Archives for category: Balkans

In my book, The Politics of Nation-Building, I explore the reasons behind a state’s choice to assimilate, accommodate, or exclude ethnic groups within its territory.[1] I develop a theory that focuses on the international politics of nation-building arguing that a state’s nation-building policies toward non-core groups — any aggregation of individuals perceived as an unassimilated ethnic group by the ruling elite of a state — are influenced by both its foreign policy goals and its relations with the external patrons of these groups. Through a detailed study of the interwar Balkans, I conclude that the way a state treats a non-core group within its own borders is determined largely by whether the state’s foreign policy is revisionist or cleaves to the international status quo, and whether it is allied or in rivalry with that group’s external patrons. However, as I admit in the book, this argument does not travel to states where the ruling elites are not motivated by a homogenizing imperative.

Some places in the world are run by core groups consisting of apparent minimum winning coalitions,[2] others by elites that go at great lengths to establish national states.[3] Why do some countries have leaders that try to make the national and the political unit overlap and others that opt to rule with a minimum winning coalition? One argument suggests that maybe the degree of diversity prevents the nation-building path in some cases, other arguments focus on the pattern of spread of nationalist ideology and/or the prevalence of competing ideologies such as communism, yet others put forth the importance of war-making and imitation of successful military tactics as a mechanism that accounts for the spread of nationalism and the nation-state system.[4] In The Politics of Nation-Building I build on some of these and suggest that the main reason that leaders adopt the nation-building option is the reality, or anticipation, of other powers using non-core groups in their state to undermine their stability or even annex parts of their territory.

The European story is well known and so are the interactions between the Russians and the Europeans. Tilly’s argument that war made the modern national state may be correct but it is also based on an understood reality: borders were constantly changing during the centuries that modern European states developed.[5] But the Westphalian principles have been adhered to more in some parts of the world than others.[6] Border fixity did not only vary tremendously over time but it also significantly varied crossnationally across the globe.[7] For example, following the Treaty of Berlin in the end of the 19th century the borders of Africa “froze” after the decision of the Great Powers.[8] This led to a completely different incentive structure for both ruling elites and counterhegemonic elites in countries with “fixed borders”. Beyond the case of Africa, however, we can point to other places with similar levels of border fixity that resulted from different geopolitical configurations, such as Latin America—the back yard of the USA—or the Middle East, where the colonial powers also left their mark on the demarcation of borderlines.[9]

Overall, areas that were part of a geopolitical configuration that guaranteed border fixity had less of an incentive to pursue nation-building policies. Within these cases the only countries that I would expect to see nation-building policies emerging involve cases where an external power (major power, regional power, neighboring state, diaspora group and so forth) attempted to cultivate a fifth column within their territorial boundaries. Moreover, it would not be surprising if this phenomenon of external backing of non-core groups would be less pronounced in regions where border fixity was perceived to be really high. However, this ‘equilibrium’ becomes more or less sustainable based on the structure of the international system and the ability—real and/or perceived—of regional actors to defy these geopolitical configurations I described above.

The crucial question today is: What is the future of border fixity in today’s world? More importantly, what is the perception of the relevant actors across the world with respect to this question? The list of border changes is longer than we want to admit. One just needs to cite former Yugoslavia and USSR;[10] but more recently we find cases beyond the traditional spaces where nation-building has already made its mark like Sudan.[11]Discussion of border changes has also emerged in the case of Iraq, Mali, and even Syria. It remains to be seen if any such plans will materialize. Granted the list of cases could have been much longer if nationalist principles were to be fully operative but this is not a satisfactory answer. Even if we only get a few dozen of the hundreds of border changes we would get based on nationalist principles, the reverberations will be felt globally. Moreover, such a situation would further push the spread of nationalism, encourage external involvement, and boost nation-building projects across these areas. We are already observing manifestations of this dynamic, but more border changes would certainly intensify it. This in turn will have the direst consequences for the well being of ethnic groups that are perceived as having ties with external powers that are perceived as enemies by core elites. Shi’as in various Sunni dominated states in the Middle East are a case in point.

What can be done? The International community can impact perceptions of border fixity by either investing resources in upholding the norm of territorial sovereignty or by promoting regional integration schemes around the globe that would indirectly guarantee existing borders and, according to The Politics of Nation-Building, would also lead to accommodationist policies. However, neither of the two solutions is sufficient without important investments in economic and political development.


 The article was published at e-IR on May 8, 2013 | © e-International Relations (e-IR)

Harris Mylonas got his Ph.D. at Yale University in 2008 and then joined the Political Science department at George Washington University as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 2009. He was also an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies in 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 academic years.


[1] Harris Mylonas, The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

[2] William H. Riker, The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962; Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, James D. Morrow, Randolph M. Siverson and Alastair Smith, “Political Institutions, Policy Choice and the Survival of Leaders,” British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Oct., 2002), pp. 559-590; Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce; Alastair Smith, Randolph M. Siverson and James D. Morrow. The Logic of Political Survival. The MIT Press, 2003.

[3] Eugen Weber. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976; Ernest GellnerNations and Nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983; Smith, Anthony. 1986. “State-Making and Nation-Building,” in John Hall (ed.), States in History. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 228–263; Rogers Smith. Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Memberships. Cambridge University Press, 2003; Keith Darden and Anna Maria Grzymała-Busse. “The Great Divide: Literacy, Nationalism, and the Communist Collapse,” World Politics – Volume 59, Number 1 (2006): 83-115.

