New Delhi: Though India and Kosovo — a partially recognised state — do not share diplomatic relations, a trade body between the two states known as the India-Kosovo Trade Commerce Economic Office (IKCEO) was inaugurated in New Delhi on 17 November. This comes despite the Indian government’s long-standing position of not formally recognising the European territory.
Kanodia added that the MEA, Ambassador to Bangladesh Guner Ureya — the nearest embassy of Kosovo to India being in Dhaka — and the Indian embassy in Serbia were informed about the setting up of IKCEO prior to its launch.
Shortly after the inauguration event, on 25 November, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi reiterated that New Delhi is not looking to recognise Kosovo — a statement that was welcomed by the Serbian embassy in New Delhi.
Kosovo, which has a majority Albanian population and a minority of Serbs, broke away from Serbia in 1999 and unilaterally declared independence in 2008, after years of tensions between the two ethnic groups.
The history of Serbia and Kosovo goes as far back as 1912 when the latter was annexed by the Kingdom of Serbia after the First Balkan War. Kosovo was later absorbed into Yugoslavia but after the federation disintegrated in 1991, a strong separatist movement began among Kosovar Albanians.
Till today, Serbia continues to lay claim to Kosovo and refuses to recognise it as a sovereign state. Over 100 countries like the US, France and Germany have recognised the Republic of Kosovo and established diplomatic relations.
India, Brazil, China, Russia, and Mexico among others have not recognised the territory.
India has maintained that Kosovo’s declaration of independence contradicts UNSC Resolution 1244 which sought to establish an “interim administration for Kosovo” to solve the political crisis there at the time.
How was Kosovo formed?
Kosovo is a small territory in Southeastern Europe, majorly populated by Albanians, that has been colonised by various powers. Kosovo was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1455 to 1912. It was conquered by the Kingdom of Serbia in 1912. Between 1915 and 1918, it was briefly under Italian and German control too. In 1918, the Kingdom of Serbia, including Kosovo, merged with other Slavic countries to form Yugoslavia.
In his book Historical Dictionary of Kosovo, Canadian-born German scholar Robert Elsie explains how Kosovo Albanians were mistreated and deprived of basic rights under Serbian rule as they were “non-Slavs”.
In 1991, Kosovars voted to secede from Serbia and Yugoslavia. The referendum prompted a harsh crackdown by the then-President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milošević, who was a Serb.
Years of tension resulted in an all-out war from February 1998 to June 1999. The US and NATO intervened on behalf of Kosovo and won. A UN Mission in Kosovo was subsequently set up but more ethnic clashes and violence followed in the years to come.
In February 2008, Kosovo officially declared independence from Serbia, after which many countries including the US granted it recognition.
Why hasn’t India recognised Kosovo?
About 117 countries, including the US and most European Union (EU) countries, have recognised Kosovo as an independent state. However, Serbia, Russia, China, India, and others, have not.
On 18 February 2008, in reaction to Kosovo’s self-declaration of independence, the MEA said, “We have taken note of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Kosovo. There are several legal issues involved in this Declaration.”
To understand this, we need to look at India and Yugoslavia’s close ties. Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito along with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and others had founded the Non-Aligned Movement.
It is a forum of 120 countries that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. After the United Nations, it is the largest grouping of states worldwide.
Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, was the host of the First Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in September 1961.
Elsie points out that not just India, but other “third-world countries” like Egypt, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, Kenya, and Libya who had good relations with Yugoslavia when it was a “leading figure” in the Non-Aligned Movement, also refused to recognise Kosovo.
But some of these countries have changed their stance since the book was published in 2011. For example, in 2013, Egypt and Libya recognised Kosovo as an independent state and established diplomatic ties.
Bharat Karnad, professor at New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, wrote about similarities between Kosovo and Kashmir in 2008, providing another possible reason for India not recognising the region.
“…one can never tell when the self-serving American approach against Serbia and support for Kosovo, premised on “self-determination” for the minority Muslim Kosovars, will be transferred to Kashmir,” he wrote.
“Because, like Kosovo, Kashmir is a Muslim majority province but part of the larger, heterogeneous mosaic that is India, where Muslims are in a minority, like the Kosovars in Serbia,” added Karnad.
Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, India has deepened its ties with Serbia. One manifestation of this is the increased movement of people between the two countries.
In 2017, Serbia abolished the requirement of visas for 30 days’ stay in a year for Indian nationals which has led to a significant increase in the number of Indian tourists visiting Serbia.
According to MEA figures, the number of Indian tourists who visited Serbia in 2018 and 2019 was 7,683 and 9,497 respectively. Likewise, Serbs are increasingly using India’s e-visa facility, with 2,186 people have travelled to India for business, tourism, and other purposes in 2019.
UNSC Resolution 1244
In reaction to Kosovo’s declaration of independence, India had also argued that the declaration contradicted UNSC resolution 1244 — the document which brought an end to the Kosovo War.
Adopted on 10 June 1999, the resolution calls for the establishment of an “interim administration for Kosovo…under which the people of Kosovo can enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”.
It also called for the establishment of an interim political framework agreement providing for “substantial self-government for Kosovo”.
Countries like the US have argued that Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 does not contradict UNSC resolution 1244. Such countries draw on the ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in July 2010, which stated that the authors of the declaration, who named themselves “representatives of the people of Kosovo”, were not bound by Resolution 1244.
(This report has been updated with quotes from Anil Mishra, Chairman of IKCOC)
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)