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          Aleksandar Mitić *

          Crystal ball

          The most striking feature in the hitherto debate on the future status of Kosovo and Metohija is the attempt to cut it short even before it started. Namely, already in early 2005, thus a year before the representatives of Belgrade and Priština actually met, the International Crisis Group set out talking in the manner rooting fans - "it’s over - our Kosovo is already independent!" The world media picked up the theme to spin it in what became an impressive and methodical campaign so that, last year, not a single outlet with any-self respect failed to at least once "see it happen in the crystal ball". The International Commission for the Balkans, the good old analysts, insider journalists, i.e. the whole "communications package" was there ready for use.

          Smoke signals

          There can be no doubt that the international community, too, emitted signals indicating a kind of independence. Naturally, there has never been any talk of "full independence", i.e. that Kosovo and Metohija will be vested with international subjectivity already in the late 2006. However, there is a difference between the "independence of Kosovo" and the "independence of Kosovo from Serbia ". While the former option is highly uncertain and, in real terms, hardly feasible, the latter is subject to much greater speculation, even by the official international circles. The jettisoning of the "standards before status" policy (which even the diplomatic sources today admit was a straightforward bluff), the relatively biased principles of the Contact Group (no return to the pre-1999 situation, no partition, no unification with neighbors), selective approach to history in determining the status (as if there had been nothing before or after 1998/9), insistence on the majority will (majority on the level of Kosovo, not Serbia), attempts to create a "Kosovo exception" in the system of international law, to prejudice the solution, or angle for a "standards for status" trade-off, suggest the creating of an atmosphere and set the starting position in the negotiations where - in line with the explicit will of Kosovo Albanians - the formal ties between Kosmet and Serbia would be severed or reduced below the level existing anywhere in Europe of the 21st century.

          The US stance tends towards a kind of independence, the one of Russia towards a kind of autonomy, while the greatest confusion is created by the position of the European Union. It view may prove decisive, i.e. it may set the tone of the status solution as "more independent" or "more autonomous".

          At present, the signals arriving from Brussels (dis)courage both sides:

          The champions of "independence" are pleased:

          1.      because the imposition of a solution in their favor has not been entirely ruled out;

          2.      because it has been emphasized that "Belgrade’s rule in Kosovo will not be acceptable";

          3.      because the responses to Belgrade-proposed decentralization are critically intoned;

          4.      because Belgrade has been invited to recognize the real situation;

          5.      because certain countries have started to advocate pro-Albanian views more vigorously;

          6.      because the high level of tolerance towards the Albanian political top ranks has been retained.

          The champions of "autonomy" are satisfied:

          1.      because the EU keeps stressing the partnership and European perspective of the SCG, which is not conditioned by the solution for the status of Kosovo;

          2.      because no official of a single European institution has yet referred to independence as a more likely option;

          3.      because the EU officials speak of "various political options" ranging from "Milošević’s pre-1999 autonomy" do "independence" (Christina Gallach, spokesperson of the EU high representative for common foreign and security policy Javier Solana);

          4.      because certain member countries do not wish to adopt a pro-Albanian position and voice their disapproval;

          5.      because the EU position is still being formulated;

          6.      because the EU officials are becoming aware that independence, in technical and legal terms, will be extremely difficult to work out, especially if politically imposed;

          7.      because the pressure on the Kosovo Albanians has, actually, not started yet;

          8.      because the Serbian arguments are pro-European and in conformity with international law.

          There is no doubt that, in addition to the above-mentioned legal, political and economic factors, the position of the EU will also be influenced by security considerations, and it is not inconceivable that people in Brussels are currently pondering on such issues as:

          1.      Will they really be able to present Kosovo as an exception or will they have to face the consequences of creating a precedent, with a domino effect in the region, the Caucasus and the rest of the world. They wonder whether the Russians are bluffing while talking about applying "universal principles" and what the consequences of this position may be, as well as whether certain economic interests (oil and gas pipeline in the Caucasus) will be endangered by a conflict-creating precedent?

          2.      Is it more acceptable to put up with frustration in Kosovo or in Serbia , which is conducive to the destabilization of the region, or could a balanced, mutually acceptable and non-frustrating solution be found? 