[4] Connor, Walker. The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984Barry Posen. “Nationalism, the Mass Army and Military Power,” International Security, 18, 2 (1993): 80-124; Andreas Wimmer. Waves of War: Nationalism, State Formation and Ethnic Exclusion in the Modern World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

[5] Charles Tilly (ed.). The Formation of National States in Western Europe.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975; Charles Tilly.Coercion, Capital and European States: AD 990-1990. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990. Charles Tilly and Wim P. Blockmans (eds.). Cities and the Rise of States in. Europe, AD 1000 to 1800. Boulder: Westview Press, 1994.

[6] Leo Gross. “The Peace of Westphalia, 1648-1948,” The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan., 1948), pp. 20-41.

[7] Boaz Atzili. Good Fences, Bad Neighbors: Border Fixity and International Conflict. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2012.

[8] Förster, Stig, Wolfgang J. Mommsen, and Ronald Edward Robinson. Bismarck, Europe, and Africa: The Berlin Africa Conference 1884–1885 and the Onset of Partition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

[9] Livingstone, Grace. America’s backyard: the United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror. London; New York: Zed Books, 2009.

[10] Rogers Brubaker. Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996; Ronald Grigor Suny. The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford University Press, 1993.

[11] Andrew Natsios. Sudan, South Sudan, and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press, 2012.

A few countries around Europe and the Middle East have been having a harder time forming a government than most. If most Brits got nervous that there was no government formed for a few days following last years’ election, such a scenario sounds like a remote dream for Belgium, Bosnia, Lebanon and Iraq.

It took Iraq around nine months to form a government following parliamentary elections in March 2010, Lebanon had a change of premier in January, but the new premier Najib Mikati only was able to form a new cabinet a few days ago (based on support from Hizbollah and its allies). Belgium is “celebrating” a year since the parliament elections without a government and Bosnia is slowly catching up (emphasis on slowly) with Belgium, having held elections in October 2010 and only a few days ago the three member state presidency held a straw poll who might be the best candidate for the post—it looks likely that the government will not be formed before the fall. Of course, all four countries share a key feature: They are power-sharing systems, which require coalitions of the unwilling. Coalitions are between parties which have campaign against one another and which have often antagonistic views over the future of the country, not to mention its policies. Thus, coalitions are not based on securing “just” a majority, but rather on including parties representing the often deep divisions in society. With fractious and unstable party systems, forming a government is not an easy task.

It might be tempting to conclude that power sharing system which allocate power to parties claiming to represent these different ethnic, linguistic or religious groups should be done away with. Simple majority rule is, however, no alternative in the three countries. In Lebanon, Hizbollah would be able to take over the country, in Belgium Flemish nationalists would be able to dismantle the state with not consideration of the Walloon community, in Bosnia, a Bosniak parties might govern over a state that can’t govern of half of it, the Serb Republic (or alternatively, a Croat-Serb coalition would dominate at the expense of the largest population group), etc. A different alternative is the system used in Northern Ireland. Instead of lengthy coalition negotiations between parties which in all probability anyhow have to end up in government with each other, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 just does away with complicated government formation altogether. Here the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are elected by a double majority of both unionists and nationalists, all subsequent ministers are chosen by the D’Hondt system, which allows parties to pick ministerial posts according to their size and means that there is no need for negation between parties and all have a stake in the government. Of course, this also means that no party will be in opposition, but voting largely determines the dominance in the executive, rather than who is represented at all.

If such a solution is not possible, the question arises, does one really need a government? In Belgium, there have been protests in favor of any government (probably a first in history), a senator calling for a sex strike of the wives of Belgian’s politicians and the initiative G1000 which seeks to bring together 1000 citizens to demonstrate than in a few days of popular debate more feasible solutions and compromises can be found than after more than a year of talks among parties. Despite all the civic activism for a government, Belgium managed to hold the EU presidency, reduce its budget deficit and generally have a working country with only a caretaker government. The others’ are less lucky. Without a proper government and a budget, Bosnia was unable to draw further loans from IMF, is unable to move forward with EU integration, whereas Lebanon and Iraq were similarly paralyzed without a fully acting government. The secret to Belgium’s ‘non-governmental’ success despite its difficulties is simple, it is called the European Union and its regions and communities to which many powers are devolved. Granted, the EU lacks clear decision making structures and much of what one would expect from a government, but the Belgium experience demonstrates that it can be a crucial proxy for having a government. Monetary policy, no need. Foreign and security policy, not a big deal for a small EU member. Most laws and regulations come from the EU. What is not done by the EU in terms of everyday life is organized by the regions or communities. This leaves Belgium in the absence of a legitimate government much less exposed than Lebanon, Bosnia or Iraq. Now, of course, the problem is that some ethnic, linguistic or religious parties actually want to demonstrate just that—namely that the state is unnecessary. If citizens don’t feel the pinch of having a government, they might become less attached to the state. This is of course a fundamental dilemma, who much government does there need to be to make it worthwhile for citizens to have a state and what is the maximum of government and state some citizens can take before they support some alternative. Whatever the specific answer maybe, there are times when a country can work, even if there is no government.

Florian Bieber is a professor for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz.


