Friday, December 14, 2007

Kosovo independence fallout

Basque welcomes rights of self-determination across Europe

Interview with: Joseba Azkarraga Rodero, Minister, Department of Justice, Employment and Social Security, Basque Country

The Basque region of Spain hit the headlines recently with the fatal shooting of two Spanish Civil Guards, Raul Centeno and Fernando Trapero in Capbreton, in southwest France. It is the first such attack by ETA, an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom, in France since 1976. ETA members want an independent Basque state in northwest Spain and southwest France. The Basque country has its own government and police force and enjoys considerable autonomy from Spain. With the status determination of Kosovo being closely watched by all, especially regions with inspirations for independence Joseba Azkarraga Rodero, Basque Minister for Justice, Employment and Social Security, spoke to Tejinder Singh in Brussels about his assessment of the situation and its fallout on other simmering conflicts.

What is your opinion on the ongoing Kosovo demands for independence and related subjects?

Positive! It’s basically positive for all the people. Fighting for self-determination is the right of the people. We support the rights of self-determination of Scottish and Kosovo people through peaceful and democratic means to reach such ends.

How do you view the upcoming referendum in your region next year?

The deal by the (regional) premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe calling for a referendum is positive on behalf of three political parties including his. It calls for rights of people to self-determination. It is the will of the Basque government to go ahead and see the will of the people. We do not understand why there is opposition from Spanish government for this referendum. Are they afraid of what the result may be? What people want should be given as a right to determination.

If the referendum gives a yes vote, will your party press for independence?

The referendum is actually not for independence. My opinion and that of my party is that there are questions that are being put to people. There is the ethical question to Basque society if it wants to reject violent scenes. And then there is the democratic concept asking people what do they require of Basque parties in order to define their relationship with Spain. Thus this referendum is on these two major issues.

So how do you expect society to react?

Looking at results of recent elections, we can see thinking of people. In those elections people clearly voted for parties who go for independence. As there is a trend in position of society towards freedom, it shows the fear in Madrid.

What is the position of the Basque language and culture today?

Basque language and culture is suffering under the shadow of Spain. Earlier, also a Basque leader spoke in Basque in the European parliament and I believe that it was a very important sign to all. I will also speak in Basque language. Moreover, we are confident in running a good tax administration with good collections and then invest in uplifting of Basque culture. Spain defends its nationality in the Senate as Spanish is only spoken and Catalan or Basque can not be spoken. Spain talks of plural nationalities but does not practice.

Is it because Basque is a rich region, you are aspiring for independence?

No! It is not correct that Basque is aspiring for independence because of richness. Probably if they were poor they will become rich through independence.

But your region is rich?

True, we have a good situation. We have full employment in Basque country and industries are generating wealth. People now want to go towards independence because it’s positive for citizens.

Can you visualise a time frame for Basque independence if Kosovo gets independence?

There is talk of independence not because of Kosovo and it’s not only the process of Kosovo. People have been fighting for their own states. Large states talk of borders and that is not correct. We can see cases of Kosovo and Scotland – similar cases where people are fighting for self determination.

So have you contacted those like-minded people fighting for self-determination?

Yes, there are talks and cooperation but relationships are not at state level. These are more at party level like with Scottish Nationalist Party and others. There are no platforms yet but at the EU level, there is an active European Free Alliance.

What is your reaction to the incident in France resulting in the death of two police personnel?

First of all, we need to clear up what happened with the presence of the civil guards. This being one further step of ETA as there was no attack outside Spanish territory till now. ETA is a setback to dialogue and democratic ways to self-determination.

In case of independence will ETA be a part of the new government?

No! ETA is a negative factor and negative influence over Basque independence efforts. ETA is dramatic and it has no right to kill on behalf of Basque people. They do not do politics; they only know how to kill. Batsuana (political wing of ETA) will be considered for inclusion as it is doing political work.

Talking of Batsuana, your party is demanding the appearance of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubaleaba and conservative former premier Jose Maria Aznar to appear as witness for cases against your regional premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe. Will you comment on that?

Legislature is influenced by political factors as the question arises why the Spanish Prime Minister can speak with ETA and its ok, while the Basque political leadership can not even talk with Batsuana for political dialogue. We have to make clear that majority of judges are very professional but there are instances of particular cases where political influences take place and these are weakening the judicial system.

What is your message?

I really do believe that there is a worsening image of Basque people who are hardworking and are seeking independence through democratic means. Self-determination is a right of all people.

