Though various factors suggest a strong effort to remove north Kosovo as an element of contention between Serbia and the West, the possibility of continued stalemate remains and the danger of renewed conflict cannot be excluded.
By Gerard Gallucci
2012 may be the year that the north Kosovo issue is resolved, or maybe “resolved.” The possibility of continued stalemate remains and the danger of renewed conflict cannot be excluded. Various factors, however, suggest a strong effort to remove north Kosovo as an element of contention between Serbia and the Western powers. Discounting further efforts to impose a solution by force – which would most likely lead to partition – the likely outcome will be associating the four northern municipalities to the government in Pristina through some form of a special status elaborated from the Ahtisaari Plan. Full recognition of Kosovo by Serbia remains unlikely for now.
Serbian policy on Kosovo is being driven primarily by an almost desperate effort to gain EU candidacy. It is anchored, however, by a constitutional and political inability to simply give Kosovo away. This is unlikely to change no matter who wins the upcoming parliamentary – and later presidential – elections.
It seems likely at this point that either the Democratic Party (DS) of president Tadic or the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of Tomislav Nikolic will gain the largest vote. It seems probable as well that one of these parties will lead the next government. Perhaps both will form the government. Nikolic is saying he will not enter a coalition with the DS and is hinting at alliance with the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). One, however, can never believe anything a politician says during an election campaign – not in Serbia, not in America, not anywhere.
No matter which party forms the next government in Belgrade – the DS or SNS or both – it will remain under pressure to somehow gain EU membership. If the DS wins, it may well make the “historic leap” to settle the practical issues of Kosovo – including the north – early in the new term so that by next elections, the government will be able to show real returns on joining the EU. President Tadic is already hinting at a “new plan.” If the matter is entirely up to Tadic, implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan as is, without requiring Serbian recognition of Kosovo, would be sufficient for him to agree. That would include implementation of the various agreements reached and to be reached through the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue facilitated by the EU and probably, over time, diminishing support for Serbian institutions in Kosovo.
For the SNS, the political calculations might well be much the same. What better way to consolidate becoming the new majority party – and put the “radical” past behind it – than to be the one to lead Serbia into the EU? The formula could be pretty much the same as well – accept the practical arrangements reached through dialogue and some form of special status for the north. Nikolic might bargain for a package going a bit beyond Ahtisaari (and if he did enter coalition with DSS, perhaps continued support for Kosovo Serbs). Who knows, however, as Nixon went to China, maybe Nikolic would go to Pristina?
While it is possible that the EU powers will look for ways to support Tadic, it seems unlikely they would give Serbia candidacy in March to help him in the elections. Under the influence of Washington and Berlin, the EU will more likely continue to use candidacy as a stick rather than a carrot. Pristina will seek to keep the pressure on the northern Kosovo Serbs. The northerners seem ready to hold their poll on Pristina in February and may continue their barricades through the elections. How they react to implementation of the boundary regime agreed late last year and how KFOR and EULEX act on the ground will determine how difficult the coming spring will be in the north.
A pressure point may arise in connection with the local elections to be held with the parliamentary ones. There will be various views on whether the Serb local elections in Kosovo should happen as well and what would be the status of any governments elected. The Quint will almost certainly pressure Belgrade not to hold them as a part of its demand that Serbia withdraw its “parallel” institutions from the north. It may, however, be difficult for either DS or SNS to agree to the Quint demand in the middle of a campaign. How the Kosovo Albanians react to Serbian elections in Kosovo and what they push their internationals to do or allow could determine whether the risk of violence accompanies any voting.
The local elections, however, also raise an important political opportunity. Could a way be found to treat them in a way that allowed a transition to eventual elections held on a Kosovo-wide schedule in line with implementation of a plan such as outlined here last year? Could the UN play a role in legitimizing the elections and then later in helping synchronize them?
This year is likely to see the northern Kosovo Serbs under intense pressure to accept this or that “resolution” to their status. They have proven over the last months on the barricades that they do not intend to accept just anything. They may need now to seriously consider what they can accept and then seek to translate their power on the ground into active and positive participation in the process to determine their future. Meanwhile, it would be far wiser for the Quint to allow that process to proceed without further efforts to impose any one-sided “solutions” through force or intimidation. Who can think rationally when they are called every day to take to the streets to protect their families from bullies?
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.