For almost two decades, the brief and comparatively not very intense violent conflict between Transnistria and Moldova has been ‘frozen’: the lack of violence has been matched by the lack of tangible progress towards a final, sustainable settlement. At times, there has been a flurry of activity, on at least one occasion the parties came tantalizingly close to reach status agreement, but for the most part talks between the sides, mediated by Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE, and with the EU and US as observers, have produced very little. To be sure, there are about a half-dozen relatively concrete proposals which reflect a basic consensus on the parameters of a settlement (including most importantly special territorial status for Transnistria, power sharing, and international guarantees). There are also between 140 and 170 different bilateral agreements between the sides, but no-one knows exactly how many, what their legal status is, and which have been made obsolete by later agreements and/or by developments on the ground. What they all have in common, sadly, is that almost none of them has ever been implemented.

The question is, why? It is always tempting in such situations to allocate blame to the sides and/or the third parties involved. Often, Russia is singled out for its alleged obstruction, and while certainly no solution can be found without Russia, Russia cannot single-handedly deliver a solution either. The European Union is a relative late-comer in the process, it runs programmes to make Moldova more attractive for Transnistrians and help the country on its path to closer EU integration, but lacks, at this stage at least, a real strategy for what to do with the conflict. Transnistrians, in public, insist on their right to self-determination and thus independence. But most importantly, one has to recognise that the status quo over the past 19 years has been stable, tolerable for many, and profitable for some—not only in Moldova and Transnistria, but also in Ukraine and Russia, and among the many serious crises the EU has had to deal with since it became a more aspirational international security player, Moldova was hardly a major threat. In other words, there has been little desire on the ground to change things and no pressure from the outside to do so.

Is this a problem? It would not have been had there not all of a sudden been a push on the international level to make the Transnistria conflict a test case for EU-Russia security cooperation, the first collaborative effort between the two in a newly to be created EU-Russia Political and Security Committee, institutionalising the process begun some five years ago with the Common Space for External Security as part of the EU-Russia dialogue. For many in Brussels and Moscow, and to some extent Washington, such a test case is needed to enable Russia and the West to address jointly the real and more serious security challenges they both face, including in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa and which neither side can handle on its own. To press home this point, in quick succession over the past months, senior British, German, EU and US officials visited the Moldovan capital Chisinau, including EU High Representative Baroness Ashton and US Vice President Biden, all making a point about the need and importance of resolving the Transnistria conflict. Yet, this external push is not the problem in itself, it is the lack of preparedness of the conflict parties and the publics on both sides to deal with it. There is little by way of a real understanding, let alone strategy, to manage not only the negotiation of a sustainable settlement but the rather difficult reintegration process that will inevitably follow after two decades of separation.

The challenge for Moldova and Transnistria is now to make the best of this situation. They will need to rely on international support in coming to the right settlement, one that can be sustained over time and makes things better for both sides. The challenge for the international community is to proceed with care in managing the complex dynamics of this process locally, regionally, and internationally. Meaningful security cooperation between Russia and the EU (and by extension NATO) cannot be achieved or sustained at the price of a solution for the Transnistria conflict that will do more harm than good. In this sense, meaningful European and transatlantic security cooperation is not just about improved cooperation, it is also about improved security.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, England, UK.  His website is


In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence; on July 22nd, the International Court of justice ruled that its declaration was legal. In many parts of the West, especially in Washington, this news was greeted with applause. Reading the Kosovo Declaration of Independence, however, one is amazed at the ability of politicians and pundits to compare it to the American Declaration. Joe Biden even goes so far as to compare the Kosovo Prime Minister to George Washington.

In many ways, the situation of the colonies is analogous to the one in Kosovo. The colonies were stuck between the influence of France and Britain, just as Kosovo is caught between Russia—Serbia’s protector—and the United States. And, the colonies were aware that dissolving their ties to Britain risked igniting separations throughout the world, just as the Kosovo declaration might be a precedent for such declarations elsewhere.

Yet, the way in which America declared independence is drastically different from Kosovo. The Kosovo declaration is short, addresses specific United Nations plans for the composition of government, and thanks NATO for its past help.  What’s notable is what’s missing: unlike the American Declaration of Independence, it does not justify its secession.

The signers of the American declaration, aware of the danger that secession would cause, explained that“Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” But, given the specific abuses of the King, it is the colonies’ “right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Instead of justifying secession through an appeal to right, the Kosovo declaration narrowly and legalistically justifies its special status. When the American declaration lists twenty-six specific and irrefutable grievances with England; the Kosovo declaration provides no grievance whatsoever. The American declaration is couched in a sophisticated moral and political theory in order to show that any individual can endorse its conclusions; the Kosovo declaration is couched in narrow legalisms designed to provide political cover for the western powers that recognize it.

These are no minor differences. Jefferson thought it right that a declaration of independence makes claims on the conscience of the world, outlining the case for independence, enshrining it in a single compelling statement: “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”  The Kosovo declaration skirts debate, does not make a case for powers to recognize or support it, and represents an international system in which power, not conscience, rules. The American declaration sparked a global debate over the rights of peoples; the Kosovo declaration is sparking a trivial debate over the right interpretation of a UN Security Council Resolution.

In light of the NATO involvement in the Balkans during the late 1990s, the U.S. support for Kosovo’s independence is not surprising. Historically, the U.S. has traditionally backed self-determination movements and independence through de facto recognition. The U.S. supported the French declaration of Independence in 1793, the Greek in the early 19th century—and many more—under the Monroe Doctrine. But this principled position of the U.S. did not last. In the last century, the U.S. has refused to recognize de facto states in Central and Latin America in order to discourage potential rebels and delegitimize Communist regimes. For different reasons, the U.S. did not recognize conquests made by the Fascist Italy and Germany as well as by Stalin before and during WWII. Today, the U.S. refuses to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia but intensely supports Kosovo’s independence. In other words, over time principled foreign policy soon enough gave way to Realpolitik and pragmatism.

