Kosovo: Albalians and Serbians at it
Sixth round: Nil-nil
The sixth round of the Kosovo final status talks in Vienna ended with no result - once again. This time it was about the economic status of Kosovo, which many consider as the most difficult round of the negotiation process so far.
The main apple of contention was the privatisation issue. On the one hand, the Serbs accuse those privatisations conducted by the Kosovo government as "illegal", since it is not clear whether the province will be independent or remain part of Serbia. On the other hand, the Albanians invoked the legal succession process signed by the members of the former Yugoslavia in 2001, whereby all assets in Kosovo must belong to them.
The sole issue that the Serbs and the Albanians could agree so far was on the protection of the Serbian cultural and religious objects in Kosovo, during the fifth round of the talks. UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari recently stated that the two teams should start to discuss Kosovo's status by mid-July. However, as far as vital political issues are concerned, it seems that the two sides will hardly reach consensus.
Is There a Plan-B?
One question must be answered: Is it possible that Serbs and Albanians could ever agree on anything? Does the international community really expect that they come to a healthy compromise?
Russia and Japan cannot solve the question of those four islands in the Kuril chain since the end of the Second World War. Pakistan and India still dispute Kashmir since 1948. Cyprus is still divided in two, with two communities that are deaf to one another since the 1970s. And so on. So what makes the international community think that Serbs and Albanians would reach consensus within only a year?
As the negotiation round fail one after another, it seems that soon the international community will pass to a Plan-B. The Kosovo report of the International Crisis Group (ICG) on 17th February this year gives us a clue what this plan will be like.
ICG recommends to Martti Ahtisaari "to go earlier rather than later to the UN with a recommendation for imposing a conditional independence package, if Kosovo's Albanians have conscientiously made good offers on minorities, covering inclusion in central institutions, decentralisation and protection of religious heritage, rather than hold out for an ambiguous solution, or one in which key elements are deferred in order to keep Belgrade on board".
Albanians would probably not reject such a package, which contains at least some form of independence. They would calculate that they could rectify the parts of the package they do not like later. Moreover, Albanians cannot reject this package for fear of bad image in the eyes of the international community, on whom they politically and economically depend. As to Serbs, they would probably reject such a package. As the head of the Coordinating Centre for Kosovo Sandra Raskovic-Ivic stated, "There is no politician in Serbia who would accept [.] independence for Kosovo, even if it were conditional".
Thus, it would be enough that the Albanians make good offers on four key questions: decentralisation, minority rights, protection of cultural and religious heritage and return of the refugees. If the Serbs do not accept these offers, they will be the "bad guys" and confirm once again their bad image around the world, in comparison to the good-intentioned Albanians, who come up with generous offers.
As early as 15th May, Kosovo Albanian daily Koha Ditore claimed that the Contact Group and the Security Council began to work on possible modalities of implementation of a proposal, which would be rejected by Belgrade, but accepted by Pristina. The Kosovo question is then a riddle whose answer everyone knows, but hesitates how and exactly when to pronounce it. Is the negotiation process just a necessary "transition period", which will later give the international community the chance to say "at least we tried"? The international community wants to solve the Kosovo question by the end of this year. This is a fact. Belgrade and Pristina will never reach a compromise. This is a -more than probable- hypothesis. Then the "international Diktat theory" prevails as the sole reasonable solution indeed. However, whether such a solution would be a short-termed or long-termed solution is hardly predictable.
Belgrade out of context
Belgrade tries hard not to be the "bad guy" of the whole process. Just before the sixth round of the talks started, the Serbs presented a platform on future status of Kosovo. The proposal follows the official line "more than autonomy - less than independence". The Serbian negotiation team member Slobodan Samardzic, summoning up the proposal, stated: "Serbia should not be involved in day-to-day affairs in Kosovo, which has a population that is about 90 percent ethnic Albanian. The province should keep its own government whose authority, however, would not include foreign affairs, control of borders and customs. Kosovo's government would have full financial autonomy, with the right to take loans from international financial institutions and attract foreign investments". Serbia offered a 20-year deal under which it would retain control over foreign policy, borders and customs, human rights, monetary policy and religious sites. According to Leon Kojen, another member of the Serbian team, the Kosovo Albanians "are offered the political maximum that an ethnic community can get within one state".
It did not come as a surprise that the Kosovo Albanians rejected the Serbian proposal as soon as they heard of it. Serbia today looks like that husband, who beat his wife so many times and now asks for forgiveness and another chance to get together again. Unfortunately it is too late - Serbia does not look convincing any more. Such a proposal would have looked good-intentioned and serious some decades ago. According to the Western diplomats, "the Serbian government is in denial, unable or unwilling to grasp the realities of the Kosovo situation".
However, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica emphasised that Serbia was "not only defending its national interest, but also the principles on which today's international law is based". Sincere or not, this is an undeniable legal fact indeed. The international community plans to conclude the talks by the end of November. Until that date, the Serbs will accept, or will be forced to accept the painful reality. Even if the current Serbian government reluctantly surrendered, this would not guarantee the peace and stability in the Balkans in the long run, for governments change.
After the EU, which called off talks on preparations for membership with Serbia, the USA suspended aid to the country on 1st June. The independence of Kosovo would be then perceived as the final confirmation that they are "encircled by hostile forces". In this case, the next general elections in Serbia will be the most crucial elections in the Balkans so far. In case of an ultra-nationalist victory, no one can ever predict what price the choice of Serbia -Belarus to Brussels- will cost to neighbouring countries and Europe as a whole. Serbia must be assisted to choose Brussels, for Europe cannot afford to lose Serbia - once again.