Sunday, February 19, 2006

Why Kosovo may hold the key to the Balkans’ future

By Stefan Wagstyl
>Published: February 19 2006 18:25 | Last updated: February 19 2006 18:25
It is midnight on the road from the Serbian town of Bujanovac to Gjilan in Kosovo and Serbian police manning a checkpoint are examining passports by torchlight. A few hundred metres along the tarmac, Kosovo guards are doing the same, their fingers so frozen they struggle to turn the pages.

According to the United Nations this is a “boundary” between UN-administered Kosovo and the rest of Serbia. But it looks like an international border, it feels like an international border – and the signs are that it could soon become an international border.

The uncertainty that has hung over the troubled province of Kosovo since Nato troops drove out the forces of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic six years ago is lifting. While little can be taken for granted given the tortuous history of Balkan diplomacy, the international community is considering ending Kosovo’s UN administration and granting some form of conditional independence by the end of the year.

Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians and the Serbian government in Belgrade are due to start final status talks today. Last month foreign ministers from the US, Russia, the UK, France, Germany and Italy – the Contact Group for Kosovo – called for “all possible efforts” to “achieve a negotiated settlement in the course of 2006”. The ministers did not declare their preferences for Kosovo’s future status. However there are indications the ethnic Albanians are edging closer to the independence they have long sought – to the fury of Belgrade, which insists Kosovo remains an integral part of Serbia.

Soren Jessen-Petersen, Kosovo’s UN administrator, says: “The direction is clear . . . Eventually you have to move forward in recognition of what the majority wants.” By acknowledging the strength of the ethnic Albanian claims, the international community is taking some risks. The advance towards independence could provoke violence in Kosovo and possibly elsewhere in the fractured states that have emerged from the former Yugoslavia.

But these concerns have been offset by a growing sense that the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable. Frustration among the ethnic Albanians is undermining efforts to promote the economy, cut unemployment and fight organised crime, rife in the western Balkans.


With the region’s political and economic outlook steadily improving, US and European diplomats have decided there may never be a better time to deal with Kosovo. The European Union late last year started accession talks with Croatia, recognised Macedonia as a membership candidate and opened negotiations on stabilisation and association agreements (entry-level co-operation pacts) with Bosnia and Serbia. Albania, once a byword for Balkan isolation, is due to complete its EU association agreement talks this spring. Meanwhile Romania and Bulgaria, well advanced on the road of EU integration, are due to join the union next year or in 2008 at the latest. The international community finally has something to show for the estimated $35bn that has been spent in the former Yugoslavia in the past 15 years.

It will not pull out. Most of the 23,000 peace-keeping troops still deployed in Kosovo and Bosnia will stay. Economic aid will continue to flow. But, with the US and the EU increasingly absorbed in the fight against terrorism, there is a new urgency about stabilising the Balkans.

Ursula Plassnik, the Austrian foreign minister, says: “For me, this is the European peace project of my generation . . . This is about stability and security in Europe.” It is all a far cry from 1999, when the UN took over a battle-scarred province. To avoid renewed violence, it postponed consideration of Kosovo’s status and urged ethnic Albanians to focus on building institutions, including effective relations with the remaining Serbs, who now make up less than 10 per cent of the population.

But in March 2004 ethnic Albanian frustrations erupted in riots. The UN condemned the violence but recognised time was running out and late last year opened the way for status talks.

Ethnic Albanians envisage only one outcome – independence. Bajram Kosumi, the prime minister, says: “A small country like Kosovo would feel insecure if it didn’t have a UN seat.” However, for Belgrade independence is anathema. The Serbs who are entering the talks with the slogan “more than autonomy, less than independence”, are ready to concede de facto self-government as long as they retain sovereignty de jure. Kosovo remains historic Serb territory which no politician can give away. Boris Tadic, the president says: “For Serbia it’s unacceptable to see Kosovo with a seat in the UN.”

The Contact Group has so far avoided taking sides. Last year it set out its principles – no partition of Kosovo, no union with a neighbouring state and no return to pre-1999 conditions. But the US and the UK are increasingly leaning towards independence for Kosovo. Nicholas Burns, the US undersecretary of state, spoke recently of the ethnic Albanians having to prove they were worthy of independence by protecting minority rights. British officials have talked of “some form of independence”.

