22nd Jan 2018


Many options but independence for Kosovo

The Serbian province of Kosovo, largely populated by the Albanian majority, has failed to meet basic human rights and political standards set as prerequisites by the international community, but it should nevertheless enter - in the months to come - talks on its future status.

This basic conclusion of the long-awaited report by UN special envoy Kai Eide was approved by the UN secretary general Kofi Annan and fully supported by the EU and the US. But it fails to demystify the paradox.

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From a legal point of view, Kosovo is an integral part of the sovereign state of Serbia and Montenegro. However, after Milosevic' clampdown on the province - including taking away its autonomy - and NATO's partwise destruction of Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, Security Council Resolution 1244 declared it a territory administered by the United Nations.

Thus UNMIK (the UN Mission in Kosovo), together with NATO, the OSCE and the EU make up the authority ever since. However, talks and negotiations about the future status and "standards" of the territory shall begin this autumn; UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has recently appointed former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to lead this process.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana recently disseminated ideas of the European Union taking over law enforcement in Kosovo from the United Nations as part of a more active engagement in the Balkans.

Bluff from the start?

Only two and a half years ago, the international community had charged that talks on Kosovo's status could not start before a set of basic human rights standards was achieved.

Since then, however, as it became clearer that the Kosovo Albanian majority was unwilling to meet the criteria and the UN unable to enforce them. There has been a permanent watering down of prerequisites, until the proclaimed policy of "standards before status" was finally buried with Mr Eide's report.

Why has it failed? Is it because of fear of Kosovo Albanian threats of inciting violence if talks on status did not start soon, or was this policy a bluff from the start?

What kind of signal does it offer for the fairness of the upcoming talks? Will threats of ethnic violence in case "the only option for Kosovo Albanians - independence" - is not achieved again play a role? Or will the international community overcome its fear and offer both Pristina and Belgrade reasons to believe that the solution would be negotiated and long-lasting rather than imposed, one-sided and conflict-prone?

Recipe for future troubles

Advocates of Kosovo's independence such as the International Crisis Group, Wesley Clark, Richard Holbrooke and various US members of Congress argue "independence is the only solution."

The US has more urgent problems elsewhere. But full independence cannot be negotiated, it can only be imposed. "Independent Kosovo" implies that the Kosovo-Albanians achieve their maximalist goal while Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs and Roma would not even get their minimum - a recipe for future troubles.

It would be also counter-productive for Europe and the US: to side with the Kosovo-Albanians and isolate Serbia - a highly multi-ethnic, strategically important, constitutional state with a market of 10 million people - would be foolish. Keeping on punishing Serbia and Serbs collectively for former President of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic's brutality would be immoral.

An "independent Kosovo" would set a dangerous precedent for the region, not least in Bosnia and Macedonia, for international law and for European integration.

And if Kosovo becomes independent, why not Taiwan, Tibet, Chechnya, Tamil Eelam, Kashmir? The world has about 200 states and 5,000 ethnic groups. Who would like 4,800 new and ethnically pure states? The future is about human globalization and integration.

Independence would also violate UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 on Kosovo. Not even liberally interpreted does it endorse independence.

The results of Milosevic's authoritarian policies clearly prevented Kosovo from returning to its pre-1999 status. Belgrade recognises that today.

Europe's largest - but ignored - refugee problem

The international community on its side refuses to see that the UN, NATO, EU and OSCE in Kosovo have failed miserably in creating the multi-ethnic, tolerant and safe Kosovo that it thought the military intervention would facilitate.

There has been virtually no return of the 200,000 Serbs and tens of thousands of other non-Albanians who felt threatened by Albanian nationalists and terrorists in 1999-2000.

Proportionately this is the largest ethnic cleansing in ex-Yugoslavia. Half a million Serbs in today's Serbia, driven out of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, make up Europe's largest - but ignored - refugee problem. The economy of Kosovo remains in shambles 70% unemployment - and is mafia-integrated.

There is never only one solution to a complex problem. Between the old autonomy for Kosovo and full independence is a myriad of thinkable options combining internal and regional features.

They should all be on the negotiation table - for instance, a citizens' Kosovo where ethnic background is irrelevant, cantonisation, consociation, confederation, condominium, double autonomy for minorities there and in Southern Serbia, partition, trusteeship, independence with special features such as soft borders, no army and guarantees for never joining Albania.

Least creative of all is the "only-one-solution" that all main actors today propose - completely incompatible with every other "only-one solution."

Finally, no formal status will work if the people continue to hate and see no development opportunities.

If we ignore human needs for fear-reduction, deep reconciliation and economic recovery, independent Kosovo will become another failed state, perhaps consumed by civil war.

Kosovo is about the future of that province and of Serbia, but also about the region and the EU.

Indeed, Kosovo is about global politics. In this 11th hour, the UN, EU and the US should re-evaluate their post-1990 policies and recognise the need for much more intellectually open and politically pluralist approaches than those that have been promoted so far.

Otherwise, political rigidity, lack of principle and wishful thinking could once again prove to be the enemies of sustainable peace in this region.

Aleksandar Mitic was Belgrade correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) from 1999-2005. Jan Oberg is Director and co-founder of the Swedish Transnational Foundation, TFF, a think tank in peace research and conflict mitigation.

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