A PROPOSAL FOR KOSOVO

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Partition of Kosovo, agreed by both parties in conflict, would be preferred to one sided proclamation of independence as solution to Kosovo problem for political, legal, socio-demographic and economic reasons. In that case, recently Kosovo could not be used as precedence (South Osethia, Abhazia) and armed conflicts among Serbs and Kosovo Albanians (in September in Kosovska Mitrovica) would not happen.

It is very difficult to find solution for Kosovo problem, which would satisfy both parties in the conflict. Here is proposal, based on the view from "below" (not by politicians from "above") and "from within" (not forced by big powers "from outside"). It tries to take into account the interests of ordinary people living in Kosovo, being Albanians or Serbs or some other nationals. Understandable, such approach lacks a realm of "real politik" which dominates today's world and had therefore a little chance for success. But, it still seems appropriate to know what would be "the first best solution" for all people living in the territory of Kosovo. The external factors (the confrontation of big powers, implications for internal ethnic situation in countries which are intermediaries in negotiations) led finally to the "second best" solution, one sided proclamation of independence. This proves again a historic truth that Balkan is not only "powder keg" but also a "playing ground" for international powers and their interests, all which adds to its explosive mix.

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Partition of Kosovo by the river Ibar with Northern part belonging to Serbia and Southern majority area to the newly independent Kosovo seems to be the best possible compromise to the Kosovo problem. The area will be divided roughly proportionally to the number of Serb and Albanian inhabitants in Kosovo, particularly if the return of over 200.000 Serb refugees from Kosovo living in Serbia proper is taken in account. The remaining Serb enclaves with monasteries (similarly to Vatican in Italy) in the Southern part of Kosovo should remain under international jurisdiction, protected by the international forces, which should control also the demarcation line between the North and South. Such solution includes migration of population, Serbs to the North, Albanians to the South, but only if they want to resettle. No doubt, enormous efforts are requested from ordinary people in practical execution of migration, but this is not for the first time in the area. At the beginning of 20th century Greeks and Turks traded places in nearby Turkey and Greece. And on wider scene, the future the African continent, where the formation of (national) states has only started, will no doubt require similar solutions. The historical process of formation of national states is not yet completed even in Europe, so much less in the world, regardless of the opinion of some politicians and scholars which think that the formation of nation-states was completed in 19th century (Jerry Muller, in Foreign Affairs, 3-4, 2008).

The proposal of this solution should have come from the external negotiators (the EU, the USA, Russia) to be acceptable to both parties in conflict. This is just the opposite to the strategy used by international negotiators and intermediaries. Only proposal from the outside on partition considered as a maximum each of party in the conflict can achieve would have a chance to be accepted from both parties in conflict as a necessary compromise. Neither of parties in the conflict would be perfectly happy with it, but certain unhappiness of both parties with such solution would be a sign of its equal-handed (equidistant) character.

But, if proposed by one of the parties in the conflict, by nature of negotiations, such proposal would not be acceptable to their leaders and population. In situation of heated nationalism it would mean treason in of their national interests and the loss of confidence of negotiators in the eyes of their population. To a large extent current political elites (and leaders) in the Balkans have been namely able to preserve their position only by playing the national(istic) card.

Such proposal should not be a big surprise. It was floating around as one of the possibilities, mentioned for instance by German ambassador Ischinger at the start of the four months "troika" mandate in Summer 2007. This solution was regarded as more equal-handed among many US diplomats-scholars at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC already in Summer 2006. The rumor goes that the proposal of partition of Kosovo was even secretly tested with external stakeholders by one of the parties in conflict. Recently in 2008, Serb ideology Dobrica Cosiÿ proposed it.

A separate (additional) issue, not considered here, is whether the Southern region of Serbia (PreŠevo Valley and surroundings) should be included in such arrangement so that there would be a swap of Northern Kosovo for Southern Serbia with population (voluntary) trading places.