          3.      Is the EU - knowing that it will assume the key role in the police, judicial and economic spheres in Kosovo and that its contingent in NATO troops will form the backbone of the KFOR - ready to respond to Albanian threats of violence and deal with its organized crime network, one of the most violent in the world, and meanwhile avoid the sprouting of radical Islamic cells.

          Future status of Kosmet - power of arguments

          In addressing the future Kosovo status now, Serbia , for once, has a major advantage. For the first time in the past fifteen years, its arguments are - by contrast from those of the Albanians - pro-European, compromise and conciliatory.

          A. Maximalist, one-sided, illegal: ten arguments against Kosovo’s independence

          1) Kosovo’s independence is a maximalist solution whereby one side - the Albanian

          ethnic community - gains everything, while the other side - Kosovo Serbs and Serbia - lose everything. Kosovo Serbs and Serbia will not agree to that solution. It can only be imposed and no way can it be the result of a compromise. This kind of a solution will sow the seeds of injustice, frustration and instability.

          2) An independent Kosovo would imply an entirely unprincipled solution for borders in the Balkans, moreover after other peoples were prevented from gaining that same independence in the late 1990s.

          3) The independence of Kosovo would tear down a country with the largest multiethnic wealth in the region and punish its democratic, pro-European politics.

          4) The independence of Kosovo would reward violence used by Albanians to bring forward the start up of status negotiations, and their threats with mass violence in the region unless their maximalist objectives are attained.

          5) An independent Kosovo is only possible with the collapse of international law, including e.g. the bypassing of the UN Security Council, the Helsinki Final Act or Resolution 1244 with its triple reference to "substantial autonomy" and the sovereignty of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), as opposed to the complete absence of such words as "self-determination" and "independence".

          6) Kosovo’s independence creates a precedent in the world. Kosovo cannot be an exception. Therefore, it is necessary to consider its future status with greater care, since it would most certainly influence the secessionist movements not only in the region, but all over Europe and the world, e.g. in the Basque Country, Corsica, Chechnya, Tibet, Taiwan, Kurdistan, Scotland, Quebec, Tamil Elam, Abhasia, South Ossetia, Northern Cyprus, Cashmere, South Thailand, etc. All secessionist movements in the world will therefore carefully monitor the settlement of the Kosovo status.

          7) 1999 NATO bombing will be historically perceived as a campaign for Kosovo’s independence, which is light years away from the proclaimed objective of a "humanitarian intervention".

          8) The proclamation of an independent Kosovo would be tantamount to the creation of the second Albanian national state in the world since the "Kosovar" nation does not exist.

          9) International community principles (no return to pre-1999 situation, no unification with neighbors, no partition) allow for a whole series of compromise solutions for the status of Kosovo, e.g.: substantial autonomy, confederation, creation of an Euroregion, Hong-Kong model (one state - two systems), condominium, etc.

          10) If the region of South Eastern Europe is heading towards European integrations and membership of the European Union where borders are "not essential", and if this process - to be completed in the next decade - is under way, the question is why create another Albanian state in Europe? Why is it necessary for Europe to pay so high a price for charting new borders if they stand to be erased in just a few years? We could ask ourselves where is the rationale of European integration in the proclamation of Kosovo’s independence?

          B. Unconstructive, unnecessary, insulting: ten reasons against "conditional independence"

          1. It is a vague, undefined, superficial and non-constructive concept, inexplicable even by most of its supporters.

          2. It assumes a kind of a trade-off we might formulate as "human rights for status", i.e. it gives the Albanians an opportunity to obtain independence if they start fulfilling certain criteria for observing the human rights of the Serbs, systematically violated for the past six years. That is an insult for human rights in 21st century Europe.

          3. The concept gives no guarantees that the standards will be fulfilled after the status is granted. Once the events take the course towards "conditional independence" it will be practically impossible to step back and, moreover, the evaluation of standards fulfillment is of purely political nature and highly flexible, as evidenced by the jettisoning of the "standard before status" policy.

