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A new beginning for Kosovo


Aleksandar Mitic

Jan Oberg

Also on EUobserver

July 21, 2007

During the last almost 20 years, the Kosovo conflict has been handled by the international community on the basis of three counterproductive assumptions. One, it was believed that it could be dealt with as a special case and in isolation from the rest of former Yugoslavia, Europe and larger world order issues. Two, it was seen as a political power issue rather than a case for professional conflict-resolution. Three, there was a belief that deficient conflict analysis and the lack of mediation could be covered up by NATO’s “peacemaking” bombings in 1999.

The US, the EU, NATO, the UN and OSCE would do wise to finally recognize ­– and even better publicly admit - that they have come to the end of the road with these three assumption, as reflected in the current stalemate in the UN Security Council – where proposals for “supervised independence” by former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari have been blocked by a threat of a Russian veto.

Both the Albanians and the Serbs today feel humiliated, victimized and cheated by the mismanagement of the international players.

Washington is frustrated by its failure to get through a speedy imposition of Kosovo’s independence, Moscow is determined not to allow this imposition as a breach of international law and Brussels is spending more time managing its internal cohesion than creatively thinking about how to get out of the impasse.

Summer 2007 is therefore the time for a new beginning in Kosovo. Any continuation on the basis of the three aforementioned assumptions could cause serious trouble in Kosovo and elsewhere in the world.

What is urgently needed now is impartial, professional mediation by countries, civil society and individuals who have no other mandate but to help the parties solve their conflict. A conflict has found a sustainable solution when the parties have investigated all creative future options and worked their way towards a future arrangement that they can accept voluntarily and are therefore committed to implement on the ground.

The mediation process and mediator(s) must be considered impartial and neutral by all parties. The chief mediator will need a quite large team of professional expertise in the area, in conflict analysis, mediation, reconciliation and forgiveness ­ - all competences much more important than being a career diplomat or, say, a former president.

By its Charter and in spite of its “mission impossible” in Kosovo since 1999, the United Nations would ­probably be the best negotiation agency, closely working with the OSCE, the EU and other regional bodies. Members of these organisations should provide security and finance the process which may well take 1-2 years. During that period, none of the parties should explore and negotiate solutions with a pistol in their backs or a time-bomb on the tracks.

There must be enough time, parties and space for a new process to succeed.

Enough time - because hurrying the process is detrimental to the quality of the process: in the Vienna talks, rounds were held at increasingly shorter intervals as pressure to conclude the process increased.

Enough participants – because room must be given to arguments, needs and interests on all sides. The future of Kosovo will influence the whole region and, thus, there are many participants to give a stake in the solution. Also, it is no longer feasible that only governments try to make peace; democratic peace is about providing for civil society to state its concerns and contribute its creativity. While diplomats can leave, citizens must stay and live with the result of the peace-making process.

While certain ideas from the Ahtisaari process can be kept as a basis for a solution, Belgrade’s proposals must not be automatically rejected as underdeveloped and unrealistic. On the other hand, Belgrade must further operationalise its proposals and present them as a real incentive to Pristina as well as a constructive alternative for the international community.

Enough space – because a solution must be created within a viable framework. The overwhelming majority of international actors insist on the legality and legitimacy of a UN Security Council resolution as well as on the norms of the UN Charter; Kosovo should not be an exception from all other similar cases. It has been made very clear that ignoring the territorial integrity of Serbia will not be accepted in the world’s top body. As a result and as a starting point, it should therefore be accepted that international law must be respected and that a space for solution can be found between the territorial integrity of a state and the right of a majority to rule itself.

However, if the parties can find a peaceful way to an independent Kosovo that is acceptable to Serbia, its citizens and those of Kosovo, no one should oppose that.

In fact, independence versus integration are typical power issues. To now introduce a conflict-resolution perspective would imply two new foci: what is this conflict about and, consequently, how can Kosovo, Serbia and neighbouring countries develop in such a way that future life in Kosovo will be good for those living there?

At the end of the day, formal status of the province is much less important than the quality of people’s everyday life. Neither independence nor re-integration can in and of itself be a guarantee for a good life for all. For both side these positions have been mantras for too long. What all people in the region want, need and have a right to are things such as good schools and health care, freedom of movement, gender balance, good economic opportunities, employment, social security etc. And above all, they need to make peace, stop hating and go for reconciliation with their neighbours.

Without it, no status solution will succeed or last for long.

Start with that sort of things and end with the issue: What status should Kosovo have in order to best achieve these desirable things for all in the region? Such an approach of substance and human needs rather than formality and law would engage citizens in a new democratic way. The solutions found to these life quality goals would compel the parties to enter into an overall agreement voluntarily and with serious commitment to also implement them.

It will certainly not be easy. But in contrast to the now failed power policy with
conflict-mismanagement, this type of principled conflict-handling holds a hope for peace ­conflict-resolution, peace-making and ­building with genuine human reconciliation. 

Aleksandar Mitic is director of the project “Kosovo 2006: The Making of a Compromise” ( by the Institute 4S in Brussels. Jan Oberg is Director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in Lund.

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