British and European Policy on Kosovo and Macedonia
Speech in the House of Commons
12 June 2008
I had the pleasure of observing the Macedonian elections two Sundays ago. Some of them will be rerun this Sunday because of electoral fraud and manipulation. Before that, I had the pleasure of being in Kosovo, which I visited often as a Minister. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister will be in Kosovo on Sunday or Monday, at the moment when Kosovo achieves its statehood. It has already made its declaration of independence, but this weekend, and with the presence of the Minister, it will celebrate its independence. It is absolutely right that Britain should be there because the fate of the western Balkans has taken up a great deal of the attention of the House and the Government over the past 20 years.
I suspect that all of us in this House will, at some stage, have had gentlemen and women come into our surgeries who are asylum seekers from Kosovo or other parts of the western Balkans, or who have been transited through that broad region from Athens up to the Alps. Trying to bring some stability, democracy and rule of law to that region ought to be a Government priority. It took far too long for the British Government to intervene in the 1990s.
I commend to those who are interested the statement made to the House by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who was Foreign Secretary at the time of the Srebrenica massacre. I saw a bowl of water on the Dispatch Box and a distinguished Foreign Secretary washing his hands in it, saying, "It’s nothing to do with me, we cannot do anything, we’re staying out of it." I hope that I never have the shame of listening to that kind of do-nothing policy again in my lifetime. Later, we had to intervene in Kosovo. It is one of the positive marks in the record of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that he put together the coalition and persuaded the United States to put in air and land power to stop the mass butchery of Muslims by Milosevic’s thugs.
For nine years, soldiers have been down there—18,000 are currently in the Kosovo peace implementation force—and Kosovo has been in limbo, being neither a state nor a province. It is quite clear that the people of Kosovo utterly reject rule by Belgrade, just as the people of Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia and, more latterly, the people of Montenegro rejected its rule. The people of Kosovo did that peacefully by building their own civil society in the 1980s and 1990s, under a great leader, President Ibrahim Rugova. They took the path of Ghandian non-violence until the very last moments of 1998 and 1999, when such were the exactions and repressions by the Black and Tans of the Milosevic militia that a resistance army was formed and a short war took place until the intervention of NATO, Europe, the United States and the United Nations to bring peace to the area. However, peace in the sense of absence of war has not meant peace in the sense of the Kosovans being allowed to create their own Government, elect their own leaders, decide their own laws and build their own relationships with their neighbours and the wider world.
Martti Ahtisaari, the Finnish President, after many long visits to both Belgrade and Pristina, and after the utter refusal of the authorities in Belgrade to accept that Kosovo should be Kosovo, advanced a plan, which in his typical Ahtisaari, Finnish way contained important safeguards for the Serb people in Kosovo. There is no denying that Kosovo is, for many Serbs, part of their historic roots: the first patriarchy of Serbia was in Pec, which is in Kosovo, and some of the great battles in Serbian history were fought in what is now Kosovo. However, one could say the same about Ireland in relation to England in the 1920s. Looking back to the 14th century, I imagine that bits of France were then part of England, but we do not seriously expect to be allowed to reclaim them. It is one of the tragedies of the western Balkans that the Serbs have not allowed Kosovo to be Kosovo and accepted that the future will be different; instead, they have been locked, sadly, in the past—particularly the ultra-nationalist irredentists in Belgrade, who have been making speeches and demanding that the Kosovans should accept rule by Belgrade again.
Kelvin Hopkins: There has been a suggestion of partition for some small bits of Kosovo, which would allow the remaining small groups of Serbs who tend to be on the Serbian fringes of Kosovo to join Serbia or form enclaves within Kosovo. Is that possible?
Mr. MacShane: I travelled from Prizren to Kacanik in the southern part of Kosovo and went through Brezovica, which is a Serb enclave—it is the principal ski station in Kosovo—doing a little reconnaissance for a later visit. As former chair of the all-party group on skiing, I say that it is important that we build our contacts on the slopes. The notion that this little part of Kosovo could somehow be disconnected and reconnected to Serbia is a bit like saying that Luton could be disconnected from Bedfordshire and reconnected to one of the many European countries that my hon. Friend is so fond of.
Kelvin Hopkins: Wales.
Mr. MacShane: Perhaps. The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is no: the frontiers are set. Many Albanians living in the Presevo valley in Serbia proper could also make that claim. It is better to stick with the current frontiers rather than start trying to redraw them, which is not a Serb demand, by the way; the Serb demand is still that Kosovo is an eternal part of Serbia and that the Kosovans just jolly well have to live with that. On the contrary, we have to lend maximum support to allow Kosovo to be Kosovo. Britain has done that. Some 42 nations have now recognised Kosovo, and that is the agreed position of the European Union.
However, I say with regret that key European partners are refusing to recognise Kosovo. Spain, for example, does not recognise Kosovo, for reasons that are astonishing. As someone who has always supported Spanish freedoms and democracy, I have to say that for Spain to side with the Serbs is the same as if I were to side with the ETA thugs in the Basque country against the broader interests of the Spanish people. Bulgaria, a Slav country, has recognised Kosovo and I congratulate it for doing so. However, Romania, which is not a Slav country has, for whatever reasons, refused so to do.
Greece does not recognise Kosovo. That is a contradiction in terms of Greeks’ national interests. Greece needs a peaceful western Balkans corridor soon—I should like it to be composed of EU member states—through which Greek commercial interests, including tourism, can pass, allowing visitors to go peacefully up to the north of Europe instead of having to go through all the border checks. There is huge Greek investment in both Macedonia and Kosovo. Greek business men are there, helpfully making money and growing the two economies. Yet Athens cannot, for its own reasons, find its way to a peaceful relationship with Macedonia over the name issue or even give Kosovo diplomatic recognition, as we have and as France, Germany, the Nordic countries and the United States have.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to get the Foreign Office to see what it can do to counter the Spanish diplomatic campaign in Latin America against recognition for Kosovo. Through the Commonwealth and with our French friends—through La Francophonie, as it is called—and through other networks of states, working in particular with the majority Muslim countries, I ask him to see what can be done to show Belgrade and, behind Belgrade, a deeply revanchiste Russia, that Kosovo is getting recognition.