In 1953, President Eisenhower declared that “Any nation’s right to a form of government and an economic system of its choosing is inalienable. Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.” Unfortunately, today’s rhetoric does not match reality. Russia and the United States accuse each other of manufacturing independence movements and then guaranteeing their security until de facto independence is secured. Russia accuses of the U.S. of doing this in Kosovo and the U.S. returns the “favor” in the cases of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Our point is not that Albanians in Kosovo have no case to make; but that they have not made their case. The misplaced and even dangerous triumphalism with which western media greeted the ICJ ruling sends the wrong message to aspiring secessionists. The Kosovo declaration addresses narrow international rules and wide channels of power; it does not address the universal conscience of the world. No one can endorse the document because there is nothing to endorse: no cause, no claim, and no challenge to the Serbian government. If the American declaration of independence was the beginning of the growth of an international community that supports self-determination and democratization, the Kosovo declaration represents the failure of the international community to move beyond power politics, disguising Realpolitik with international law. Is this the international system we aspire to?

Eric Grynaviski and Harris Mylonas are Assistant Professors of Political Science at the George Washington University. This article first appeared on the blog of the The Utopian on November 30, 2010.

Two years ago the Prime Minister Gruevski welcomed His Majesty, the (e)Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan, the Prince of the Burusho people, from the remote Hunza Valley in the Himalayas in Pakistan. It was not an ordinary bilateral meeting, as the Pakistani delegation claimed to be “coming back home“, and was certainly made to feel like that. According to their collective memory and narrative of origin, they are the descendants of the warriors of Alexander the Great – in particular, the ones who were too tired or simply not willing to march back to Macedonia after reaching the Indian hinterlands. Ghazanfar Ali Khan later on met with plenty of VIPs, including one metropolitan of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, who compared him to Alexander the Great (at least, in terms of his looks). These days, the Burusho tribe has made the news again – namely, the Macedonian government has decided to simply confer three hectares of land for the construction of a royal residency of the Burusho royal family [News, only in Macedonian: . To add to the quirkiness of the situation, the land is located near to the site of Paljurci, which was put on the map by president Ivanov, who revealed that it was the exact location of St. Paul’s mission is spreading Christianity in Macedonia.

Therefore, the broader public becomes ecstatic whenever the “Hunza” story gets in the press. The majority of the people are critical of the developments, as it is hardly comprehensible how those unknown distant people have become our ad hoc kin-group solely on the basis of myths and tales of origin, while there are still traces of contention towards the very neighboring ones. Furthermore, the whole narrative has a comical overtone due to the seemingly naive and unsophisticated, yet deadly serious rhetoric of “fraternization” between the Macedonian officials and the Pakistanis.

When it comes to the public response, it seems that the overtly sardonic attitude to the topic prevails. It manifests in several ways: referring to the government representatives as “Hunzas” and attributing the term “Hunza” with a negative meaning, denouncing on the cooperation between the two sides as “fraternity between two tribes” and part of the “mountainous” nationalist rhetoric. And, while the whole issue deserves and requires public scrutiny, what I have noticed that at one point, the debate has crossed one thin red line – it has invaded the human dignity of the Burusho representatives.

It is more than legitimate for one to criticize the Macedonian government and the introduction of the “remote family” rhetoric; however, that does not waive the right of respecting the distinctiveness of the Burusho people. The mocking on the “Hunzas” has been grdaully becoming a sheerly prejudiced rhetoric and an act of “Othering”; a very good illustration of orientalistic attitude towards the people imagined as exotic semi-barbarians from the far-away mountainous lands, being different than “us” – not just different, but lesser and totally inferior because of their background. Maybe people derive pleasure out of deriding them, believing that that way, they manifest their own superiority.

The sad part is that this issue has emerged in a culture that has been an object of orientalism as well. The people of Southeast Europe have been often generalized and portrayed as crude and uncivilized, belonging to hostile peoples bearing complicated names. Alas, we didn’t learn our lesson of our own experience.

And who is to blame for this rather negative trend? The domestic and the international media, the politicians, the opinion makers, or maybe the Pakistanis themselves? The author of these lines can not be exculpated as well. I personally have made plenty of fun on the “Hunza” topic (including a sarcastic take on the visit of the Burusho leadership in Macedonia in the form of a song), when the issue had first gained public visibility. And for a while now, I have been feeling guilty and responsible about it – hence I feel an utter need to apologize for my attitude.

Here I would lay my own experience and the lesson learned.

Orientalistic behavior, among other things, is rooted in the lack of “primary sources” about the object. It is easy to generate stereotypes, to Other and imagine “the Hunzas” with contempt when you haven’t really met any of them personally. Nevertheless, my narrow-minded perception has been rubbed into my face, when I had the opportunity to meet one Burusho exchange student in an international setting. I can not recall all of the details accurately, but he could have easily been a member of the “royal” family, or even a prince; yet, for the matter of fact, he seemed a bit awkward with all of his religious and “patriotic” talks. He was in love with Macedonia, although he could not tell the Republic of Macedonia from the Greek province of Macedonia (he unlikely caught himself in the heart of the name dispute I guess). Yet, while hanging out with him, I could not stop feeling horrible, guilty and responsible for my previous acts of mockery and prejudiced talk (and artistic work!) on the “Hunza” topic. What I was thinking, was that if me and my friends heard the same type of “jokes” we had been making about the Pakistanis said about Albanians, or Roma, or Jews, or Africans, we could have easily started accusing people of hate speech or would have just given them a lesson on tolerance and multiculturalism. Yet, since it was about the “Hunzas”, it was considered cool.