Kosovo fails to patch up NATO-Russia gap

Lavrov rejects, Rice defends Ahtisaari independence plan

Kosovo hogged the limelight at the ministerial meeting of NATO ministers on December 7, held in cloudy, rain-soaked Brussels, as Russia later joined a NATORussia Council to express strong opposition to any unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

The differences stayed at same levels if not widening as NATO and Russia failed to agree over the future status of Kosovo ahead of December 10 UN deadline to reach an amicable agreement.

The UN had set the deadline for internationally-brokered talks to deliver agreement on Kosovo but the talks have already ended without a deal. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians having a majority opt for independence while Serbia does not want to let go.

Addressing journalists, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “We are for a solution which will be acceptable to both Belgrade and Pristina and only for government bodies which will be fully empowered to ensure security.” Asked to comment on Moscow’s response to a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, Lavrov said, “Reaction will be based on international law and I very much hope that other members of international community will proceed on that basis too.”Lavrov called the projected solution as “as a precedent,” adding, “How the Kosovo crisis is going to evolve is being looked at by a lot of other countries in the world and not only countries in the Balkans. So it has to do with international law, Helsinki Act and any body who goes against them, will certainly go on a slippery path and not help stability of Europe.”

Asking the negotiations to continue beyond the December 10 deadline, Lavrov warned those who talk of only Kosovo independence “not to camouflage in lies” as Belgrade with “a whole series of specific compromise proposals” has been “very constructive and flexible in its proposals” and which merited further negotiations on Kosovo’s status.

Earlier, James Appathurai, NATO spokesman said, “Clearly the Russian position is different ... the NATO point of view is ... that the process should now move - that there needs to be movement towards resolution.” NATO has confirmed it will keep 16,000 troops in Kosovo - still a province of Serbia - to deter any violence.

Addressing journalists, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “We have agreed to keep NATO troops on ground, no troop reduction, no additional caveats and to allow our military commanders to do the necessary military planning for the alliance.”

“We are committed to a stable and peaceful Balkans, that was an early commitment of NATO and it remains a commitment of NATO.”Asked to comment on Lavrov’s insistence that talks should continue, Rice said, “We hope that there can be a constructive approach that will unite all of us with responsibilities for stability in the Balkans and that includes Russia as Russia also has responsibilities for that. But there is a certain reality and that reality is that Troika which worked very hard, made some progress, got two sides to talk for the first time, laid down some important principles but I think that process is at an end.”

“If you see what we are hearing from Troika, it’s very clear and that means now that we have to move on to next step. It is not going to produce stability in the Balkans to ignore the reality of situation between Belgrade and Pristina.”

“It’s not going to help stability to put off decisions however difficult they may be. We have to make sure that we have full commitments to the principles before decisions are taken that are embodied in the Ahtisaari plan. This is going to be difficult enough and everybody has to live up to responsibilities.” According to the proposed plan of Martti Ahtisaari, UN administrator in Kosovo, there should be a “supervised independence.”

Speaking about her discussion with NATO allies, Rice said, “We have recommitment to KFOR and we are ready for all contingencies but also an understanding that there needed to be unity between the allies as we are going to move into what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult period. We have had a UN track and reaffirmation of 1244 is the most important thing that we can do right now.”

The US Secretary of State reiterated, “We can not go anywhere by ignoring reality and pretending that we don’t have to make decisions.” Echoing her views, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had said NATO would “act resolutely against anyone who seeks to resort to violence.”

Earlier, NATO foreign ministers agreed that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is a sufficient and appropriate legal basis for KFOR to continue its role. The alliance ministers also concluded that KFOR’s force levels will remain as they are, and that no new restrictions will be placed on the use of those forces.

There have been warnings from ethnic Albanian leaders that they may declare independence unilaterally after December 10 deadline lapses, prompting fears of a fresh outbreak of violence.

“Kosovo will remain and has to remain a place where Kosovar Albanians, Serbs and others must be able to live in peace together – free from fear, and free from intimidation. And we are determined to play our part,” stressed the NATO Secretary General.

The majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have nodded yes to the Ahtisaari plan which is set to gradually steer Kosovo’s institutions towards independence with guidance from international institutions while safeguarding the rights and property of the Serb minority.

Arguing that such a solution for Kosovo will set dangerous precedent for separatist inspirations elsewhere like Basque, Scottish and other regions, Russia has supported Serbia’s stance at the UN Security Council to keep Kosovo within Serbia but with greater autonomy.Kosovo is technically part of Serbia but has been under UN administration for the last eight years. Belgrade’s security forces were driven out of Kosovo by a NATO bombing campaign in 1999, launched to stop a violent Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians.