A stunning victory for Kosovo, a bitter defeat for Serbia it’s hard to interpret the ruling of the International Court of Justice in any other way. Remember, it was Serbia that asked the ICJ to consider the issue whether Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence was legal or not. The Court has surprised many of us by coming back with such an unequivocal opinion in favour of Kosovo, supported by a clear majority of judges.
Not surprisingly, there are celebrations in Pristina. Cars are driving round and round in circles with horns blaring, and people are flying Kosovan, Albanian and American flags. Dusk is now falling, and fireworks are going off. In Belgrade, the mood is bleak. Serbs have tasted defeat many times over the past twenty years, during the slow and painful dismemberment of Yugoslavia, but few moments will hurt as much as this one.
So, where do we go from here? The clear hope of the Kosovan government is that many more countries will now go ahead and recognize it. Kosovo sees a clearer path towards eventual UN membership. People here dream of living in a normal country one that has a universally recognized passport, and can participate in international sport. That dream now seems a little bit closer.
Not surprisingly, the initial reaction from the Serbian authorities is uncompromising they still say they will never, under any circumstances, recognize Kosovan independence. Serbia will argue that a dangerous precedent has been set that ethnic sectarian movements in many parts of the world will take heart, and try and secede from larger countries. Certainly this ruling from the ICJ will be studied closely in other troubled regions in the Caucuses, in Somaliland, in Cyprus, and the Basque country, to name just a few examples. However, the judges were at pains to stress that their opinion only applied to Kosovo, and that it does not have relevance elsewhere.
The European Union says it will now push for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Unfortunately, the EU does not speak with one voice. Five members (Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus) have refused to recognize Kosovo, and it’s difficult to see them changing their position. When the euphoria wears off, Kosovans will know they still face a long and difficult struggle in their quest for international recognition.