What I have realized from this experience, and what I keep on realizing as the Hunza story is making the news again, is that the media (including some international ones) must move beyond the stereotypes on the Burusho Pakistanis. In the whole story, their role is the most subordinated one, as their actions solely depend on the script prepared by their Macedonian partners. Yet, it is a huge mistake to load the meaning of the term “Hunza” with negative features and it is morally wrong to exploit their background of tribespeople from the Himalayas for the sake of “enriching” the anti-nationalist rhetoric.

However, as I already mentioned, being respectable towards the Burusho people does not mean that one also should oversee the potential abuse by the government for the sake of very shallow political goals. Currently, the whole idea of aiding the construction of a “royal palace” in the “historic site” of Paljurci, legitimizing the idea of being “distant relatives” remains highly dubious and harmful to the Macedonian political debate. It is an entirely irrational narrative that maintains the mythologized discourse of ancient Macedonian nationhood, which is detrimental to the both internal and external “national questions”. The infamous “antiquization”, the meta process of redefining the Macedonian national self by reverting to the ancient Macedonian narrative of origin, has turned the identitarian policies of the government into a monoethnic, nineteenth century like nation building project and has obviously exacerbated the fragile post-2001 multicultural practice, aggravating certain Albanian political leaders. In terms of the foreign affairs, on the other hand, the political use of the ancient Macedonian rhetoric had significant contribution to exhausting the chances for a successful outcome of the Macedonian-Greek negotiations over the “name dispute”. Finally, one must not neglect the very pragmatic remark that while the VMRO-DPMNE led government is making Macedonian citizens buy off their own yards and lots on which their houses have been built, it enacts a totally arbitrary decision to simply give out land to foreign citizens only because of certain historical claims.

Anastas Vangeli is a Research Analyst at the Center for Research and Policy Making, Skopje

On October 3, Bosnians cast their votes to decide on new leadership for the country. The results were somewhat unexpected; especially on the Bosniak side. Radical Bosniak leader Haris Silajdzic lost the Presidential election to turn-moderate SDA candidate Bakir Izetbegovic (son of legendary wartime Bosniak leader Alija Izetbegovic). The fairly moderate turn of the Bosniak electorate resonated in the parliamentary elections, with non-nationalist SDP winning most votes from the Croat-Muslim Federation (closely followed by SDA). The results from the Serb and Croat constituencies remained fairly consistent, although smaller parties could play a greater role in post-elections coalition talks than in previous elections.

Irrespective of the nature and form of the new government coalition, the new Bosnian authorities will have to be prepared to lead the country’s transition from an international semi-protectorate to a sovereign state with a reinforced EU presence on the ground. The most urgent matters will focus on an international agenda, including progress on the Euro-Atlantic reform process (which has virtually ground to a halt as a result of local obstruction); and constitutional negotiations aimed at establishing a more efficient institutional framework.  This framework would presumably allow major international players such as the US to rest quietly while the EU prepares the country for accession.

The tasks ahead are significant, but the results of the elections cast serious doubts about the ability of the new leadership to guide the country through the upcoming challenges.

There are two issues that are particularly concerning. The first relates to the persistence of rampant divisions relating to the nature and form of the Bosnian state. While nationalist rhetoric has somewhat abated since the end of the elections, the post-election period has been marked by a plethora of radical statements in relation to Bosnia’s constitutional status. Serb leader Milorad Dodik, for example, has indicated a lack of interest in substantially changing the constitutional framework (which Bosniak parties find unacceptable). He has also expressed support for the creation of a third Croat entity within the boundaries of the Federation, a concept that Bosniaks vigorously oppose. SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdzija has responded with strong rhetoric and has suggested that secession attempts from RS will likely be contested with physical force.


While parties are beginning to prepare for what many see as imminent constitutional negotiations, the atmosphere is not conducive to post-election coalition talks. Furthermore, the discussion of government formation in the context of constitutional reform talks could serve to muddy the political waters and have unexpected consequences with respect to the international agenda in Bosnia; especially if parties fail to reach common ground on basic principles.

The second disrupting factor is related to the intricate political landscape resulting from the elections; a corollary of the complexity of the Bosnian political system. While election law does not require parties to form cross-ethnic coalitions prior to the elections (the system actually promotes ethno-nationalist platforms), government formation involves leaders from different ethnic backgrounds and ideologies to come together on a common government agenda; which usually takes months to agree upon.

Coalition talks are likely to be particularly difficult this time around given that SDP and SNSD (sworn political enemies), hold the majority of seats in parliament and are fiercely disputing the right to define the government on their own terms. Dodik has already made it clear that he has no intention of allowing SDP leader Lagumdzija to become either Chair of the CoM or Minister of Foreign Affairs. This creates a political reality in which, unless smaller parties play their cards wisely, opposing leaders will need to repair their differences in order to prepare the country for the myriad upcoming challenges.

Many regard SDA’s leader Sulejman Tihic as an appropriate mediator to bring these two leaders together, but the new government will also depend greatly on intra-ethnic political calculations of smaller parties such as Serb party SDS, Croat off-shoot party HDZ 1990 and newly created Bosniak SBB. Control over entity voting in the parliament (particularly from RS) will also play a big role in determining the character of the new government; and will preclude Bosniak parties from fantasizing about the possibility (and convenience) of permanently sidelining SNSD.