Serbs must recognize that having 95% of Albanian nationals in Kosovo would lead soon or later to the separation and their independence, because the cultural differences between Serbs and Albanians are irreconcilable huge (which is not the case in an island in Scandinavia, or in Hong-Kong, used as models proposed for solution by one party in the conflict). On the other hand, Kosovo Albanians and external stakeholders should recognize that the one-sided solution of (controlled) independence of Kosovo without any concessions to Serbia would create a source of permanent conflict in and around Kosovo and, at the same time, would strengthen the nationalistic forces in Serbia and delay its democratic reforms or make it much more difficult.

The border of Kosovo is not something untouchable and the allotment of the smaller part of its territory to Serbs, the one in which they already dominate in its settlement, is a small price for obtaining independence and full sovereignty of Kosovo. At present, two nationalities wish to exert sovereignty in the same territory, which is factually impossible (analogy is the problem of Jerusalem in Israeli- Palestinian conflict). Instead of partial sovereignty shared in the whole territory of Kosovo by two nations (which is impossible), the full sovereignty for each nation, but only in the part of its territory is realistic solution.

If arguments of Kosovo Albanians is accepted that "they are unable to live together with and under Serbs due to the experience in recent past", then the same is true for Serbs which still live as minority among Albanians in Kosovo. Many of them are not able/willing to live together with Kosovo Albanians in independent Kosovo. For that reason they should get independent territory where they can resettle from other areas of Kosovo or return if they are now refugees in Serbia proper.

Partition of Kosovo is not politically motivated solution. It tries to be unbiased to both parties in the conflict, Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, and at the same time unbiased towards positions of external stakeholders involved in negotiations. It seems to be the most fair compromise, although I am aware that it is not the most politically realistic and probable solution in the world, where Kosovo is only an instrument for confrontation of super-powers and/or it is viewed through the consequences such solution will have to the internal situation of some negotiators and intermediaries (domestic ethnic disputes), that is countries participating in the process of finding solution.

Arguments for partition as the best possible compromise in solving Kosovo problem are: political, legal, socio-demographic and economic.

Political arguments: Equidistance

Such compromise is not biased or one-sided, as both parties; Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, loose something to gain something. They can exert the full sovereignty (which is desire of both) but only on part of the present territory of Kosovo. This is better than having constrained (or double) sovereignty on the whole territory. This is solution to the most difficult problem in such intra-country conflicts in which two nations are claiming the right to the same territory. If they would live in separate parts of the country, the partition would be much easier to accept.

During almost two years of negotiations, in the first phase (preparation of UN plan mandated to Martti Ahtisaari) Kosovo Albanians were more forthcoming and gave in by increasing the amount of autonomous rights they are willing to give to Serbs in Kosovo, which would live in supervised independent Kosovo. In the second phase of 4-months mandate under "troika" consisting of the US, the EU and Russian diplomat, Serbs gave in more and were willing to increase constantly the autonomous rights to Kosovo Albanians, living in Kosovo, which Serbs would like to see still under their formal sovereignty (at least until next negotiations 15-20 years in the future). Apparently, the sovereignty is border line which neither of parties in the conflict is willing to cross (give up). If this is so, let them have their own full sovereignty but only in their own part of Kosovo territory.

To loose few communes in the North can be Kosovo's Albanians sacrifice, a price to pay for independence. To retain communes in the North (and international protection of their shrines in other parts of Kosovo) is Serbian reward (compensation) for willingness to give up most of the Kosovo territory.

Such solution will at least partly save the face to the progressive forces in Serbia against extremists who are accusing democrats (negotiators with the EU) of loosing Kosovo as national heritage. This could be an important step in strengthening of democratic forces in Serbia in the process approximation of Serbia towards Euro-Atlantic associations. Having all the Western Balkans in these associations would significantly mitigate the possibility of future conflicts among them. Therefore, partition is also in the interest of external stakeholders (the EU, the USA, and also Russia), because with such compromise solution their protégé will not loose "the negotiation game" entirety.

