Ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo - municipalities of Zubin Potok, Zvecan, northern Mitrovica and Leposavic - have been voting in a two-day referendum on February 14.-15. The question was simple: Voters were asked simply ''Do you accept the institutions of the so-called 'Republic of Kosovo' established in Pristina?''. Turnout was at 75.28%. Final results will be made known on February 19th - just after the fourth anniversary of Kosovo's independence declaration - but early estimate is that 99.74 % were against Pristina's sovereignty. In Kosovo case the figure probably reflects good the opinion of local Serb population. The result shows that the barricades against EULEX were not just the work of “criminals” and “radicals” but instead have real popular support.
One should note that question about northern municipalities of Kosovo is only one - even if a core one - aspect in Kosovo framework. During NATO-bombing and after ethnic cleansing implemented by Kosovo Albanians, nearly 200.000 Serbs and Romas escaped to Serbia where they are living like internal refugees many of them in temporary conditions. Despite naïve multiethnic ideas in Brussels they have not any intentions to risk their lives by returning hostile environment and their destroyed homes. In my opinion international community – which allowed this problem to happen – should finance a housing program in Serbia for these refugees (or officially IDPs). Second core question is the fate of some half of remaining Kosovo Serbs namely those who are living in isolated enclaves outside northern municipalities in Kosovo. These enclaves are protected by KFOR troops and should be so long as Pristina administrated part of Kosovo is so hostile as it still is.
High Tension in Kosovo North
Tension has been high in northern Kosovo since last July. The situation escalated when Kosovo Serbs put up roadblocks and barricades to stop the deployment of Kosovo customs officers to border points between north Kosovo municipalities and Serbia. Several rounds of violence has occurred; a Kosovo policeman was killed and several NATO troops injured. The north was the scene of unrest in November, when some 50 soldiers from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force were hurt in a dispute between the two sides over control of border crossings. This Pristina’s failed attempt to seize the northern boundary with support by EULEX and KFOR have demonstrated that using force does not solve dispute.
The governing coalition in Belgrade has called on the Serbs to end the blockade, refrain from violence and abandon the referendum and same time several EU nations, especially Germany, want Serbia's government to make deals with Pristina so that Serbia could get EU candidate status this Spring.
In Brussels, the EU said it was preparing for a new round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina aimed at easing tensions in northern Kosovo. "There is a particular situation in the north that needs a solution, but neither violence nor barricades, or a referendum contributes to it," EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said. "Only a dialogue can achieve that." (Source AP ) Earlier the EU pressured Serbia intensely in November and December, demanding that it force the northern Kosovo Serbs to remove their barricades in the name of “freedom of movement”. KFOR fought several actions against barricades, inflicting – and taking – casualties.
Time to Exit-strategy?
However the western powers have on the drawing board also an other strategy of fostering change to avoid reinforcing the status quo in the north. The press in Pristina has reported about secret meetings between the Kosovo government, the US ambassador and chief of the International Civilian Office (ICO), Pieter Feith,on a new plan to push the UN out of the north. An “EU House” will be established in the north to promote the “European perspective” and to cooperate with “progressive forces” willing to work with Pristina, “parallel” municipalities in the north would remain unrecognized and “Advisory Councils led by moderate Kosovo Serbs” chosen by Pristina taking place from democratically elected bodies in Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Zvecan. To make space for these innovations the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Administration in Mitrovica (UAM), that administers north Mitrovica under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, will be closed.
Also the International Steering Group (ISG) had meeting on January 24th in Vienna to deside its 2012 program for Kosovo. Despite its name ISG represents only countries which have advocated Kosovo Albanian separatism, cover costs of Kosovo Albanian state-building efforts.cover costs of Kosovo Albanian state-building efforts and try to underestimate UN Security Council Resolution 1244 – which btw represents in Kosovo highest international law. Anyway ISG issued a communique calling upon the government of Kosovo to continue to implement the Ahtisaari Plan, aiming to complete outstanding elements so that the period of “supervised independence” could terminate by the end of this year. While the outcome both politically and on operation theatre has been modest as best and the results related to investments almost non-visible, ISG probably his hurry to implement fast exit-strategy.
Marko Prelec from International Crisis Group concludes well the situation now since last summer tensions started in his post Update on Northern Kosovo Barricades. A quote:
The situation shows with crystal clarity the folly of the “freedom of movement” campaign, which cost tens of millions of Euros (flying Kosovo officials to, and from, the border day after day runs into serious money), dozens of injuries, made travel more difficult for real people and achieved nothing. All this started because of the basic disputes between Kosovo and Serbia, over Kosovo’s independence and territorial integrity. Trying to use issues like freedom of movement – or the rule of law – as tools to change locals’ minds about sovereignty issues, rather than as ends in themselves, just damages the tool. The dispute isn’t a technicality and cannot be resolved as though it were.
… or back to Dialogue?
Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina has poor history. Serbs and Albanians have been in negotiations and talks frequently over the past two decades – from the tentative efforts of the 1990s to the doomed talks in Rambouillet, France, in 1999 and the later “status” talks between 2005 (Ahtisaari’s pseudo-talks) and 2007 (“Troika” led talks). None of these has led to tangible results and left outsiders imposing an outcome, be it NATO intervention or proposing the Ahtisaari plan.
The original or better to say official aim of international community was to build “standards before status”, on 2005 the task was seen impossible so the slogan changed to “standards and status”. Even this was unrealistic so Feb. 2008 “European”standards were thrown away to garbage and “status without standards” precipitately accepted by western powers. For international community I don’t see any success story with this backward progress. Thus the multiethnic idea is far away despite EU’s billions. The remaining Serbs in Kosovo are barricaded into enclaves keeping their lives mainly with help of international KFOR troops or in de facto separated Serb majority region in North Kosovo. This has changed former multiethnic province more mono-ethnic one.
The new situation has forced also International Crisis Group (ICG) to admit the defeat of its Kosovo policy recommendations during last decade. ICG has acted as informal extension of U.S. State Department however pretending to be neutral mediator and think tank. During earlier “status” negotiations 2005 it endorsed preconditions before talks and afterwards supported sc Ahtisaari plan. Now in their new analysis ”Kosovo and Serbia after the ICJ Opinion” ICG sees Kosovo’s partition with land swap one of possible solutions during coming talks between Belgrad and Pristina.
The fact on the ground is that northern part of Kosovo is integrated to Serbia like it always has been, as well those parts south of Ibar river, which are not ethnically cleansed by Kosovo Albanians. Serbia still runs municipalities, courts, police, customs and public services, and the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) has been unable to deploy more than a token presence there.
During the course of events, the Ahtisaari Plan was implemented in south Kosovo, the north, however, remained outside Kosovo institutions and the ICO, and the Ahtisaari Plan was not implemented there. The Ahtisaari Plan derived a formula that would allow Kosovo Serbs to have their own local institutions and communal life with continued linkages to Serbia, but within the framework of a multi-ethnic Kosovo. If partition option – which in my opinion is pragmatic, the best and even realistical way to solve Kosovo conflict – is not yet possible so then the Ahtisaari Plan might be temporary base for compromise. The Plan however needs some modification. A new follow-up - entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’ - is presented by TransConflict and it might be achievable as the policy paper is authored by Gerard Gallucci, the former UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica.
“Kosovo … a Serbian province, occupied and now international protectorate administrated by UN Kosovo mission; as quasi-independent pseudo-state has good change to become next “failed” or “captured” state; today’s Kosovo is already safe-heaven for war criminals, drug traffickers, international money laundry and radical Wahhabists – unfortunately all are also allies of western powers”.
US based Freedom House gave in their last report (2012) rank partly free to Kosovo related to political rights and civil liberties (5,4 points respectively), while Serbia got rank free (2,2) and e.g also Croatia (1,2), Bulgaria (2,2) and Romania (2,2) got rank free, while Bosnia-Herzegovina (4,3) and Albania (3,3) fell to category partly free. (Note: Each country is assigned a numerical rating from 1 to 7 for both political rights and civil liberties, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free.) So even western powers must addmit that despite billions of dollars for Kosovo state-building efforts during last 12 years the outcome is that the protectorate still is among the worst in region related to political rights and civil liberties. One could ask why then Kosovo Serbs should go backwards by integrating to that society when better the alternative could be integrate also officially to more developed Serbia.
In my opinion Kosovo will remain a frozen conflict probably whole this decade. The western powers can not addmit – yet – that their intervention was a mistake, international community can not addmit its failure with capasity-/state-building efforts after squandering billions of Euros, noor that instead of multiethnic democracy the out outcome mono-ethnic tribe-society. EULEX etc will continue to build some facades and pseudo-activities like it used to do, Pristina pretends that north is integral part of their quasi-independent pseudo-state which the North never has been, the Kosovo institutions do not exist in the north, and it is very unlikely that they will be established there soon. Hard-line Serbs keep claim about Kosovo as Serbian province, which it indeed has been but after 1999 situation on the ground changed; instead the today's government in Belgrade might change in next elections. What is clear after referendum is that population in Kosovo's northern municipalities does not want to integrate Pristina lead institutions, they want to continue their living as part of Serbia like they always have been, in short they want reunify northern municipalities with Serbia again.
After this quite pessimistic view one can ask if there is any other way forward. From my point of view there is the negotiation option. But this time negotiations should base facts on the ground instead of high-flown ideas in Washington and Brussels, around negotiation table in addition to Belgrade and Pristina representatives should be also local stakeholders from northern Kosovo and selected by local population. The referendum made positions clear for tripartite approach.
More eg in Kosovo: Two years of Pseudo-state