Kosovo – Serbia: Two Concessions, One Winner – Analysis


The recent deal between Belgrade and Pristina consolidates Kosova*’s position as something less than a sovereign state – a decision that will be very difficult for the Kosovars to change.

By David B. Kanin

Over the past week, Kosova* and Serbia both have given a bit to meet the desires of their American and European overseers.  One protagonist has made a tactical retreat that strengthens its overall position relative both to the parties’ specific bilateral dispute and its overall goals of joining “Europe.”  The other side has lost something tangible in return for a status that, at best, undermines its interests in what is settling in as a frozen conflict.

Kosovo - Serbia Relations
Kosovo - Serbia Relations

Kosova* is the disadvantaged party.  In return for the honor of sitting at various European regional tables, it has agreed to have its representatives sit behind a sign that will include an asterisk marking the continuing efficacy of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.  This underscores Serbia’s consistent insistence that 1224 remains the practical as well as legal basis for the international status of what was a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia, and Serbia again from 1913 through 1999.

The asterisk also reminds the reader of the International Court of Justice decision that the unilateral declaration of independence was not, in itself, illegal.  This sop to Pristina will have virtually no impact on Kosova*’s political status.  Of more importance is the EU’s decision to begin a feasibility study regarding Kosova*’s membership.

  • The net effect of the deal is to ensure that the asterisked Kosova* will have less clout than did the autonomous province of Kosovo in the former Yugoslav federation under the 1974 constitution.  That asterisk will not just melt away – as someone suggested – “like a snowflake in spring.”

Some Serbian nationalists are angry that Kosova* gets any seat at all; they fail to recognize that the deal consolidates Kosova*’s position as something less than a sovereign state – a decision that will be very difficult for the Kosovars to change.  This does not mean Kosova’s* institutions are any more “temporary” than Serb municipal bodies north of the Ibar River, where “Kosovo” still exists.  Both sets of political structures are guaranteed to last only until the next major change in the region – which, eventually, will come.

Pristina’s error is even more revealing if – as most commentary suggests – it resulted from direct American pressure on Kosova* to cave in.  In that case, this event marks the latest US effort to make up for its failure to replace 1224 at the UN Security Council in 2006.  Washington’s less than fully thought-through diplomacy lead instead to a unilateral declaration of independence making Kosova* something much less than a fully sovereign international actor.  Serbia’s success in putting an asterisk connoting the numbers “1244” in front of future Kosovar delegations to European meetings means the terms under which Kosova* participates in “Europe” explicitly recognizes the language in a resolution that preserves a measure of Serbian sovereignty over its former province.  This advertisement of such sovereignty – dormant as it may be – marks tacit American acceptance of the defeat of its diplomacy of the past six years.  The asterisk means America has relegated its client in Kosova*to something like the status currently enjoyed by Taiwan.

One way to redress this setback would be for the US and those EU members who have recognized Kosova* to convince the five EU states that do not to do so.  This might not be easy – some press reports emanating from the February 28th EU Commission meeting suggest at least some states not recognizing Kosova* initially opposed the Stabilization and Association Agreement feasibility study for Kosova*.

The future talks at which the Kosovars will display their new sign will discuss trade, electricity, the rights of minorities, issues related to Serbian holy sites, and all sorts of other practical problems.  With work, the sides sometimes will strike agreements enabling tangible improvements in the lives of people living in Kosova*, Kosovo and Serbia.  However, Kosova*’s concession means that 1244 will remain the political context of all discussion and, therefore, that Kosova* will continue for the foreseeable future to have a tarnished status in any talks.

Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, almost certainly realizes how empty is his insistence that the deal means Serbia has recognized Kosova*’s independence.  The fact someone as savvy as the Kosovar leader is party to this arrangement reinforces the impression that it was born in Washington.  In this case, the usual Western default priority of getting everyone to a table – no matter the limits of what can happen there – mainly enables a negotiating process under which the parties will define the practical conditions  under which the conflict will freeze.

Serbia did make a concession of its own, but one that does not detract from its diplomatic victory over Kosova*.  Belgrade has agreed not to run local elections in Kosovo at the same time as these take place in Serbia itself.  Again, Serbian nationalists are making noises about betrayal, but this concession does the Serbian national cause little damage.