Intense negotiations will invariably ensue, and internationals will play a prominent role (the recent visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Sarajevo was not coincidental). The ability of external actors to influence Bosnian politics is limited however, given that local parties are well versed in ignoring international pleas and resisting external arm-twisting. Notwithstanding the limited room for maneuvering, pressure for the creation of a stable government that includes major parties (especially SDP) will be strong. It is critical that Bosnian leaders act responsibly, and form a coalition that will successfully lead the country’s transition to full sovereignty.

Sofia Sebastian, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and FRIDE’s Research Fellow.

I always tell my students that, when sitting an exam, they have to answer the question that has been set rather than one that they feel comfortable with. No analogy is ever perfect, but this one sums up pretty neatly the outcome of the deliberations by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which, by ten votes to four, found that the Declaration of Independence (DoI) of Kosovo adopted on 17 February 2008 did not violate international law.

The Court did so on the basis of a very narrow interpretation of the question put to it by the General Assembly of the UN. Specifically, the ICJ noted in its Opinion that the General Assembly “does not ask whether or not Kosovo has achieved statehood. Nor does it ask about the validity or legal effects of the recognition of Kosovo by those States which have recognized it as an independent State.” In other words, “the Court [did] not consider … it … necessary to address such issues as whether or not the declaration has led to the creation of a State or the status of the acts of recognition”.

This is a major opportunity lost by the ICJ to clarify very important issues in contemporary international law and international relations—in particular, the conditions under which new states can be legally established by unilateral acts of one party to a secessionist conflict.

In addition, there is considerable margin for mis-interpretation of the Court’s Opinion. The ‘headline news’ that the Court had ruled that Kosovo’s DoI did not violate international law has led leaders of other entities in similar circumstances, most notably Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to assume that their DoIs now have endowed them with independent statehood under international law. Yet, this is precisely the issue that the ICJ did not address.

Rather, what the Court did was three things:

  1. It demonstrated that “general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence”.
  2. It argued that the authors of the DoI were not the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo, but rather that they “acted together in their capacity as representatives of the people of Kosovo outside the framework of the interim administration.”
  3. It found that Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999), which established the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and thus the UN’s interim administration of Kosovo, was not violated by the DoI.

The first point may be relevant, but it portrays a very conservative and rather dated view of international law, and fails to consider whether non-prohibition of certain acts equates with their automatic permission. This omission is part of the lost opportunity noted by Judge Simma who, while siding with the majority in the ICJ’s overall finding, is highly critical of the self-imposed restrictions that the Court placed upon itself and that he sees as “significantly reduc[ing] the advisory quality of [the Court’s] Opinion.” In justifying a dissenting opinion, Judge Bennouna similarly wonders how the Court’s Opinion, “limited […] to the declaration as such, severed from its legal effects”, can “guide the requesting organ, the General Assembly, in respect of its own action”.

The second point is a rather astonishing interpretation of the facts that the Court had to consider. In particular, the logic of the assumption that 109 of the 120 members of the Assembly of Kosovo, and the Prime Minister and the President of Kosovo (the very Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo established under UNMIK) did not, at a special session of the Assembly act as the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo but rather in some unspecified private capacity is hard to follow. This point is forcefully made in the dissenting opinions of Vice-President Tomka and Judges Koroma, Bennouna, Skotnikov. Judge Bennouna, moreover, presents evidence that the “Secretary-General and his Special Representative in Kosovo” stated in writing “that the declaration was in fact the work of the recently elected Assembly of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo”.

By considering the authors of the DoI to be anything but acting as the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo the ICJ’s Opinion can avoid any specific engagement with the objection that these institutions exceeded their competence within the Constitutional Framework for Self-governance, as established under UNMIK regulations. This so-called ultra vires argument receives some cursory treatment toward the end of the Court’s Opinion, but is noteworthy for its sentiment that the authors of the DoI are exempt from abiding by this Constitutional Framework. All four dissenting judges strongly disagree with this notion. As Judge Bennouna notes, “not being part of the interim institutions does not exempt the authors from the legal order established by UNMIK regulation 1999/1”, reasoning “that all those living in Kosovo […] must comply with the régime of self-government established by the United Nations”.

With respect to the third point—non-violation by the DoI of UN Security Council Resolution 1244(1999)—the Court’s majority subscribe to the view that Resolution 1244(1999) does not contain “a prohibition, binding on the authors of the declaration of independence, against declaring independence”. It arrives at this conclusion after examining the language of the Resolution and not finding any specific references to the “Kosovo Albanian leadership or other actors” in its text, contrary to earlier Resolutions on Kosovo (e.g., 1160(1998), 1199(1998), and 1203(1998)). Nor, argues the ICJ Opinion, did the Security Council expressly rule out independence for Kosovo as an option of final status, as it did in its treatment of the question of Cyprus (i.e., in UN Security Council Resolution 1251(1999)). Dissenting opinions, notably by Judge Koroma, however, point out that the fact that UN Security Council Resolution 1244(1999) remains in force until the Security Council rescinds it is incompatible with a DoI that aims to infringe the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the legal personality of which is continued by Serbia) and end its sovereignty over Kosovo, both of which (territorial integrity and sovereignty) are affirmed in Resolution 1244(1999).

So where does this leave the world of self-determination conflicts and contested statehood, a world, after all, that is far from the comforts in which the Judges of the International Court of Justice deliberated their case?

