Kosovo 2007 – A No-Win Situation?

Posted in Europe | 23-May-07 | Author: Dieter Farwick

"The Kosovo-Albanian potential for unrest was demonstrated in the murderous attacks in March 2004"
"The Kosovo-Albanian potential for unrest was demonstrated in the murderous attacks in March 2004"
Having visited the German troops in Kosovo back in the year 2000, I left Kosovo with the perception that a multi-ethnic solution of a future Kosovo was totally unrealistic.

Having seen the living conditions of the Serbian minority, the on-going “ethnic cleansing” – Serbs fleeing to the North – and the dimension of mutual systematic destruction of the infrastructure and having heard about the mutual torture and killings, I was unable to imagine that the dream of a democratic and multi-ethnic community would come true within the next decades.

I do not want to address the history, ethnic-religious and geopolitical aspects we covered in previous newsletters (Kosovo - The Key Security Issue in the Balkans, If Kosovo Fails, the West Fails). Instead, I would like to focus on the issue of the future status of Kosovo.

Standards before status

This was the official philosophy of the UN, NATO and the EU based upon UN Resolution 1244. It was the disbelief that both issues could be improved sequentially: First the standards and then the status. It proved to be the wrong approach because both issues are the two sides of the same medal “Kosovo” which was a kind of UN protectorate after the war ended in June 1999 with the agreement signed on June 9 in Kumanovo, Macedonia..

It would be wrong to say that the various activities of the UN, NATO and EU – including the Balkan Contact Group(Germany, France, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US) – were without any success. But the fragility of the situation was proven by the massive Albanian attacks against the Serb minority in March 2004.

In October 2005, the UN Secretary General appointed the former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari as a special UN envoy to start negotiations with Belgrade and Pristina about the future status of Kosovo. Marti Ahtisaari’s attempt to reach an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo through negotiations failed after 13 months. In May 2007, Marti Ahtisaari handed his proposal about the future status of Kosovo over to the UN Secretary General. In essence, the Secretary General advocates an independent Kosovo under international control – militarily and politically.

The ball is now in the corner of the UN Security Council.

Kosovo – key for stability and security in The Balkans

Full independence or more autonomy within Serbia? There is no ideal way. For the Kosovo-Albanians – which represent about 90% of Kosovo’s population – there is only one solution: Full independence.

All decisions below this benchmark would be rejected and fought against – at least for the time being. Even independence under international control would not be accepted. The Kosovo-Albanian potential for unrest was demonstrated in the murderous attacks in March 2004.

"For Serbia Kosovo is the cradle - a very emotional and historic relation"
"For Serbia Kosovo is the cradle - a very emotional and historic relation"
Whether the small independent Kosovo with a population of 2 million people will be a viable and reliable country remains an open question.

I remember a conference I attended last year in Bosnia-Hercegovina in which a Serbian professor wished the EU good luck with the “crime state” Kosovo. It is no secret that Kosovo is a strategic turntable for drug, weapons and human trafficking. Some observers use the title “European Medellin” to characterize Kosovo.

The treatment of the decreasing and ageing Serbian minority – below 10% of the total population - does not meet European standards.

The attractiveness of Kosovo lies in its geopolitical significance.

It comes as no surprise that Ahtisaari’s proposal came under fire from many players involved. The first address is Belgrade. For Serbia, Kosovo is the cradle – a very emotional and historic relationship.

It seems to be impossible for any Serbian politician to put his signature under a treaty that would give Kosovo full independence – at least at the beginning of the future negotiations.

Former Yugoslavia dominated by the Serbians lost all former parts – with Montenegro’s independence as the latest shock for Serbians. Serbians are anxious that an independent Kosovo is not the last step. The Moslem minorities in the south and the Hungarian minority in the north might follow the Kosovo-Albanians in fighting for a better status of autonomy or even independence. Another threat perceived by the Serbians is a “Greater Albania” - integrating Kosovo and the western part of Macedonia.

The newly formed Serbian government with pro-European parties and politicians might become a serious partner for further negotiations. Serbia is backed by an old and strong ally: The UN veto power Russia. There are clear signals from Russia that it would use its veto in order to block a decision in favor of full independence of Kosovo.

To win time, Moscow forced the UN Security Council to send a fact-finding group to Belgrade and to Pristina to check Marti Ahtisaari’s information. The result seems to be close to zero.

For Russia, Serbia is an important geopolitical partner in the Balkans regarding the energy supply lines to the Mediterranean Sea. Another problem for Russia is Chechnya. An independent Kosovo might revitalize the movement for independence there. On the other hand: Independence for Kosovo would play into the hands of Russia as far as Georgia and Moldavia are concerned. There, Russia would like to support Russia - friendly minorities to gain independence from Georgia and Moldova.