In the short run, this decision – along with the agreement on Kosova*’s subsidiary status at European meetings – appears likely to gain Belgrade the EU candidate status its current government has craved (once Belgrade satisfies Romania’s demands regarding Serbia’s treatment of its Vlach minority).  Messrs. Tadic and Jeremic will go into this spring’s election cycle able to claim they have accomplished all that was possible regarding the EU and Kosovo.   They have outflanked Cedomir Jovanovic, and left Vojislav Kostunica with the problem of attacking success.  (Tadic’s DS and Tomislav Nikolic’s not-quite Radicals will decide after the election whether or not to form a grand coalition).

The Tadic government scored a point by reminding the local bully boys north of the Ibar that it has some leverage over their status in the Serbian universe.  It was necessary to restore a sense of Belgrade’s efficacy after the mayors and “businessmen” who run things there caused Belgrade to lose control of the recent dispute over the presence of Kosovar customs officials and EULEX at the famous border gates (EULEX still does not have freedom of movement there; Serbia’s award of EU candidate status with that issue still unresolved means EULEX has joined Kosova as a loser in the recent diplomatic action).

Withholding local elections from Kosovo also will be a constructive answer to the recent, pointless referendum local notables held in their fiefdom to reinforce their well-known rejection of Kosova*’s institutions.  By relegating its state to asterisk status, Pristina has done more than any resolution held north of the Ibar could do to undermine Kosova*’s writ.

Of course, Serbia’s victory in the current round does not guarantee it will win the war over Kosova*/o.  The EU and each of its full members will retain the power to insist Serbia and Kosova* reach a permanent – mutually acceptable – agreement over their relationship before either can join the Union.  The overwhelming dominance of the ethnic Albanian population in Kosova* also militates against any eventual return of the place to a condition of subservience to Serbia.  Perhaps some future Serbian government will choose to disgorge its lost province and become the kind of regional partner its neighbors very much need.  Perhaps not – handicapping Kosova* with an asterisk means this will be Belgrade’s choice.

There is potential danger in the longer term Kosovar reaction to this setback, assuming no early movement toward EU membership.  Eventual impatience with their officially subaltern status will present future Kosovar leaders with the problem of how to deal with a prolonged political stalemate; Kosova* could face many years in which it is unable either to get into Europe or shake off what will be an increasingly burdensome asterisk.  This problem could become complicated if inter-communal problems in Macedonia fuel ethnic Albanians’ resentments in both entities.  The time could come when a critical mass of activists on both side of the newly-surveyed border believe they have little to lose by agitating forcefully to change what some already realize has just become a more disadvantageous status quo.

David B. Kanin is an adjunct professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University and a former senior intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).


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.

20 thoughts on “Kosovo – Serbia: Two Concessions, One Winner – Analysis

  • February 29, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Serbia continuing to be stubborn is not a victory for Serbia. Merely a prolongation of agony and ultimately bill bring a greater trauma in the end. Kosovo will be a member with voting rights in organizations that have member states. Republika Srpska for example is not part of these organizations. Tadic will be on photo op with Jahjaga, and new PM (Dacic?) with PM Thaci as heads of states. Serbia lost the parallel institutions, north Kosovo and any hope that it can prevent Kosovo in multilaterals. Your analysis is utterly wrong. Serbia was hoping for a status and a date few years ago, and barely got the status, having to relinquish right to publish license plates, to judge in cadastral matters and to disable Kosovo’s participation as an equal in multilaterals.

  • February 29, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Fascinating analysis. But really no winners here under any scenario. However, the author simply labels the Kosovo Serbs as “nationalists” which appears to almost offhandedly dismiss their real concerns about safety and on going persecution at the hands of the Albanian majority in Kosovo.

    Sadly, the so-called “Serb nationalist’s” concerns are very real and quite serious.

    With respect to the concern of Albanian groups in both Kosovo and Macedonia determining they have “nothing to lose” and starting an armed struggle again, the author states that as a fact. By why not roundly condemn that now? Why not label those Albanians “extremists” and “nationalists” and send a clear message that the West will not tolerate armed conflict in the Balkans again?

    • March 1, 2012 at 10:36 am

      I can’t agree with your comment. Albanians are not aggressors in waiting. Serbian population in south of River Ibar have been integrated into Kosovo institutions and they are secure and don’t feel threatened. This is not an issue anymore, it was before 7 years but not now.

      The point in the North is that Serbia financed illegal structures. When Tadic came to power he halted most of financing to these structures and peoples. Afterwards, to survive they turned to smuggling and criminal activities, of course in cooperation with Albanians.

