Kosovo’s Ethnic Dilemma: The Need for a Civic Contract
Kosovo’s Ethnic Dilemma: The Need for a Civic Contract
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Kosovo’s Ethnic Dilemma: The Need for a Civic Contract

A simple but effective formula exists for peace in diverse societies. It consists of a civic contract: the government recognises and supports special rights for minorities, and minorities acknowledge the authority of the government.

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Executive Summary

A simple but effective formula exists for peace in diverse societies. It consists of a civic contract: the government recognises and supports special rights for minorities, and minorities acknowledge the authority of the government. No elements of such a contract currently exist in Kosovo. The Albanians remain reluctant to support enhanced rights for the Serb minority, and the Serb community does not recognise the authority of Kosovo’s institutions. Moreover, Kosovo is not a state and the future status of the province remains unresolved. After four years of United Nations authority in Kosovo, the foundation of this civic contract and of sustainable peace has not been laid.

Instead the status dilemma has become a zero-sum game. The Albanians will accept nothing less than independence, and the Serbs firmly want to remain part of Serbia. Serbs argue that their rights will not be protected in an independent Kosovo. Albanians believe that their security will only be guaranteed with independence, and threaten renewed conflict if their independence aspirations are not met.

This report outlines a way out of the dilemma that avoids the dangerous option of partition yet recognises the need of the Serb minority to be protected. The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), with the support of the international community, must begin to build the foundation of a civic contract. UNMIK’s vague and unrealistic policy of multiethnicity and integration, as well as the unclear “standards before status” process, cannot build this foundation. Serbs and other minorities must be given credible guarantees that they will have institutional space in Kosovo – the ability to protect and promote their rights through Kosovo’s institutions. In the interests of protecting the Serb minority and creating a more stable environment in Kosovo it is important that action commence immediately to create this institutional space. Such action would facilitate necessary final status negotiations but should not be seen by either Albanians or Serbs as prejudicing or predetermining their outcome.

ICG proposes the creation of a real incentive structure to treat minorities as full and equal citizens, with clear penalties for bad behaviour and rewards for good behaviour. A committee on public services for minorities should also be established, outlining what needs to be done to improve service provision and formulating a gradual plan to dissolve parallel structures. The electoral system should be reworked so that politicians (of all ethnicities) at the central level are more accountable. A Charter of Rights outlining individual and group rights should be established, accompanied by a strong judicial instrument that ensures the enforcement of these rights. And while the decentralisation initiative should pay special attention to the needs of minority communities, UNMIK and the Council of Europe should exercise extreme caution before drawing any boundaries on an ethnic basis, even for sub-municipal units. The focus should be on improving local governance and ensuring that municipal bodies have the capacity and resources to do their job.

Establishing this institutional space for minorities ultimately depends on the willingness of Serbs and Albanians to cooperate, and both need assistance and encouragement from UNMIK and the broader international community. Albanian politicians must go beyond their current rhetoric and recognise that rights for minority communities are not concessions undermining the potential future independence of Kosovo but an essential precondition. During status negotiations Albanian leaders and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) will be judged on how they treat Serbs and other minorities. Albanian leaders – from all political parties – must proactively work to respect minority rights in concrete terms and foster a more tolerant environment.

The majority of the Serb population hesitates even to engage with UNMIK. Previous agreements have produced few benefits of cooperation for pragmatic Serb leaders to show their community. A renewed and tangible commitment from UNMIK and the international community to create institutional space for minorities could reenergise relations with the Serb community. Instead of constantly turning to Belgrade, Serb leaders should utilise this opportunity to fight for their rights within Kosovo’s institutions.

A cooperative Belgrade will also be essential. Through continued support to parallel structures of government and inflammatory statements about partition, Belgrade acts as a spoiler to the establishment of a civic contract between Kosovo’s Serbs and Albanians. After the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the international community appears reluctant to place pressure on it to play a constructive role in Kosovo. While democratic reform in Serbia needs strong support, it is in Belgrade’s long-term interest to cooperate with UNMIK to create a stable political environment in Kosovo. Serb nationalists in both Belgrade and Kosovo will no doubt be inclined to resist anything they see as prejudicing retention of Serbian sovereignty in the final status negotiations, but it can be put to them that their constructive engagement with Kosovo governing institutions in this respect would not in itself require any modification of their position on sovereignty, would enhance their international standing in the run up to those negotiations, and at the same time deliver immediate and tangible benefits to the Serb minority.

The report advocates a phased approach to create a civic contract governing ethnic relations in Kosovo. The foundation for the contract – the measures outlined above to establish an institutional space for minorities – should be implemented immediately. During status discussions, the civic contract itself would then be finalised. This requires the international community to send a clear message to Albanian leaders that their goal of independence within existing boundaries can only be realistic if the majority community ensures that minority communities are able to live in Kosovo as free and equal citizens.

Pristina/Brussels, 28 May 2003

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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