A Ticking Clock on Kosovo
A Ticking Clock on Kosovo
Escalation in Northern Kosovo: Causes, Dangers and Prospects
Escalation in Northern Kosovo: Causes, Dangers and Prospects
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

A Ticking Clock on Kosovo

It took Serbia 20 years of civic unrest, a devastating war, and eight years of an international protectorate over a chunk of its territory, but Premier Vojislav Kostunica finally claims to have a plan for dealing with Kosovo. The only problem is that no one seems to know what it is.

Despite Belgrade's adamant rhetoric demanding Kosovo remain a part of Serbia, the Serbian authorities have never offered any proposal as to how the 90 percent Albanian population of the breakaway province would ever again actually live under a Serb wing. Of course, thinking about the people of Kosovo has rarely been Serbia's strong point: This is, after all, where Belgrade conducted an ethnic cleansing campaign in 1999, massacring thousands of Albanian civilians and driving 800,000 into neighboring countries, until NATO bombing forced a change of policy.

If Belgrade does indeed have a plan, the only thing anyone knows of it comes from a set of vaguely worded, sometimes contradictory statements by Serbia's young foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, and the minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic.

Belgrade's solution to the Kosovo status question is to call on the West to save Serbian democracy at the expense of regional stability and to bear all the financial costs, legal and security burdens associated with denying Kosovo its independence, and keeping it forcibly under Serbian sovereignty. Belgrade has not discussed how or whether it would integrate Albanians into Serbia's society, economy, and polity. Nor has it mentioned offering them the same parliamentary representation, human rights guarantees, cultural rights, and special protections the Albanians would be obligated to offer Kosovo's Serb minority under the UN proposal.

But Belgrade hopes that Brussels and Washington might seize on the offer and ignore the fact that this represents largely a codification of the status quo.

Due to Russian obstruction in the UN Security Council, a troika made up of the European Union, United States, and Russia will be forced to begin a new round of negotiations over Kosovo's status in mid-August, duplicating UN negotiator Martti Ahtisaari's earlier effort. During the initial period of shuttle diplomacy, the troika is expected to get input from Belgrade and Pristina, and the hope is that they will reach a compromise acceptable to both.

But there is no indication that Belgrade's position on Kosovo will change. Serbian politicians cannot formulate a plan for integrating Albanians into Serbia's political, social, and economic life, because to do so would create terminal domestic political risks for Serbia's government, and any such plan would face deep difficulty in the nationalist-dominated parliament. And now, emboldened by Moscow (pursuing its own cynical interest), Belgrade appears even to be hardening its stance, as seen in a parliamentary resolution of July 24 that authorized the government to take whatever actions it deemed necessary to protect Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.

Belgrade is also working toward partitioning the province as a fall-back position, a continuation of Slobodan Milosevic's policy, and hoping that by stalling and delaying Kosovo independence, the Albanians will resort to a unilateral declaration of independence that splits the international community or violence that makes the Serbs look good.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking, and Kosovo needs answers. Kosovo Albanians have waited eight years for the international community to pull them out of international legal limbo and resolve their status. Although outnumbering all minorities 9 to 1, they have agreed to establish a multiethnic state with the strongest minority protection regime ever seen in Europe. As they see it, the international community is running out of excuses for further delays in a status resolution of its design, to which Albanians have conceded everything possible short of compromising the new state's ability to function. The United States and Europe have asked them for another 120 days of patience. Beyond this, pressure will build for a unilateral declaration of independence whether or not it has international support.

The bottom line is that Pristina demands nothing short of independence and Belgrade refuses that, so the new troika will end up where Ahtisaari did: stalemate between the parties and the need for the UN Security Council to cast the deciding vote. Given the Kosovo people's overwhelming desire to be free from the state that tried to eliminate them and the lack of any realistic alternative from Belgrade, the international community has little choice but to give Kosovo its independence.

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