An ‘Ahtisaari Plus’ approach, offering a form of special autonomy for the north, could provide the basis for a compromise between Belgrade and Pristina; one that might also win sufficient support from the northern Kosovo Serbs to be viable.
By Gerard Gallucci
I have frequently referred, here and elsewhere, to a possible political solution for north Kosovo that I have called “Ahtisaari Plus.” By this I meant to refer to a form of special autonomy for the north that is less than that of the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but more than outlined in the original Ahtisaari Plan. It would be meant to preserve the status quo on the ground in the north – local self-government supported by Serbia and free of interference from Pristina – while also linking to the overall legal and political framework of Kosovo. Such an arrangement would offer an outcome in lieu of outright partition or simply allowing the current frozen conflict to continue.
I have in the past suggested how the Ahtisaari Plan could be “fixed” to make it more acceptable to the Kosovo Serbs in the north. These “fixes” essentially consisted of substituting internationals in those places in the Plan that would require the Serbs to accept a significant controlling influence of the central institutions in Pristina in sensitive areas, such as the courts and police, review of municipal decisions, and financial support from Serbia. Now, I would like to suggest what might be done with the plan to make it acceptable for the northern Serbs, yet also meeting the requirement to keep the north as part of Kosovo – i.e., Ahtisaari Plus. This will leave aside the question of the status of Kosovo and matters directly related to status such as customs, however they are or are not resolved. It also minimizes the role of internationals.
First, it bears repeating that the Ahtisaari Plan already provides a firm basis for minority and cultural rights and participation in government, decentralized local government and linkages between Serbian-majority municipalities and with Belgrade. It also provides special competences in secondary healthcare and higher education for North Mitrovica. The “Plus” approach would build on this by removing the central government’s ability to interfere with local self-rule and with linkages and financing from Belgrade. It would retain, however, the requirement for Serb majority municipalities to function nominally as Kosovo municipalities – including holding elections within the common Kosovo-wide framework – and for participation in the national assembly, as prescribed in Article Three of Annex I of the Plan (which provides for at least 20 seats reserved for “minorities” out of the 120 total).
Local autonomy would be rather complete. The north, at least, would have its own division of the Kosovo Police wearing the common uniform and interfacing with the Kosovo Police administrative system. The applicable law would be either UNMIK regulations or Serbian law. Local courts would be administered as part of the Serbian justice system. Conflicts of law or cases crossing the Ibar River would be resolved in a special Kosovo appeals court made up of an equal number of judges chosen by each side, under the chair of an international agreeable to both. Cadaster and identification documents would be as agreed in the ongoing dialogue.
As specific departures from the Ahtisaari Plan, Serbian-majority municipalities would be obliged to report the financing received from outside Kosovo to central authorities, but could receive the funding directly into bank accounts that may or may not be certified by the Kosovo Central Bank (this adjusts Article 11 of Annex Three of the Plan). Municipalities would regularly report their budgets and decisions to Pristina. But Pristina would not have any authority to review, set standards for, suspend or nullify decisions or actions of a purely local nature as defined by the Ahtisaari Plan. The municipalities would otherwise act as municipalities of Kosovo, including receiving the funding determined by the Plan. The workings of the municipalities would be subject to maintaining European standards and independent audit. Education would function administratively as part of the Serbian system.
As noted, municipal elections would be synchronized with those held Kosovo-wide (though run at the local level by the municipalities themselves). Individual Kosovo Serbs serving in the central government would forego any salary from Belgrade. There would be no other elections held in Kosovo, though there might be the ability for voting elsewhere, depending on a status agreement allowing dual citizenship. Kosovo Serb members of the national assembly might also take up seats in government. Indeed, they might well become much-sought-after coalition partners.
This is simply one outline of what an Ahtisaari Plus approach might look like. It leaves out not only the final status elements but also resolution of economic and property issues which would be key to a full settlement. But it might offer a basis for reaching a compromise between Belgrade and Pristina that might also win sufficient support from the northern Kosovo Serbs to be viable. The northern Serbs universally reject Kosovo independence and most would prefer partition and remaining in Serbia. They remain very distrustful of Pristina and the Albanians.
As I have noted previously, Pristina’s international sponsors hold the main cards. They may have to decide which outcome they prefer – northern autonomy within Kosovo or partition. The alternatives seem limited to continued frozen conflict or renewed violence. Simply pressing Serbia to surrender the north may not be sufficient policy.
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. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s advisory board. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.