Other EU states are more cautious, concerned that early discussion of independence could take the pressure off Pristina to negotiate. One EU diplomat says: “There is concern that if we talk about independence too early, the Serbs will just walk away.” There is much debate about what form independence might take. But the Contact Group agrees minority rights must be guaranteed, peace-keeping troops must stay and an international civilian mission – probably EU-run – put in place.

Russia, which has traditionally backed Belgrade, supports the search for a negotiated settlement. Moscow is worried about setting dangerous precedents for Chechens and other separatists in the former Soviet Union. But it may decide that conditional independence for Kosovo is better than provoking ethnic Albanians radicals.

If the Contact Group pushes for independence, it could face a Serb walk-out and will then have to decide whether to impose a settlement. Such a scenario might even suit Vojislav Kostunica, the Serb prime minister. He will be able to claim he fought as hard as he could then retreated without surrendering.

With the no-compromise Radical party riding high in polls, Mr Kostunica has little negotiating space. Braca Grubacic, a Belgrade commentator, says: “Kosovo is still a taboo subject.” Complicating the Kosovo question is Montenegro, the last remaining republic of the former Yugoslavia that is still linked to Serbia in the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro. However, under an EU-brokered agreement in 2003, Montenegro was promised an independence referendum after three years and the pro-independence Montenegrin government is now preparing for a plebiscite in April. Belgrade says reluctantly that it will abide by a fair result but wants a high threshold for a valid Yes vote. The EU, trying to calm tensions, last week proposed a 55 per cent minimum, which pro-independence Montenegrins say is too high.

The atmosphere in Montenegro is tense, but the issue does not generate the same passion as Kosovo because Serbs and Montenegrins share a Slav background and Orthodox faith. Serbs believe they would not be “losing” Montenegro in the sense that they face “losing” Kosovo to the Muslim ethnic Albanians.

The EU blocked Montenegro’s independence drive three years ago for fear it would set precedents for separatists elsewhere. Today officials are more concerned about the instability created by keeping Kosovo in limbo.

The dangers of fragmentation have not disappeared. In Bosnia, Lord Ashdown pushed the leaders of the two “entities” – Republika Srpska and the Muslim/Croat federation – to establish national institutions including joint military and police forces. The next stage is for the new high representative to give up his viceregal powers and return full sovereignty to the Bosnian government. But the country is still far from functioning as a unified state.

In Macedonia, tensions between the ethnic Albanian minority concentrated in the west of the country and the ethnic Macedonian majority have eased since the country came to the brink of civil war in 2001. The implementation of the power-sharing Ohrid agreement has gone some way to bringing the two communities together. But Macedonia remains vulnerable to instability emanating from neighbouring Kosovo.

Lurking under the surface is radical ethnic Albanian talk of “Greater Albania” – uniting Albania, Kosovo and the ethnic Albanian areas of Macedonia, southern Serbia and southern Montenegro. The discussion is generally limited to political extremists but has qualified support from Arben Xhaferi, a mainstream veteran leader in Macedonia.

Contributing to insecurity in the Balkans is the failure to capture alleged war criminals, particularly Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, and Ratko Mladic, his military commander. Widespread unemployment also casts a long shadow. The transition from central planning to the market, long delayed by war, is gathering pace. But renewed investment is creating few jobs for the growing numbers of young people, especially among ethnic Albanians where birth rates are high.

The jobless are prey for the recruiting sergeants of organised crime. Balkan gangs have access to weapons and money generated from trafficking guns, drugs and women to western Europe.

For Balkan leaders, the only answer to these problems is what Mr Tadic, the Serbian president, calls “the debalkanisation of the Balkans” through integration with the EU. Balkan politicians worry about growing enlargement fatigue, especially in France where last year’s No in the EU constitutional treaty referendum was widely interpreted as a vote against further expansion. French doubts extend even to Croatia, the most advanced of the western Balkan states.

However, for now, the EU remains committed to integration. The union backs promises of eventual membership, with practical assistance ranging from opening markets to visa facilitation. It is by far the largest aid donor with €5.3bn pledged in the past six years. EU officials play vital roles in Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo. And drawing on its experience in former communist eastern Europe, the union is pushing economic reform.

As Ms Plassnik, the Austrian foreign minister, says: “The union has enormous transformational experience.” None of this guarantees success. Another round of inter-ethnic violence could undermine the progress of the last few years. That is why diplomats are keen to reach a final settlement for Kosovo. For without stability in Kosovo, there can be no real stability in the Balkans.

