Kosovo: Many options but independence

By Jan Oberg & Aleksandar Mitic

TFF PressInfo 228 – October 27, 2005

Originally published here.

 

The Serbian province of Kosovo, largely populated by the Albanian separatist-minded majority, has failed to meet basic human rights and political standards set as prerequisites by the international community, but it should nevertheless enter in the months to come talks on its future status.

This basic conclusion of the long-awaited report by UN special envoy Kai Eide was approved by the UN secretary general Kofi Annan and fully supported by the EU and the US, but it fails to demystify the paradox.

Only two a half years ago, the international community had charged that talks on status could not start before a set of basic human rights standards was achieved.

Since then, however, as it became clearer that the Kosovo Albanian majority was unwilling to meet the criteria and the UN unable to enforce them, there was a permanent watering down of prerequisites, until the proclaimed policy of “standards before status” was finally buried with Mr. Eide’s report.

Why has it failed? Is it because of the fear of the Kosovo Albanian threat of inciting violence if talks on status did not start soon, or was this policy a bluff from the start?

What kind of signal does it offer for the fairness of the upcoming talks? Will threats of ethnic violence in case “the only option for Kosovo Albanians – independence” – is not achieved again play a role? Or will the international community overcome its fear and offer both Pristina and Belgrade reasons to believe that the solution would negotiated and long-lasting rather than imposed, one-sided and conflict-prone?

Advocates of Kosovo’s independence such as the International Crisis Group, Wesley Clark, Richard Holbrooke and various US members of Congress argue “independence is the only solution.” The U.S. has more urgent problems elsewhere. But full independence cannot be negotiated, it can only be imposed. “Independent Kosova” implies that the Kosovo-Albanians achieve their maximalist goal with military means while Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs and Roma would not even get their minimum — a recipe for future troubles.

It would be also counterproductive for Europe and the U.S.: to side with the Kosovo-Albanians and isolate Serbia – a highly multi-ethnic, strategically important, constitutional state with a market of 10 million people – would be foolish. Keeping punishing Serbia and Serbs collectively for Milosevic’s brutality would be immoral.

An “independent Kosova” would set a dangerous precedent for the region, not least in Bosnia and Macedonia, for international law, for European integration. And if Kosovo, why not Taiwan, Tibet, Chechenya, Tamil Eelam, Kashmir? The world has about 200 states and 5,000 ethnic groups. Who would like 4,800 new states? The future is about human globalization and integration.

Independence would also violate UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 on Kosovo. Not even liberally interpreted does it endorse independence. Independence would reward Albanian extremists who have been behind the ethnic cleansing campaign against the non-Albanian communities, encourage those who exported violence from Kosovo to the neighbouring southern Serbia and to Macedonia. The ‘disarmed’ protectorate of Kosovo was a major player in all that.

The results of Milosevic’s authoritarian policies clearly prevent Kosovo from returning to its pre-1999 status. Belgrade recognizes that today. The international community on its side refuses to see that the UN, NATO, EU and OSCE in Kosovo have failed miserably in creating the multi-ethnic, tolerant and safe Kosovo that it thought the bombings would facilitate. There has been virtually no return of the 200,000 Serbs and tens of thousands of other non-Albanians who felt threatened by Albanian nationalists and terrorists in 1999-2000.

Proportionately this is the largest ethnic cleansing in ex-Yugoslavia. Half a million Serbs in today’s Serbia, driven out of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, make up Europe’s largest – but ignored – refugee problem. The economy of Kosovo remains in shambles – 70% unemployment -and mafia-integrated.

There is never only one solution to a complex problem. Between the old autonomy for Kosovo and full independence is a myriad of thinkable options – combining internal and regional features. They should all be on the negotiation table: a citizens’ Kosovo where ethnic background is irrelevant, cantonisation, consociation, confederation, condominium, double autonomy for minorities there and in Southern Serbia, partition, trusteeship, independence with special features such as soft borders, no army and guarantees for never joining Albania. Least creative of all is the “only-one-solution” that all main actors today propose – completely incompatible with every other “only-one solution.”

Finally, no formal status will work if the people continue to hate and see no development opportunities. If we ignore human needs for fear-reduction, deep reconciliation and economic recovery, independent Kosovo will become another failed state, perhaps consumed by civil war. Even an ethnically pure, only-Albanian Kosovo is no guarantee for regional stability. It could soon become a dangerous burden on the EU.

Kosovo is about the future of that province and of Serbia, but also about the region and the EU. Indeed, Kosovo is about global politics. In this 11th hour, the UN, EU and the U.S. should re-evaluate their post-1990 policies and recognize the need for much more intellectually open and politically pluralist approaches than those that have been promoted so far. Rigidity, lack of principle and wishful thinking could once again prove to be the enemies of sustainable peace in the region.

 

TFF has been conducting conflict-mitigation work in all parts of ex-Yugoslavia since 1991. TFF teams served in the 1990s as goodwill advisers to both Yugoslav governments and the Kosovo-Albanian leadership of present President Ibrahim Rugova.

There is a lot of links about the crisis in Kosovo – and a list of virtually all of TFF’s analyses and debate articles here.

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