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Why the solution in Kosovo
matters to the world

Kosovo Solution Series # 1


PressInfo # 209

 March 17, 2005


Aleksandar Mitic, TFF Associate & Jan Oberg, TFF director


This is the first in a series of TFF PressInfos about Kosovo. It follows PressInfo 208 about the United Nations praising the potential war criminal, former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj. Relevant background links for this series here.



As Kosovo these very days marks the anniversary of the massive anti-Serb violence of March 2004, the path towards talks on its final status appears set.

The mainly Albanian populated province of southern Serbia has extradited its Prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, indicted for war crimes during the Kosovo conflict, to the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. Belgrade is doing the same with its own former generals indicted for war crimes during the conflict, thus paving the way for a positive stance by Brussels on its EU Feasibility Study. The roadblocks towards a true, negotiated and long-lasting agreement on Kosovo remain numerous, but should by no means prevent the international community and the main parties in conflict from finding a solution to the most unstable zone of the 21st century Europe.

Crafting a viable agreement means however rejecting solutions based on maximalist demands. An intensive PR campaign launched by the pro-Albanian lobby is trying to persuade the world that the independence of Kosovo - immediate or conditional after a year or two - is the only solution available for the stability in the region. This option however neglects completely the objections of the non-Albanian communities in the province, primarily the Serbs, and particularly of Serbia, of which Kosovo is a province under international law. Undermining the role Belgrade must play in finding a compromise on Kosovo would be a crucial mistake, a stance which could kill any hopes of a negotiated agreement. It would prolong indefinitely regional instability. As the entire region moves towards a "borderless Europe", creating new borders appears archaic, anti-European, simply passé and dangerous.

This series about Kosovo analyses the following issues:

- Why is Kosovo important not only for the people there and the region but for the world?

- The confict in the media, in the 1990s, at the bombing in 1999 and now. Why were the Kosovo-Albanians so much better at winning the war in the media?

- The main preconditions for any settlement of the Kosovo conflict.

- The issues as seen from Serbs and Serbia - a perspective seldom offered in the mainstream media and thus not taken into account by Western decision-makers.

- A closer look at Belgrade's minimum conditions for a viable solution.

- Why the arguments for a quick and total independence are not credible but serves particular purposes that have nothing to do with finding the best solution for all.

- Outlining an international media strategy for Serbs and Serbia.

- Looking into the future, possibilities and positive scenarios for Kosovo and the region - mainly illustrating why there is never only one solution.

The authors of this and the following TFF PressInfos build on a longer experience with and in Kosovo and on more systemic, integrated approach to the Balkans in general and the Kosovo issue in particular. TFF published its first report, Preventing War in Kosovo, in 1992; the International Crisis Group's first report on Kosovo is from December 1999, i.e. after the bombing.

We allow ourselves to be of the belief that had anyone given comprehensive and impartial attention to finding a negotiated solution to the Kosovo conflict in the early 1990s, we would have seen neither the local war and the manipulated, non-negotiations in Rambouillet nor the bombing in 1999 which have only increased the psycho-political distance between the main parties where professional conflict-management seeks to reduce it.

It is a basic professional principle underlying the work of TFF that it analyses and mitigates conflicts; it does not present its own solutions. The philosophy is simple: since conflicts belong to those who fight them, solutions should also belong to them. All we can do as outsiders is to assist parties in finding solutions acceptable for all.

So, whether the parties together can find ways to create a Kosovo that is independent, a Kosovo that is part of Serbia-Montenegro or something else is not our professional concern. What we do point out is that a conflict is solved only when:

a) the parties themselves decide to live with a new order of things and feel as stakeholders in both the process and the solution,

b) the parties do so voluntarily and not under someone's pressure or threats,

c) it can be assumed that the same conflict will not come back later in the same shape or form, i.e. that it is sustainable in that it does not cause traumas, new hate or a wish for revenge by any party in the future.

d) there is no risk that the solution in and of itself will spark off conflicts or violence elsewhere.

We see dangerous signs in Kosovo and in powerful circles in both EU countries and the United States that none of these criteria will be honoured.

Perhaps it is time to finally make good for past mistakes and look to the future together - also for the international so-called community that has been - and remains - more of a participant to than a mediator in the Balkan conflicts and wars?



A few words about the idea of conflict management and the international community's rôle

Politics and media tend to focus on one spot at a time. Issues surface and disappear, and principles used to solve one conflict at one place may well differ widely from those employed to solve the neighbouring conflict. Remembering events or seeing a pattern in developments over, say, 15, 5 or even 1 year is increasingly unusual in a our modern, overloaded and stressed "information" society - which is neither an "understanding" nor a "deliberation" society.