I am impressed by the level of economic activity in Kosovo. In the three or four years since I last visited, when I was a Minister, it really has been transformed from a war-torn country into one with a great deal of economic activity. Much of the money in the country is what we call "black money", or illegal money, but as the Swiss say, money has no smell. With new buildings being built, along with new restaurants, hotels and gas stations, and with cars on the road—there are traffic jams galore in Pristina—and motorways being built, I see a future of economic activity and buzz.
Thank goodness, the 2nd Battalion the Rifles is currently in Kosovo, but only for a short time to cover the arrival of the EU legislative team, which is mentioned on page 6 of the report. The Ministry of Defence suffers from immense overstretch and from the deep irritation, shared by many hon. Members, at the fact that although there are 18,000 troops in Kosovo, few of them are as capable of imposing peace as the British Army and one or two other European contingents. I ask the MOD to see whether there are training possibilities in Kosovo for the soldiers we have stationed in Germany, and some way of having more British soldiers on the ground. Believe me, armoured vehicles going around with the Union Jack fluttering at the back do more to send out signals of confidence, law and order and a rule-based society than almost anything else.
We need to de-UNMIK Kosovo—the United Nations Mission in Kosovo—which is mandated by the UN and does its best. However, after the initial year or two with top people visiting, it does not have the finest flowers of the available global civil service. I am sure that they do not leave security material on the local public transport, but they are not necessarily of the highest quality. Frankly, a state cannot be run by the United Nations. A nation can only run itself by creating its own state.
Macedonia, which is next door to Kosovo, has never gone over the edge into full-scale violence, as the ex-Yugoslav states to its northern frontier did in the 1990s. In 2001, we came close, but strong intervention by Lord Robertson, who was the Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Patten, who was the EU Commissioner for foreign affairs, and Javier Solana, who was the European Council’s representative on foreign matters, really made a difference. Through the Lake Ohrid agreement, they stabilised the situation and avoided what could otherwise have been a quite difficult confrontation between Macedonians and Albanians, and between Macedonians and Macedonians of a more Slavic origin.
Unfortunately, the failure of the EU and NATO to allow Macedonia to pursue full Euro-Atlantic integration has led to the return of some of the old political thinking in Macedonia. I do not blame Her Majesty’s Government for that in any way. We have two excellent ambassadors in Andrew Key, who is in Skopje, and Andy Sparks, who is in Pristina. I also know how concerned the Minister is about the issue and how concerned previous Europe Ministers have been about it in the past few years. However, the plain fact is that Macedonia was led to believe that it could join NATO, when key NATO stakeholders did not have enough authority to overturn Greek objections.
I will not enter into the debate about Macedonia’s name—it is rather like the argument in "Gulliver’s Travels" about whether one should crack an egg at the big end or the small end. I accept that the issue is of passionate importance to our Greek friends, but it should not prevent Macedonia from exercising its right to pursue EU and NATO integration. I therefore ask the Minister to see what solutions can be found. We should leave the issue of the name to one side, and I will not, as I said, enter into a debate about its merits or demerits. We should not allow the question whether a rose is a rose by any other name, or Macedonia is Macedonia by any other name, to block Macedonia’s path to greater EU integration.
The same is true for Serbia. I love the Serb people. On every visit to Belgrade, I feel that I am in one of the greatest cities of the world, with an educated, cultivated, post-industrial—almost post-national—class of people who are multilingual and hugely talented. None the less, they seem to want to live firmly in the past. We make a mistake in thinking that if we are kind to the Serbs, they will be kind to themselves.
In that respect, I regret that there was a change of policy at the European Council on the issue of Ratko Mladic, the man primarily responsible for the butchery of 8,000 European Muslims in cold blood in 1995. The condition that was always set—that he should go to The Hague if Serbia is to unlock the door barring it from setting out on the path to future EU membership—seems to have been watered down. Ratko Mladic is known to the Serb authorities and he was part of the Serb army and militia network. He was seen around Belgrade a few years ago, so he is not hiding in the hills, unlike his comrade in shame, Karadzic, who is in Republic Srpska. We should have made Mladic’s removal to The Hague an unqualified condition, just as we made the rendering of Ante Gotovina to The Hague a condition for starting Croatia’s application for EU membership.
The Serbs do not respect the EU when it gets weaker bit by bit, drops conditionality and thinks that it will be rewarded for being nice. Not until we politically confront and defeat the so-called radicals—they are actually ugly, Falangist nationalists, who are not radical in any progressive or decent sense of the word—will there be much hope for Serbia and its brave President, Boris Tadic.
Those are just some views on the western Balkans, which derive from my complete belief that, having offered to integrate the western Balkans into Europe and Euro-Atlantic structures, we have taken our eye off the ball. For honourable and decent reasons, the eyes of the Minister and the Foreign Secretary have to be on many other balls and many other parts of the world. Currently, they are probably on the level of rainfall in Ireland and on what effect that might have on a certain decision that is being taken in the emerald isle today. However, Europe and Her Majesty’s Government have not put the same high-level pressure on the western Balkans that they did during the recent great crises. Bit by bit, the Balkans, instead of Europeanising, are gently suggesting that they might balkanise Europe. We need a serious push to move all the western Balkan nations—I have not gone into depth about Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro or Croatia—into the same position that Slovenia now finds itself in.