    • March 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm

      I don’t see where the author labels Kosovo’s serbs as “Serb nationalists”. If you follow the stories, Serb nationalists IN SERBIA are revolting against their government’s concessions, not the Kosovar Serbs.

  • February 29, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    All fingers point to US Ambassador Dell and thug Hashim Thaci who is probably the only beneficiary of this dialogue agreement. Kosovo is caught in a bad trap it can not make decisions for its self and the west is using them as a puppet to discover their own benefits in politics
    such a shame that the Kosovars allow this dog Hashim Thaci run their country. When instead everyone should rally to Thaci’s office and by get him out like Qaddafi. Nobody in that country will ever benefit unless you are related to Hashim Thaci. Make an initiative and start the process. He is going to strip Kosovo out of everything if he stays.

    Shame for the Kosovo people to let this go on.


  • February 29, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    What you are describing Mr Kanin its a cropped picture (a small part of the big picture)…to Americans its a win win situation. They get to keep Tadic in Power, and get to bring Kosovo closer to EU and whatnot negotiations/treatis.

    I think there are no Losers here, Kosovo gets to participate (star or no star) Serbia gets to keep Tadc in Power.
    I believe for one if anything USA government is full off and thats Lawyers. Here in Balkans Policy’s have been set long time ago, drawings, and documents its in the lawyers hands.
    Your article in my opinion is not accurate analysis.

  • February 29, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    @Michael Thompson

    These ‘socalled’ Nationalist are by their own admission responsible for bringing Milosevic to power. And we all know what happened next.
    Just watch the 5 part BBC documentary made years ago about the break up of yugoslavia, and carefully follow the invents in Kosovo and Kosovo Serbs.
    I think your comment shows some prejudice against Albanians.

  • February 29, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    The only thing I agree with is the statement: “Both sets of political structures are guaranteed to last only until the next major change in the region – which, eventually, will come.”

    This is only an interim solution and we will see the region continually evolve (or perhaps devolve).

    This agreement isn’t a stray away from established US Policy (which is flawed in this region) since not much has changed for Serbia and Kosovo has inched forward a bit.

    In addition, drawing parallels to China & Taiwan overstates the relevance of the region. The US & EU are mostly concerned with security of the region as it relates to organized crime & security; not geopolitical issues faced in Asia with China vs. N Korea vs. Japan vs. Taiwan vs. Taiwan vs…..(you get the picture). At this time, the EU has an open back door increasing criminal activity as it relates to drugs, organ harvesting, sex trade, arms trade, terrorism, money laundering, piracy….. all the usual suspects. The “West” wants to seal this up and knows that it needs cooperation from all parties, but especially the Serbian side since they have a very powerful grip & advanced secret police with influence throughout the region (Thank you very much Josip Broz Tito). Regardless, Serbia lost Kosovo many decades ago (Thank you very much Josip Broz Tito.. again) and 1244 doesn’t change that reality or an asterisk.

    • March 1, 2012 at 7:45 am

      Absolutely he must go!!!
      The people of Kosova will vote him out!!!

    • March 2, 2012 at 3:11 am

      My dear Balkan sisters and brothers (no asterisk), you have the same chance of changing your criminals in power as we do of changing ours.

      I’m starting to feel a bit sick of the wise guys in “Brioni” suits telling us how we have adversaries for neighbors, while we are all in the same s*** (excuse my French).

      I really hope that we as peoples will come to our senses, and if not I invite you to move with me to Brasil.

      Tenha um bom dia!
      (Have a nice day in Portugese)

  • March 1, 2012 at 2:40 am

    While I think TransConflict is a very biased organization, mainly due to Gerard Galluci’s biased articles, this article brings up some good points…

    Yes, Serbia has achieved another step towards its goal, mainly because Thaçi is an invertebrate, and would do anything to remain in power. Thaçi was tricked with EU integration promises, but as a person who lacks ordinary quickness and keenness of mind, it was most likely after the deal was signed that he realized that a country cannot have integration without sovereignty. He was promised something that was already planned for Kosova in 2008 – the “Feasibility Study” and the Stabilization and Association Process for Kosova (if the 5 non-recognizing members agree).

    Anyway, we all know that Serbia’s ultimate goal is to re-open the status negotiations. What a clever way to do it! Put the ball in Kosova’s court – give Kosova the actual choice between:

    – Accepting a non-sovereign status, and remain a frozen conflict


    – Reopening the status talks, as the only way that 1244 may be annulled.

