Kristine Long, Pitt Law '11, traveled to Belgrade, Serbia, for a pre-moot prior to the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna, Austria...
The conflict between Kosovo and Serbia is so contentious that it seemed appropriate to follow my recent article about Kosovo's independence with an article from the Serbian perspective. Luckily, I had the opportunity to travel with my moot team to Belgrade, where the University of Belgrade School of Law hosts one of the more prestigious pre-moots prior to the Vis competition in Vienna. Although I already begun to learn about Kosovo in the United States, my time in Belgrade provided me with first-hand experience as to how the two countries interact.
During my first cab ride through the city, I was immediately exposed to Belgrade's city center and its unique history. Perhaps the cab driver knew that we were Americans and consequently gave us a scenic tour, but he drove through the most historically significant and awe-inspiring parts of the city. When driving or walking through Belgrade, one is constantly reminded of NATO's 1999 bombing of the city by the destroyed buildings interspersed among new construction. While I had read about the Kosovo conflict and the NATO bombings in the United States, it was entirely different to see the long-term consequences of the international community's response. While most people remember the conflict from past classes or news stories, it was quite evident that the Serbs confront daily reminders of their conflict with their neighbors.
Belgrade is interesting because of how it juxtaposes conflict with daily life. There are many parts of the city where one can forget that Belgrade was the site of protests and conflict only several years ago. However, the members of the Kosovo team, which traveled with our Pitt Law team, were sensitive to the continuously strained relationship between Serbia and Kosovo. Currently, the ICJ is deliberating as to whether Kosovo's declaration of independence is in compliance with international law, and it will render a highly anticipated decision by the end of 2010. While Kosovo and Serbia have the strongest interest in the decision, other countries have chosen sides because of the ICJ opinion's possible implications on international relations. Of particular interest is whether a ruling in Kosovo's favor will allow other contested territories to declare independence, as well.
While the ICJ opinion will have important implications for both Kosovars and Serbs, these groups face real issues outside the scope of the ICJ case. For instance, the Serbian government does not recognize Kosovar passports as valid travel documentation, so only half of Kosovo's team - those members with a second passport - were permitted to travel to Belgrade. This is but one example of the challenges Kosovars face in this region. While Kosovo's statehood is recognized by 65 other countries, until it is universally accepted, Kosovar citizens can and will continue to face discrimination.
The ICJ has an important role in determining Kosovo and Serbia's fate. However, as Kosovo's advocates have previously stated, the question before the ICJ is too narrow to reflect the full conflict between these two countries. While I supported Kosovo's statehood before traveling to Belgrade, my experience in Serbia solidified my belief that Kosovo should remain an independent state. In Kosovo's two years of independence, it has begun to rebuild its economy and government, in addition to asserting its independence in smaller ways. Kosovo's government has created a new flag, a new national anthem, and instilled ideas of nationalism and statehood in its citizens. However, Serbia's refusal to recognize Kosovar passports made me wonder how many laws and policies each country would need to change in order for the two countries to truly move forward.
From my observation, Belgrade can be part of this change, as it appears that some of its citizens have already moved on. Only a few years ago, Belgrade's streets were filled with protestors and anti-Kosovo propaganda, but the Belgrade I visited was peaceful and mostly accepting of the group of Kosovars and Americans traveling together. For example, the Belgrade faculty gracefully permitted the Kosovar team to participate in the pre-moot rounds in the interest of promoting international unity and competition. Although a small step toward permanent peace, granting Serbian and Kosovar students the opportunity to work together is instrumental in shaping their countries' future relationship. The participants in the pre-moot are their countries' future legal minds, and Belgrade was the perfect site for these young, bright scholars to begin to set their differences aside and learn to work together.
While the ICJ's final decision will inevitably have its supporters and detractors, it will allow the ICJ to solidify Kosovo's status. If the ICJ upholds Kosovo's declaration of independence, Kosovo and its citizens will be better able to address discrimination and assert those rights universal to all citizens. Finally, the ICJ's decision will bring closure to a conflict that has spanned many years and hopefully convince both populations to pursue a more harmonious future.
Photos: Kristine Long