Kosovo: What Will Belgrade Do Now? – OpEd
The Quint continues to push Serbia for further concessions on Kosovo – including the abolition of Serbian institutions in the north and an end to repeated efforts to block EULEX access – that could lead to renewed conflict and violence in the north.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
It is clear that the Quint is not done pushing Serbia for further concessions on Kosovo. Chief among these will be helping deliver the north to Kosovo institutions. Rather than work patiently to win over the northerners, however, the EU will use its leverage of a date for beginning talks on accession to press Belgrade to finish the job first, as soon as the elections are done if not sooner. President Tadic may have a plan.
The outlines of what the Quint wants from Belgrade are clear: abolish local Serbian institutions in the north, end the repeated efforts to block EULEX access, implement the agreement on integrated management of the boundary crossings and make the northerners use them, and clear the way for the establishing a Kosovo court in north Mitrovica. All this falls under the rubric of establishing “rule of law” north of the Ibar. These steps would clear the way for first EULEX to replace UNMIK in the north and then Pristina to begin replacing EULEX, ostensibly according to some form of the Ahtisaari Plan.
It seems clear why the Kosovo Albanians are pressing for this outcome. They see a chance to gain a foothold and expand into the north. But it is for this very reason that the northern Kosovo Serbs are likely to resist the Quint agenda.
So what does Belgrade do? Tadic’ pattern has been to do as much as he can and give quiet winks to Quint actions to test the northerners, including efforts to force them to accept Kosovo customs since last July. The Quint, however, wants it all now.
From various sources, it’s possible to sketch what may be the plans for the next months. There are decisions that may have already been made or have yet to be made because of internal differences. Here follows, however, a possible scenario of what Tadic may do – if he can – on the key issues of “parallel institutions” and the boundary crossings.
On the boundary crossings: Belgrade and Pristina will presumably now prepare to implement their joint presence with EULEX at the two northern Gates. Belgrade used its police to clear barricades from the Serbian side and pushed the northerners to allow EULEX access in the north as long as they don’t transport Kosovo officials. KFOR has supported EULEX efforts and is now – with US forces using hummers and helicopters – patrolling the alternative roads perhaps to be ready to close them. EULEX is flying Kosovo Albanian officials to the Gates every day in their helicopters from a base in south Mitrovica. (So far they are staying out of sight.) EULEX is claiming that the Gates are open and they are being used. (Kosovo Serb blockades exist on the main roads however and reportedly some vehicles using the official crossings have been stoned.) With Belgrade’s agreement, commercial cargo is apparently being diverted to crossings in the south (that is, what doesn’t go over the alternate roads). The next step would be for Serbian officers to join with Kosovo customs personnel to begin “controlling” the official crossings while KFOR closes the alternate routes. Belgrade would, of course, be bound by the agreement facilitated by the EU to accept any EULEX/KFOR actions to remove blockages by the local Serbs.
A question perhaps not yet settled is whether customs fees would be collected in the north and where those funds would go. But that could be a moot issue with the commercial traffic remaining diverted to the southern crossings where Kosovo customs operates unopposed.
On local Serb institutions: Belgrade may cancel local elections in Kosovo, including the north. At the moment, officials seem divided on the matter with some assuring the northerners there will be elections while chief negotiator Borislav Stefanovic suggests the decision will take into account the Serbian Constitutions, UNSCR 1244, the situation in Kosovo and a “strong group” of countries opposing. It will not be, he reportedly added, an “easy decision.” In the end, under Quint pressure, Belgrade is apparently thinking about canceling the elections and appointing interim leadership for all or some of the four municipalities leaving open the option for EULEX (or UNMIK) to hold special elections sometime after. It would use the justification that local elections in Kosovo are not legal under 1244, though this has not stopped them before. To ensure that the local administration does not remain or fall back into the hands of those so far resisting, Belgrade might also try to arrest leaders or possibly allow EULEX to try.
In connection with such moves – and to weaken northern resistance – Belgrade might also reduce or cut funding to the local institutions, if not for education and health (allowed under Ahitsaari) at least for the current municipal structures. It would also withdraw its mufti police. Stefanovic may have been hinting at this by noting that survival of Serbian institutions in Kosovo “primarily depends on funding” which is a matter of law but “also depends on the degree to which Serbia can defend itself from unilateral attempts by Pristina to completely remove the institutions.” That could seem an artful effort to suggest, without actually saying, that Serbia will refuse to give away north Kosovo unless asked.
How the northerners would react to any of these moves? From past and recent examples, it would seem likely that they will resist. Belgrade and the Quint still may not be convinced. They may have been surprised by the resistance to the effort launched by Pristina last year to seize the crossings. But they have been seeking to buy support in the north – the ICO’s “municipal preparation teams” and USAID have been giving out TVs, stoves and food to all northern Serbs showing Kosovo IDs. Apparently many have taken them (explaining perhaps the recent shots fired at the USAID office). But taking offerings from the internationals does not mean willingness to accept rule from Pristina.
Tensions are already high in the north with everyone armed or arming. Belgrade may be willing to trade away the north for EU membership. With Quint encouragement, Tadic could take, and agree to, moves that push the north into renewed conflict and violence. This could be inevitable given Quint refusal to accept a slower pace of change. The real question may be if they push Tadic to take these actions now, before his government might lose power, or wait until after he might be re-elected and could have another four years before facing his electorate. Fool’s gold.
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.