Threats of genocide spurred Kosovo's separation, but no such threat lies in Crimea.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 14/03/14
Propaganda billboards in Crimea draw comparisons to Nazism to persuade voters to separate from Ukraine. [AFP]
On the eve of a controversial referendum championed by pro-Russian forces in the Crimea peninsula, the European Union is rejecting Moscow's comparison of Crimea to Kosovo's separation from Serbia.
The comparison is being used by authorities in Moscow in an attempt to legitimise a March 16th referendum called by Crimea officials to separate from Ukraine. "There is absolutely no comparison," Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, told SETimes.
Sunday's referendum follows the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia rather than face charges for the death of protesters during months of demonstrations in Kiev. The new government is recognised by the West.
Moscow, meanwhile, backs pro-Russian paramilitaries that, according to widespread media reports, are beating and abducting ethnic Tatars and Ukrainians in the region, which is dominated by ethnic Russians.
In one such attack reported by the Associated Press on Thursday (March 13th), 10 men, some masked, wearing camouflage, and carrying automatic weapons, pistols and knives, brutally beat two Ukrainian soldiers in the middle of Simferopol and then attacked onlookers who tried to stop the attacks.
But there is support for Ukraine as well. More than 100 gathered to hear speeches and sing the Ukrainian national anthem. Speakers led participants in chants including "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Nation!"
They exhorted people to raise money and bring food to Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by Russian paramilitaries at their bases, the AP reported. Others carried signs reading "If You Want to Live in Russia, then Move to Russia" and "The Referendum Is A Step Toward War."
While supporters of the Russian ultranationalists in Crimea use Kosovo as a precedent for Sunday's referendum, observers in both Kosovo and Serbia say the comparison is not accurate. Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia noted that "each case is specific." "There is no parallel with Kosovo and Crimea. It would be similar if Albania had annexed Kosovo," Biserko told SETimes.
Abit Hoxha, a security researcher with the Kosovo Centre for Security Studies, noted the same argument. Hoxha told SETimes that NATO intervention in Kosovo did not aim or result in Kosovo's unification with any other state. NATO intervened to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and to stop genocide, Hoxha said.
"Russian intervention in Crimea intends its annexation to the Russian Federation," he added.
Even Moscow has been inconsistent in making the comparison. Russian President Vladimir Putin's government supports the Crimea referendum as "absolutely legitimate," but also strongly opposes Kosovo independence and reiterated its position against Kosovo recently.
Hoxha said Russia's claim can be easily turned down based on a specific agreement signed between Moscow and Kiev.
"I think the key issue is the international agreement that was reached between Russia and Ukraine when Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal to save its territorial integrity ... and this is what makes Crimea very different from Kosovo," Hoxha said.
Kosovo has been recognised by more than 100 UN and EU member nations and has been increasing its membership in international organisations.
Kosovo is an entirely different example of state-building and should not be compared with Crimea, said Dren Doli, an expert of the Group for Legal and Political Studies in Kosovo.
Burim Ramadani, a Kosovo MP, also noted that "no one from Kiev has attempted to commit genocide in Crimea while Belgrade has done that in Kosovo."
"No one from outside has determined the will of Kosovo while Russia is doing that in Crimea. Nobody from the international community has reported for violations of human rights in Crimea while there have been thousands of such reports in the case of Kosovo," Ramadani told SETimes.
Davor Gjenero, independent political consultant and former professor at Zagreb Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb, Croatia, agreed.
"Kosovo declared independence after having been exposed to Milosevic's genocidal intent of what he showed in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Crimea, there is not a single sign of aggression of Ukrainians towards the Russian population. And that's the key difference between Kosovo and the Crimea," he told SETimes.
"We have to mention that the Western countries avoided the intervention in Yugoslavia until the last moment and that Russia is now using that Yugoslav experience in the case of Crimea, counting that the West will not react in a militarily sense until the last moment," Gjenero said.
Correpsondent Drazen Remikovic in Sarajevo contributed to this report.
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