Hunt for justice reopens wounds

Just below the surface of bargaining over the future status of Kosovo lurks a legacy of bitterness. Its cause is events before and during the 1999 war sparked by ethnic-Albanian demands for independence from Serbia, writes Neil MacDonald.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the United Nations court dealing with war crimes, has indicted members of practically all major ethnic factions, whether in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo or those allegedly involved in the more limited conflict in Macedonia.

So far not one ethnic-Serb defendant has been cleared and released, compared with at least four Croats, one Bosnian Muslim and one Kosovo Albanian. More than three-quarters of guilty verdicts and almost two-thirds of indictments have been against Serbs – a fact that has not gone unnoticed in Serbia.

Some international lawyers have also criticised the tribunal for implicitly exempting US or Nato commanders from prosecution for the aerial bombardment that terminated Belgrade’s grip on Kosovo and brought down the then-Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, whose trial at the Hague has entered a fourth year. For now, international attention is focused on the hunt for the remaining fugitives from ICTY justice, all Serbs.

Ratko Mladic, former Bosnian Serb military commander, is suspected of organising the ugliest incident in the Yugoslav break-up: the execution of up to 8,000 men and boys in the Bosnian Muslim “safe haven” around Srebrenica in July, 1995. Serbian defence officials recently disclosed that 50 Yugoslav and Bosnian Serb officers have illegally hidden Gen Mladic over three-and-a-half years.

Tribunal prosecutors are also seeking Radovan Karadzic, former president of the breakaway Bosnian Serbs, for alleged crimes against Croats and Muslims.

But atrocities in the Yugoslav wars were far from one-sided. The arrest late last year of Ante Gotovina, ex-French Foreign Legion corporal and successful Croatian operational commander, cleared the way for his homeland to enter the EU soon, officials said. The indictment against Gen Gotovina also names Franjo Tudman, Croatia’s wartime president, so his death may have spared the ICTY a dicey political problem.

Yet Serbian sensitivities are highest over Kosovo. Of 12 current defendants in Kosovo-related cases, five are veterans of the ethnic-Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), including some who went on to serve in the UN-backed Kosovo Protection Corps. Sandra Raskovic-Ivic, Serbia’s chief co-ordinator for the UN-sponsored status negotiations, complains about “Hague indictees who were involved in killings . . . who have changed into suits and claim to be ‘democratic.’ ”

Ramush Haradinaj resigned last year as Kosovo’s prime minister and turned himself in to the tribunal to face charges of persecuting Serbs, Gypsies and suspected collaborators among the ethnic Albanians. Mr Haradinaj has been granted a provisional release, allowing him to conduct some public political activities until his trial.

Kosovo could prove the key to convicting Mr Milosevic, as “command responsibility” could be easier to pin on him there than in Bosnia. Up to June 1997, Mr Milosevic was president only of Serbia and not technically responsible for military and police units. By the time the Kosovo war broke out he led the Yugoslav federation and held de jure command.

But ethnic grudges run far deeper than command responsibility. Kosovan Serbs collaborated “quite a lot” with Milosevic’s regime, says Alex Anderson, Kosovo director for Brussels-based International Crisis Group. It is a role their Albanian neighbours refuse to forget.


Kristian said...

Long article with a lot of scenarios and situations and possibilities. I hope it all comes down peacefully and ppl can get along afterwards!

Peace to all :)

Anonymous said...

A long article that talks to much about Serb mythology. We in Kosovo , the majority population, are not going to be held hostages to Serb paintings and their taboo subjects. We, are people, that when we wake up need to eat drink, send our children to school that need jobs and not worry about Serbian state. Just because they had a battle , that they lost, which happened to be in the territory of Kosovo doesn't mean that can now control our lives, dreams and desires for a normal life and a better future.
We are so resolute to get on with our lives that they have no idea, I think EU knows that!

Anonymous said...

"It is midnight on the road from the Serbian town of Bujanovac to Gjilan in Kosovo and Serbian police manning a checkpoint are examining passports by torchlight."

Talk about security, by torchlight. Last time I checked Bujanoci was an Albanian town in Serbia, not a serbian town. Interesting article, I read it all. I'm glad a foreigner traveled and wrote this, it talks about a lot of things. It even mentions of UK and USA leaning towards pro-independence.

Anonymous said...

