A Kosovo Roadmap (I) : Addressing Final Status
A Kosovo Roadmap (I) : Addressing Final Status
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 124 / Europe & Central Asia

A Kosovo Roadmap (I) : Addressing Final Status

Since Kosovo became an international protectorate under United Nations administration in June 1999, much has been done to stabilise the province and set up a functioning administration. Yet nothing has been done to resolve the question at the heart of the conflict in Kosovo, and which remains the issue of overriding importance for the province’s inhabitants: the issue of final status.

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Executive Summary

Since Kosovo became an international protectorate under United Nations administration in June 1999, much has been done to stabilise the province and set up a functioning administration. Yet nothing has been done to resolve the question at the heart of the conflict in Kosovo, and which remains the issue of overriding importance for the province’s inhabitants: the issue of final status.

The UN Resolution that established the interim system in Kosovo left the issue of final status open. Nor has the international community shown any appetite to address it. Yet it remains intensely controversial. The majority Albanians are unanimous that Kosovo will never again be subject to Serbian (or Yugoslav) sovereignty, while the minority Serbs, supported by Belgrade, are equally adamant that Kosovo must be restored to Serbian sovereignty, albeit with extensive political autonomy.

In order to move towards a resolution of Kosovo’s final status, two distinct aspects need to be considered: an ‘external’ and an ‘internal’ dimension. The ‘external’ dimension involves devising a process to address final status, including all of the different actors with a stake in Kosovo’s future. The ‘internal’ dimension concerns the development of Kosovo’s own democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights, so as to prepare Kosovo for whatever final status may eventually be agreed.

These dimensions are duly treated in a pair of reports sharing a common title, A Kosovo Roadmap, issued simultaneously and subtitled I. Addressing Final Status and II.  Internal Benchmarks.

Together, these reports comprise a roadmap that shows two, parallel paths which need to be negotiated simultaneously in order to reach the desired destination: a stable, democratic Kosovo, standing on its own feet, peacefully integrated in its region, and with a clearly defined place in the international community.

Report II discusses benchmarks for assessing progress in Kosovo’s internal development. It is often argued that, given the lack of functioning institutions and the unsatisfactory position of minorities in Kosovo, it is too soon to begin considering Kosovo’s eventual status. However, while the achievement of such benchmarks must influence the timing of the implementation of an agreed final status, it should not determine what that status should be. This is because the decision on Kosovo’s final status is itself of key importance in achieving a stable Kosovo and a stable region. The fact that much remains to be done internally is no reason to delay a formal consideration of the relative merits of different options for final status.
 

Addressing Final Status

The refusal to address Kosovo’s final status perpetuates an inherently unstable situation. As long as Albanian fears and Serb hopes of Kosovo’s eventual re-incorporation into Yugoslavia are allowed to persist, efforts to develop normal relations between the two communities, either within Kosovo or between Kosovo and Serbia, are unlikely to bear fruit. While the issue remains open, each side will continue to regard the other as a threat. This puts at risk both Kosovo’s fragile peace and the significant international investment in the province. It also ensures that any international hopes of withdrawing from Kosovo will be frustrated.

Serbia’s fragile transition, too, requires an end to the uncertainty over Kosovo’s future. Contrary to the oft-expressed fear that addressing Kosovo’s status would undermine Serbia’s transition, the unresolved status of Kosovo (as well as Montenegro) actually holds Serbia back. Serbia’s long-term stability cannot be built by keeping Kosovo in an inherently unstable and unsustainable limbo.

Democracy in Serbia is incompatible with absorbing a province most of whose population (comprising as much as 20 per cent of Serbia’s total) wants nothing to do with a Serbian or Yugoslav state. For political reasons, Belgrade’s leaders feel unable to open the question of Kosovo’s future status. While this reluctance is understandable, it is not an adequate reason for the international community to duck the issue.

Another reason given for deferring final status discussions is the fear of increasing regional instability. Since 1999, Kosovo has indeed been a factor of instability in the region, exporting insurrection and extremism to Macedonia and southern Serbia. It is also feared that independence for Kosovo would set a dangerous precedent for other would-be secessionist movements in the region, such as the Bosnian Serbs and Albanians in Macedonia and southern Serbia.

However, Kosovo’s case is not comparable to those of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska or Albanian-inhabited regions in Macedonia or southern Serbia. As a component of former Yugoslavia, Kosovo was an autonomous unit (of Serbia), with defined boundaries and representation in federal bodies. Crucially, the establishment of a UN protectorate in Kosovo created a new situation. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the question of final status was left open, and independence is one of the possible options. Any attempt by would-be separatists elsewhere to link their case with that of Kosovo could, and should, be firmly rejected.

A further argument offered for shelving the final status question is that international divisions make it too difficult to open the issue – as if the prospect of disrupting the fragile consensus on Kosovo is simply too difficult to contemplate. In this sense, the international consensus has become a recipe for inertia.

The real point, however, is that the stakes are simply too high to leave the issue unaddressed. A potential for further regional conflict exists, and the international community cannot afford to leave Kosovo or the region in a state of uneasy and potentially dangerous limbo just because the issues involved are awkward.

What is more, uncertainty over future status is itself a key source of instability. It is mistaken to imagine that the province and the surrounding region can be stabilised before the status issue has been resolved. Kosovo cannot cease to be a factor for regional instability while its long-term status remains unaddressed. Normal relations among the states and entities in the region can only be built on a foundation of clarity, and as long as outstanding territorial issues are left unresolved, there will be no sustainable peace.

The search for a solution needs to take full consideration of the reality that virtually no Albanian is prepared under any circumstances ever again to be in any form of Serbian or Yugoslav state. On the other hand, full sovereign independence for Kosovo also appears unrealistic for the time being, given the woeful conditions for minorities and the lack of functioning institutions.

Conditional independence under a form of international trusteeship offers the most appropriate solution. This would allow the international community to retain essential influence over local Albanian leaders. Having secured independence from Belgrade, but remaining on probation, the Kosovo Albanians would have a strong incentive to ensure that Kosovo would cease to be a factor of regional instability. The international community would retain an essential role as guarantor of minority rights and external security.

If carefully managed, the opening of the final status issue would help stabilise Kosovo by removing the uncertainty that preserves the delusions of both sides that every outcome is still possible when, in fact, it is not. The purpose of international engagement is to facilitate a stable, sustainable solution for Kosovo, Serbia and the region. The purpose is not to impose a particular solution that might be preferred by any of the major powers.

To begin with, a focal point should be established to commence contacts between Belgrade and Kosovo representatives. The aims could initially be modest, concentrating on confidence building and practical issues that need to be addressed regardless of final status. It is vital that both sides should agree to the framework for such contacts.

After this preparatory phase, a meeting should be convened to negotiate final status, with international mediators – led perhaps by the G-8 – helping to reach compromises. At the outset, no options should be ruled out. A solution should if possible be reached by agreement, but neither side should be allowed an indefinite or unlimited right of veto. If necessary, the international community should discharge the responsibility it assumed in 1999, by imposing a solution based on the democratic will of the people of Kosovo.

Pristina/Brussels, 1 March 2002

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

In this conversation, we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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