In a few weeks, Kosovo is expected to mark its 16th year as a state, but in the last three years, its statehood has not been recognized by any country.
According to experts in international relations, there are options to break out of this status quo.
Utilizing visa liberalization for establishing diplomatic relations and assistance from allies for lobbying are two of them.
Israel was the last country to recognize Kosovo’s independence, declared on February 17, 2008.
This recognition took place in February 2021 and was a commitment of the Washington Agreement – signed between Kosovo and Serbia on September 4, 2020, in the presence of then-American President Donald Trump.
Before that, the last country to recognize Kosovo was Barbados in 2018.
The list published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora in Kosovo on its website includes 117 countries that recognize Kosovo.
Radio Free Europe (RFE) sent questions to this ministry about its engagement for recognition, but did not receive an answer.
The newest state in Europe continues not to be recognized by its two regional neighbors, Serbia – which, according to its Constitution, still considers it part of itself – and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as by five EU member states: Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania, and Greece.
This, despite the fact that the International Court of Justice concluded in 2010 that Kosovo’s independence “does not violate international law”.
RFE also asked the foreign ministries of EU non-recognizing states if they are considering changing their stance and under what conditions they would do so.
Slovakia stated that “its position regarding Kosovo’s independence has not changed”, while Romania stated that Kosovo must first resolve its issues with Serbia.
“We fully support and actively engage in the EU-facilitated dialogue as the main channel for effective and comprehensive normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bucharest said.
This month, Spain recognized Kosovo passports, but the authorities of this country clarified to RFE that this does not imply recognition of Kosovo.
There was no response from Cyprus and Greece.
How can visa liberalization affect recognition?
Alejandro Esteso Pérez, an analyst and researcher of Balkan policies and EU enlargement, told Radio Free Europe that with visa liberalization for Kosovo citizens, “something can move”.
“… because Kosovo passport holders will be able to travel visa-free to most of these [EU] countries, and this will have an impact on interpersonal and Kosovo-non-recognizing EU countries’ relations, especially on a social and cultural level,” said Pérez, who lectures at the Complutense University of Madrid.
According to him, visa liberalization is a good starting point to further strengthen or, in some cases, establish bilateral diplomatic relations.
As of January 1 this year, Kosovo citizens have gained visa-free travel rights in what is known as the Schengen area, comprising 27 European countries.
Just a few days later, on January 6, Spain announced that it would recognize Kosovo passports.
Pérez says that not all non-recognizing countries obstruct Kosovo’s European integration. On the contrary, he adds, some recognize it but do not support it.
“Greece has a diplomatic office in Pristina and enjoys fruitful economic and political relations with Kosovo. However, not all recognizers are supporters of Kosovo at all times. Look at Hungary, whose alliance with Serbia influences its skeptical approach to Kosovo’s European integration process,” Pérez said, without specifying further.
Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is an ally of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.
“As long as Serbia integrates [into the EU], the Western Balkans will not integrate,” Orbán said during a visit to Belgrade in July 2021.
“First in Europe, then with recognitions”
Adnan Qerimagiq, an analyst at the European Stability Initiative, told Radio Free Europe that Kosovo should first focus on membership in the Council of Europe, NATO, and the European Union and then, with the help of allies, persuade non-recognizing countries.
“In this way, Kosovo and its partners in the Council of Europe, the European Union, but also in NATO, will have more opportunities to push Kosovo’s recognition forward,” Qerimagiq said.
According to him, Spain’s “softening” towards Kosovo passports has shown that non-recognizing countries can change their policies toward Kosovo.
“What has been proven to us in recent years, not only with the Ukraine-Russia war but also with what Serbia is doing in the region and with its narrative and policies toward its neighbors, shows that the issue is not just about recognitions… but also in the interest of European countries to integrate the Western Balkans into the Euro-Atlantic family to ensure stability and peace in the region,” Qerimagiq said.
Kosovo applied for membership in the Council of Europe in May 2022, and in December of the same year, it applied for membership in the European Union.
Since Russia started full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Kosovo has said it has stepped up efforts to join NATO.
The country is already a member of several international organizations – among them: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Olympic Committee, the European Football Federation, and the World Football Federation.
Over the years, Serbia has been engaged in a campaign against Kosovo’s recognition or for its derecognition. Although authorities there have claimed to have convinced some countries to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo – among them: Suriname, Burundi, Liberia, the Solomon Islands, etc. – Kosovo authorities have not confirmed any derecognition.
Kosovo’s diplomacy has been criticized in some cases for lack of strategy.
But in an interview with Kallxo media in Kosovo in December, Kosovo’s Foreign Minister, Donika Gërvalla, said work is underway for new recognitions.
“I cannot impose my will on other states. What I can do is not to stop working for a single day,” Gërvalla said.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti continuously emphasizes that Kosovo’s recognition by Serbia will have no alternative.
The two countries have been in negotiations for the normalization of relations for more than a decade, but the agreements reached between them have found little implementation.