In opposite case, the one-sided solution supervised independence of Kosovo (Ahtisaary's proposal) the unsettled wound of Serbs in Kosovo are remaining a permanent source of dissatisfaction which leads to reactions and activities enhancing the instability in Kosovo and the wider, in Balkans and the whole Europe.

Partition was not de iure solution as a result of extended negotiations about the future of Kosovo, as Kosovo proclaimed independence on February 17, 2008.2 But it still can come as de facto solution, based on one-sided action (decision) which could later be recognized also de iure. In latter case, after independence of Kosovo was proclaimed, Serbs took over administration of their communes in Kosovo in the territory North of river Ibar, where they already have majority population. In due time, international community could recognize this territory as exempted from the independent Kosovo and thus remaining under jurisdiction of Serbia.

For international community, the Kosovo solution was used as an excuse (model, precedence) for recent proclamation of independence of South Osethia and Abhosia in Georgia and its consequent recognition by Russia. It was predicted to happen even during negotiations for Kosovo, if one sided steps would be made. If solution for Kosovo would come as agreement between two parties in conflict (which could only be partition) and not as one sided step of proclamation of independence, such bilateral agreement would be required also for conflicting parties in Georgia. Kosovo solution was not crucial for developments in Georgia, but contributed to the one sided solution there.

Legal arguments: Continuity

First, independence of Kosovo is by criteria of historic legality the last step in the process of dissolution by the self-determination of former federal units of ex-SFR Yugoslavia. As argued by other units of SFRY in the process of their separation and proclamation of independence in early 1990s, this right was never consummated fully and for good. Independence of Kosovo is just next step in dissolution of ex-SFR Yugoslavia and separation of former constitutive units, to which autonomous province Kosovo and Metohija belonged. The most vivid sign for such position of Kosovo was the fact that Kosovo had a member in the eight-headed Presidency of Tito's former SFR Yugoslavia. As such, the independence of Kosovo with prior partition is can not be cited as a right model for other similar requests in the Western Balkans (Albanians in Macedonia, in Serbia, in Montenegro, or creation of new independent country Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina) or elsewhere (in the territory of former Soviet Union, or in the Western Europe). Namely, Kosovo and Metohija was (similarly Vojvodina) constitutive entity of Yugoslav federation, while autonomous provinces in some of the republics of former Soviet Union were only autonomous entities of these republics and not of the federation of Soviet Union. Albanians in other entities of ex-SFR Yugoslavia did not have any legal autonomous status within republics or within federation, and the same is true for Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Similar interpretation could be used for the Western Europe: there is not institutional legal basis in (recent) history to claim a step further towards independence for some of provinces within these countries. Only Vojvodina being another autonomous province and constitutive federal unit of former SFR Yugoslavia remains with such right, but its nationally mixed population without dominantly prevailing nation speaks against actions for independence.

Second, it is very difficult to find (or create) legal basis in the international law for the supervised independence of Kosovo, as envisaged by the Ahtisaari's proposal. While the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 from June 10, 1999 speaks only of a need to find a final solution regarding status of Kosovo in the future, but not what such solution should be, the mandate given by the UN Secretary General for controlled independence of Kosovo is envisaged by the proponents of Ahtisaary's proposal as such legal instrument. For that reason, it is not surprising, that some diplomats from the EU member countries speak about "the need to create new international law on new foundations". But this is not a convincing argument or instrument. On the other hand, if Serbia retains the Northern part of Kosovo, its sovereignty (and jurisdiction) in Kosovo, as still retained and UNSC Resolution 1244 remains at least in part of territory intact and the legal continuity of Serbian sovereignty is preserved.