Even if one were to accept the reasoning of the Court, it provides no guidance on the effects of Declarations of Independence; in fact, the ICJ specifically refused to do so. Secessionists all over the world may rejoice in the fact that, in the view of the Court, “general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence”. Yet, they would be grossly misleading themselves and their followers if they were to derive from this an endorsement of the legality of any process to create new states in this way. The Court does not offer any guidelines on when such Declarations of Independence have the effect desired by their authors.

However, following the principle of “ex injuria jus non oritur”, making a Declaration of Independence, which is now established as an act that does not violate international law in the circumstances under which the Court considered it, does not preclude the subsequent legal establishment of new states.

Given that the Court specifically cites the case of Cyprus as one in which the UN Security Council has expressly provided for conditions under which such a Declaration would be a violation of international law, Turkish Cypriots can draw little comfort from this. In contrast, the fact that a similar Resolution is unlikely in relation to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where one member of the veto-holding P5 members (Russia) has already recognised their self-declared independence, is rather more worrisome for Georgia as it is simply not offered the same protection under international law as the Republic of Cyprus.

The debates that the ICJ Opinion on Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence has already sparked will undoubtedly continue. Yet, in the same way in which the ICJ Opinion is less than helpful in determining the legality of Kosovo’s independence, the debates on similar cases are equally unlikely to contribute much to the actual resolution of any ongoing secessionist conflicts. For, sadly, these are resolved far more often by the balance of power on the ground. In the case of Kosovo seceding from Serbia with the backing of the United States and 22 of 27 EU member states, the ICJ’s advisory opinion is as irrelevant as it is in the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia seceding from Georgia with the backing of Russia. That this is the case, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, has much to do with the unhelpfully narrow view that the Court of International Justice took in its Advisory Opinion on Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence, and in the rather dubious logic that it at times employed in its reasoning.

To return to my initial analogy, there is only one sin greater to commit for a student sitting an exam than adjusting a set question to his or her own comfort level—and that is to answer that question wrongly.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, UK, and co-editor of Ethnopolitics.

The ruling has been far more favorable towards Kosovo than most observers have expected. Striking is not only the clear verdict, but also the fact that it was supported by a majority of the judges which give the opinion additional weight. It has been clear since the hearing in late 2009 that supporters of Kosovo’s independence argued on the narrow premise of the legality of the declaration of independence (which is also the scope of the question under consideration), while its opponents sought to widen the opinion to consider the question of secession at large. In its opinion the ICJ has accepted the narrow decision which follows the logic of the court: On one side, it does not want to change international law, especially on the controversial topic of secession, and on the other hand it does not want to offer an opinion out of place with reality, such as declaring the independence illegal when it is clear that it is irreversible. The ruling is far from revolutionary and does not set a precedent in international law: It is clear that declarations of independence are not illegal–their relevance arises from recognition. Whether or not recognition of declarations of independence break international law appears to be a question to be answered another time.

In terms of the implications for Kosovo and Serbia, the opinion strengthens the hand of Kosovo. Probably a number of countries which have been sitting on the fence since the UN General Assembly requested the ICJ opinion just under two years ago are now likely to recognize Kosovo–most importantly they might include one or the other EU member state. However, more significantly neither Russia nor China are likely to recognize Kosovo. As a result Kosovo will be a winner but will have few tangible gains from the decision as UN and EU membership will not be closer. The ICJ opinion does not appear to state that independence of Kosovo is legal thus countries that refrained from recognizing Kosovo due to their own secessionist conflicts are unlikely to change their mind.

Thus, the greatest risk of the ICJ opinion is that as a result there is likely to be little willingness in Kosovo for new talks with Serbia, while hoping that time will play into Kosovo’s hands. And yes, time plays in Kosovo’s hands and Serbia has to clearly define a new policy towards Kosovo, but time without talks with Serbia will not resolve the causes for the deadlock of Kosovo’s state-building project.  However, now there is an opportunity for talks between Kosovo and Serbia: Serbia has exhausted its alternatives and has to come to terms with the reality of Kosovo as an independent country and Kosovo will need to realize that it will not move forward without some kind of settlement with Serbia. Such a settlement would need to include a water-tight promise by Serbia not to impede Kosovo’s UN and EU membership, some face-saving trade-off for Serbia in terms of a role in Northern Kosovo (including border adjustments, although the opinion has weakened Serbia’s argument) and kick-starting Kosovo’s EU integration process. The key challenge will be for Kosovo not to overplay the hand it has been dealt by the ICJ opinion and end up with little more than before.

Florian Bieber is a Visiting Fellow at LSE and Lecturer at the University of Kent. He will take up the post of Professor in Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, Austria in September 2010.

More than two years ago, in February 2008, the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo unilaterally declared Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. This was the culmination of an almost ten-year process of contested international administration of this region by the United Nations that followed NATO’s controversial intervention in the conflict between ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians in 1999 (which itself had been ongoing for over two decades and seen significant violent escalation after 1996).

Despite intense international efforts by the UN and subsequently by a troika of US, EU and Russian mediators to achieve agreement between Kosovo Albanians and Serbia over Kosovo’s future status, no consensus was reached either in the negotiations or on a resolution in the UN Security Council. Kosovo’s declaration of independence was followed by partial international recognition (to date 50+ states, including all but 5 EU member states and the US) as well as strong condemnation from Serbia and Russia in particular, with many other states expressing serious concern.

