Monday, February 18, 2008

Kosovo Declares Its Independence From Serbia

Last night, while we were studying in the student lounge, someone said, "Dude, we should go to Kosovo this weekend." Why, we asked. "They have a sick flag, parties on the streets, and they love Americans."

Ten minutes later, I looked at the NYTimes website, and I realized why he had said that. The flag was indeed sick– and his words basically summed up how little mainstream American attention the Kosovo issue has received. I have only started following it recently because of a panel discussion I had attended about two weeks ago about Russia's foreign policy. One of the topics discussed (Read: argued) was about how Russia refuses to support Kosovo in its endeavors to become an independent nation from Serbia. There was a rather fiesty Russian politician present, and three other Czech government officials.

Anyway, with the article, the majority of it is background and the bloody history of the Serbs and Kosovars. I wonder how this looks from an American point of view– to pick up the paper one morning, and see on the front page that a random region in Eastern Europe has declared independence from a random country. Meanwhile, over on Europe's end, there has been endless coverage on this, with many years and months of build-up, and the United States is actually pretty involved in this play of international affairs. I feel like if I hadn't known about this before, this news would have come as a surprise, my first reaction being, "Why is this on the front page? How could this possibly be important if the Times has not reported this more aggressively before?"

I guess that says something about our international news coverage in American newspapers. But that's really another story.

Kosovo's independence has been a long time coming, and most of the Western countries (France, Britain, United States) support its secession. However, the Serbs are furious and have been terribly against this since day one, saying that Kosovo's declaration should not be recognized and that it is a "blatant breach of international law."

That quote is in almost every single article that has reported the event. But for some odd reason, no one seems to have reported on the reason as to why it is a "gross" or a "reckless" breach of international law (Seriously, google "Kosovo" and "breach of international law." Apparently, these writers were on a deadline.)

I found out from one of my professors that following the Kosovo War in 1999, the UN formally placed Kosovo under the territory of Serbia. In order to become independent, according to the treaty, Kosovo must seek a vote from the UN Security Council. However, it just circumvented the UN, and declared its independence unilaterally, which indeed makes it a violation of international law.

Why didn't any one of these articles say that in their background? That was necessary and important information.

Well, one of the reasons I figure is because many of these reports of been on the side of the Albanians in Kosovo. The majority of most sovereign EU nations support the secession of Kosovo. The only countries that don't approve of it probably have some sort of separatist issues in their own countries (like Russia with Georgia, or China with Taiwan)

However, Kosovo is considered a unique situation because ever since the treaty in 1999, after the ugly, bloodstained Kosovo War, the Serbian government has more or less ignored that region. I recently saw a film in which a politician in it declared, "We may have follow the action of the law, but we violated the spirit of the law." I guess that is indeed one way of looking at how Serbia has treated Kosovo. The previous president, Slobodan Milosevic, was a manic who has been charged with being behind the massacres of ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo War.

The news reports are also not saying why exactly is Serbia so pissed about losing that region. Sure, there is a definite reduction of power, and it is a pride issue as well, but a lot of Serbians feel that by losing Kosovo, they are paying for the crimes of Milosevic. Kosovo is also a cultural hotspot, in the sense that it is the cradle of the Serbian Orthodox Church since the Battle of Kosovo in the 14th century. So Kosovo is a part of Serbia's historical identity.

Last year, when Kosovo was in negotiations with the UN to become its own country, the United States had said that in the event that it should happen, the United States will indeed recognize its sovereignty. The Russia panelist at the panel discussion had said that it was unfair of the U.S. to say that before anything was resolved. Here you have some officials in a room trying to draft out an agreement and a compromise, and then a super power like the U.S. comes along and just pushes whatever plans that a party might have, and says, "I will indeed side with this party." In that way, negotiations are over- there is basically nothing else that can be said, because how could the other side be taken seriously now?

In the following hours since the declaration, there have been reports on which countries support the secession, and which countries refuse to recognize it.

One of the reasons that the U.S. will back Kosovo is in this article, but Dan Bilefsky, the writer, did a very crafty job of putting it in neutral terms. He wrote in one paragraph, "Kosovo, a desperately poor, predominantly Muslim landlocked territory of two million, has been a United Nations protectorate since 1999..." and then in another paragraph, "...revelers unfurled giant American flags, carried posters of former President Bill Clinton and chanted, “Thank you, U.S.A.” and “God bless America.'"

Kosovo is a predominantly Muslim state, and on TV and in the newspapers, there are pictures of American flags waving triumphantly! It not only shows the U.S. as being a big brother to a country that seeks independence and freedom, it also shows that the U.S. supports a Muslim community, thus building credibility for its affairs in the Middle East. And last, but not least, the U.S. has a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

No wonder Russia is pissed.

During the panel discussion, one of the Czech government officials had said that one of the reasons to be wary of Kosovo's declaration of independence is for the precedent that it will set for other dissatisfied ethnic minorities in other countries. He is also worried about the tension between the Balkan neighbors and for the violence spilling over the borders.

"There are plenty of conflicts in the world, and Kosovo is the only one that is being rushed forward," he said.

In response, another panelist said, "Everybody is trying to solve the problem the easiest possible way, when we only have bad solutions."

It seems like our Eastern European counterparts are not as optimistic for this news. After all, they are the ones living in the region– the U.S. is safely across an ocean, away from any potential violent repercussions.

Links: A Slideshow from the NYTimes
Independence Daze written by Gary J. Bass. (Who deserves to be free? This article is a great way to acquaint yourself with the criterion that allows a region a secede from a nation.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Deus Ex Malcontent

For the past two years, I have been following Deus Ex Malcontent. Not religiously, but enough to know that the blogger, Chez, is an astute and opinionated writer who happens to work at a major news network. Many of his blogs are commentary/criticism on the news and its absurdity (Think Jon Stewart after taking a pill of vitriolic hatred), though some are music-related or about his personal life.

Sometimes, his writing allude to his work, but I have never guessed to which news organization he belonged, nor did I try very hard. Does it matter what this man's day job is as long as he keeps publishing these incredibly insightful/humorous/sardonic posts? Not to me– but I guess CNN cared because they fired him from his position as a Senior Producer for having the blog.

CNN has reportedly said that "he did not get permission to publish personal writings."

Oh, the crippling irony.

I understand that companies are worried about their dirty laundry being aired, which explains why a couple years back, an air stewardess was fired for blogging about her job. However, isn't there a tinge of hypocrisy in this particular case? A major news organization that reports its information and criticism under the protection of the First Amendment (and their role as the Third Estate) fires one of its capable employees for writing his own personal feelings on the media and current events in a public forum, without ever revealing his affiliation with said news network. Firing him has positively done more harm than benefit for CNN's image.

There is probably a "180, not 360" joke in here, but I'm too disappointed with CNN right now to make it.

Link: NYTimes among many others.