11 August 2006

Alexander Mitic's Editorial from Serbianna.com

Kosovo: The Power of Compromise By Aleksandar Mitic
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 status issue.
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, and conflict.
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. Some 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.
The 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 account.
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?
Bluffs 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. In 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? As 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 their hands.
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?
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 long-term 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 law.
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 long history.
Aleksandar 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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Aleksandar Mitic is a Brussels-based Correspondent of the Tanjug news agency, a Lecturer at the University of Belgrade and Analyst of the Institute 4S.Aleksandar Mitic Archive -->
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