Following on my post last week about the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence, readers interested in this subject might want to take a look at these views of the legality debate from our colleagues at Opinio Juris. And to balance those relatively secession-friendly outlooks, consider this skeptical assessment of the legality of unilateral secession, written in the context of the Quebec Secession case.
In considering these questions, I am troubled by the history of deliberate manipulation of ethnic populations in Kosovo in light of the role that Kosovo's current ethnic composition plays in assessments of its independence claim. Of course, the Serbian attempt at ethnic cleansing of the Albanian population from Kosovo was one of the reasons for NATO’s intervention and UN administration of the province. But under the UN administration, other efforts at manipulation have continued. On the one hand, periodic riots and attacks on Serbian enclaves by Albanians have pushed out most of the few Serbs who stayed after 1999. On the other hand, Serbia has provided considerable support to the Serbian enclaves to persuade the Serbs there to remain within Kosovo. When a claim to self-determination depends on an ethnic group's claim to be a people in possession of a territory, there are strong and dangerous incentives for all concerned to try to shape the ethnic composition of that territory, and certainly those have been at work here.
(credit for 2005 map of Kosovo ethnic makeup, based on data from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe)