Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Map & Analysis: Which Countries Recognize Kosovo in 2020?

Announcing the re-launch of our Kosovo recognition updates series! PolGeoNow will now once again be providing timely reports on when countries recognize - or un-recognize - the disputed Republic of Kosovo.

Map of Kosovo recognition, indicating which states (countries) still recognize Kosovo's independence, which have withdrawn recognition, and which claims of recognition have been denied, as of September 2020, including new addition Israel. Colorblind accessible.
Click to enlarge. By Evan Centanni, modified from public domain blank world map.
Contact us for permission to use this map.
Flag of the Republic of Kosovo Country Name:  
• Kosovo (English, Serbian)
• Kosova (Albanian)
Official Name:  
Republic of Kosovo (English)
Republika e Kosovës (Albanian)
Republika Kosovo (Serbian)
Capital: Pristina/Prishtina

What is Kosovo?

The self-declared Republic of Kosovo, located in southeastern Europe, controversially announced it was splitting off from Serbia in 2008. Most of its territory had already been outside Serbia's control since 1999, when the military of Serbia's predecessor country, Yugoslavia, was pushed out by a NATO military intervention and replaced with UN peacekeepers.

Kosovo was quickly recognized by most NATO members, several fellow Muslim-majority countries, and many close allies of the US, but it's been blocked from UN membership by objections from Serbia, Russia, and other countries who see its secession as invalid. The UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded in 2010 that Kosovo's declaration didn't violate international law, but the court declined to comment on whether Kosovo should actually be treated as independent or not.

Five Steps Forward, Fifteen Steps Back?

PolGeoNow's reporting on international recognition of the self-declared Republic of Kosovo trailed off after 2015, as the rate of new countries endorsing the disputed republic's independence dwindled.
In those five years, just six new countries have recognized Kosovo as independent: Suriname and Singapore in 2016, Bangladesh and Madagascar in 2017, Barbados in 2018, and apparently Israel just this month (see below).

However, during the past few years a new trend has emerged: reports that countries have withdrawn their recognition of Kosovo, presumably because of lobbying from Serbia and Russia. The first was the South American republic of Suriname, which told Serbia in 2017 that it was reversing the previous year's decision to recognize Kosovo. Sixteen more countries have apparently followed - including another one of the recent new recognizers, Madagascar. However, two of these de-recognizing countries, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau, apparently reversed their position again by reaffirming recognition of Kosovo.

Have Countries Really Revoked Recognition of Kosovo?

Just as Serbia disputes the validity of Kosovo's claimed independence, the Kosovan government has called these de-recognitions invalid, in some cases even implying that they could be hoaxes perpetrated by Serbia. Though some are difficult to verify with absolute certainly, the 15 countries whose recognition is labeled as "Reportedly revoked" on our map appear to have really sent letters announcing their reversals, at least to Serbia's government.

What to make of those actions is another question. Some people argue that recognizing a country isn't something you can legally reverse, since historically it was assumed to be a one-off act. But scholars in international law have varying opinions on the issue. It also seems possible that some countries are intentionally playing both sides - appeasing Serbia by sending a letter telling it what it wants to hear, while still happily letting Kosovo continue to claim their recognition.

Whatever the case, we've labeled these countries on the map for readers to interpret the situation as they choose.

Does Israel Recognize Kosovo?

Earlier this month, Kosovo and the Middle Eastern country of Israel made headlines after a US-brokered deal between Serbia and Kosovo unexpectedly included a line saying Kosovo and Israel would recognize each other. Interestingly, the line about Israel recognizing Kosovo isn't on the version of the document that Serbia signed, and the Serbian government has threatened to go back on its own promise to Israel - to move its embassy to Jerusalem - if Israel goes through with explicit recognition.

Learn More: Why does it matter if a country's embassy to Israel is in Jerusalem or not?

Though Israel is a member of the UN, many Muslim-majority countries have refused to officially recognize it - at least until it agrees to independence for Muslim-majority Palestine, whose claimed territories it largely controls. For more on which countries recognize Israel, stay tuned for a separate map article coming soon.

Now, it's a little unclear whether Israel and Kosovo have actually made formal statements recognizing each other yet. On September 11 Israel's ambassador to Albania reportedly said the formal recognition would arrive "within the coming weeks", but just this weekend the Israeli ambassador to Serbia said "Israel already recognized Kosovo on 4 September".

Given this, we've chosen for now to label Israel on our map as one of the countries that currently recognizes Kosovo. At the very least, the recognition seems to be a done deal in principle. But we won't be surprised if it turns out the official recognition letters aren't traded until some date in the future.