Demographic and social arguments: differences

Kosovo Albanians had outgrown Serbs by numbers due to higher natural rate of growth of population and emigration of Serbs. What used to be one third of Serb population in province of Kosovo and Metohija in early days of ex-SFR Yugoslavia 60 years ago, is now only 5-7% share. And the future prospects are even worse, even if emigration of Serbs living among Albanians stops immediately, which is not a realistic expectation. With the natural growth of Albanian population of 1.1% per annum, and the negative natural growth (meaning decline) of Serbian population in Kosovo the share of Serbian population will decrease further. French general Marchan, present military commander of Kosovo, stated that more blatantly (and cynically): "…the average age of Albanian population in Kosovo is 28 years, while the average age of Serbs is 54 years…", thus pointing to the question of ability of reproduction. At the same time, while most of Albanian refugees already returned to their homes in Kosovo, there are still over 200.000 Serbs from Kosovo living as refugees in Serbia proper. Many of them, as for instance the ones settled around and in Kraljevo, are not well accepted by domestic population. Solution for them is to return to Kosovo, to new homes in its Serbian controlled North, obtained through the exchange of houses in the process of partition.

In social life Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo are of entirely different culture as expressed by values, beliefs, attitudes. They can not understand each other's language, their writings are different. Unbridgeable differences exist with regard to their history, religion, the international political position and connections (friends), the process of governance and public administration, arts et cetera. And on top of that, military conflict ten years ago and sporadic killings of each other even today (with international peace-keeping forces present) give a little hope for the future in common country.

Economic argument: catching up

Kosovo is among the least developed countries in Europe, which costs international community enormous amounts of aid (3.2 billion USD only in period 2001-2004). Agreed instead of one sided solution would eliminate further conflicts and enable reaffirmation of economic ties among Serbia and Kosovo. That would accelerate economic growth and catching up of Kosovo thus relieving international community of the burden of further strong economic support. In economic terms partition would be helpful for all, people living in Kosovo, neighboring countries and international donors.

In detail, Kosovo 2.2 Million inhabitants, with population density 220 inhabitants for square kilometer, produced 2250 Million € GDP in 2007 or a little over 1000 € per capita. This is around 3-times less than in neighboring countries.

In macroeconomic terms, in 2007 Kosovo's GDP growth was 3.5%, inflation (in Euroized economy) was 2%, primary budget surplus 6.5%, current account deficit 38% of GDP (!) and rate of unemployment over 40%. Income inflow of economic emigrants was 14% of GDP, while the Kosovo's external debt of 1462 Million € is still serviced by Serbia. In, 2006, only 8% of Kosovo's import was covered by imports (export was 100 Million €, import 1261 Million €).

Kosovo is characterized by the typical transition and after-war syndromes of backwardness in technology and un-restructured economy. In enterprise sector is confronted by poor infrastructural support, insufficient energy sources, low level of workers' qualification (weak system of education), corruption, small market. Financial sector is developing slowly (6 banks, 9 insurance companies, almost all of them in foreign ownership), trade, mining, food production and processing, chemicals are other vital industries.

Among advantages for economic development are good geo-strategic position, land for agriculture, substantial natural resources (metals, coal). Kosovo is already a member of extended regional free trade agreement CEFTA and participates in several regional cooperation initiatives.

Economic ties with Serbia proper use to be very strong. Besides trade of goods and services, there is energy supply, there are transportation links (roads, railway). It would be of utmost importance for acceleration of economic growth that these ties are renewed and even enhanced. And this can come only if cooperative agreement is found for Kosovo, a compromise, which would also satisfy Serbs in Kosovo and in Serbia proper.

Concluding thought

Clearly, partition of Kosovo is also a compromise, an optimum for parties involved directly or as intermediaries, however with some undesired consequences (which compromise does not have them), especially with regard to migration of people (however voluntary) and protection of areas with Serbian monasteries and enclaves (there was even an idea in the US media to move these monasteries back to the Serbian territory!). But, it seems to be more equal handed (unbiased) solution and perhaps acceptable to both parties, if some additional time was given to them at the negotiation table and announce to them that it is the most each of them can get out of negotiations. If partition is accepted by both parties, the source of potential conflicts in the future would be eliminated. If promised more, neither party would be willing to settle for less.

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
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant