Ireland and Kosovo

Elements of the Irish-English settlement may offer a model for how a Kosovar-Serbia deal might be made, including recognition that the creation of an ethnic state cannot proceed peacefully on the back of forcing an ethnic minority to join.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

The history of Ireland presents interesting points of similarity with that of Serbia and Kosovo, as well as clear differences.

At the dawn of history, Ireland was a land of Celtic tribes. It was one of the first nations to be converted to Christianity in the 5th century. The Celts struggled to maintain their existence through waves of invasions by Vikings, Normans and English. The history of the Irish from the 12th Century to the last was one of reaction to foreign rule and the struggle to preserve their Catholic faith. The Irish sometimes made their accommodations with their foreign rulers but never abandoned the quest to regain independence. In 1916, in the Easter Rising, the Irish rose again against English rule. The small band of rebels in Dublin didn’t expect a military victory but to reaffirm the Irish demand for independence. They were defeated in six days. But thanks to the British overreaction – they executed all the leaders and imprisoned many – the Irish people rallied around the nationalist cause and supported a guerrilla war that finally led the UK to accept a treaty in 1921. It recognized the independence of the Irish Free State.

The British, however, forced the Irish to accept a deal which kept Ireland within the British Commonwealth and under the British Crown. It also allowed the Protestant majority in the northern six counties to opt to remain part of the United Kingdom. Ireland only declared itself a sovereign state in 1937 and a republic in 1949. It was only in 1999 that the Republic of Ireland gave up its claim on the north.

Serbia too was conquered by a foreign invader and eventually won back its independence, after hundreds of years. It too kept alive its language and faith. But the Balkans was a place of various and mixed peoples. None of them were eager to be subject to any other. When the Ottomans, and then Yugoslavia fell, they all ended up demanding their independence. This included the Kosovo Albanians. Though their struggle was not nearly so long – they made a deep accommodation to Ottoman rule as they later used the Yugoslav communist party – the Kosovars eventually rose against their “foreign occupier” – Serbia. With the help of other foreigners, they won in 1999.

What’s been missing since is the treaty for a peaceful separation. The internationals have tried to write the missing treaty for Serbia and Kosovo and force it on Belgrade, the “loser.” But this effort has failed to lead to peace. Perhaps the Irish-English settlement can offer a model for how a Kosovar-Serbia deal might be made? The salient points might be set down thusly:

  • Ireland won its independence but initially remained associated with the British crown.
  • The Protestant majority in northern Ireland was allowed to opt out of independent Ireland and remain part of Great Britain.
  • The Republic of Ireland maintained a claim on the north for some decades and still has its tricolor flag that includes orange for the Protestants.

This suggests the outlines for a possible agreement between Serbia and Kosovo:

  • Serbian recognition of the independence of Kosovo as an associated state.
  • Kosovo acceptance of the north opting out of its independence to remain part of Serbia.
  • Both sides could continue to assert the objective of unification of “its” territory through democratic means.

This is just one possible approach and leaves aside some important elements, such as the form the association of Serbia and Kosovo might take. But it may well be time for Kosovo’s Quint supporters to stop rejecting the north remaining as part of Serbia as a “partition.” It would simply be a recognition that the creation of an ethnic state – such as Catholic Ireland or Albanian Kosova – cannot proceed peacefully on the back of forcing an ethnic minority – northern Protestants in Ireland or northern Serbs in Kosovo – to join.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board.

To read TransConflict’s policy paper, written by Gerard and entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here.

To learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s new reading lists series by clicking here.

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