Only full independence can save Kosovo
Only full independence can save Kosovo
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Only full independence can save Kosovo

The international community's indecision about Kosovo's future is applying brakes to its development, and the majority Albanian population's frustration may soon explode again.

After the mass rioting last March, many may reasonably question whether Kosovo's two million Albanians have what it takes to sustain the institutions of a viable nation-state.

Three million-strong Albania next door is far from an unqualified success and Kosovo lagged in the former Yugoslavia economically and educationally. However, Kosovo has nowhere left to go other than independence. Returning to a state relationship with Serbia is anathema to the 90 per cent of the population that is ethnic Albanian, and forcing such a solution would reignite war.

Any protectorate option would be seen by Kosovo Albanians as merely the buying of time at their expense. And there are no viable candidate organisations to take on the role: the UN's political capital in Kosovo is exhausted after its five years of inadequate, stop-gap administration, and the EU is not geared or willing to take over Kosovo's governance.

Kosovo's UN-nurtured government and public institutions - into which the international community has invested so much over the last five years - are at a fragile crossroads, hovering between taking root and falling apart should growing Kosovo Albanian insecurity and economic desperation lead to their full-scale rebellion against their UN tutors.

Without political certainty on Kosovo's future state arrangement, it will remain a black hole for investment. The World Bank and IMF have warned that even Kosovo's present threadbare economic performance is unsustainable. After a three-year post-war reconstruction boom, the UN mission in Kosovo now presides over declining aid levels that see the territory sinking back into recession, barely 5 per cent of its imports matched by exports, unemployment variously estimated from 30 to 60 per cent, its delayed privatisation programme failing, and regular electricity cuts a daily reminder of debilitation.

The logical destination of the UN's actions within Kosovo is independence. Successive UN governors have brought the province distinct governmental institutions, its own corpus of law, the euro and a nascent central bank, free-trade agreements and separate customs territory. The current governor, Soren Jensen-Petersen, a Dane, has accelerated the handover of administration to the elected provisional government.

Outside Kosovo the UN remains wedded to the uncertain status quo due to the formal legal position and the unwillingness so far of the Security Council to move beyond its stopgap, ambiguous Resolution 1244 of June 1999. That failure to finish the job risks all the investments made so far.

A divided, unfocused and procrastinating international community is part of Kosovo's problem. Vaguely and vainly hoping for Kosovo and Serbia-Montenegro - the formal holder of Kosovo's sovereignty - to bring them a solution, the permanent members of the UN Security Council worry about the precedents and possible dominoes that could fall from finishing the job in Kosovo, in places as far-flung as Chechnya, Iraqi Kurdistan, Tibet and Abkhazia.

But Kosovo does differ from those other potential secessions in that Resolution 1244 actually mandates a resolution of its future status, and references the abortive Rambouillet accords that preceded the NATO intervention in 1999, and which contained steps toward an albeit non-binding independence referendum.

Kosovo should enter the community of nation states through a process carefully crafted between the international community and Kosovo's provisional elected institutions. They should together design a new constitution providing for strong guarantees for Kosovo's Serb and other minorities, incorporation of international judges in Kosovo's judiciary, accommodation of an international monitoring mission and a continued NATO presence. Acceptance of the constitution in a referendum would trigger independence. Ideally, the UN Security Council and the six-nation Contact Group formed in 1994 to trouble-shoot Balkan crises should reach consensus to endorse a timely process to bring this to fruition. An international conference this autumn could finalise the new constitution, wrapping it into a "Kosovo Accord". If Serbia engages in the process, it would be able to play a role in shaping the constitution and guarantees for the Serb minority.

But Kosovo's urgent need for closure cannot be held hostage any longer if Serbia, Russia or China play blocking roles. A coalition of the US and key EU countries will need to drive the process themselves, conferring their recognition and sustained support upon Kosovo as a new nation state.

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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