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Kosovo: Opening Gambits? – Analysis

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A compromise going beyond the current form of the Ahtisaari Plan – one that allows the north to remain functionally as part of Serbia, while also part of Kosovo – offers a way forward that all sides must consider in order to avoid continued frozen conflict.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

A few weeks ago, two top officials of the US Department of State European Bureau visited Belgrade and Pristina.  I speculated at the time that it might be part of a US-led Quint effort to re-orient its approach to settling the issue of north Kosovo.  Perhaps the Quint had finally taken on board the fact that efforts to impose Pristina’s rule north of the Ibar through intimidation and use of force simply would not work.  So some compromise might be in the works, something going beyond the current form of the Ahtisaari Plan. The US would have to take the lead because only it could bring Pristina forward from it’s maximalist stance of getting everything on its own terms.  Now perhaps we are seeing – repeat, perhaps – opening gambits from both sides.

Kosovo
Kosovo

The new government in Belgrade has suggested it is ready for serious negotiations and wants first to reach an internal consensus on what Serbia’s bottom lines in Kosovo are.  It makes sense to clarify, openly, Serbia’s real achievable goals vis-a-vis Kosovo.  It’d be a good start.  President Nikolic and other members of his government have covered this “approach to an approach” by reaffirming that Serbia will never recognize Kosovo independence and with an offer by Nikolic to provide autonomy to Kosovo within Serbia.  The latter cannot be taken as anything but some protective smoke thrown over the possibility of reaching some more realistic accommodation with an independent Kosovo.  Pristina, of course, was quick to reject any such within-Serbia formula.

The more interesting development may have come from the Pristina side.  According to press there, Pristina will offer “new concessions” to the north to include increasing the number of Serb seats in the Kosovo Assembly, tax amnesty for citizens in the north and the Serb Orthodox Church, and adding another Serb representative to the Consultative Council for Communities.  The four northern municipalities would also be able to set up a special association with its own Assembly and would deal with management of the funds allocated to them from the Kosovo budget, Serbia and the international community.  Four senior officials would be appointed for police, culture, education and religious affairs, and for economic development and infrastructure to coordinate projects in the north.  The northern district court would reflect the population in the north and judges and prosecutors in the north would be appointed in accordance with UNSCR 1244.  Internationals would man customs at the northern Gates with funds collected in the north going for projects there.  These later elements would reflect the approach suggested by the UN Secretary General in 2008.

Pristina has been quick to call “ridiculous” the press reporting of this new package.  But it may be a trial balloon or something leaked by internationals trying to nail Pristina’s feet to the proposal.  The proposals themselves – if seriously put forth at some point – would be worth considering.  The special association for the northern municipalities and the district court reflective of the ethnic composition in the north are nothing new.  They are contained within the Ahtisaari Plan.  But it is nice to see them spelled out.  Making clear that the association would manage the county budget and police through its own four appointed officials suggests an important element of self-rule.  An agreement to deal with the northern boundary and customs in a status-neutral manner would be an important step.  The extra seats for Serbs in central institutions is an additional sweetener for northern Serb participation at that level.  Along with those south of the Ibar, that could make Kosovo Serbs a significant political force in Pristina.

The new “concessions” do not make clear what role exactly Pristina would have vis-a-vis the north.  How much control, for example, would it have on outside funds before they reach the north?  Could it overrule local decisions on local matters?  How about flags?  As the Albanian flag is allowed to be raised in Kosovo, would the Serbian? And would an international mission remain to help ensure implementation?  Many details would need to be fleshed out and agreed. But it would be a serious opening offer.

Some in Serbia and the north may cling to the stand that Kosovo remains part of Serbia and always will.  However strongly and righteously felt, this leads nowhere.  If Serbia waits for history to reverse itself, it will never move forward.  It must cut the anchor of Kosovo free.  A continued frozen conflict might serve the interests of some, but it is a drag on the great majority.  A compromise that allows the north to remain functionally as part of Serbia, while also part of Kosovo, offers a way forward, as would redrawing the border.  Both Serbia and the north Kosovo Serbs need to think seriously about their future and how best to serve their own national and local interests.  It’s about time to start doing so.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board.



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TransConflict

TransConflict

TransConflict was established in response to the challenges facing intra- and inter-ethnic relations in the Western Balkans. It is TransConflict’s assertion that the successful transformation of conflict requires a multi-dimensional approach that engages with and aims at transforming the very interests, relationships, discourses and structures that underpin and fuel outbreaks of low- and high-intensity violence.

