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Kosovar independence: Canada says 'Yes', Spain, 'No'

Latest update : 2008-04-16

Now that Kosovo has declared its independence, have the rules of the game changed? And can breakaway provinces now count on international support?

When Canada recognised the statehood of Kosovo - a month after the former Serbian province unilaterally declared independence in February - it became one of the few countries with a separatist minority to have done so, and gave French speaking 'sovereignists' a cause for celebration.


Yet, as Canada's former deputy prime minister John Manley suggests, if the federal government in Ottawa had believed there was any chance that Quebec would follow Kosovo's lead, it would not have recognised the new Balkan state.


Russia and Spain, for instance, two countries grappling with their own separatist minorities in Chechnya and the Basque country, have not recognized Kosovo. Nor are they likely to ever do so, in order to avoid sending the wrong message to these minorities.


"Spain will not recognise the unilateral act," Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spain's foreign minister said after other EU countries recognised Kosovo. "This does not respect international law."


Madrid also insisted that the EU declaration in support of Kosovo include a phrase stating the EU's "adherence to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity."



Quebec: the next Kosovo?



Canada, with its own French-speaking minority concentrated in Quebec, would normally side with Russia and Spain; but on March 18, it formally recognised the new Balkan republic.


This surprise move has had separatists in Quebec writing feverishly about what it means for their own independence. Many believe the situation sets a precedent that will force Canada to recognise an independent Quebec when the time comes.


Writing in Montreal's "Le Devoir", Louis Bernard, a founder of the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ), argues that "the real lesson of Kosovo is not that Quebec could unilaterally declare its independence following a successful referendum. It's better still. It's that, in such circumstances, Canada would have no choice but to negotiate in good faith the mechanism of our path toward independence."


As the PQ's international relations critic Daniel Turp argued in a television interview, "if one day Quebec decides to become a country and Canada objects ... we'll remind other countries that an objection by a state should not have precedence over the will of the people."



A 'unique' situation


The Canadian government was quick to defend its decision, arguing that Kosovo's case was unique, and in no way sets a precedent for a Quebec claim to independence.


"The situation that evolved there was a situation of war [and] terrible suffering for the Kosovars," which is not the case in Quebec, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week.


John Manley, former deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, who oversaw Canada's participation in NATO's intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s, agrees. He told FRANCE 24 that there is no international legal framework for the recognition of breakaway states, and that "it's up to the collective judgment of the international community to determine when a state can be considered independent."


In the case of Kosovo, after the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, there simply weren't any other options but independence, he said. "Efforts to do anything but grant Kosovo its independence would have been frustrated.... If we wanted peace, that was the best way to get it," he said.



Canada's flip-flop


While Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Benoît Pelletier claims that there is "nothing in common" between the situations in Kosovo and Quebec, the Canadian government still took more than a month to recognise the new state.


"They didn't want to lead," explains John Manley. "I don't think they wanted to provoke anything ... you look at who your company is, who's onside. It took time for international support to grow."


But recognition also betrays the fact that the government no longer considers Quebec's separation a serious threat.


"If we had a government in Quebec today that was promising a referendum in a short timeframe, and an indication that the referendum would pass, then there would be tension and the decision [whether or not to recognise Kosovo] would be different. But that's not the case," Manley explained, before adding that had the possiblity of Quebec's separation been realistic, "the government of Canada would have been a lot more cautious."


Date created : 2008-04-16