Will Negotiation Slot for Kosovo be used?

When UN made new Kosovo related decision on September 2010 it was believed that resolution would enable a dialogue for resolving this frozen conflict. With minimal preconditions new direct talks between Belgrad and Pristina and a possible deal between local stakeholders could open the way for sustainable solution. However resent events have have resulted in stalemate: President of separatist Kosovo government resigned and dissolution of the government itself have put the focus in Kosovo on next elections which will be held in December 2010. Meanwhile also Serbia starts soon preparations for its next next elections, due by spring 2012.

Thus there is a narrow negotiation slot between the time when a new Kosovo government takes office and to end successfully before the Serbian election campaign makes any compromise impossible. The core question is if there is political will to start talks with the aim of reaching as comprehensive a compromise settlement as possible.

Serbs and Albanians have been in negotiations and talks half a dozen times over the past two decades – from the tentative efforts of the 1990s to the doomed talks in Rambouillet, France, in 1999 and the later “status” talks between 2005 (Ahtisaari’s pseudo-talks) and 2007 (“Troika” led talks). None of these has led to tangible results and left outsiders imposing an outcome, be it NATO intervention or proposing the Ahtisaari plan.

The original or better to say official aim of international community was to build “standards before status”, on 2005 the task was seen impossible so the slogan changed to “standards and status”. Even this was unrealistic so Feb. 2008 “European”standards were thrown away to garbage and “status without standards” precipitately accepted by western powers. For international community I don’t see any success story with this backward progress. Thus the multi-ethnic idea is far away despite EU’s billions. The remaining Serbs in Kosovo are barricaded into enclaves keeping their lives mainly with help of international KFOR troops or in de facto separated Serb majority region in North Kosovo. This has changed former multi-ethnic province more mono-ethnic one.


New elements in new talks

The new situation has forced also International Crisis Group (ICG) to admit the defeat of its Kosovo policy recommendations during last decade. ICG has acted as informal extension of U.S. State Department however pretending to be neutral mediator and think tank. During earlier “status” negotiations 2005 it endorsed preconditions before talks and afterwards supported sc Ahtisaari plan. Now in their new analysis ”Kosovo and Serbia after the ICJ Opinion” ICG sees Kosovo’s partition with land swap one of possible solutions during coming talks between Belgrad and Pristina. ICG notes that Pristina will not accept partition but gives some hints it might consider trading the heavily Serb North for the largely Albanian-populated parts of the Preševo Valley in southern Serbia. The (dead) Ahtisaari plan and expanded autonomy for North Kosovo are the other two conceivable solutions according ICG.

The fact on the ground is that northern part of Kosovo is integrated to Serbia like it always has been, as well those parts south of Ibar river, which are not ethnically cleansed by Kosovo Albanians. Serbia still runs municipalities, courts, police, customs and public services, and the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) has been unable to deploy more than a token presence there.

Besides the status, autonomy degree of Northern Kosovo (or its also formal integration with Serbia) the third key question during planned talks is the security of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s most venerable monasteries and churches. The Church, fearful of a repeat of the March 2004 mob violence that left many religious sites in smoking ruins, wants more than extensive protection promised in the Ahtisaari plan; extra-territoriality, treaty guarantees and protection by an international force after NATO-led peacekeepers (KFOR) leave could be solution.

However question of returns seems not be in priority list any more. During Nato bombings some 200.000 Serbs and some thousands of Roma were expelled from there to northern Serb-dominated part of province or to Serbia and due the security problems or economical reasons they have not returned or are not even planing to come back to their (destroyed) homes.


Kosovo or EU

European Union must be united in its demands that Serbia must first recognize Kosovo as an independent country if it is to be granted membership, suggest Martti Ahtisaari, Wolfgang Ischinger and Albert Rohan. “Only a united position of the European Union, combined with the statement that Serbia’s membership in the European Union is impossible until this problem is solved in its entirety, could result in a change of positions, both among ordinary Serbs and within their government,” write the three diplomats. The three also warn that the current calm in Kosovo is not sustainable until Serbia is forced to recognize Kosovo. “No one should be deceived by the current relative calmness in Kosovo. The last tragedies in the Balkans have shown that unresolved problems sooner or later turn into open conflicts,” write the diplomats. (Source Serbianna)

I have my – not so well-disposed – opinion about Mr. Ahtisaari and his negotiation skills related to Kosovo. Instead repairing his earlier mistakes EU in my opinion should start to distance itself from U.S. cowboy policy. Now many Europeans realize they were hoodwinked into recognizing Kosovo’s independence on the pretence it would resolve problems and bring peace – it didn’t happen; a new approach is needed.


