If Serbia's Kosovo province wins full independence in talks beginning this year, it will have a constitution ready for its new government, thanks to a team led by a U.S. professor.
Bruce Hitchner, of Tufts University near Boston and formerly of the University of Dayton, was in the region this week presenting a draft constitution to Kosovar leaders.
Kosovo has been under United Nations and NATO control since a U.S.-led bombing campaign drove Serbian forces from the province in 1999, but simmering unrest continues.
Talks on Kosovo's final status --- whether the majority ethnic Albanians get the independence they want, or the minority Serbs get their wish to remain part of Serbia --- are expected to begin this year.
With this in mind, Hitchner and a team at the U.S.-based nonprofit Public International Law and Policy Group drafted a constitution for Kosovo in the same spirit in which the group already has advised more than a dozen countries --- not to impose a solution, but rather to create a document that local politicians can use as a starting point.
''We drafted in the course of the last four months a boilerplate constitution,'' he said. When a delegation that included Hitchner brought the document to Kosovo, courtesy of a German Marshall Fund grant, ''the Kosovars leapt on it,'' he said. ''They'll send us back suggestions for revision, and when they need us we'll go back in there.''
The draft constitution foresees a strong parliamentary democracy that emphasizes the role of the prime minister rather than the president and enshrines the rights of the individual. It would not include what Hitchner calls ''ethnic set-asides,'' or quotas for representation of various groups.
While Kosovo's provisional government and Albanian opposition parties embraced the document, Hitchner said there had been no response from the Serb minority.
Hitchner foresees traveling to the region about once a month to hear all the concerns, and to continue a fledgling constitutional project in nearby Bosnia.
He chairs the nearly 10-year-old Dayton Peace Accords project, and was in Bosnia this week for what he called ''low-key'' consultations with leaders about where to start when considering changes to their constitution.
Bosnia's present constitution is part of the peace agreement initialed in Dayton in November 1995. The agreement ended a nearly four-year war that pitted the country's Croats, Muslims and Serbs against each other, leaving some 200,000 dead and about half the country's population displaced from their homes.
Nearly 10 years later, Bosnia is far from a model country, but its challenges are mostly unrelated to the threat of renewed war.
And the country's tangled structures --- for example, Bosnia has three presidents --- are increasingly seen as a stumbling block to Bosnia's bid to join the European Union.
''It's more nation-building now than it is peace implementation work --- that phase is over clearly,'' Hitchner said. ''What we're trying to do is establishing some principles for political and constitutional change that everyone can agree to.''
Hitchner is facing a tight deadline. Any changes will have to be presented to parliament by March 2006, in time for the general elections later that year.
But he is optimistic. ''The goal is to get the Bosnians in charge of shaping their future,'' he said.