Friday, October 22, 2004

Melting Ice in Kosovo - WSJ Europe

1 comment:

KosovaReport said...

Kosovo goes to the polls tomorrow. With bigger fish to fry elsewhere, the media will give the election scant coverage. Besides, since the end of the war there in 1999 it has been, more or less, quiet. But this election is important -- and not just for Kosovars.

Wasn't Kosovo "solved" I hear you ask. No; it was put on ice. Now the ice is melting fast and by next summer it will have melted altogether. Annoyingly especially for European, American and Russian policy makers -- Kosovo is creeping back into their "to do" files.

Kosovo has some two million people, at least 90% of whom are ethnic Albanians, almost all of whom are solidly in favor of independence. They will be electing a new parliament, in the fourth voted since the Kosovo war spelled an end to Serbian rule.

Although sovereignty still rests, technically, with Serbia & Montenegro (which used to be called Yugoslavia,) in fact the U.N. resolution which ended the Kosovo war made the province a de facto U.N. protectorate. The U.N. years have brought mixed results. In general terms, ethnic violence is low. In March, however, an outbreak of rioting resulted in a virtual pogrom in which some 4,000 Serbs and Roma were forced to flee for lives. Unemployment is high and 40% of GDP in 2003 came from foreign grants and remittances.

Many Serbs live in enclaves which need protecting by NATO-led troops and many, especially the young, want to leave because they see no future for themselves in Kosovo. Frustration among Albanians is running high too, because after five years of Kosovo being in effect a U.N. protectorate, independence, which many (mistakenly) believe will solve their economic problems, has not come.

That is why these elections are so important. The winners will get to participate in talks on the Kosovo's final status, which, everyone now believes, will begin in the middle of next year. They believe this because Marc Grossman, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said last year that once certain key standards were adhered to, then it would be time to look at how to deal with the question. And then came the events of March, solidifying the Grossman date, becoming the Kosovo wake-up call. Officials at the U.N., in foreign ministries in Europe and at the U.S. State Department all agreed that the transitional U.N. solution, which had successfully frozen Kosovo since 1999, was one whose shelf life was fast expiring.

One of the biggest successes of the U.N. has been in building institutions in Kosovo, such as a parliament and a government. Now that Kosovars have begun developing competence in that realm, it is time to move to the next step. And here is the rub. Privately, many, if not all, European and American officials concerned with the problem might admit that Kosovo, sooner or later, will be independent. But no one knows how to get it there. The Russians, with their all-important U.N. Security Council seat, and with an eye to precedent (think Chechnya) disagree with the whole concept of independence.

If the path to independence is unclear, however, what is clear is that there can be no going back to Serbian rule, even with autonomy for Kosovo. Albanians would go back to war.

In a recent essay, Balkans analyst Florian Bieber identified seven solutions to the Kosovo problem. He correctly dismisses the notion of autonomy, as he does the idea of partition. Changing borders, even by mutual consent, would be dangerous for the rest of the region because of its ramifications in ethnically divided Bosnia and Macedonia. Some think of making Kosovo a European Union trust territory or transferring sovereignty from Serbia to the U.N., although essentially these are ideas with which to buy time only.

How about just finishing the agony then? Admitting that a return to any form of institutional link with Serbia is impossible, and recognizing a unilateral declaration of independence? While theoretically that could be done, the truth is that too much else is at stake. Kosovo does not exist in a vacuum. Chechnya, Iraqi Kurdistan and many other places would certainly take heart from such a move sanctioned by the West.

Mr. Bieber then points to one idea which has been around since the end of the war, and which, in many ways, is still the most realistic proposal around: conditional independence. That is to say, independence granted -- but with the international community reserving certain rights and competencies, especially in areas such as security and minority rights.

If the foreign powers that count here could agree that this was the best outcome, perhaps it might not be quite as hard to persuade Serbia to agree to it; as long as Serbia was given considerable encouragement, for example by being fast-tracked toward EU membership.

In a new book, Dobrica Cosic, once regarded as the father of Serbian nationalism, writes that, "today's generations should be freed of the struggle of Kosovo . . . conscientiously accepting the loss of what has been lost by past generations." An article in the leading Belgrade daily Politika on Tuesday also argued that the loss of Kosovo would be cushioned if, with Western help, Serbia was better able to absorb the inevitable tide of Serbian refugees who would flood into Serbia.

If such talk is a bellwether and the Serbian public is being prepared for the inevitable loss of a land still studded with great monuments to the Serbian past, then Western policy makers should -- with some sympathy and cash in one hand, and a fistful of realpolitik in the other -- move to nudge Serbia in this direction. It would be good for Kosovo, good for the West and best of all for Serbia, to be free of the burden of Kosovo and the Albanians, who might make good neighbors, but with whom Serbia cannot live in a mutually fruitful partnership under the same roof.