Given the clear and wide-ranging implications of Kosovo’s declaration of independence, its partial international recognition, and the equally persisting opposition to such recognition, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on 8 October 2008, requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on whether Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence was in accordance with international law.

On 22 July 2010, the International Court of Justice will publish its advisory opinion on this matter. This is one of the most significant cases that the court has dealt with in recent years, and the publication of its opinion follows lengthy deliberations, including written submissions by 37 UN member states and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo, and oral statements by 28 UN member states and representatives from Kosovo during public hearings in December 2009.

While the Court’s opinion is not binding on any of the UN member states, there is a wide consensus that the Court’s ruling, like the declaration of independence itself, will have a significant impact on questions of ethnic conflict and self-determination far beyond Kosovo and the Western Balkans.

The much disputed ‘Kosovo precedent’ and the ICJ’s advisory opinion will have potential ramifications in several ways:

  1. For other de-facto states: in terms of increasing or decreasing their chances of obtaining broader international recognition of their self-declared independence (for example, Northern Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria, Somaliland).
  2. For future settlement negotiations and settlements: in terms weakening or strengthening the position of states facing self-determination movements.
  3. For the UN: in terms of its ability to manage ethnic conflicts, especially qua transitional administration of disputed territories.
  4. For the EU: in terms of its role in Kosovo now and for the existing divisions within the EU over the recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

A negative opinion of the Court on Kosovo (i.e., that the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo was NOT in accordance with international law) is unlikely to reverse the state of affairs as it now exists with more than 50 states having recognised Kosovo’s independence. Such an opinion would affirm conservative interpretations of international law favouring the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of existing states. It would not rule out negotiated secessions (such as the ‘velvet divorce’ of Czechoslovakia in 1992/3 or the agreement of conflict parties to accept the outcome of referenda on independence such as in East Timor in 1999, or in the future in Sudan or Bougainville).

By the same token, a positive opinion of the Court (i.e., that the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo WAS in accordance with international law) would not necessarily open the floodgates of secession elsewhere in the world. UN member states would not be compelled by such an opinion of the Court to recognise other self-declared independent states (such as Abkhazia or South Ossetia) nor would the case of such entities under international law necessarily be strengthened—Kosovo would more likely continue to be seen as a sui generis case, not a precedent for others, no matter how similar they may appear on the surface.

No matter how the Court finds, its opinion will be as contested as the case on which it was asked to pronounce itself. Nor is it likely that the Court’s opinion will be able to resolve either the issue of Kosovo or the wider underlying questions that arise in cases of contested self-determination claims.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, UK, and co-editor of Ethnopolitics.

Amidst the anticipation of the opinion of the International Court of Justice on whether the declaration of independence of Kosovo was illegal or not, other developments are easily overlooked. One little reported election was the local election in Northern Mitrovica on 30 May 2010, organized by Serbia for the parallel municipal structure.

2010 2008
Party Votes Seats Percents Votes Seats



1,104 7 17.55%





















S-D-P, Oliver Ivanovic











SDPS, Rasim Ljajic




Serb National Council, Ivanovic




New Hope, Nebojsa Covic











For a better future of Mitrovica




Movement for K.M.













Eligible Voters



Source:  Republican Election Commission

Although the elections by themselves re-affirm the parallel structures supported by Serbia, the results suggest a more intriguing picture.
Mitrovica is at the front-line of the dispute over Kosovo’s independence and has long been the site for radical politics. Results of the previous elections, held in May 2008, just a few months after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, confirmed this: The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of Prime Minister Kostunica and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) together gained 60.68 percent of the vote.
During earlier votes in Mitrovica for general Serbian parliamentary or presidential elections, usually the Radical Party gained most votes.

Fast forward to 2010: at the recent elections, the parties of the current government gained nearly 47 percent of their vote. The much reduced
SRS did not enter the municipal assembly and the support for the DSS dropped by 10 percent. Even the Serbian Progressive Party, the more moderate wing of the Radicals under the leadership of Tomislav Nikolic, gained only marginally more than than the government Democrats. In addition, both G17 and the new Socialdemocratic Party of Rasim Ljajic managed to gain seats.

While the position of the governing coalition regarding Kosovo do not fundamentally differ from the more radical parties, the government has
not supported the radical confrontation strategy in pursuing this policy as DSS or SRS did and reduced the financial incentives for obstructionism. The double moderation through the split of the SRS and the voters’ shift towards the governing coalition is thus highly significant for both Serbia and for Kosovo:

The significance for Serbia lies in the fact that nationalist policies and an intransigent position does not win a majority even in a ‘frontline’ city such as Mitrovica. It thus seems to underpin a larger shift toward more moderate politics in Serbia. The

importance for Kosovo arises from the bad performance of political elites that derived legitimacy for their radical agenda in the North, such as Milan Ivanovic whose group did not even enter the municipal assembly. Thus, the deputy minister for Kosovo in the Serbian government and head of the list “Serbia, Democracy and Justice” Oliver Ivanovic noted that the results would lead to a reduction of tensions in Mitrovica. This does is unlikely to immediately  allow for shift towards dialogue between Kosovo’s institution and the parallel structures. After the significant participation of Kosovo Serbs in Southern enclaves in Kosovo’s local elections in 2009,  this move towards moderation signals that new opportunities for more constructive relations between Serbs and the Kosovo institutions than just a few months ago.

Florian Bieber is a Lecturer of East European Politics, University of Kent and a Visiting Fellow a LSEE, London School of Economics and Political Science.