How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 170 / Europe & Central Asia

Kosovo: The Challenge of Transition

The key issue in the current final status process is the creation of a Kosovo that will have the greatest chance of lasting stability and development. While agreement between Belgrade and Pristina remains desirable in theory, it is extremely unlikely that any Serbian government will voluntarily acquiesce to the kind of independence, conditional or limited though it may be, which is necessary for a stable long-term solution.

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Executive Summary

The key issue in the current final status process is the creation of a Kosovo that will have the greatest chance of lasting stability and development. While agreement between Belgrade and Pristina remains desirable in theory, it is extremely unlikely that any Serbian government will voluntarily acquiesce to the kind of independence, conditional or limited though it may be, which is necessary for a stable long-term solution. The international community, and in particular the UN Special Envoy charged with resolving the status process, Martti Ahtisaari, must accordingly prepare for the possibility of imposing an independence package for Kosovo, however diplomatically painful that may be in the short term, rather than hoping to finesse Pristina and Belgrade’s differences with an ambiguous solution, or one in which key elements are deferred.

None of this removes any responsibility from Kosovo’s Albanian majority. They must offer packages of rights for Kosovo’s Serb and other minorities in at least three areas: central institutions, decentralisation and religious and cultural heritage. Details of inclusion and representation in core governing institutions, with arrangements for involvement of the relevant mother country in fields such as culture, education and possibly more, should be negotiated with not only Kosovo’s Serb minority but also its Turks, Bosniaks and others. An agreement on decentralisation, to be brokered in the first instance by Ahtisaari and his team, could then be implemented under international oversight for three years, as was done with the Ohrid Agreement in Macedonia. Pristina’s negotiators should also immediately start direct negotiation with the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo on a package of protection arrangements for it and its sites. Only once this groundwork has been done should the Contact Group be prepared to make concerted, formal moves toward recognising Kosovo’s independence.

The independence package the international community settles upon Kosovo should prioritise its social and economic development. Crafting it should be an opportunity for the European Union and its member states in particular to expand their commitment, including resources, to the Western Balkans generally. A generous education assistance program and visa liberalisation are needed, as is assistance for rural development. The EU must not end up spending more on its own post-status mission costs in Kosovo than it does on pre-accession structural funds for the new country.

While a new UN Security Council resolution will be vital to set Kosovo on a course of independence from Serbia, any new international mission there should desirably be based on agreement with the new state, preferably founded in its constitution. This international presence should have fewer powers than the High Representative has enjoyed in Bosnia. EU institutions properly emphasise that they want a Kosovo which can be treated in most respects as a normal country, with politicians answerable to their own electorates. But there is one area where the international community should consider a more intrusive mission: northern Kosovo, and Mitrovica in particular, where Serb parallel structures defy UNMIK and the provisional government (PISG) alike. Leaving a new Kosovo government to try to incorporate the north would invite a violent breakdown. A transitional international authority there is the only sensible answer.

Pristina/Belgrade/Brussels, 17 February 2006

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