Another factor: Russia is afraid to lose the stronghold Serbia to the West. A Serbia without Kosovo is even more dependent from Western economic, technological and financial support.

Russia should refrain from the temptation to use the Kosovo issue as another conflict with the West.

"Heaving heard about the mutual torture and killings; I was unable to imagine that the dream of a democratic and…
"Heaving heard about the mutual torture and killings; I was unable to imagine that the dream of a democratic and multi-ethnic community would come true within the next decades"
Another stake holder is the United States. For geopolitical and geo-strategic reasons, the US sees more advantages than disadvantages in an independent Kosovo. The Balkans play an important role in the field of energy security – and Kosovo is part of it. There are some supply lines for oil and gas planned in the Balkans as transit from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

The UN wants to prove its ability for crisis management. A solution accepted by all members of the Security Council – including Russia – would be a great success for the UN.

NATO and the EU want to increase security and stability in the fragile region of the Balkans.

They support Ahtisaari’s proposal. NATO and non-NATO members would be more than happy to reduce the present strength of 16,000 soldiers from 35 countries.

Whether NATO and the EU are able to digest new members from the Balkans is an open issue, too. The latest enlargement of the EU by 10 countries has already pushed the EU to its limits – or even beyond. The “old” members are quite reluctant to welcome new members. At the very least, NATO and the EU want to keep the perspective alive for the Balkan countries.

With membership or temporary association, NATO and the EU offer those countries an incentive to come to a solution.

Macedonia is following the development in Kosovo with great concern. The Albanian minority living in the western part of Macedonia might be inspired to question the status quo again. They might ask for a status of enhanced autonomy within Macedonia or even a separation from Macedonia – with a federation with Albania as the final aim and objective.

Greece has its own interests, too. They are anxious of a stronger Moslem position in their northern neighborhood by an independent Kosovo and - even worse – a Greater Albania. That’s exactly what Turkey sees from a different angle. Old ties with the Moslems in the Balkans would strengthen Turkey’s position in the region of Southeastern Europe. It’s another “great game” for power and influence in the Balkans – with a small country in the middle of controversial interests.

Is there a chance for a compromise?

Is partition of Kosovo the best way?

The next weeks and months are crucial for reaching a UN resolution on Kosovo. If there is no resolution it might happen that countries like the US treat Kosovo officially as an independent state. A separation of Kosovo without agreement with Serbia would be a violation of the territorial integrity of Serbia.

There is no quick and easy solution in sight. Time is running out. The longer there is no decision, the more impatient the Kosovo-Albanians will become. There is the risk of unilateral moves from this ethnic majority in Kosovo.

"It is no secret that Kosovo is a strategic turn table for drug, weapons and human trafficking."
"It is no secret that Kosovo is a strategic turn table for drug, weapons and human trafficking."
It is obvious that Belgrade and Moscow reject the present Mari Ahtisaari proposal. I doubt that Russia can be convinced not to veto this proposal if the UNSC asks for a vote. To avoid this veto it is more likely that a modified proposal will emerge. There, Russia could play an important role as honest broker in Serbia’s view.

  • This modification should include the partition of Kosovo. The partition could run through Mitrovica and along the river Ibar – separating the Serbs in the north from the Kosovo-Albanians in the south. That partition is already de facto in existence in the daily lives of people in the region today.

  • The northern part of Kosovo with its vast Serbian majority would get the status of an autonomous region. This would not mean the end of shifts in the region. It might well happen that in the mid-term perspective this province will be integrated into the “Republic Serbska.” More complicated is the situation with the Serbian holy sites and Serbian enclaves in Kosovo – like the cloister in Peja (Serbian: “Pec”).

  • As these sites and the enclaves cannot be removed, there is the need to find a solution to protect these areas. This is where the NATO-led forces(Kfor) come into the game. I can envision that Kfor will get the mandate for some years to come to protect those sites and enclaves – perhaps with some regrouping and concentrating of small Serbian enclaves in a greater Serbian entity. This should be combined with the right of the Serbians to visit there holy sites. This solution has its weaknesses but it seems to be better than another “ethnic cleansing.”

This combination of partition and minority protection might become a face-saving action for Serbia and Russia. This solution would mitigate the present tensions and would improve stability and security.

  • In addition, the EU should offer some incentives to Serbia – perhaps in a kind of association. The UN and EU and individual countries should officially refrain from supporting ethnic minorities to separate from Serbia.

  • The Kosovo-Albanians have to be convinced that a smaller but more independent Kosovo is better than the present situation with on-going conflicts. They know that more foreign direct investments depend on a stabilized Kosovo.

  • This package of an internationally controlled independent Kosovo with a partition in the north and protection of holy sites and Serbian enclaves by Kfor as well as political, economic and financial incentives for all parties involved would give security and stability in the fragile region of the Balkans a fair chance to prevail.