Is Kosovo a country? Will Serbia ever recognise Kosovo’s independence? How many countries recognise Kosovo as a sovereign nation? Here’s everything you need to know!
“I want to emphasise the fact that the independence of Kosovo should and will be recognised.”Ibrahim Rugova, Former President of Kosovo.
The first time I visited Kosovo, it was Albanian independence day. Albania’s black, double-headed eagle on a blood-red field flew from the rooftops in Pristina, while riot police were seemingly preparing for war. I was confused, at first.
Wasn’t I in Kosovo, not Albania? I was, but little had really changed when I’d crossed the border between the two Balkan countries; at least, not in the ethnically Albanian regions of Kosovo, where many identified as much with their neighbour as they did as an independent nation.
Albanian is spoken in Kosovo, and the Albanian roots of the Kosovar people are at the heart of the complexities that threatened to tear the region apart when Yugoslavia collapsed in the 1990s.
In 1998, the Kosovo Conflict led to de facto autonomy for Kosovo, as they fought (with the assistance of NATO) the Serbian army. Then in 2008, Kosovo declared outright independence from Serbia. It was a move which split the United Nations right down the middle, with only 101 out of 193 member states recognising Kosovar sovereignty.
In June 2023, I returned to Kosovo for a second time. This time, I visited the north, where the city of Mitrovica is divided in two between the Albanian and Serbian communities. Here, I learned that the Kosovo question is more nuanced, largely because the Serbian minority see the country as the heartland of the Serbian people.
These complications may never be resolved, but rest assured, it does mean that Kosovo is a fascinating destination to visit. If you’re planning a trip to Europe’s newest nation, though, you’ll want to be clued up on the geopolitics. Keep reading, as I answer the question: ‘Is Kosovo a country’?
Table of Contents
Is Kosovo a country?
“Five percent of Kosovo’s population are Serbian. We have much more to share between us, than to divide us. We have things to love rather than hate. It would be a shame if the Serbians left or went back to Serbia it would be the failure of a multicultural project.”Burim Asllani, Mitrovica Guide.
Is Kosovo a country? The status of Kosovo is complex, and as I realised on my first trip to the ‘country’, this status largely depends on perspective. An ethnic Albanian, living in Pristina, for example, will have a very different view of history and politics when compared to a Serbian living in the north.
First, some facts. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, and it is recognised as an independent country by many nations worldwide, including the United States and a majority of European Union member states. However, Serbia, Russia, and some European Union countries – including Spain – do not recognise Kosovo’s independence.
Internationally, this makes Kosovo’s status somewhat divided. It is not a member of the United Nations, largely due to opposition from countries like Russia and China, which hold veto power in the UN Security Council.
Furthermore, within Kosovo itself, the situation remains tense. The Serbian minority, particularly in the north, largely does not accept the declaration of independence, and tensions between communities persist; tensions which I saw first-hand when I visited Mitrovica.
However, Kosovo is a member of some international organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and it is recognised as a sovereign nation by 101 out of 193 UN member states.
Read more: 14 Places to Visit in Kosovo
A brief history of Kosovo
To understand why Kosovo’s independence is disputed by Serbia, and almost 50 per cent of UN member states, it’s useful to delve deeper into the region’s history. This is the Balkans, where memories are long and politics is complex, so this is a history that’s often fraught with conflict.
The earliest known civilizations in Kosovo date back to the Neolithic era, but its recorded history begins with Roman conquests around 168 BC. The region, then part of the Roman province of Moesia, became a significant crossroads between East and West. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Kosovo became part of the Byzantine Empire.
From the late 12th century, the region saw a growing influence of the Serbian Kingdom, culminating in the creation of the Serbian Empire in the 14th century. The Battle of Kosovo in 1389, a contest between the Serbs and the Ottoman Turks, is a significant event in Serbian national mythology, although it resulted in a victory for the Ottoman Empire and laid the foundations for the Kosovo Conflict centuries later.
Kosovo remained under Ottoman rule for several centuries, during which time a significant portion of its population converted to Islam. During the 19th century, nationalist movements across the Balkans challenged Ottoman authority, leading to the Balkan Wars and World War I.
