Kosovo's last chapter is still to be written
Kosovo's last chapter is still to be written
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Kosovo's last chapter is still to be written

If the recent wave of commentary on Tony Blair’s foreign policy record had to be distilled to a few words, they would be “Kosovo good, Iraq bad”. For once, the sound-bite is not far from the truth: long before his disastrous venture in the Middle East, Mr Blair did indeed make the right decision to intervene forcefully when Belgrade was ethnically cleansing its southernmost province of its Albanian majority.

What the discussion of the Blair decade generally missed, however, is that the Kosovo story is far from over. Today’s Pristina may not be like Basra or Baghdad, but its current calm belies the province’s underlying instability.

Since 1999, Kosovo has been a United Nations protectorate, technically part of Serbia even though Belgrade has no institutions or influence on the ground. With efforts to formalise Kosovo’s status under discussion at the UN Security Council, the fear is that the longer diplomats delay, the more likely local frustration will turn to bloodshed.

After more than a year of trying to get Belgrade and Pristina to negotiate a settlement on Kosovo’s final status, the UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari concluded that neither side was going to change its position on the fundamental issue of status. Belgrade is determined to reassert Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo and the Kosovars will never give up their independence demands. A compromise solution is impossible.

So Mr Ahtisaari submitted a comprehensive proposal to the Security Council in March. The council is considering a draft resolution which would endorse Mr Ahtisaari’s proposal and open the path towards Kosovo’s independence.

That clearly riles the Serbs – as well as their self-declared protector in Moscow, which is threatening a Security Council veto – but the move cannot be a surprise to anyone who has followed events in the region. As a European commissioner, I visited Kosovo about 10 times after the 1999 war and it was always obvious that independence was the only sustainable outcome.

First, the historic context that makes Kosovo a special case. In 1989, it became the first victim of the aggressive nationalism pursued by Slobodan Milosevic when its far-reaching autonomy within Serbia was abolished. Kosovars were subject to systematic oppression. A small Serbian minority – less than 10 per cent – ruled over the majority of Albanian Kosovars.

Moreover, with the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation Kosovo lost its status as a federal entity, similar (though not equal) to those of the six Yugoslav republics. After years of the peaceful pursuit of independence, Kosovars turned to armed struggle and in 1999 Mr Milosevic launched a massive military operation, including the ethnic cleansing that sparked the inter­national community’s intervention.

Expecting Kosovo’s 90 per cent Albanian population to be ruled from Belgrade again after all that has occurred would clearly be a recipe for renewed violence. This is the reason that the members of the contact group – France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Russia and the US – formally stated more than a year ago that final status must be acceptable to the people of Kosovo.

The truth is, there is no viable alternative to the UN special envoy’s proposal. Despite their reluctance to get behind the current Security Council draft, even the Russians have not put forward any competing proposal.

Mr Ahtisaari’s plan and the draft resolution will probably never please Belgrade, but they do contain strong elements of compromise. There would be limitations to independent Kosovo’s sovereignty, such as restrictions on the future defence force and international civilian and military presence that would supervise the early years of independence. For the Serb minority, there are extensive provisions concerning local self-government and the protection of religious heritage, creating conditions that would allow Serbs to remain and for those who have left to return. Nowhere do minorities enjoy such far-reaching rights.

The European Union has a special interest because if Kosovo goes wrong, Europe will be first to suffer. Also, the EU has agreed to carry the main burden of backing Kosovo both economically and by providing personnel for the military and civilian missions post-independence. EU members on the Security Council need to push through the resolution with all their diplomatic might. The Kosovo story cannot be added to the international community’s success column yet. Mr Ahtisaari’s final chapter needs to be added.

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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