to improve relations between the two parliaments, and therefore the two countries.

Despite this budding relationship developing between Slovakia and Kosovo, Slovakia has a much longer history of “traditionally friendly relations” with Serbia. It also has far stronger economic ties with Kosovo’s northern neighbor. In 2014, Slovakia exported more than 290 million dollars worth of goods to Serbia, while exports to Kosovo in the same year totalled only around 8.5 million dollars, according to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics.

But these close ties haven’t prevented Slovakia from taking constructive steps in their relationship with Kosovo. In 2012, the Slovak state took the decision to fully recognize Kosovo passports, allowing Kosovar citizens to enter Slovak territory if in possession of a Schengen visa. It was the first of the five EU members not to recognize Kosovo’s independence to take this step and appeared to be a sign that Slovakia was taking a more open approach towards Kosovo, though no changes regarding the country’s political status were forthcoming.

One man who seems inclined to enact such change is current Slovak president Andrej Kiska, who ran as an independent candidate and has spoken openly in favor of recognition of Kosovo. “I believe that the creation of an independent Kosovo is a step in promoting stability in this part of the region,” he said during his presidential campaign in 2014.

However, according to the Slovak constitution, it is the government that has the prerogative to recognize states, whilst the Slovak president does not hold any substantial role in this process.

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.

APRIL 2013:
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.

Members of the current government seem less receptive to the idea, with Slovak social democrat prime minister Robert Fico a strong opponent of Kosovo’s independence. Just a few days after Kosovo proclaimed independence, he described the move as “a major mistake.”

In the space of a few months in Fall 2015, the splits and inconsistencies at the heart of Slovak foreign policy towards Kosovo were laid bare. In September, The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Slovak Parliament held a hearing on relations between Slovakia and Kosovo. It concluded with the majority of MPs electing to maintain Slovakia’s position of non-recognition but to support Kosovo’s integration in international organizations. However, only two months later, Slovakia’s delegation to UNESCO voted against Kosovo’s membership bid.

Responding to criticism, the Slovak foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak told the Beta news agency that “it is in line with the position of Slovakia not to recognize Kosovo, but [Slovakia] is not hostile to [Kosovo].” The minister added yet more confusion by saying Slovakia has supported, or at least has not hindered integrations.

A few months later, in April 2016, Slovakia supported the signing of the Stabilization Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU and Kosovo, their first contractual relations. Lajcak hailed the agreement, tweeting his congratulations to Kosovo. However, Kosovo’s EU path remains uncertain, in part due to the Slovak stance towards Kosovo’s statehood.

Whereas Slovakia has occasionally played a constructive role — allowing Kosovars to move freely within their territory and is beginning to forge a cultural and diplomatic exchange — it is obvious that both public opinion and politics are still divided when it comes to recognizing Kosovo’s sovereignty.K

Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.