Man is a territorial animal. What canines mark by lifting a leg is in our case a border. Whatever is enclosed by it we call a country. We also like to think that we are secure once our proclaimed border gets international recognition. Our border also reassures us when we reckon that the land it fences off might not rightfully be ours. Posturing in search of security can go further. If insecure, we can erect a wall, such as the Chinese one to keep baddies – such as my ancestors – out. A nastier mutation is the one the Communists erected across Berlin. It completed their Iron Curtain, stretching, as Churchill put it, from “Stettin to the Adriatic”.

Especially in Europe’s case, borders caused the disagreements that shaped the 20th century. As things stand, the matter of just, unjust, justifiable and unfair borders, is still far from being resolved. This also applies to the rest of the world. Currently we are in an early phase of a reshuffling of unnatural borders and states. In a generation, the new political map will cause teachers to despair as they will have to learn something new and make mapmakers rich. The discrepancy between existing borders, the way they should be and the way they could be, threaten to bring avoidable altercations. Therefore, the development of rules by which to channel the process of adjustment is important. Our next “border-related” crisis is mixed into the not-so-dormant Kosovo question.

Kosovo is a region that, to its misfortune, represents a microcosm of what is typical regarding territorial controversies. In such disputes allegations are pit against real or invented facts that lack a common denominator. Who should have sovereignty over a territory? Demographics and myths can easily collide. In Kosovo’s case, it is interesting to know who really fought whom in 1389. A generation later there was a second battle (again the Turks won) on the same meadow. If fighting that one also implies a title to the place, then the province has a “very interesting” pretender.
Among the most important claims to “ownership” are:

(1) Being the resident majority. In this case a territory’s inhabitants are to choose between autonomy, independence, or amalgamation in a “homeland” across an existing border. Any one of the above can become contentious. This is so even in the case of advanced countries with a peaceful record such as Belgium.

(2) Who has the historic claim? “Who was here first” brews trouble as it raises the question whose history – or, generally, distortion thereof – is accepted. A related practical issue is – as in the case of China in Tibet or Taiwan – whose theory is backed by the larger divisions. It is also a matter of debate from which point in time is history to be counted. The Israel-Palestinian dispute has roots in a disagreement about when the past began that counts for the future.

(3) National security. It comes into play once claims cannot be justified by twisted versions of points 1 and 2. Once this happens a right is extracted from a new trick-box. Military-national security claimants argue that without the control the disputed territory, the security of their homeland is imperilled. In an effort to avoid excellent central European examples, it must do here to refer to the USSR’s war on Finland in 1939 to annex Karelia. The result of such land-grabs is generally less security than one would have had otherwise: acts of piracy assure enmity.

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