Mitic, TFF Associate
September 21, 2006
A Serbian journalist and TFF Associate argues that
only a genuine compromise over Kosovo's future status can guarantee
A true, balanced, and negotiated compromise on Kosovo's future status
would swing the pendulum of Balkan stability towards the European path.
A manipulated, one-sided, and imposed decision would, however, open a
Pandora's box of secessionist movements in the world and release the ghosts
of a nationalist past in the Balkans.
As we approach the beginning of talks on the future status of the Kosovo
province, it becomes crucial to grasp the full complexity of the Kosovo
There has been an attempt in the last year and a half to close down international
debate before the status talks had even begun by suggesting that only
independence is a viable solution for Kosovo.
The truth is, the issue of Kosovo's status is dependent on so many historical,
legal, political, religious, economic, and demographic elements that it
deserves, at the very least, a wide international debate on possible solutions
and their implications.
To argue thus that only one solution is possible is not only flawed reasoning,
but a dangerous and explosive recipe for future frustration, tension,
There has also been an attempt to refocus and spin the talks in the direction
of Kosovo's independence, from those who say that these are not really
talks on the future status but rather on the terms of Kosovo's future
independence to those who argue that the negotiations should be only about
the position of the Kosovo Serbs in an independent Kosovo.
also argued that the talks will be about finding a way to impose independence
upon Belgrade. While there are a few officials who have, often privately
rather than publicly, indicated their preference for such approaches,
it must be said that these are completely contrary to international law.
aim of the talks on Kosovo's future status is to finally provide a fair,
stable, long-term solution for this crisis region. The majority Kosovo
Albanians must get a maximum of opportunity and real means to manage their
future without feeling threatened, but also without endangering the welfare
of Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanians. The interests of Serbia, of which
Kosovo is a part, the stability of the Balkans, and the worldwide impact
of these negotiations are also crucial factors which must be taken into
Within the principles of international law and the preset recommendations
of the international community's informal "Contact Group" -
no return to the pre-1999 Milosevic-era situation, no joining of neighboring
states, no partition - a number of possible solutions for the future status
of Kosovo deserve to be examined.
There is also a number of pre-conditions for successful talks that must
be met: artificial deadlines such as end of 2006 must not be used to the
detriment of a sound solution; and the outcome should be an agreed, negotiated
compromise, not an imposed, one-sided decision.
The breaching of international law and the creation of worldwide precedents
should be avoided for the sake of regional and world security.
In this regard, it is of paramount importance that double standards must
not be allowed to win over universal standards.
To claim that the Kosovo situation features "unique" characteristics
and that its independence would not represent a precedent for triggering
other crises elsewhere in the world is unlikely to convince everyone in
the international community.
What is it that makes Kosovo so unique? Ten years of institutional discrimination?
Several thousand victims of a conflict between a repressive state security
force and a separatist guerilla force? A majority ethnic group actively
seeking independence? But the very same characteristics are shared by
dozens of similar regions around the world. If every such case is seen
as unique, international law becomes irrelevant.
Independence for Kosovo would indeed be a risky, unilaterally-imposed
and ultimately wrong solution. Why would one side get it all, the other
one lose all? Why reward seven years of Albanian violence in post-war
Kosovo? Why break up Serbia, the most ethnically diverse country in the
Western Balkans and create a second ethnic-Albanian state on one part
of its territory? Where is the logic of European integration in this pursuit
of Balkanization of the Balkans?
A BLUFFER'S GUIDE TO INDEPENDENCE
and spin must not be used as arguments. To say, for example, that Serbia
already lost Kosovo in 1999 is only an interpretation and does not stand
in any single international document, let alone in the UN
Security Council resolution 1244 that ended the conflict.
the resolution, "self-governing" is mentioned three times, "self-government"
four times, "self-administration" once, "substantial autonomy"
three times, whereas neither "self-determination" nor "independence"
are mentioned at all. Did NATO intervene in 1999 to protect human rights
or to provide the basis for secession? If Kosovo was lost to Serbia in
1999, why did it not obtain independence then?
far as the so-called moral argument that it is the violence of former
Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic which lost Kosovo for Serbia, the
Kosovo Albanians should be least inclined to favor it since their massive
and systematic violence and repression of the Serb community in the last
seven post-war years has taken all the "moral credit" out of
The same goes for the often heard assertion that Serbia should choose
between Kosovo and the European Union. In fact, under the EU Thessaloniki
agenda on the Western Balkans, Serbia has a clear European perspective
and as the Western Balkans' largest country, it certainly won't remain
a black hole inside the EU. To suggest that Serbia should give up a large
part of its territory - which has been the cradle of its civilization,
culture, and religion for nine centuries now - for the sake of possibly
entering a supranational integration process two or three years earlier
does not make much sense. No international or domestic campaign aimed
at convincing Serbian public opinion on this one would succeed.
