327. Status with Standards: Analysis of the Progress on the Kosovo Status Talks

By
Christopher Hoh, Steven E. Meyer, Veton Surroi, A. Ross Johnson, Avni Mustafaj, and Vladimir Matic

From all accounts, the talks that have been held in Vienna over the last year, which brought together delegations from Serbia and Kosovo to negotiate Kosovo's status, have not enjoyed the substantial progress that some might have expected. Despite this deadlock, the undertones of official public statements regarding Kosovo's status clearly point to the fact that Kosovo's status will eventually be as an independent state, although the details of how and when are not clear. What seems to be neglected almost completely in this discussion is what will happen "the day after" the status decision is announced. The focus on the Talks has meant that all energies in Serbia have been spent on crafting arguments for why Kosovo must not become independent, while nothing is being done to prepare the Serbian electorate or the Serbs living in Kosovo for the separation that seems imminent. Likewise in Pristina, calls for independence ring hollow, given the poor record of self-governance there. To address these neglected issues, EES organized a short conference of experts to discuss the many consequences of the Kosovo status decision and the international community's continuing efforts to create a functioning democracy in Kosovo and maintain peace throughout the Balkan region.

Christopher Hoh began his address by stating that it is indeed important to focus on the future, since there is a clear need to prepare for the decision and the government in Pristina is a year behind in planning for what will happen next. Although the Talks have made limited progress in the spheres of decentralization and the protection of cultural heritage, Hoh reiterated that the Contact Group is determined to have a resolution on Kosovo's status by the end of this year. (Since the meeting, it has been announced that this decision will be postponed until after the Serbian elections in January 2007.) He stated that the period immediately after the status decision is made will nevertheless necessitate an extensive, continued international intervention.

The decision on Kosovo must be seen within the broader context of the region and its trajectory toward European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The political dynamics in Serbia are being watched closely (especially after the adoption of the new constitution and the elections that are planned) to ensure that its path to the EU is maintained. Kosovo will be on that same path, and will need prolonged KFOR assistance, both to provide security and to assist in military reform. Hoh also mentioned that the Contact Group envisions establishing an international civilian support mission that will assist the local government. This mission will be different from UNMIK or the OHR in Bosnia in that the Kosovars themselves will need to do the heavy lifting in terms of adopting the necessary economic and political reforms. The EU will be taking the lead in fostering the development of the rule of law, but the Standards process will still be maintained as the guide. The Contact Group's Standards have identified 13 policy areas that need attention in Kosovo, and there has already been much progress within eight of these areas. Nevertheless, the problem now is to ensure that those new laws protecting national minorities and facilitating self-governance are implemented.

The dynamics of the Kosovo border issue, Steven Meyer explained, are tied to the two factors that have always determined border placement: outside pressure and ethnicity. Often, he cautioned, these forces are at odds with each other, causing instability and violence. The Vienna process, designed to guide Kosovo to "final status," is part and parcel of the tradition of outside pressure. He argued that the Talks are not true negotiations since Kosovo's independence seems like a foregone conclusion. The result is that the Serbs and Kosovar Albanians are forced to participate in what amounts to a zero-sum game, and the international community is far from an honest broker. So far, the Serbs have played the game poorly (since the game for them is to figure out how to live with the loss of Kosovo) and the Albanians have played very well (since their role has been simply not to do anything that would undermine the process).

The international community, Meyer asserted, must move beyond thinking only in terms of creating strong ethnically-determined states. The problem with defining states by ethnic community is that there are no sacred borders between ethnicities anywhere, especially in Europe. If the goal is some sort of fairness, stability, equity, and honesty in the region, it is necessary, to consider the legitimacy of these social/national polities as well as traditional state sovereignty in establishing borders and constructing communities. Finally, Meyer noted that it is important to consider the impact of the Kosovo decision on the wider region. Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Serb Republic in Bosnia, has already threatened to use the precedent of Kosovar independence in an effort to create an autonomous Republika Srpska.

Veton Surroi began by mentioning three contextual points, which are important to keep in mind when considering the difficult problem of Kosovo. First, the current Talks are a product of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, which is a history of violence, wars, and attempted genocide. The future intention of the Talks is to create peaceful, productive members of a united Europe—all within a 30-year time span, which in historical terms is not very long. Second, the negotiations are about whether or not the international community wants a messy outcome or not. And third, the negotiations are about whether to give Kosovo independence or create a higher degree of dependence of Kosovo on the West. In any case, the consensus of the international community has been that the current status quo cannot be allowed to persist.

The Talks themselves have not amounted to much, essentially due to the limited engagement from Belgrade in the process. The Serbian position has been essentially to block progress in the Talks with the hope that when the time comes, Russia will block the vote in the Security Council. Surroi presented what Kosovo needs from this process. First, a clear outcome on status is essential: the "constructive ambiguity" of the past seven years has proved to be insufficient to foster the development of a fully responsible democratic society. Second, the time span must be brief: prolonging this period will not help, and any outcome in the Serb elections will not change Kosovo's position. Third, the outcome must be that Kosovo becomes a fully independent state, since only sovereign states can assume the responsibility to govern.

