OTTAWA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia is a headache for Canada, which needs to find a way of recognizing the new state without boosting the fortunes of separatists in its French-speaking province of Quebec.
While major allies such as the United States, Britain and France quickly recognized the ethnic Albanian state, despite objections from Serbia, Ottawa reacted in a low-key manner.
“We are, like other countries, assessing the situation in Kosovo,” Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said in the Colombian capital Bogota on Tuesday.
Polls indicate that around half of Quebecers support the idea of independence for the province of 7.5 million.
Quebec governments formed by the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) held referendums on breaking away from Canada in 1980 and 1995 but both failed, the last one very narrowly.
The Parti Quebecois, now in opposition in the provincial legislature, said that if Canada recognizes a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo it would have to treat a similar move by Quebec the same way.
“A people decides to become a country and other countries recognize that fact. And in this case what is special is that Serbia is against (the) independence of one of its component parts and the United States, France, other countries ignore this objection,” said PQ legislator Daniel Turp.
“So, if one day Quebec decides to become a country and Canada objects ... we’ll remind other countries that an objection of a state should not have precedence over the will of the people,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Bernier said there was “no comparison whatsoever” between Kosovo and Quebec.
“Kosovo is a unique situation involving a brutal period of war, ethnic cleansing and international intervention,” he told reporters in response to a question by Reuters.
His remarks came a day after similar comments by Stephane Dion, the leader of the Liberals, Canada’s main federal opposition
Dion, a renowned opponent of Quebec separatism, pointed out that NATO troops have been maintaining the peace in Kosovo for almost nine years.
“There does not seem to (be) any possibility of reconciliation ... so the decision seems to be the best solution,” he told reporters on Monday.
He noted that Russia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo meant the small Balkan country would not be able to become a member of the United Nations and said this underlined how hard it was for new states to gain full international acceptance.
When the former Yugoslav state of Montenegro declared independence in 2006, Canada buried its recognition of the new country in an announcement on the Foreign Ministry’s Web site.
Turp predicted Canada would eventually recognize Kosovo but that Ottawa would say that this set no precedent for Quebec.
This could leave the government open to accusations of holding a double standard, since Ottawa would never accept a similar declaration by the government of Quebec.
In the wake of the 1995 referendum, Dion was a leading member of Canada’s Liberal government, which pushed through the so-called Clarity Act to make Quebec secession harder.
The law, which the PQ has promised to ignore, says Ottawa would reject moves by Quebec to secede unless a large majority of the population voted in favor of a clearly worded motion seeking to break away.
If Quebec did declare independence, much would depend on the reaction of the United States. Canada is the largest exporter of energy products to its superpower neighbor.
“It’s not certain that our American friends would be eager to divide up a country as nice as Canada, which has oil reserves bigger than those of Saudi Arabia,” wrote Marco Fortier in the Journal de Montreal on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by High Bronstein in Bogota; Editing by Rob Wilson