Refuted Recognitions

In past years, the government of the proclaimed Republic of Kosovo has appeared to exaggerate its numbers by claiming recognition from countries that didn't really intend to recognize it. In some cases, there seems to have been genuine disagreement or confusion from within those countries' governments. In other cases, either the Kosovan government or pro-indepedence media have jumped the gun, reading too much into statements that weren't intended to signify formal recognition.

Countries that have been reported to recognize Kosovo at some point, but whose recognition has been denied by their own governments and/or by Kosovan officials themselves, are marked in yellow on our map under the category "Claimed but refuted". They may or may not be included on lists of "countries that recognize Kosovo" compiled by pro-independence sources. No new countries have refuted recognition claims since our previous update in 2015 - the ones newly added to the map just represent a more complete list of past cases.

How Many Countries Recognize Kosovo in 2020? 

In our previous series of Kosovo recognition reports, we kept a running tally of how many countries - and what percentage of UN members - endorse Kosovan independence. But with the new trend of revoking recognition, that's become a more complicated question.

According to Kosovo

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo lists 116 recognizing countries on its website, which has not yet been updated to add Israel. Those 116 still include all the countries that have purportedly revoked their recognitions, as well as the Cook Islands and Niue, two semi-independent countries in the South Pacific that are sometimes treated as territories of New Zealand, and aren't members of the UN.

It also includes two countries whose recognition of Kosovo has been refuted but remains unclear: São Tomé and Príncipe, which apparently did send a letter of recognition in 2012, but whose recognition was left in legal limbo back home after being labeled unconstitutional; and Oman, who Kosovo says confirmed recognition in 2011, though Omani and even some Kosovan officials have reportedly denied this.

If we assume that Israel is meant to be added to the list, then the count according to Kosovo's government would be 115 of the UN's 193 member countries (60%), as well as the two non-UN countries. Kosovo has also been recognized by fellow disputed country Taiwan, but Taiwan doesn't appear on the Kosovan ministry's list - probably because Kosovo itself doesn't officially consider Taiwan a country.

Learn More: Which Countries "Recognize" Taiwan?

According to Serbia

The Serbian government actually set a goal for its de-recognition campaign, aiming to bring the number of active Kosovo recognitions below 50%. By Serbia's own count - which subtracts Liberia and Guinea-Bissau, even though other sources say they went back on their withdrawals - it has reached that target, with a total of just 96 UN members still recognizing Kosovo, or 49.7%. But if those two countries are considered to still recognize, then the 50% target hasn't yet been reached...

According to PolGeoNow's Analysis

Excluding São Tomé and Príncipe and Oman - as we have in previous reports - and including Israel, the total number of UN member countries that have ever recognized Kosovo comes in at 113 (59% of UN members). But if we exclude the 15 additional countries that have reportedly withdrawn their recognitions, then the number falls to 98 (51%) - just short of the Serbian government's "under 50%" goal.

The highest that number ever reached was 111 (57.5%) in 2017, before countries started revoking their recognitions, or possibly 112 (58.0%) for less than a day in early 2018 - it's unclear whether Barbados recognized just before or just after Burundi de-recognized (before that, Suriname had already de-recognized, but the drop had later been canceled out by Madagascar newly recognizing).

Membership in International Organizations

Besides recognition from individual countries, Kosovo has also been admitted as a full member to about 10 intergovernmental organizations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), and the World Customs Organization. There are also some groups, like the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), where the UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo holds a membership on behalf of the Kosovan people, without the Republic of Kosovo government participating directly.

Athletes representing the proclaimed independent Kosovo have also gained national representation in the Olympic Games and the global soccer federation FIFA.

What Happens Next?

Despite all this recent wrangling between Serbia and Kosovo, the numbers might not change again for awhile. That's because in the same US-brokered talks that saw Kosovo and Israel agree to recognize each other, the Serbian and Kosovan governments agreed to a kind of truce: Serbia promised to go for one year without trying to convince any country or organization not to recognize Kosovo, and in return Kosovo agreed not to apply for membership in any more international organizations during that time.

The deal still leaves open the possibility of Kosovo lobbying for more countries to recognize it individually*, though based on the low rate of new recognitions in recent years, there might not be many willing candidates left at this point. On the other hand, that could all change if negotiations eventually lead to a final agreement with Serbia, which is required before either Serbia or Kosovo can join the European Union (EU). If that leads to Serbia itself recognizing Kosovan independence, then many more of the world's countries would probably join in too.

*Editor's Note: It has come to our attention that soon after the deal was signed, a US official seemed to state at a press conference that Kosovo had indeed agreed to stop seeking recognition from other countries for one year. However, the fact remains that the document did not state this, and based on his words it seems possible that he was mistaken or overgeneralizing.

Stay Up to Date: Check for further news and map updates about Kosovo's recognition by viewing all Kosovo articles on Political Geography Now.

Graphic of the Republic of Kosovo flag is in the public domain (source).