In the aftermath of these conflicts, Kosovo was incorporated into the newly formed Kingdom of Yugoslavia, despite its largely Muslim and Albanian-speaking population. During World War II, it was occupied by Italian and German forces, which saw a large-scale ethnic cleansing campaign against its Serbian population. After the war, Kosovo became an autonomous province within the Socialist Republic of Serbia, one of six socialist republics in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Kosovo watched on as the Yugoslav Republics began declaring independence in the 1990s, leading to the Breakup of Yugoslavia. Tensions between the Albanian majority and Serbian minority in Kosovo grew during the late 20th century, leading to the Kosovo War (1998-1999) – a brutal conflict characterised by ethnic cleansing and massive displacement of people. The war ended with a NATO-led intervention, and Kosovo was placed under United Nations administration as the Serbian army retreated.
In 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, a move recognised by many but not all countries. To this day, Kosovo’s status remains contested, with Serbia and several other countries refusing to acknowledge its independence. Thus, Kosovo’s history is a tale of shifting borders and allegiances, underpinned by ethnic, religious and national identities.
Read more: Kosovo: Tear Gas and Protests in Pristina
What was the Kosovo Conflict?
“We only declared war on Serbia in 1998 after diplomacy failed. But we weren’t strong enough to win the war alone.”Astrid Sahiti, Walking Tour Guide in Pristina, Kosovo.
The Kosovo Conflict, primarily fought from 1998 to 1999, was a devastating conflict rooted in ethnic tensions between Kosovo’s Albanian majority and Serbian minority. It was marked by severe human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing and a significant humanitarian crisis, culminating in international intervention.
For much of the 20th century, tensions had been brewing between Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, who sought greater autonomy, and Serbs, who viewed Kosovo as a crucial part of their historical and cultural identity. These tensions escalated into violence during the 1990s under the nationalist regime of Slobodan Milošević, President of Serbia, who revoked Kosovo’s autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a guerilla group predominantly consisting of ethnic Albanians, emerged in response to Serbian repression. Its goal was to separate Kosovo from Serbia, using both political and militant strategies. This led to open conflict in 1998, with both sides accused of committing atrocities.
The situation worsened in 1999 when Serbian forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing, expelling hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and committing widespread human rights abuses. This triggered a NATO-led air campaign against Serbia, without UN Security Council approval but with the intention of stopping the humanitarian crisis.
After 78 days of bombing, Milošević agreed to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosovo. The province was then placed under the administration of the United Nations, leading to a fragile peace, and in 2008, Kosovo declared independence, a move Serbia has not recognised, and probably never will.
Read more: The NATO Ruins of Belgrade
Why did Kosovo fight for independence from Serbia?
The desire for Kosovo’s independence primarily stemmed from longstanding ethnic tensions and the desire for self-determination among the region’s ethnic Albanian majority. These motivations were further intensified by human rights abuses and conflicts during the late 20th century, as Yugoslavia began to fall apart.
Kosovo, despite having been a province of Serbia, has a predominantly ethnic Albanian population. This population group has distinct cultural, linguistic, and religious differences compared to the Serbs, who form the majority in Serbia. For many decades, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have sought greater autonomy and recognition for their identity.
These tensions escalated significantly during the 1990s under the leadership of Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, who implemented policies that greatly reduced Kosovo’s autonomy, resulting in discriminatory practices against ethnic Albanians in various sectors, including education and employment. This led to widespread resentment among ethnic Albanians and fueled calls for independence.
Read more: 18 Things to Do in Prizren, Kosovo
How many ethnic groups are there in Kosovo?
Kosovo is home to several ethnic groups, including the following:
- Albanians: They make up the majority of the population, around 92.9%. They speak Albanian and are primarily Muslim.
- Serbs: They form the largest minority group, comprising about 5% of the population. Serbs in Kosovo are primarily Orthodox Christians.
- Bosniaks and Gorani: These Slavic Muslim communities reside mainly in the Gora region and some towns and makeup about 1.6% of the population.
- Turks: Ethnic Turks comprise about 1.1% of the population. They have a strong presence in certain municipalities.
- Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians: These groups together make up about 2.2% of the population. They are distinct but are often collectively referred to as ‘RAE’ communities.
- Other smaller ethnic groups, including Montenegrins, Croats and others, also live in Kosovo.
What languages are spoken in Kosovo?
In Kosovo, the two official languages are Albanian and Serbian. Here’s a breakdown of the languages spoken by the different ethnic groups:
- Albanian: The majority of the population in Kosovo are ethnic Albanians, and they primarily speak Albanian. It is one of the official languages of the country.