6 thoughts on “Kosovo: Opening Gambits? – Analysis

  • Avatar
    August 8, 2012 at 6:32 pm
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    Gerard – you are preaching to the choir. Serbia has been open to compromise for years. It is the Albanians with their American paymasters who have refused meaningful negotiations. Minorities continue to live a miserable existence in Kosovo. An ancient Christian tradition is being eradicated at the behest of a criminal Albanian leadership, egged on by leftovers of the Burns state dept. it is high time the Americans showed some humility and admitted their attempt at stealing territory was a tragic mistake. Nevertheless , reality dictates that partition is the only viable alternative. The Americans can keep the albanians, it is what they deserve. Montenegro and Macedonia next is my guess. Sooner or later this Albanian expansionism needs to be stopped. Birth rate terrorism at its worst.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    August 9, 2012 at 5:57 am
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    I loved the article, but with respect, I have to completely disagree with the first comment by Paul.

    Paul,
    It is easy to comment about how much Serbia is willing to compromise, and how much Kosovo is refusing to engage in meaningful discussions from outside. But are you forgetting that over 10,000 confirmed deaths in the hands of the former leader – aka the Butcher of Balkans. Are you really going to look a people in the eye and – with a straight face – tell them they have to go back and live under another nation which so brutally killed, massacred and raped thousands of people. Let’s not forget that former spokesperson of that very regime that started wars in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia is now a Prime Minister. And you are going to ask the people to live under this government? It would be nothing less than telling the 13 colonies of the United States to give up their independence (in the early 1800) after the British murdered and pillaged. Let’s be realistic and stop pretending that the Serbian regime is holier than thou.

    You reference the Albanian leaders in the Kosovo government as some criminals. Maybe that is the case (although you are yet to present any facts to support your accusations) and maybe it is not. But if you think that Albanians in Kosovo are the ones who are the problem and Serbia is “innocent” party who is being wronged, just ask over 150,000 Bosnians who were killed in the war. Or close to 27,000 Croats who were murdered by the regime. Oh Wait, you can’t ask them. They are DEAD!

    Now we have the spokesperson of that very government who killed thousands of people, to negotiate?

    Respectfully, Paul, you need to know start understanding the subject matter before you start commenting.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      August 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm
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      I think Paul understands the situation as good as you do. When your looking at a complicated situation such as the Balkan wars, and considering the out-right lying of the media and inconsistent reporting of “what the Serbs did”. Really, the only conclusion is that perhaps the truth(s) lye somewhere in the middle or as we are currently discovering the real truth(s) will eventually surface. Ask yourself how many Serbs died as a result of the wars, do you even know? By not mentioning that, you immediately strip the humanity of those people (soldiers or civilians), and when one is not human, they are inhuman, nothing..and can be villified and in turn the information can be spoon fed to the sheep of the world. How many Serb’s were cleansed and killed from Kosovo?? The largest ethic cleansing was committed in Croatia against the Serbs while NATO and the world watched. The Croatian reply was “they want to leave so we let them.” Their is nothing funny about that, yet the world did nothing. So please take your own advice and understand the subject matter prior to commenting.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    August 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm
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    Interesting analysis. Truth be told, it’s one of the most balanced proposals that I’ve read to date. Too bad you weren’t appointed to the table instead of Tom Countryman. We might have had a resolution to the Stalemate. What’s your opinion on the possibility of a Hong-Kong model for Kosovo autonomy Jerry?

    Reply
  • Avatar
    August 10, 2012 at 1:05 am
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    Paul and Betty, there is no need for any opinions. The Republic of Kosova is a internationally recognized democratic state. Paul, instead of worrying about Prime Miinister Thaci….Serbia is Represented by Little Slobo – Ivica Dacic. Mr. Gallucci is an irrelevant wanna-be diplomat.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    August 10, 2012 at 5:42 am
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    Once again in his wording Mr. Gallucci stirs the discontent as wildly as the Muppet’s Swedish Chief might tackle a stew, hoping to give credence to his ever biased opinion in favor of Kosovo Serbians.
    HE goes so far as to accuse his own country (whom recognizes Kosova as independent) of using intimidation and force.
    It is true KFOR has forcibly removed roadblocks from time to time, but this is in their charter to guarantee freedom of movement.
    If the Kosova Albanians put up roadblocks for months on end the result would be the same.
    Serbia “lost” Kosova long before the Kosova wars began by ignoring it all but completely after the death of Marshall Tito, and caused much of this political crisis by gerrymandering the bounders of Kosova to include land north of the Iber in order to increase the numbers of Serbs in the province. War atrocities (yes, both KOS and KOA did horrible things to one another) did not help.
    One thing Mr. Gallucci is 100% right about is a frozen conflict is in no one’s long term interests. Kosova acts as an albatross around the neck of the Serbian government (and vice versa). Kosova’s independence is defacto, and short of WWIII, what will not change.

    Reply

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