Kosovo’s independence declaration presents a tricky issue for Jakarta, but recognition of Pristina’s sovereignty is a constitutional obligation with longer self-serving benefits for Indonesia‘s own territorial integrity.
Fear of separatism seems the overriding factor in Jakarta‘s hesitance in recognizing Kosovo’s independence.
A fear shared by other countries dogged by separatist movements such as Canada and Spain, who did not initially recognize Kosovo as an independent state. However, the situation in the Balkans is distinct to that of Quebec or the Basque region. The break up of the Balkans was inevitable as years of diplomatic negotiations and strife could not reunite portions of the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo has been under UN stewardship since NATO forces began a military campaign in 1999 to stop a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians. With protracted tension unresolved it was already decided last year, to the anger of Serbia, to guide Kosovo toward gradual independence. Hence there was already an international perception, supported by a political reality, of injustice against the people of Kosovo. A cause for the global community, albeit somewhat unfair to the average Serbian. No such international perception of repression or persecution exists in the case of Quebec or the Basque region. In Indonesia‘s case it may do so with Papua, for example, which is often cited as an example of a potential breakaway region. But by recognizing Kosovo, Indonesia can exhibit confidence that it needs not create impediments in the international arena to inhibit breakaway regions, because under a justifiable democratic state there would be little cause for separating. Recognition would hold present and future administrations accountable by prodding Jakarta to ensure full political, economic and social rights are realized for all Indonesians. If decentralization and regional autonomy are faithfully executed, Papuan separatists, or any other region, will find it difficult to gain momentum or sympathy abroad. Not surprisingly it has been the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) that has been the most hesitant party to recognize Kosovo. Was it not Megawati Soekarnoputri, with her ultra-nationalist view of a unitary state, that admonished aspects of regional autonomy during her presidency? Kosovo’s independence should also prompt Jakarta to seek fresh arguments against threats to its territorial integrity, away from simple historical right and dimodi justifications that Papua, for example, was incorporated under a UN plebiscite. As the Kosovon case demonstrates, the immediate political will of strong international voices can weaken even standing resolutions. All the countries that have recognized Kosovo did so in spite of a 1999 UN Security Council resolution which affirmed respect for the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Timor Leste is a reminder of how countries which long claimed to recognize the integration of the former province were so quick to review their position. The spirit of Indonesia‘s 1945 Constitution which lauds freedom as an inalienable right, clearly predicates grounds for recognition of Kosovo’s independence. Kosovo, like other parts which have broken away from the former Yugoslavia, has found living under a Serbian state politically untenable to the point that protection of its rights can only be guaranteed by legal separation. Jakarta should extend recognition with the caveat that Pristina, under the aegis of the UN or NATO, ensure principles included in the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement — establishment of a multi-ethnic democracy, respect for rule of law and promotion of a peaceful existence for all inhabitants — are adhered to. Indonesia should not let its own domestic shortcomings and the fear of itself deny the freedom of others. The author, a staff writer with The Jakarta Post, is studying at Harvard University as a research fellow with the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.
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