- Serbian: Serbian is also an official language of Kosovo and is predominantly spoken by the ethnic Serb minority.
- Turkish, Bosnian, and Romani: These languages are given the status of regional languages in municipalities where the respective ethnic groups make up a significant proportion of the population.
English is widely taught in schools and is commonly spoken among younger generations. It’s also often used in official and business settings.
As a result of the 1990s war and subsequent administration by United Nations and European Union missions, a significant number of people, particularly in urban areas and among younger generations, also speak English to varying degrees. German and Italian are also understood and spoken by some due to historical and economic ties, including migration patterns.
Is Kosovo in Serbia?
“Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence.”Novak Djokovic, Serbian tennis player.
Is Kosovo in Serbia? This is a question that can end explosively, and each side has its own opinions. Serbia’s claim over Kosovo is rooted in historical, cultural and political factors, which aren’t recognised by Kosovar-Albanians.
Historically, Kosovo is seen by many Serbs as the cradle of their nation and the Serbian Orthodox Church. It was the centre of the Serbian Empire in the 14th century and is the site of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, a significant event in Serbian history and national mythology. Despite being under Ottoman control for centuries following this, the region continued to hold symbolic importance for Serbs.
Culturally, Kosovo is home to many Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries, and other monuments that are of great significance to the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian people. These sites represent a crucial part of Serbia’s cultural heritage.
Politically, the status of Kosovo has been contentious since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. After a period of violent conflict, the Kosovo War of 1998-1999 ended with the province under UN administration. When Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, Serbia, supported by some other countries, rejected the declaration.
The Serbian government continues to view Kosovo as an autonomous province within its own sovereign territory. They argue that the unilateral declaration of independence violates international law, particularly the principle of territorial integrity.
This issue continues to be a significant point of contention in Balkan and international politics. While many countries and international organisations recognise Kosovo’s independence, Serbia and some other countries do not. The situation remains a complex political issue requiring ongoing diplomatic efforts.
Is Kosovo in Albania?
“We could never have a Greater Albania. It would cause too much chaos in the Balkans. There are parts of Macedonia where Albanians live, parts of Serbia too, and then the Serbs would want the Serbian land in Kosovo.”Burim Asllani, Mitrovica Guide.
No, Kosovo and Albania are two distinct political entities. However, there are significant cultural, historical and ethnic ties between the two.
While Kosovo’s independence is disputed, Albania, on the other hand, is a fully recognised sovereign nation located to the west of Kosovo. It declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912.
What links Kosovo and Albania is the predominant ethnic group in both areas: the Albanians. In Kosovo, ethnic Albanians make up a significant majority of the population. They share the same language (Albanian) and largely the same cultural and historical background as the people of Albania.
There are political factions and individuals in both Kosovo and Albania who advocate for the unification of the two territories into a single Albanian state, often referred to as the idea of a ‘Greater Albania‘. However, this idea is controversial and has significant opposition both within and outside the region due to the potential for it to destabilise the Balkans.
So, while Kosovo and Albania share strong ethnic and cultural ties, politically and legally they are completely separate.
Read more: Crazy Sh*t To Do In The Balkans
Which countries recognise Kosovo’s independence?
Currently, 101 UN member states recognise Kosovo as an independent country. This includes a majority of European Union (EU) member states, the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and many others.
However, there is significant variation globally. While a majority of EU countries recognise Kosovo, some, including Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus, do not. This is often due to concerns about separatist movements within their own borders and the implications of recognising a country that declared independence unilaterally.
Similarly, while the US recognises Kosovo, some other permanent members of the UN Security Council do not. Notably, Russia and China do not recognise Kosovo’s independence, and their veto power prevents Kosovo from joining the UN.
Serbia, from which Kosovo declared independence, also does not recognise Kosovo as an independent state. This non-recognition extends to several of Serbia’s allies and other countries that have concerns about separatist movements.
The list of countries that currently recognise Kosovo’s independence includes:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Burkina Faso
- Cabo Verde
- Central African Republic
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- Dominican Republic
- East Timor
- Equatorial Guinea
- Marshall Islands
- New Zealand
- North Macedonia
- Papua New Guinea
- Republic of Korea (South Korea)
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- San Marino
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
- Solomon Islands
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
- United States
Read more: Is Wales a Country?
Is Kosovo in the European Union?
