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Kosovo fuels separatist fears

The anxiously anticipated declaration of independence by Kosovo has several nations, themselves facing separatist currents growing more concerned about the potential effects of the move.

With all the signs pointing towards a declaration of independence from Kosovo after the UN-set deadline for reaching a settlement passes on Monday, the European Union is bracing itself for a wave of renewed calls for autonomy from separatist movements across Europe.

If Kosovo declares independence from Serbia, it will set a powerful precedent for movements from Spain to Scotland, all wanting to rewrite the map of Europe and form their own independent states, according to experts.

"There is a real risk that the quasi-dogma of the intangibility of borders which has existed since the end of the World War II will fall," French political scientist Jean-Yves Camus of the Paris-based IRIS institute told AFP. "This would benefit movements which seek to rewrite the map of Europe based on ethnic, linguistic or cultural criteria," added Camus, a specialist on separatist movements in Europe.

The emergence of similar lifestyles and English as a common language in Europe, combined with the disappearance of borders and the lack of democratic legitimacy of EU bodies, had fueled "the development of micro-distinctive identities," said Camus.

While Kosovo's ethnic majority leaders have vowed not to unilaterally declare independence from Serbia without US and European Union approval, they are expected to announce their intentions to form a new state in early 2008.

Many of the countries which oppose the creation of an independent state of Kosovo have at least one separatist movement working towards autonomy within their own borders.

Serbia's ally Russia, which leads the opposition, has problems with separatists in Chechnya and the Caucasus region while Spain has had a long-running dispute with the armed ETA movement. Other countries against Kosovo's independence such as Cyprus and Greece have ethnic minorities which demand more power.

"In the West, this [Kosovo] solution will set off separatists in Europe,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview published in French newspaper Le Figaro earlier this year. ”Look at Scotland, Catalonia and the Basque Country."

Spain is currently experiencing a period of unease as its northern Basque Country and its wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia have stepped up their demands for more autonomy.

Last year Catalan voters overwhelmingly backed a new charter which recognized the region as a "nation" within Spain and grants it enhanced powers in taxation and judicial matters.

As in other separatist regions of Europe like Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium, and northern Italy, supporters said Catalonia deserved extra powers because it makes a bigger contribution to the economy.

The armed Basque separatist group ETA ended a 15-month ceasefire in June while the Scottish National Party, which came to power in May, plans to hold a referendum on independence in 2010.

Belgium meanwhile has been without a government for six months after a general election on June 10 highlighted deep divisions between the nation's majority Dutch-speakers and Francophones.

For many nationalists, membership in the 27-nation European Union has only served to make separation seem more viable.

"Europe can regulate our functionings and transfer payments. Why must we maintain this intermediate roof we call Belgium," the leader of the Flemish nationalist party, Bart De Wever, told French daily Le Monde last month.

Meanwhile, Russia stepped up its opposition Tuesday by announcing that it would demand that the UN Security Council annul any unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

"Russia will of course demand the annulment of such a decision. We will demand a meeting of the Security Council because it would be a violation of a Council resolution," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted the country's chief Kosovo negotiator Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko as saying. (dw-world)