    Whatever future talks will take place (and why would Serbia participate in these talks anyway, unless they are about the status?), Kosova WILL have a new government. Springs in Kosova are usually when changes begin, and this change is needed in Kosova.

    The footnote is actually accelerating the process as it has opened the eyes of the voters. There is no way in hell that Thaçi’s party will ever win an election as a result of this agreement. Thaçi promised a UN seat during the electoral campaign, and he actually managed to undo everything that was done in the last 4 years, and drive Kosova even farther from that seat.

    There will be a Kosova spring this year.

    P.S. In addition, what surprises me the most is Ambassador Chris Dell’s anti-American way of doing this. He want as far as openly siding with Thaçi on every issue, and labeling Thaçi’s opposers anti-Americans or anti-Europeans (how Stalinist of him). I understand he is leaving in July, and as an American citizen, I was ashamed of the way he represented my country abroad.

    Good riddance!

  • March 1, 2012 at 7:42 am

    “Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.”

    We the albanian people of Kosova, will never give up our dream of freedom and independence. No power, no organization, no country can be stronger than the will of a nation to selfdetermination.
    Our enemies come and go, but for as long as there will be a single albanian living in their forefathers lands in Dardania (Kosova), there will always be hope for freedom, and for a better future for our children.

    Mr. Kanin, thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful, truthful article. Thank you for your country’s friendship and commitment to peace and stability in our region. May God Bless America and the rest of the Free World who have supported our cause!

  • March 1, 2012 at 9:12 am

    When you bring thugs like Thaci to negotiation table, having put them in power first by a corrupt voting process which you applaud from the position of the mother of all democracy on Earth, the topic of negotiation is completely irrelevant. What will happen then is not the negotiation on any proclaimed issues between the entities the thugs represent, but a disclosure of the consequences to the thug on a very personal level. One can imagine the result of such ‘negotiation’.

  • March 1, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Excellent analysis, however no individual in any of these countries is a winner, they might wave flags but they are all poor economically and spiritualy, from decades of nationalism. Macedonia should be put in any analysis touching Kosovo.

  • March 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    One thing is clear here, there will not be peace in Ballkans for a long time.
    We Albanians do have officially some 38% Albanians living in Macedonia, we have a lot of Albanians living in Montenegro as well.
    If things goes as plans in some 20years or longer there will be only 2.5 million serbs living in serbia.
    And than things will change.
    By that time Albanians will have more than 50% in Macedonia, we will have more in Montenegro and don’t forget Albania and Kosovo where we already are 5 million Albanians.
    There will not be peace in Ballkans until we ALBANIANS take back all the lands that were stolen from us from serbia , macedonia, greece, montenegro.
    Remember that after some 20 or more years we will be the major factor in Ballkans.

    • March 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      Big, I have doubts about these figures. Disapointed by the economical and political reality in Kosova, people will continue to emigrate to Western countries, as they have been doing for so long. In Macedonia, where Albanians have been even more oppressed throughout the communist era with laws that deprived minorities of having more than two kids, by denying them different kind of state services, Albanians in Macedonia systematically had 1 or 2 kids!!!This has not changed. Not to mention the outrageus numer of Albanians working, living and staying in Western Countries!!!

  • March 2, 2012 at 12:37 am

    What was already signed will be extremely difficult to cancel unless the Constitutional Court of Kosovo finds it unconstitutional, which is unlikely due to mr. Dell’s influence in every aspect of life in Republic of Kosovo.
    Kosovar’s have always won the war, only to lose it in peace mainly because of being betrayed.
    It agree with ‘big’ that no matter the current circumstances, Ballkans future will be determined by the demographic chances in the next couple of decades. Albanians have the power of firing back by controlling the albanian minorities in Southern Serbia, Western Macedonia, southern Montenegro.
    I also agree with Xhulieta that the economic reality of Kosovo and most of the albanian territories is worsening, thus, people are constantly immigrating. However, the last war was won exactly by the diaspora by ‘financing’ and ‘organizing’ the whole resistance and guerrilla groups.
    I completely do not understand the logic of Serbia’s government. It is crystal clear that Albanians will never ever agree to go back under their control no matter the prize.

  • March 2, 2012 at 2:30 am

    Belgrade agreed to allow Kosovo to speak under its flag in regional meetings and to sign international agreements like any other fully recognised nation.


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