Oct 6th 2005 | PRISTINA
From The Economist print edition
A “frank” report clears the way for negotiations on Kosovo's future
ON OCTOBER 4th, a long-awaited report on the status of Kosovo was handed to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general. By December, UN-sponsored talks are expected to start on the future of a territory which is still bitterly contested between ethnic Serbs and Albanians. With most observers expecting the talks to lead to Kosovo's independence, there is, or at least there should be, a sense of history being made; in the words of the province's UN boss, a “moment of truth” is looming. But the political mood in Pristina, the province's tawdry capital, is more sullen than jubilant.
Kosovo has been administered by the UN since fighting ended in 1999, though officially it remains linked to Serbia. Almost all its ethnic Albanian population—over 90% of the total—want independence, but Serbia refuses to agree. In the past few years, the UN has ceded some power to a local assembly, which most Serb politicians boycott. Most Kosovo Serbs still live in enclaves, some of which have to be protected by foreign peacekeepers.
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The report—described by aides to its Norwegian author, Kai Eide, as a “very frank piece of paper”—will excoriate Albanian leaders for failing to protect Serbs and other minorities, and Serb politicians for refusing to act constructively in Kosovo's politics. It is also expected to recommend that talks on Kosovo's future status begin as soon as possible.
The man tipped to lead the negotiations is Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president. After a round of shuttle diplomacy, he will probably draft a document on the province's future status which will then be put to Serb and Albanian leaders for consideration.
Until a few months ago, Serb officials were wildly unrealistic in their demands; they are now inching towards reality, although they are still not quite there. They now say that as long as Serbia retains sovereignty over Kosovo, and that its Serbs have autonomous areas, the province can be otherwise self-governed. In practice, they may have to concede quite a lot more than that.
Meanwhile, Kosovo's Albanian leaders are in disarray, perhaps underestimating the rearguard action that the Serbs may mount to stop the province seceding.The record of the local government is weak and it suffers from a whiff of scandal; also its president, Ibrahim Rugova, is gravely ill with lung cancer.
Against this unpromising background, most diplomats in Pristina reckon the territory is heading for “conditional independence”. This would mean Kosovo being fully self-governing, and endowed with some trappings of independence, like a seat at the UN, yet with certain limits on its elected authorities. That would create a situation similar to Bosnia, whose international overlord is entitled to fire any local leader who breaks the terms of the Dayton peace settlement.
Yet even with those provisos, it is hard to imagine Kosovo Serbs and Albanians agreeing on their province's future status. According to one plausible scenario, the Serbs will refuse to negotiate any agreement leading to Kosovo's independence; but the UN security council may impose this anyway. On the Albanian side, an increasingly loud voice is that of a former student leader, Albin Kurti, who wants instant independence and mass protests against the looming negotiations. Much of Kosovo is decorated with his slogan: “No negotiations. Self-determination!”