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Self-determination and national minorities: the difficulties of 'making' a referendum in Schleswig-Holstein and why to think twice in Kosovo
Tove H. Malloy
Flensburg: European Centre for Minority Issues
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The unofficial, non-binding referendum in Northern Kosovo and the ongoing debate in the international community about solutions for the Serbian minority bring the problem of self-determination for national minorities back to the fore. The right to vote on national allegiance and sovereign borders has never been a simple matter in European inter-state relations, let alone in international law. such a referendum is not respected unless it holds international backing, even if it is considered a domestic matter. And a referendum on sovereign international borders is usually the result of long and often drawn out geo-political processes, including tediously negotiated settlements after major bellicose conflicts. It is not something national minorities can unilaterally decide to undertake independently. This is at least one of the lessons that European history has taught us. Thus, the case of Northern Kosovo is not likely to be any different than past referenda on national allegiance and sovereign borders. Drawing on the experience of the 1920 referendum in the Danish-German border region, this Issue Brief will put the problem of self-determination for the Serbs in Northern Kosovo in an historical perspective as a basis for a contemporary analysis.

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