“My vision is to have an independent Kosovo, democratic, with a politically tolerant society and with a solid economy, integrated into the EU, the NATO and to continue with our good relations with the USA.”Ibrahim Rugova.
The EU recognises Kosovo as a potential candidate for EU membership, and in recent years, both sides have worked towards fostering closer ties. The EU’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Kosovo, which came into force in April 2016, signifies a critical milestone in this process. The SAA offers a framework for political dialogue, facilitating trade and helping to prepare Kosovo for future competition within the EU single market. This agreement is often considered the first formal step towards EU membership.
However, Kosovo’s path towards EU integration faces complex challenges. To begin with, not all EU member states recognise Kosovo as an independent state. Five EU countries — Spain, Romania, Cyprus, Greece, and Slovakia — do not acknowledge Kosovo’s sovereignty. This lack of unanimous recognition within the EU poses significant hurdles to Kosovo’s membership aspirations.
Moreover, EU accession is a stringent process requiring prospective members to fulfil the Copenhagen Criteria — standards encompassing democratic governance, human rights, protection of minorities, a functioning market economy and the ability to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to EU law.
While progress has been made, issues such as corruption, the rule of law, and relations with Serbia remain areas of concern that Kosovo must address to align with EU standards.
Why does Kosovo use the Euro?
Kosovo uses the Euro as its currency despite not being a member of the Eurozone, the group of European Union nations that have officially adopted the Euro. The usage of the Euro in Kosovo dates back to the aftermath of the 1999 conflict in the region.
Before the conflict, the official currency in Kosovo was the Yugoslav dinar. However, due to hyperinflation and economic instability, the Yugoslav dinar was largely replaced in everyday transactions by the Deutsche Mark, which was brought into the region by workers and refugees returning from Germany.
After the war, Kosovo came under the administration of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). In 1999, UNMIK passed a regulation that formalised the use of the Deutsche Mark as the legal tender in Kosovo. This move was aimed at stabilising the economy and facilitating economic reconstruction.
When the Euro was introduced in 2002, Kosovo, like Montenegro, unilaterally adopted it to replace the Deutsche Mark. The decision was not formally approved by the European Central Bank, the institution responsible for the Euro. However, the bank has not intervened to stop Kosovo from using the Euro.
The use of the Euro has provided some benefits for Kosovo, including eliminating currency exchange risk with most of the EU and fostering economic stability. However, it also means that Kosovo cannot implement independent monetary policies, which could help manage its economy.
Will Serbia ever recognise Kosovo’s independence?
“Will Serbia ever recognise Kosovo’s independence? No. Not even in fifty years time. Any politicians that float the idea in Serbia will be shouted down. The same would happen here if a politician said we should enter into a union with Serbia.”Burim Asllani, Mitrovica Guide.
Serbia maintains that Kosovo is an integral part of its territory, citing historical, cultural, and political reasons. Despite Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 and recognition by over 100 UN member states, Serbia has continued to campaign against global recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
However, political stances can evolve over time due to various influences like internal political changes, international pressure, shifts in global politics, and diplomatic negotiations. For instance, the European Union has been facilitating a dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia to normalise relations, which could potentially lead to mutual recognition in the future.
Read more: Kosovo: Finding Freedom in Prizren
Why do some countries not recognise Kosovo’s independence?
While over 100 UN member states recognise Kosovo as an independent country, others don’t. The reasons for this vary and often relate to each country’s unique geopolitical circumstances, alliances, and internal politics. Here are a few common reasons:
- Concerns over sovereignty and territorial integrity: Some countries are concerned that recognising Kosovo might set a precedent for recognising other unilateral secessions, potentially encouraging separatist movements within their own borders. This is particularly relevant for countries such as Spain, China, and Russia, which have their own issues with separatist regions.
- Historical and cultural ties to Serbia: Some countries, like Russia, have long-standing historical and cultural ties with Serbia and therefore support Serbia’s position that Kosovo is part of its sovereign territory.
- Diplomatic alliances and influences: International politics and diplomatic alliances also play a role. Countries might decide to align their recognition policies with those of their key allies or influential global powers.
- Impact on international law and order: Certain countries argue that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence violates international law, which traditionally respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of existing states. They worry about the potential for global instability if secession becomes a commonplace solution to ethnic or regional disputes.
Spain, for example, is one of the five European Union member states that does not recognise Kosovo’s independence. The primary reason behind Spain’s stance is its concerns about secessionist movements within its own borders.