One of the most common arguments for the independence of Kosovo is that
if the ethnic Albanians do not get what they want, they will stage mass
violence against the Serbs, other non-Albanians, and the international
troops. The argument points to the massive riots in March 2004 as a warning
of what could happen if ethnic Albanian desires are not satisfied. But
is the world really so afraid of such threats that it does not dare stand
up to them? NATO seems ready to call this bluff. The Alliance's Secretary-General
has warned on several occasions that violence as means of promoting political
objectives in the status talks would this time be met with a robust response
from 17,000 NATO troops in the province. Indeed, threats of violence must
not be legitimized nor used as arguments.
Finally, it is most worrying to suggest that some sort of "conditional
independence" should be the outcome of the status talks. This empty
formula is even presented by some as a compromise solution, because ethnic
Albanians will have to wait a few more years for independence and give
up on the idea of Greater Albania. Many of its backers suggest "conditional
independence" means that Kosovo will be granted independence in phases,
provided the majority ethnic Albanians finally start respecting the human
rights of the Serbs and other non-Albanians. But this option is an insult
to negotiators and 21st-century human-rights standards. If Belgrade is
resolutely opposed to immediate independence, why would it accept independence
two or three years from now? If even the most basic standards of human
rights are not respected under international supervision, why should we
expect that they would be in a conditionally independent Kosovo? And doesn't
the "conditional independence" concept introduce a new kind
of trade-off: respect for human rights in exchange for territory?
COMPROMISE: A WIN-WIN SOLUTION
Looking at the situation realistically and fairly, the most sustainable
and just solution for the future status of the province lies between the
standard type of autonomy, which ethnic Albanians now reject, and independence,
which clashes with international law and is unacceptable for the Serbs
in general and Serbia as a state.
A solution that would provide for a maximum of autonomy for Kosovo within
the borders of Serbia could satisfy all the legitimate demands, including
the Kosovo Albanians' demand to be self-governing, and it can protect
the interests of non-Albanians in Kosovo and the interests of Serbia as
a state. Such a solution would also comply with the principle of the inviolability
of international borders.
Kosovo would enjoy full legislative, executive, and judicial capacity,
a limited external representation - in particular regarding its full direct
access to the international financial institutions - and most importantly,
normalized relations with Serbia.
On the other hand, Serbia still has many positive things to offer Kosovo,
including a strong push in its macroeconomic revival, a common market
for goods, an integrated energy, electricity and infrastructure network,
access to its health and education systems, a common fight against organized
crime, and a joint contribution to regional stability and European integration.
At the same time, an autonomous Kosovo would still need to improve its
treatment of the Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanians. A wide-scale decentralization
including a horizontal linkage of Serbian municipalities, which would
benefit from the education, social, and health system of central Serbia,
is a precondition for the survival of Kosovo Serbs, as suggested by UN
special envoy Kai Eide.
This horizontal linkage is not a model for partition and conflict but,
on the contrary, a model for integration and survival, as these municipalities
would be fully integrated in the autonomous Kosovo system run from Pristina,
while keeping some political links with Belgrade.
Considering all this, an autonomy for the Kosovo Serbs within a maximum
autonomy for Kosovo inside Serbia appears as the most reasonable and viable
A WIN-WIN SOLUTION
More than anything, it is a win-win solution. The Kosovo Albanians would
finally get the means to manage their future and so will the Kosovo Serbs;
Serbia would not have its borders changed and its historical and religious
cradle amputated; Macedonia and Bosnia will receive guarantees that border
changes in the Balkans are no longer tolerated; the EU would obtain regional
stability and be able fully to take charge of its European perspective;
the United States would be able to disengage its troops without losing
its diplomatic leverage in both Pristina and Belgrade; Russia, China,
India, and many other countries in the world would appreciate not having
to deal with a dangerous secessionist precedent; the UN will see a major
crisis issue resolved peacefully and with full respect for international
It is time to respect international law; it is time to find a long-term
solution for Kosovo; it is high time to be patient, fair, sound, and consistent.
It is time for a successful compromise for the first time in Kosovo's
Mitic is a Brussels-based journalist and one of the authors of the CD-ROM
and Internet project Kosovo
2006: The Making of a Compromise.
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