How come that the international community have put itself in the kind of political and intellectual cul-de-sac it still is in there 6 years after the bombing allegedly should have facilitated a solution? The reader may perceive this question as based on a counter-factual hypothesis and therefore worthless since it cannot be proved. However, to deny a priori that Kosovo could have been dealt with in better ways by the international community is to forego every opportunity to learn lessons and do better conflict-management in the future. It also stimulates a dangerous thought pattern along the lines that "since we did what we did, it was right and therefore we shall continue along the same road. If Kosovo manifestly does not move in the direction we predicted it would after the bombings we will keep silent about it and basically say that it is somebody else's fault."

The classical interpretations inside what could perhaps be called the Western MPM - military-politico-media - Complex is that all conflicts have basically two parties, one good and one bad - resembling the Christian view of the world with the good ones being ourselves and the evil ones being the others. Conflicts are located in actors, not in structures, situational factors or in the complexity of things coming together at certain spots in certain moments in human history. Someone is bad and acts badly, and conflict-resolution is about punishing that party and salvage the good victim. In a democratic setting with a planning perspective of maximum four years, solutions to conflicts that took decades or centuries to solidify and harden into violence should be fixed quickly.

So, the West's self-appointed - but professionally non-trained - conflict-managers make up a peace plan, require signatures and threaten punishment should some party hesitate or refuse. Add cultural arrogance to this scheme and remember that underlying it all is the assumption that people who quarrel or are otherwise not "with us" are less civilized than Western actors are. We therefore have a right to not only interpret their conflict but also to monopolise the truth about its essence, no active listening to all sides needed. We also know what the solution should be and have a higher-order right - sometimes even God's mandate - to impose our solution. We regret of course in case there are actors who do not see their own best in what we nobly try to do for them without or with violence.

This intellectual construction defies every textbook in peace and conflict research and negotiation as well as the complexities of any conflict in the real world. In addition, we treat countries and nations in ways we know don't work at the individual psychological level. The international community has only noble motives and good will and sees itself as impartial mediators.

The idea that its different actors may actually be participants in these conflicts - historically and today - and pursue their own interests which they promote through somebody else's conflict is equalled with swearing in the church and unworthy of serious debate. Even hinting that conflict-management could be a new type of post-Cold War power politics or gunboat diplomacy isomorphic with the post-modern, globalizing world order re-ordering is considered a conspiracy-like absurdity by governments who practise it.


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Why is tiny Kosovo whose population is but a fraction of London's of fundamental importance also way beyond Kosovo?

1. It was the test case par excellence of the idea of "humanitarian intervention." It was aimed to create peace by violent, not peaceful, means. Although different cases, this is the general philosophy that has also been tried in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, but - does it work?

2. The 1999 bombing was done without UN Security Council mandate but led to the UN becoming the leading peace-builder in what was called a controversial mission together with NATO, the European Union and the OSCE.

3. Per capita it is the largest and probably most expensive peace-building mission ever with an unprecedented investment of prestige.

4. The solution to the Kosovo conflict will fundamentally influence integration processes into the European Union and NATO.

5. It is worth remembering that the militarization of the European Union, its military and civilian conflict management capacity was boosted immediately after NATO's US-led bombing of Yugoslavia. Europe felt humiliated. Kosovo is also about who was right and wrong then and who is to carry the economic and political burden it is, no matter the solution as such, to build peace and stability. And mind you, the international community is already over-extended by all the crises it has on its hands.

6. Everything being done in the Kosovo conflict and that mission has been done in support of a secessionist minority; other repressed minorities and units in former Yugoslavia (e.g. Croat Herceg-Bosna, Republika Srpska Krajina, Hungarians in Voivodina, Albanians in Macedonia) and secessionist movements elsewhere - such as, to mention just a fraction, the Basque Province, Chechenya, Tibet, Taiwan, Kurdistan, Corsica, Scotland, Quebec, Tamil Eelam, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Palestine, Somalia (numerous), Kashmir (and numerous in India), Myanmar (numerous), Southern Thailand, etc. - have not been favoured with anything remotely resembling this attention and support. Other secessionist movement around the world will look to Kosovo as a precedent.

7. Kosovo can not be seen as an isolated case. Careful assessment of the various options for Kosovo in terms of stability for the wider region is an absolute necessity. Any thinkable solution to the Kosovo problem is likely to have mixed positive and negative effects as seen from, e.g. Republika Srpska, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Sandjak and Voivodina.

8. Europe's largest refugee and IDP (internally displaced persons) problem is found in Serbia; they are Serbs and Roma and others who have been ethnically cleansed out of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. A solution for Kosovo must offer the possibility for anyone driven out of Kosovo (200.000+ Serbs and Roma) who so wishes to return in safety and to a viable life in Kosovo, no matter its status.