Would Serbia be prepared to trade sovereignty over Kosovo for membership of the EU? Not according to a Gallup poll in which 70% opposed the suggestion that Serbia relinquish its claim over its southern province in return for joining the EU. About the same proportion felt that Kosovo ‘has to remain a part of Serbia’ and said that Serbia would never recognise Kosovo. At the same time, a relative majority of 43% seemed resigned to accept that Kosovo would be independent one day, regardless of what Serbia did to prevent it. In other poll a total of 74.5 percent Kosovo Albanians supported the idea of forming a single state which would be inhabited by ethnic Albanians, and 47.3 percent believe this ambition would be realized soon. Albanians today also live in north-western Greece , western Macedonia , southern Serbia and southern Montenegro.

From other side Kosovo cannot even begin the EU accession process because five EU member states do not recognise its independence.


What’s the local opinion

A Gallup survey revealed growing disillusion with the new status among those who had been so hopeful. When Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008 there was great optimism among the territory’s ethnic Albanians, if not among ethnic Serbs. Although three-quarters of Kosovo Albanians said they felt independence had been a good thing, this was considerably fewer than the 93% who had greeted the unilateral declaration of independence in 2008. Ethnic Serbs, meanwhile, became yet more convinced that independence had been a mistake: 80% said it was a ‘bad thing’ in 2009, compared to 74% a year earlier.

Despite being less positive in 2009 that Kosovo’s independence was a good thing, almost half (48%) of Kosovo Albanians said things in the country were going in a good direction. Hardly any Kosovo Serbs agreed that the country was going in a good direction (2% vs. 86% who disagreed).


Doubts also grew within both communities about the possibility of peaceful coexistence. In 2008, over seven out of ten Kosovo Albanians had said that they could live peacefully with ethnic Serbs. This fell to six out of ten in 2009. Kosovo Serbs, always sceptical on the question, became even more so: in 2008, 17% thought peaceful coexistence was possible, but by 2009 this had shrunk to 12%. (Source: Focus On Kosovo Independence)


In Kosovo, meanwhile, the International Civilian Representative and EU Special Representative has a thankless task: neither of the territory’s two largest ethnic groups is convinced of the benefits of an international presence. In the 2009 Gallup poll more ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians saw no need for an International Civilian Representative/EU Special Representative, rather than thought it necessary. A considerable number of ethnic Albanians nevertheless expressed support for the work being done by the EULEX mission for maintaining stability and security in the disputed territory. Kosovo Serbs, by contrast, were dismissive of its role.


The bottom line

The international community should facilitate as complete a settlement as is possible, leaving it up to the parties themselves to decide how far and in what direction they can go to achieve sustainable compromise. According ICG “The most controversial outcome that might emerge from negotiations would be a Northern Kosovo-Preševo Valley swap in the context of mutual recognition and settlement of all other major issues”. As I have propagated this outcome as pragmatic solution for years I have nothing against to this result, at least it with nearly all aspects is better than situation today and prospects for future. On the other hand stagnation with Kosovo case paralyses regional progress too.

A slight risk – according some international observers – may be that border changes could provoke mass migration by Kosovo Serbs now living south of the Ibar, as well as destabilizing separatism in neighboring Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. However from my viewpoint migration from enclaves is already ongoing, Macedonia has developed practice to copy with separatism and Bosnia is destabilising due internal reasons without outside help.

Officially (UNSC resolution1244) Kosovo is international protectorate administrated by UN Kosovo mission, practically it is today a pseudo-state with good change to become next “failed” or “captured” state. This time (hopefully and finally) real talks between local stakeholders with unpredicted but possible compromise can end this frozen conflict, but “negotiation slot” is time-wise narrow and should be started to use this winter. Failure to negotiate in the next months would probably freeze the conflict for several years, as the parties entered electoral cycles, during which the dispute would likely be used to mobilize nationalist opinion and deflect criticism of domestic corruption and government failures.


Some of my related articles:
Kosovo after ICJ ruling
Peacemaking – How about solving Conflicts too?My critics due Mr.Ahtisaari’s Nobelprize: Do you hear Mr. Nobel rolling in his grave? and his peace mediation methods: 500.000 bodies or sign! and outcome in Kosovo: Kosovo: Two years of Pseudo-state

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