A Tale of two Protectorates
A Tale of two Protectorates
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

A Tale of two Protectorates

The contrast is striking.

In Iraq the Americans have hand picked an interim governing council, there have been no elections, the judiciary is barely functioning, and American forces and more Iraqis are being killed almost every day. Yet the U.N. and many of its member states, including the U.S., France and Germany, are in a hurry to hand power over to the Iraqi people, some even more quickly than others.

In Kosovo elections have been held to create representative governments at municipal and national levels, allied forces are not being attacked but urged to stay, and the U.N. has been peacefully running the show for already four years. However, the U.N. and key member states insist that the critical powers for running a government cannot be handed over to Kosovo’s people.

To be sure, Kosovo and Iraq are different species. Kosovo has never been an independent state, it is of little geopolitical importance, it has none of the wealth and little of the trained personnel of Iraq, and there is no sense of international urgency, as there is on Iraq, to quickly change the current situation. Violence is always a prod.

Four years ago, NATO’s intervention freed Kosovo from the bondage, ethnic cleansing, and violence of Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 mandated a U.N. interim administration to run Kosovo and carry out a process to establish self government but left undecided when and how the future international status of Kosovo would be settled. The U.N. mission in Kosovo has been indispensable in helping the people of Kosovo get on their feet. It has provided a wide range of services and much material assistance. It has presided over three successful elections, established a provisional government and a representative assembly. Another election will be held next year.

But the international community has been exceedingly slow in encouraging and better providing the wherewithal for the people of Kosovo to run their own show. It has done nothing to advance the process of determining Kosovo’s final status.

The U.N. mission still maintains the critical powers for running Kosovo—overseeing the rule of law, property issues, foreign affairs and security. They have the final say over the budget, the power to dissolve Kosovo’s assembly and call new elections, and the right to change the constitutional framework. The Kosovo government is mostly given power over health. Its staffs are starved for resources, and training is limited even for those responsibilities given to the provisional government. Senior Kosovo officials are discouraged from traveling abroad and often unable to present their views unencumbered.

In a catch 22, the U.N. mission, supported by the US and the EU also insists on using the slogan “standards before status,” that the final status of Kosovo vis-a-vis Serbia can only be considered after the Kosovo government, with its limited powers, has somehow achieved a level of excellence that most other Balkan states lack. This formula was in part devised to put off Kosovo demands for settling Kosovo’s political status in the hopes that the desire for independence in Kosovo would somehow diminish and pressures on a vulnerable new Serbian government over the highly, politically neuralgic Kosovo issue would be reduced.

The international community now insists that the Kosovo Serbia begin negotiations on important matters to both parties but not final status. There are indeed issues of real importance that need resolution. But Serbia, despite its difficult political and economic situation, has a government with real powers and Kosovo does not. What kind of negotiations does this constitute for Kosovo when the final power is with the U.N. mission and its directors is described as a facilitator to negotiations?

The Kosovars bear responsibility for the current situation. They have been slow in stopping violence against Serbs and showing serious interest in getting Serbs who fled Kosovo to consider returning. Organized crime is a problem, and the rule of law needs to be more firmly established.

Kosovo, however, is not the dysfunctional state of neighboring Bosnia with its deep structural divisions. Certainly Kosovo still needs much financial help, the ability to procure foreign technical assistance, and international monitoring for the next few years. If Kosovo is to prosper, if it is to negotiate seriously with Serbia as one day it must, it should have its own strong governmental institutions and an ability to better determine its place in the world. The U.N. should not be encouraging dependence. There is no reason why over the next year Kosovars should not be able to assume most or all the powers held by the U.N. mission, which could then monitor and advise.

The international community retains many ways of influencing Kosovo to ensure that its government does not go off the rails. However more effective a government it may achieve, Kosovo will remain critically dependent on the international community for a long time to come, for its security, including allied forces, its economy, ultimately its final status and its need to be incorporated into Europe.

The internal situations in Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia are all declining in part because of the continuing uncertainty of Kosovo’s final status. U.S. Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman’s recent statement that talks on final status might open in mid-2005 appears to mark a departure from the West’s ostrich posture on Kosovo. That date would more likely be met if the U.N. turned over its remaining powers to the people of Kosovo.

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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