Dear Stefan Wagstyl,

Everyday I read articles like yours but, really it doesn't make any sence saying that Kosovo historically was part of Serbia or whatever you can call. To make clear for you Kosovo before 1912 was region of Albania's state today and after 1912-1913 Kosovo was separated from Albania from big powers in that time, and now US and UK but and the others who want peace in region they are pushing to solve this problem once and forever.
Dear Stefan, few words about passport control yes it is true and should be specialy with Serbia this control because they are danger for all the region not just for Kosovo this is true and all the states in region are witness for that.
Finally, be carefull when you write something about Kosovo or "ALBANIANS" because the period of occupators in Balkans is over.
Kosovo very soon will be Independent state and one of the main political centre in region.

with respect,
SH.P Brussels

Anonymous said...

Human rights are fundimental and everyone must have them. But the so called New World Order, or let us simply call it the world's High Diplomacy Brokers (I made that up) over uses human rights to broker it's own agenda. This agenda is the softening of sovereignty the world over, so that we will have mass markets for cheap products and free trade. This benefits the corporations who want to the sell the world these cheap mass products.
That's why there has been pressure against monarchy, for monarchy is set upon the basis of right and wrong, while corporations base decisions on an amoral basis.
Let us be very careful that corporations do not replace states. I support the sovereignty of small states, and do not see that as a threat to human rights if done right.

Anonymous said...

the question that nobody has asked so far is: how has Kosovo become 90% Albanian? If you become a majority population by ethnically cleansing all other peoples of that region is it right that you should be rewarded for that? If the IC give Kosovo to the Albanians when will the UK give Northern Ireland independence? Or does this rule work only for the guys with the big guns. The IC has not sat on the fence here they have clearly taken the Albanian side while blackmailing Serbia and it's pathetic puppet government. The IC will rue the day it decided to open the lid of this Pandora's box.

Anonymous said...

So,when Kossovo becomes independent and turns into Kossova,what the global message will be? that anyone whishing for independence needs to follow the example?:get plenty weapons,raise an organized insurgency,use terror,stir up violence!get councel from a potent ally that knows well how to use the media in order to have you pose as a victimized people while yourself get the rid of all "other people"and if you can show that you can get very violent again at any time... YOU WIN!!!and there are no silver medal here everyone else looses....or?

Anonymous said...

Kosova would have a way higher Albanian dominance, but you obviously didn't read this post who talked about all those times that Kosovar Albanians have been expelled,

"Forgot to remind you:
Serbia has killed tens of thousands of Albanians since 1878, 1912, 1918, 1933, 1945, 1981, 1989, 1998-99. They have at least twice expelled half of the Kosovo population to Turkey. They tried to do the same in 1999, by expelling 1,2 million. They have burned down 120,000 Albanian houses in 1999. They have done the same repeatidly in the past century. They have never appologized and they heil their criminals as heroes. They dare to call Albanians terrorists, when terror is in Serbian blood. Rmember, the biggest terrorist attack, killing of Austrian prince in Sarajevo? Damn! We've suffered too much under those monsters!"

And the reason we're getting independence is because we have been almost wiped out, and have had you Shkijet perform genocide on us.


Anonymous said...

I am trying to believe into better future of the Balkan. My concerns are that Europe and US could easily make a similar mistake as they did in Afghanistan case. Supporting extreme Albanians as they supported Taliban regime for many years they will come to the point when they will face all consequences of that policy. Unfortuantely next time much bigger region could be affected and new problems will arise in Macedonia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Serbia and even Greece. Independent Kosovo is not main goal to Albanians. It is just a on of their steps to reach "historical" borders of great Albanian state.

Anonymous said...

we all know that when the Albanians realise that their "benefectors" are staying they will turn on the hand that feeds them. The West will not want to support the lifestyle the Albanians in Kosovo are accustomed to. They will not give up a months salary, as the rest of Yugoslavia had to every year, just to keep them happy. Before any of you knowledgeable people want to challange me on that, don't bother. I was one of those people who had to sacrifice my hard earned pay. When all is said and done they deserve each other. I hope that they both get it in spades.

julia said...

Comprehensive and interesting article - thanks! (You forgot to mention the source, here it is: Stefan Wagstyl: Why Kosovo may hold the key to the Balkans’ future, Financial Times, 19.2.2006). The article reflects perfectly the realist point of view centered around stability, security, fight against terrorism and organized crime (a very popular point of view in international decision-making circles): "we have to do something about Kosovo in order to protect us" - an argument often used in order to justify spending on development co-operation. I hope there is more to the international community's motivation to do something about Kosovo...

For further readings on the issue, please refer to my blog on SEE/EU integration.