Friday, July 23, 2010

Kosovo: What's Next

The International Court of Justice issued a clear decision in the case of the legality of Kosovo's declaration of independence yesterday: the declaration is legal, because declarations of independence are not illegal under international law. This ruling could have ramifications in many other places around the globe where there are separatist movements, but the court did not certify that Kosovo is a state that should be independent and a member of the United Nations. It left that to the nations of the world to decide by recognition. 69 countries have recognized Kosovo so far, the amount has grown slowly since the initial weeks after independence, although Kosovo has picked up some key regional backers, such as Montenegro. Many analysts are predicting that many more countries will recognize Kosovo soon after this decision. No one has been the first to jump yet, and I'm not sure how many will recognize in the near future.

The Economist just published a useful map of recognizing and not-recognizing states. The main reasons for not recognizing Kosovo are because your country has a separatist problem and because not recognizing Kosovo will keep you friends with Serbia and its most powerful supporters in this issue, Russia and China. The main reasons to recognize Kosovo is that will put you on the good side of the United States and the main European powers and because it is the just and right thing to do. Kosovo is independent and guarded by the international community today because Yugoslavia's leaders applied a heavy-handed ethnic cleansing approach to a separatism issue in the 1990s, not because Albania's borders were drawn so the state excluded more than half of all Albanians in the 1910s.

While the ICJ decision is definitely good for Kosovo and bad for Serbia's case of getting Kosovo back, I don't see that many countries moving right away. Four out of the five EU countries which do not recognize Kosovo have already reiterated their positions, including Spain, the one that is not acting as a friend of Serbia or Russia but entirely because of its domestic issues, Slovakia, which has a new center-right and Atlanticist government, and Romania. Greece appears to still be thinking. It is the one of the five without a separatist problem of its own, but it has a stake in Cyprus's situation and is close to both Serbia and Russia. Greece could be a powerful first mover, and it could use goodwill from the rest of Europe in its current financial state, although that might lower the possibilities of getting financial help from the Russians. This would be a politically easier West-pleasing recognition for Greece to make than recognizing Macedonia by its actual name. Still, I don't expect Greece to move now. I hope they give me a mild and pleasant surprise.

Looking at the map, if I have to guess the 70th country to recognize I might say Chile. New president Sebastian Pinera, the most conservative leader of a non-recognizing Latin American country, would ingratiate himself with Washington by the move. But that's a pretty wild guess, there are many possibilities. Once one makes the move, a few more might soon after. But Kosovo probably won't reach the 100 recognizers needed for UN membership without Serbia gaining entry to the EU with acceptance of Kosovo's independence as the cost of accession. Whether a country is willing to demand that, what Serbia would do when the choice of EU or Kosovo was laid out that starkly, and whether the EU will ever actually expand beyond Croatia are the key questions.

Kosovo's future will not be decided by an assortment of African, Asian and Latin American countries recognizing its independence, nor in Washington, Moscow and Beijing, but in the Balkans and in Brussels, the Hague and New York.

Last Thoughts on the World Cup

I feel like I should write a last few sentences about the World Cup before moving on to other topics, so that I don't leave you hanging in the quarterfinals. I miss the 19th FIFA World Cup, and I can't wait for the 20th in Brazil in 2014. So let's go back for a few minutes early July....
  • Paul the Octopus was right about everything. Spain really loves him now, while Germans want to eat more octopus. But he's apparently staying in Germany and trying to help Greek sea turtles, rather than move to Spain.
  • I believe Germany was the most talented, most fun to watch team in this tournament. But they also weren't consistently the best, losing to Serbia, and then coming out completely flat-footed against Spain. Spain never really impressed, but they won the World Cup like the tortoise, slow and steady, with an amazingly low 8 goals. Germany scored that many against Saudi Arabia in 2002, Portugal nearly scored that against North Korea this time around. You wonder how Spain would have fared against Diego Maradona's Argentina, Brazil, or even plucky little Uruguay (whose Diego Forlan deservedly won the Golden Boot after a last tough performance against Germany in a third-place match which was better than the final).
  • But Spain deserved to win the final match against a disappointing Netherlands (which nevertheless had a couple golden chances to steal a victory from the better team). Having finally attained the grand prize, Spain is now the third most-successful European nation in soccer, in my view. On the World Cup all-time table (finally updated), with their 18 points in South Africa (6 wins, 1 loss, 0 draws), they have leapfrogged France into sixth place, only one point behind England. Like England and France they have won the World Cup just once. But England's win was in 1966 and Spain's was in 2010, and Spain have won two European championships while England has never won. England really has very little to brag about in their soccer accomplishments at the national level, haha. OK, France has also won two European championships but they embarrassed themselves so badly at the World Cup in 2002 and 2010 that Spain gets the edge.
There you go. My next post about soccer will probably have something to do with Ukraine's problems getting its Euro 2012 stadiums built in time. Nice flower symbol!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The End of the African Dream, Hup Holland!

Slovenia may have been the ones wearing Charlie Brown's shirt, but Ghana and all of Africa must feel like the football was pulled out from under it. Ghana's fantastic chance to knock out Uruguay in the final minute of extra time and become the first African nation to advance to the semifinals, in Africa's own World Cup, was thwarted when Uruguay's Luis Suarez did the only thing he could to prevent a goal, hitting the ball away with his hand, and then Ghana hero Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty shot. In the shootout, the original masters of the World Cup were mentally tougher and had a better goalkeeper. I had made it through most of the game rooting for Uruguay because I like their flag and their improbably glorious World Cup legacy (1930 and 1950 champions), and because of bitterness towards Ghana for knocking out the US two Cups in a row and being bad sports in the final minutes the other day. But at the very end I could only support Uruguay as easier pickings for the Netherlands, who should now be the favorites to win the World Cup because of the easier path. Uruguay has limped over the finish line and into the top four, where the best they can hope for is probably an upset victory in the third place game. Now we'll see if South Africa gets behind the Dutch...

I never saw Brazil play as well as they did in the first half this morning (my World Cup memory is short, which is why I consult the Internet for my facts and stats, and in 2002 I left for the wilds of Alaska during the quarterfinals). Robinho's goal was too easy. But the machine fell apart as the second half progressed. The Dutch played well and got a bit lucky with the own goal. Surrounded by Dutchmen and Dutchgirls in orange in Mackey's Pub in DC, I experienced the second most-ecstatic vibe of the Cup, after the USA's last-minute victory against Algeria to win the group. The Netherlands are my favorite team left - I actually like the German team better but I'd rather see a new country win the World Cup - and conveniently they are my pick to win the Cup in my only bracket which involves money.

Germany-Argentina at the Biergarten tomorrow. Given the way both teams have been playing, this might be the match of the tournament.