Setting Kosovo Free: Remaining Challenges
10 Sep 2012
Kosovo deserves to celebrate today as the international community converts the “supervised independence” it achieved four years ago to full independence, but it must also do more to guarantee full protection of minority rights, especially those of the country’s Serb population.
Setting Kosovo Free: Remaining Challenges, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, describes how much of the Ahtisaari Plan – the blueprint for Kosovo’s independence with extensive rights for Serbs and other minorities – has been implemented in areas under government control. The government has dev0lved powers to six Serb-majority municipalities where local Serbs are increasingly participating in public life. But these achievements are threatened by the tense Kosovo-Serbia relationship, declining Serb numbers, and Pristina’s frustration and inability to extend its sovereignty to the Serb-majority northern areas and to achieve full international recognition.
“While Kosovo must do more, Belgrade, if it means to help the Serbs south of the Ibar, has to recognise where fate has left them and accept the same conclusion they have already reached: there is no good alternative to full and open engagement with the Pristina government”, says Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Balkans Project Director.
The Kosovo Serbs living north of the Ibar River still reject Pristina, but those in the south have progressively accepted its authority and agreed to cooperate with its institutions. However, their declining number, geographic dispersion and lack of leadership hamper their full political representation. Belgrade continues to pay many Serbs’ salaries and pensions and runs education and health systems without informing Pristina. Kosovo’s acceptance of Serbia’s ongoing involvement is wearing thin.
Furthermore, a surge in ethnically-motivated attacks shows peace is fragile. Strong opposition to the return of refugees has yet to be overcome, as recurrent attacks on Serbian villages from larger neighbouring Albanian settlements show. Serbian is not fully accepted as an official language, and the promise of an independent Serbian language television station has been broken.
In order to uphold the rights of the Serbian minority of Kosovo, the governments in Pristina and Belgrade should directly communicate to work out agreements on registration and licensing of Serbia-funded entities and foster other forms of cooperation at the municipal level to avoid corruption, duplication and waste of limited resources. Belgrade should not discourage Serbs in Kosovo from cooperating with Kosovo institutions and needs to replace its parallel municipal structures with liaison offices to provide for the needs of the Serb community while complying with Kosovo law.
To help Kosovo meet remaining challenges in its relations with its Serb citizens, the European Union should extend its monitoring work, with a focus on decentralisation and communication with minority and religious leaders. The International Steering Group is likely to close but Kosovo’s friends should establish a mechanism to continue monitoring and coordinate the provision of support to the Kosovo authorities.
“With the full sovereignty that is conferred on Kosovo today comes the assumption of full responsibility for its own future”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “Kosovo must protect its Serb and other minorities from attack, respect their rights and improve their living conditions, particularly if it wants to convince Serb living north of the Ibar that they can have a good life in independent Kosovo and to gradually extend its authority there”.