          4. The example of the EU "double track" for Serbia and Montenegro proves that it is not necessary to have separate states to proceed towards the European union using "more than one track".

          5. It is absurd to offer Serbia "faster integration into the EU" as a substitute for Kosovo, when it already has a clear European perspective and is aware of precisely defined criteria that have to be fulfilled.

          6. There isn’t a single reason for Serbia to accept "the loss of Kosovo" just because it will not become "fully independent" at once. Once Kosovo becomes independent from Serbia it will have no connections with it and the fact that it will still lack international subjectivity is hardly a consolation.

          7. "Conditional independence" is not a compromise solution, but one that prospectively (with a few-years’ delay) meets the maximalist objectives of Kosovo Albanians.

          8. Kosovo Serbs would leave any Kosovo which is no longer linked with Serbia , whereby the principle of multiethnicity would fall through.

          9. Conditional independence changes the character of negotiations by making them focus on the "status of Kosovo Serbs" instead of the "status of Kosovo".

          10. The economic argument for the creation of a "conditionally independent" Kosovo does not hold, since all mechanisms, especially regional EU funds and other international financial instruments, are available to entities other than states.

          Constructive, fair, compromise: ten winners of the "substantial autonomy" option

          In a package with autonomuy for Serbian zones, maximal autonomy of Kosovo responds to the realistic demands of Kosovo Albanians for self-government, but it also protects the interests of the non-Albanian population and Serbia itself, as well as observes the principle of inviolability of borders. This option comes closest to reason, compromise and long-term stability and is the only one ensuring that all the parties concerned emerge out of the negotiations as winners.

          1. First, Kosovo Albanians would be winners, since they would obtain the mechanisms to manage their own future with complete internal self-government, along with limited external representation, especially full access to key international financial organizations.

          2. The second winner would be the Kosovo Serbian and other non-Albanian population, who could benefit from educational, social security and health care systems of central Serbia through a widespread decentralization and horizontal links between municipalities, and could also have their police and judicial bodies.

          3. The third winner would be Serbia , which would not change its borders or lose its historical cradle, and would thus be able to look ahead rather than back.

          4. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia would obtain formal and practical guarantees for their territorial integrity, since this outcome of the negotiations would make it clear that new changes of borders in the Balkans would not be tolerated.

          5. The fifth winner, Albania , would regulate and legalize its relations with Kosovo Albanians, and the Balkans would not longer have to fear a "Greater Albanian state".

          6. The European Union would be rewarded with the stability in the region of Western Balkans and could fully embrace its European perspective, including Kosovo.

          7. The seventh winner, the United States of America , would have the opportunity for complete military withdrawal from Kosovo, without the loss of diplomatic influence they presently wield in Priština and Belgrade.

          8. China , Russia , India , Spain , Georgia , Moldova and numerous other countries, currently faced with separatism, would be grateful for the absence of a dangerous precedent.

          9. The United Nations would be the ninth winner, since the system of international law would be upheld and its envoy Martti Ahtisaari would be seen as the creator of a historical agreement, rather than an imposed solution.

          10. Finally, the tenth winner would be the principle of multiethnicity and the European idea, which would thus finally triumph in Kosovo. The model of horizontal links of Serbian municipalities would spell integration and survival, since these municipalities would be fully integrated into the Kosovo system. Ownership rights, and the protection of religious and cultural heritage of the Serbian Orthodox Church would also be ensured, and at least part of over 200,000 exiles could return to their homes. Under the EU and OSCE supervision the respect for human rights and freedom of movement would triumph, as would the reality of a dignified life.

          The question is which option will come out victorious: the long term principles or pragmatic one-sidedness, international law or double standards, a resolute European "no" to violence or the victory of Kosovo "scarecrows", the European perspective of the whole region or the continuing "punishment" of Serbia . The setting of the balance in the Balkans starts on Schumann Square.

          * The author is Tanjug Agency correspondent from Brussels, analyst of the Brussels-based "Institute 4S" and lecturer at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade.

          1Translated by Ljiljana Nikolić

        • Tags: Kosovo, status, threat, challenge, risk, resolution
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