Another important issue is the threat of partition. The current situation, in which municipalities with majority Serb populations are essentially self-governed, must come to an end. If this situation is maintained, then Kosovo will become a frozen conflict, as is the case in Abkhazia, and there will be a region of Kosovo that will function beyond the governance of the Kosovars or the Serbs. Finally, the future international presence in Kosovo needs to take into account that the tools it uses help to create an accountable and responsible Kosovo government. The track record of UNMIK and of the OHR in Bosnia has been that intrusive measures and coercion have been used for short-term gains at the expense of fostering local accountability and good governance. In his view, the status decision needs to address three basic needs: security that eliminates irredentist goals between neighboring countries; political stability; and European integration—all of which are impossible without independence.

Ross Johnson began his presentation by stating that we are kidding ourselves if we think that the status decision will be anything other than sovereignty for Kosovo. Nevertheless, there are still open issues. For instance, KFOR will surely remain, but the status of the military force will still need to be decided with the Pristina government. It seems logical that the civilian force should be led by the European Union, but should not attempt to recreate the OHR's Bonn powers.

Johnson urged the international community and the government in Pristina to ensure the full inclusion of Serbs as a constituent people of Kosovo. The Serbs currently make up about 8 percent of the population (down from 33 percent in the 1960s). Most of the opportunities for inclusion of the Serb population thus far have been squandered, either by Belgrade, the international community or by the Kosovar Albanians themselves. The day after the Kosovo status decision, the following challenges will need to be addressed: protection of property and heritage sites; a guarantee for representation in the government, perhaps through reserved seats in the cabinet; and full opportunity for local self-rule through the creation of additional municipalities provided that current parallel institutions are dismantled, ties to Belgrade are transparent and threaded through Pristina.

The challenges will certainly continue after the Kosovo status decision is made. Johnson stated that he runs out of imagination when it comes to the question of northern Mitrovica. He asked how Pristina could be expected to successfully extend its control over that region, which is de facto Serbia, when even UNMIK has never been able to make inroads there? For this reason, Johnson would not rule out territorial adjustments as part of the decision-making process on status.

Serbs who remain in Kosovo will have to consider themselves citizens of Kosovo and assume certain obligations of citizenship to that state. South Tyrol and the Russians in the Baltic States offer optimistic scenarios for Kosovar Serbs to follow. Less optimistically, it seems that those Serbs who have left Kosovo are unlikely to return and many who remain in Kosovo are likely to leave after Kosovo's independence is announced. Current polls indicate that 70 percent of Kosovo's Serbs would leave, and much of this is fueled by nationalist rhetoric by Serbian politicians. Such a migration would need the assistance of the international community to ensure that the process is peaceful and people who leave would have resettlement opportunities. Finally, if this mass migration does occur, the international community will need to admit its failure in creating a multi-ethnic Kosovo.

Avni Mustafaj contributed to the discussion by vividly describing the results of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign that ended the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Since that time, the many refugees and internally displaced people that the war had produced have returned. Yet, there are many destroyed or partially destroyed buildings that have not yet been rebuilt. These physical scars of lost property, along with the emotional scars of lost family members that resulted from the war have made it very difficult for many Kosovar Albanians to move on. This, he believes, is tied to the violent riots in March 2004, which the Kosovar politicians should have done more to quell.

Mustafaj asserted that there has been a real effort on the part of the Kosovar Albanian leadership, in cooperation with KFOR, to ensure the protection of Serbian monasteries and help Kosovar Serbs gain freedom of movement and create a life for themselves in Kosovo. There is no doubt that it is difficult for them, which is not helped by Belgrade's calls for Serbs in Kosovo to boycott the political process in Kosovo.

Serbia's newly-adopted Constitution claims Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia, and the subsequent referendum and elections threaten to delay the decision on Kosovo's status. Mustafaj argued that delaying the decision on Kosovo would only serve to empower the right wing in Serbia as well as the extremists among the Kosovar Serbs. In terms of allowing ethnically based territorial adjustments in Kosovo, Mustafaj cautioned that this could create dangerous precedents in Montenegro and Macedonia, where many Albanians currently reside. Rather, just as Albanians living in the Presevo valley were convinced to integrate themselves into the country in which they live—Serbia—the Serbs in Kosovo will need to be persuaded to become full citizens of Kosovo.

In response to the previous discussion on Kosovo, Vladimir Matic observed that there does not seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The Vienna process will almost certainly fail to produce a solution for the problem, since both parties are engaged in a zero sum game. A political settlement might have been more easily achieved if the two sides represented two sovereign democracies, but this is unfortunately not the case. Matic asserted that the decision on status is the greatest barrier standing in the way of both Serbia's and Kosovo's path to democracy.

Matic also noted that the focus of the discussion had been, as it almost always is, on territory and borders, rather than on people. A worst-case scenario for the day after the decision on status is announced would be the exodus of Serbs from Kosovo, especially those south of the Ibar. This group has been largely ignored by the Albanians and manipulated by Belgrade. The issue of status is irrelevant to them: rather it is important for them to build a multi-ethnic society so that they can build their future in a Kosovo that will be integrated into Euro-Atlantic structures. What is needed, absent a resolution and absent Kosovo meeting full standards, is for NATO, the EU and the US to provide clear security guarantees, and demonstrate visibly their determination to provide security and a future for Serbs in Kosovo. Without these guarantees, the so-called solution will simply introduce a new set of problems that need to be resolved.

 

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Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
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