Spain has faced significant separatist pressures, particularly from Catalonia and the Basque Country. These regions have a distinct cultural and linguistic identity and a history of seeking greater autonomy or outright independence from Spain. By recognising Kosovo, Spain fears that it might set a precedent for recognising unilateral declarations of independence, potentially emboldening its own separatist movements.
Spain’s position on Kosovo’s independence underscores how domestic politics can influence a country’s foreign policy decisions.
So, is Kosovo really a country?
On my first visit in 2015, when Albanian flags bedecked the capital, it really felt that Kosovo was trying hard to become part of Albania, or at least, going out of its way to show it wasn’t part of Serbia.
Less than a decade later, the impression I got of Kosovo in 2023 was one of a more confident, youthful and independent nation intent on forging its own path.
Indeed, the majority of Kosovar-Albanians I spoke to seemed to now be comfortable with the fact that Kosovo would never be part of any Greater Albania – the consequences would simply be too volatile. “Politically,” said Astrid Sahiti, my walking tour guide in Pristina, “we could never be one with Albania. It would provoke other wars in the Balkans. There can be no unification of Kosovo with other countries.”
Equally, aside from the ethnic Serbians in Mitrovica, the majority of Kosovar-Albanians I met also understood that Serbia would never recognise their independence. For many, including Bekim Xhemili, the curator of Pristina’s Ethnographic Museum, this has left an entire generation of people in a strange limbo.
“It was easier for us to travel during the Ottoman Empire when there were no borders in the Balkans!” Xhemili told me. “We are the only country in Europe that can’t travel freely, even though we are the most pro-European country. We have the youngest population in Europe, and 1.7 million of us can’t travel freely.”
The human consequences of Kosovo’s partial recognition are all too apparent amongst the nation’s youth, but they aren’t looking to Albania, but to their own independence.
“We are Kosovar citizens with an Albanian heritage,” said Sahiti. “It’s important to remember this history, but even though the Kosovo state is only fifteen years old, now it’s being tied to our newer identity as the Kosovo people.”
The next generation hopes to forge their own identity, integrate further with the European Union and hopefully, gain more recognition and autonomy as an independent nation.
As I’ve already once in this article, though, memories are long in the Balkans. There will also be a shadow hanging over Kosovo, given both sides committed atrocities, and as the 2023 riots in the Serbian-majority regions in the north showed, Kosovo is just a spark away from conflict.
FAQ: Is Kosovo a country?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘Is Kosovo a country’?
Q1: Is Kosovo a country?
A1: The answer to this question can depend on perspective. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognised as an independent nation by over 100 UN member states, including the United States and a majority of EU countries. However, a number of countries, including Serbia, Russia, and China, do not recognise Kosovo’s independence.
Q2: Why did Kosovo declare independence?
A2: Kosovo’s declaration of independence came after years of tension and conflict, primarily with Serbia. The ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo sought independence in order to establish a state where their rights, identity, and aspirations could be fully recognised and upheld.
Q3: Is Kosovo recognised by the United Nations?
A3: Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations. Although over 100 UN member states recognise Kosovo as an independent country, Russia and China, which have veto power in the UN Security Council, do not recognise Kosovo’s independence, blocking its membership in the organisation.
Q4: What is the official language of Kosovo?
A4: Kosovo has two official languages: Albanian and Serbian. Albanian is the most widely spoken language, as ethnic Albanians make up the majority of the population.
Q5: Why does Serbia not recognise Kosovo’s independence?
A5: Serbia considers Kosovo to be an integral part of its territory, citing historical, cultural, and political reasons. Many Serbs view Kosovo as the cradle of their nation and the Serbian Orthodox Church. Politically, Serbia argues that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence violates the principle of territorial integrity in international law.
Q6: Is Kosovo part of the European Union?
A6: Kosovo is not a member of the European Union (EU). However, the EU is involved in facilitating dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, aiming to improve relations and prospects for regional stability.
Q7: Is Kosovo safe to visit?
A7: While any travel has potential risks, many people visit Kosovo without incident. It’s important for travellers to stay informed about the current political situation, follow local laws and customs, and take normal precautions as they would when visiting any foreign country. Always check your own country’s travel advisories for the most current information.
Q8: What currency does Kosovo use?
A8: Kosovo uses the Euro (€) as its currency, even though it is not a member of the Eurozone.