In light of the ongoing Brussels dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, the time has also come for Kosovo Serbs to seize the opportunity to address the practical needs of their community within the framework in which they find themselves. There are four ideas – including working together as a community and participating at all levels in Kosovo institutions – that might serve as guiding principles for their next steps.
By Gerard M. Gallucci*
The EU will apparently be sponsoring an April conference in Kosovo to provide a forum for Kosovo Serbs to begin formulating a common agenda and strategy to serve their community in the current context. This is a good initiative and long overdue. (For the first five years after Pristina’s declaration of independence, the Quint – chiefly the US and Germans with NATO and EULEX – used and allowed Pristina to use force and threats to bully Serbs north and south of the Ibar into accepting control by the new Kosovo institutions they empowered.) But in light of the ongoing Brussels dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina – a product of the Quint’s recognition that north Kosovo could not be subdued by force and Belgrade’s existential need to settle on Kosovo in order to move into the EU – the time has also come for Kosovo Serbs to seize the opportunity to address the practical needs of their community within the framework in which they find themselves.
The essential decisions will be made by Kosovo Serbs themselves. But I offer here four ideas that might serve as guiding principles for considering their next steps:
- The vital usefulness of working together as a community. This would mean putting aside petty differences and arguments over the past to formulate joint approaches that all political actors combine to achieve with full support of all Serb communities within Kosovo. United in pursuit of a common agenda, Kosovo Serbs can be a potent player in central politics as well as more effectively governing their own municipalities. Working together would also prove a powerful lure to the internationals eager to provide support for peaceful change in the Balkans.
- Putting aside – if not necessarily abandoning – the larger political issue of status. This would mean focusing on putting the compromise arrangements presented by an Ahtisaari-Plus approach and the Brussels dialogue to the test. The status of Kosovo has been contentious for decades. Milosevic’ efforts to use repression of Kosovo Albanians for his political interests eventually doomed Yugoslavia and closed off any likelihood of autonomy-within-Serbia alternatives. That truth must be faced in its entirety. Serbia has accepted this truth – perhaps not fully admitted yet – and Kosovo Serbs must do the same if they are to preserve their life in Kosovo and Kosovo’s Serbian heritage.
- Seeking to achieve practical solutions to practical problems. The Ahtisaari package provides a robust framework for local control of local and cultural matters and preserving links between Serb municipalities in Kosovo and with Belgrade. As further elaborated through the Brussels dialogue, this could provide a full range of means to work to address practical issues and establish a sustainable environment for security and development. No one else will work to ensure this framework is fully honored if Kosovo Serbs don’t use it.
- Participation at all levels in Kosovo institutions. The Serbian connection to Kosovo can only be preserved through the full participation of Kosovo Serbs in central as well as local institutions. That means all eligible Kosovo Serbs voting in all Kosovo elections. Given the political divisions within the Kosovo Albanian community, Kosovo Serbs may well have a political weight greater than their numbers. Given what should be their natural inclination to support democracy, human rights and transparency, Serbs may also find willing allies among at least some Albanians. Full Serb participation in Kosovo politics would serve the interests of everyone and most especially themselves.
The truth seems to be that whatever the political status of Kosovo – and as the region moves further into Europe over the coming decade that may matter less – there exists the possibility of making it a truly multi-ethnic polis. For this to happen, Kosovo Serbs must work together to achieve practical solutions using all the political means available to them. And the internationals – bravo to the EU for finally getting it – must continue to assist.
*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 was Diplomat-in-Residence at Drake University for the 2013-14 school year and now works as an independent consultant.