Former British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, once said that Britain ‘has no eternal allies or enemies, only eternal interests’. This realist outlook on international relations does not seem to account for the relationship between Kosovo and the UK. Judged by the normal measurements of countries’ ‘interests’, the relationship is less strong than between Kosovo and several other Western European countries. Britain accounts for less than 1 per cent of Kosovo’s exports and imports, and, of course, Kosovo accounts for an infinitesimal amount of British trade. The Kosovo diaspora in Britain is small (perhaps 35,000) compared with the diaspora in Germany, Switzerland, or Austria, even if returnees from Britain seem to have a disproportionate influence in Prishtina’s social life. Britain has only minor direct investments in Kosovo (€20 million on the latest figures). If these indicators of countries’ ‘interests’ dictated the strength of the relationship, Kosovo would have little reason (except for the UK’s position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council) to count Britain among its most important and best friends, and Britain would have even less reason to pay attention to Kosovo.
The relationship is a classic example of how history – and, dare I say it, sentiment – count in international relations. On the Kosovo side, we do not forget that Britain under Tony Blair played a crucial role in bringing about the NATO intervention in 1999 which saved Kosovo; nor do we forget that Britain was one of the first countries to recognise that Kosovo could not forever exist in the limbo of UN administration and needed to have its final status determined – and that a sustainable final status could only be as an independent state. On the British side, the public, for the most part, may not know very much about Kosovo, but the British state administration – the FCO and the Ministry of Defence – does have a collective memory. After having taken the lead internationally for so long on Kosovo, it is only natural that they should want a success story. This can be described
either in terms of ‘sentiment’ or ‘interest’.
Otto Von Bismarck once said that ‘the entire Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier’ – a statement of state interest which would have been widely echoed in London or Paris – but this did not prevent the Balkans from igniting the tragedy of the First World War in which countries which had thought they had no interests in the region found themselves fighting each other.
What of the future? Success for British policy in the Balkans would mean a stable region integrated into the EU and NATO. This of course is precisely what Kosovo seeks, for more existential reasons. Would Britain then forget about Kosovo, or Kosovo forget about Britain? Of course not. The relationship would in fact become more intense and more varied. We would be one of many members of the EU whose votes Britain would need (as we would need hers) on a range of issues covering all aspects of life, so the political relationship would be more intense and more varied. The economic relationship will be determined by companies and individual consumers rather than governments, but one can confidently assume that it will develop along with Kosovo’s economy. We also hope to expand on cultural links which have been continuous since the war ended: the first post-war theatre show at the National Theatre of Kosovo was Shakespeare’s Hamlet, directed by David Gothard, while the famous British band Morcheeba performed last year in a memorable performance in Prishtina.
International relations are about the whole range of contacts between people in different countries. These contacts between Britain and Kosovo are continually growing. To take one example, the number of Kosovo students who attend British universities may be small (I was one of them!) but the quality is exceptionally high and those who have returned to Kosovo have already made a significant contribution to the country’s political life. Those Britons who have made a contribution to Kosovo in different walks of life – for example, the author Christopher Hitchens, the historian Noel Malcolm, the politician Dennis MacShane, the human rights activist Bianca Jagger, the soldier General Sir Mike Jackson – continue their interest and bring new people all the time into the web of relationships which make up the ties between the two countries.
The UK and Kosovo have also recently agreed to invest significant resources in The British Council in Kosovo in order to foster and expand links and cooperation in culture, public diplomacy and academia.
In short, this is a friendship which will continue, which will deepen, and which will develop more roots and branches.
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