20 March 2008

Is Kosovo a precedent or not?

Bob Rae says it's an "insult to the intelligence" to tout Canada's recognition of Kosovo's independence as a precedent-setting case. Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier claims, "You cannot compare this with Quebec."

On the other hand, Serbian ambassador Dusan Batokovic insists it has set a "dangerous precedent," and Daniel Turp of the Parti Quebecois agrees, not with the dangerous part, but with the precedent part, because separation was achieved "despite the objections of the country which it left."

So is it a precedent or not? Ultimately a question for constitutional lawyers to fight over, I suppose, but to this layman it certainly seems to be. In any case, does it matter what Bernier, or Rae, or Canada thinks? I doubt those regions of the world contemplating separation - Quebec for example - will opt for their interpretation. They will agree there are historical differences, there are always differences, but they will focus on the similarities. And there would be similarities - powerful ones. For example, if a Quebec government were to unilaterally declare independence, it could claim, correctly, that Canada has already accepted a unilateral declaration of independence by a legislature as valid. No referendum, no clear question, no consideration for minorities, no negotiation with the other side. If Canada has accepted all this, how could it oppose the identical action by Quebec? And what if other countries agree that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and recognize a new nation of Quebec?

What would we have had to lose by waiting and insisting on the criteria we have established for legitimate separation? We quite reasonably insist on a referendum asking a clear question and receiving a clear answer followed by negotiation of the separation. For that matter, what would the Albanian Kosovars have had to lose by engaging in this process? Are these criteria not reasonable? And would the Kosovars have had any trouble meeting them? If Serbia refused to negotiate, it would be removing itself from consideration.

What we have done is weaken our position in defending against a separatist argument and we have done it needlessly. Now we must keep our fingers crossed that we won't rue this day.


  1. I'd say it's pretty blatantly obvious that Kosovo does not set a precedent that is applicable to Quebec.

    Now, if there comes a time where Quebec has come to suffer years of harsh discrimination and repeated violent clashes; where there has been open fighting in the streets of Quebec City, snipers killing civilians from rooftops and military incursions to the point that the United Nations is forced to send in troops; where attempts by the Canadian government to ethnically cleanse the province of Quebec have to be repelled by U.S. and NATO bombing raids on Ontario military positions in Chicoutimi and Jonquiere; THEN maybe Quebec separatists can point to Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence as a precedent setting moment.

    And in this ludicrous and hypothetical scenario, after years of brutal oppression and attempted ethnic cleansing, even a strident federalist like me will be as glad to see Quebec achieve independence as anyone else after their years of enduring violence and suffering, and surviving attempts to wipe them off the map.

    It's never going to happen that way though.

  2. Lord K,

    As a strident federalist, you choose to emphasize the historical difference. A separatist would choose to emphasize the unconditional acceptance of a unilateral declaration. The courts ... well, one never knows.

    Bill L