The territory has been moving towards independence since 1999, and it
is time for the international community to say so.
By Nicholas Whyte in Brussels (BCR No 538, 21-Jan-05)
It's time for the international community to get off the fence on
Kosovo. Over the past five years, the final status issue has been
delayed and ignored while Kosovo's two million inhabitants continue to
exist in an international limbo.
The population will never accept a return to Belgrade rule, and Serbia
does not really want it anyway. The idea of union with other Albanian
territories does not interest anyone except a handful of fanatics, and
partition would set a dangerous precedent for other potential conflict
Kosovo has been moving towards independence since 1999, and it is time
for the international community to say so.
The deadly violence of March 2004 showed that the international
community cannot rely on local goodwill forever. Either 2005 will see
the start of a final status solution that consolidates peace and
development, or Kosovo may return to conflict and generate regional
As a first step, the six-nation Contact Group (the United States,
Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) should issue as soon as
possible a statement spelling out a schedule for the resolution of the
status issue, with independence as the goal.
This must contain some crucial ground-rules: that the protection of
minority rights is the issue on which progress will most depend, and
that neither Kosovo's return to Belgrade's rule, nor its partition,
nor any possible unification of Kosovo with Albania or any
neighbouring state or territory will be supported.
A Special Envoy should manage the process, working closely with the UN
Special Representative in charge of Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen. In
mid-2005, the UN is due to assess the Kosovo government's commitment
to democracy, good governance and human rights standards.
If the assessment is positive, the Special Envoy should prepare a
draft settlement text - the "Kosovo Accord" - and the details of an
international conference to endorse it.
Kosovo's Albanians should not wait until then, however, to start
repairing their relations with their own Serb minority. They should
immediately start working on a "Pristina - Open City" campaign to
attract residents of nearby Serb enclaves back into the capital, and
to the nearby urban centres they were burned out of in the March 2004
riots. But they should also begin to prepare a constitution for an
independent Kosovo, with more than adequate rights guaranteed for all
minorities and with provision for internationally-appointed judges on
Kosovo's superior courts. They should also prepare for an
international monitoring presence, a "Kosovo Monitoring Mission", to
report to the wider international community and recommend appropriate
measures if Kosovo backslides on its obligations.
Serbia needs to accept that Kosovo is lost, and that the role of
Belgrade is to make the best case they can for the Serbs of Kosovo,
rather than fantasise that they will get all, or part, of the province
Serbia has legitimate interests in resolving public and private
property disputes, guaranteeing the situation of the Patriarchate of
Pec and other important religious buildings, and settling the question
of Kosovo's share of Serbia's international debt - where the
international community should be prepared to find a generous
solution. This can all be achieved if Belgrade acquires a sense of
Recent noises from Belgrade are not encouraging in this regard. Media
reports about the plight of Serb villagers in Kosovo who have no
electricity supplies have somehow failed to mention that many Albanian
villagers are in just as bad a position, and their electricity has
been cut off because they have not paid their bills.
Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic appears to believe that resolving the
legacy of past conflicts through compliance with the Hague war crimes
tribunal is not in fact essential for Serbia's future relations with
the outside world, despite the withdrawal last week of US aid to
Serbia precisely on the basis of Belgrade's failure to meet the
It is not surprising that the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier
Solana, called off a planned visit to Belgrade this week because there
had been insufficient progress on any of the issues he is interested
in. The international community must not reward Belgrade's fantasies.
Instead, it needs to reinforce the message that Belgrade has no veto
on the resolution of Kosovo's final status, and that if it is
necessary to find a solution that can be made to work without
Belgrade's consent, that solution will be found.
Complacency has guided policy on Kosovo for too long. The potential
for renewed violence is very real. The international community, in
particular the member states of the Contact Group, must decide whether
to regain control of the agenda or allow matters to slip until
unpleasant new facts are created on the ground that they will have to
To tackle this agenda requires political courage as well as energy.
But the alternative is worse.
Nicholas Whyte is the Director of the International Crisis Group's