9. The problem complex of the criminal economy, smuggling, trafficking, drug trade etc. is probably larger per square kilometre in Kosovo than anywhere else in Europe. Whatever Kosovo's future status will be, this problem is Europe's problem and must be solved - which will be more difficult to do if Kosovo becomes a completely independent state with a right to refuse foreign missions on its territory.

10. If Kosovo is declared independent it must fulfil not only the special standards set up by UNMIK but also the traditional criteria for independence and sovereignty. In addition, the international community will have, no matter the final status of Kosovo, to discuss how to compensate Serbia and Montenegro for the loss, by dictate, of its territory, for the post-1999 use of buildings and land by the international missions in Kosovo including the Bondsteel military base, for ten years of sanctions against Serbia that hit the people, not Milosevic and his leadership elites and, finally, for the destruction done by the bombing.

11. Kosovo will remain a test case of the Western international community's philosophical commitment and political will to practise what it preaches all over the world: human rights, minority protection, freedom of movement, equal opportunities, rights to return and gender equality. Given the history of Kosovo, these are particularly difficult issues in the province. In the 1960s around 1/3 of the inhabitants there were Serbs, today there are less than 5% left. If a future Kosovo becomes practically mono-ethnic, the credibility of Western human rights policies everywhere else will be undermined, not least in the perspective of this being the case par excellence, as stated above, of humanitarian intervention.

12. Ordinary Kosovo Albanians have suffered decades of repression; when the US, EU and NATO intervened the way it did, they were justified in perceiving that as an active siding with them and as an implicit promise to help them make their dreams about the independent Kosova finally come true. Their leaders, from Dr. Rugova in the late 1980s to Ramush Haradinaj of yesterday, have never been contradicted by Western diplomats when the said that Independent Kosova was the only solution. Anything less, therefore, will be seen as unacceptable by the Albanians in Kosovo; it's a young population who have never heard anything else but promises about that dream coming true. The international community's very serious dilemma is that there exists no way it can deliver this dream without creating more conflicts in the Balkans and in the wider international community. And neither does it dare break what Kosovo-Albanians have all reasons to see as a promise.


Why is Kosovo important right now?

March 17, 2005 marks the first anniversary of the anti-Serb riots in Kosovo that also shocked the internationals there. It was generally interpreted as a sign that the Kosovo-Albanian patience with the situation is running out. Observers are convinced that there has been no real disarmament of Albanian extremists and that Kosovo can be set on fire and the last non-Albanians and many of the international missions sent running, should an independent state not be declared sooner rather than later.

It may well be difficult for people who have never been to Kosovo to understand that a comparatively small minority is able to psycho-politically deter and scare the mighty international organisations there with close to 20.000 NATO troops and thousands of civilians who have done a lot to support the independence cause. But such is reality, and in addition the international community needs to turn to other, more urgent, matters such as Iraq.

Now former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj is in the Hague; understandably he is considered a hero and not a criminal by most Albanians. They see it as deeply unfair that he has been indicted, and international diplomats tell the world that he was the best politician Kosovo has ever seen. Six Serb generals have gone voluntarily to the Hague within the last two months, and Belgrade has extradited all those indicted for Kosovo (Lukic and Pavkovic to be transferred soon).

This summer - 2005 - will spark off the evaluation of the degree to which Kosovo lives up to international standards. The Special Representative of Kofi Annan and the highest authority of Kosovo, Søren Jessen-Petersen, takes for granted that Kosovo will pass this exam and that the process of deciding the final status of Kosovo will begin in September and last not years but months (according to his statement March 14, 2005). So, a quick fix is in the air, a settlement to be decided if not this year, then in 2006.

An international pro-independence campaign is conducted by the International Crisis Group and others. In short, the Kosovo drama is approaching its final stage. Anyone concerned and responsible must ask today: what is the chance it will be a happy end and, if small, what defines the least unhappy end?


The TFF Kosovo Solution Series

# 1
Why the solution in Kosovo matters to the world

# 2
The media - strategic considerations

# 3
The main preconditions for a sustainable solution to the Kosovo conflict

# 4
The situation as seen from Serbia

# 5
The arguments for quick and total independence are not credible

# 6
What must be Belgrade's minimum conditions and its media strategy

# 7
Nations and states, sovereignty and self-determination

# 8
Positive scenarios: Turn to the future, look at the broader perspectives

# 9
Many thinkable models for future Kosovo

# 10
Summary: From "Only one solution" towards democracy and peace


Relevant background links for this series.



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