The Ahtisaari plan – or something like it – will have to be part of any practical arrangement for the north of Kosovo, with the international community possibly taking the place of Pristina in the Plan’s implementation..
By Gerard Gallucci
A year ago, in this space, I suggested the usefulness of revisiting the Ahtisaari Plan as part of an effort to resuscitate the Contact Group effort to reach a compromise solution on Kosovo. It has become clear since that further negotiations are necessary and that the issue of the north will be on the agenda. President Ahtisaari’s status proposal of 2007 was comprehensive in its identification of the core elements of a possible framework under which the Albanian and Serb communities might co-habit peacefully in Kosovo. The Plan, or something like it, will have to be part of any practical and implementable arrangement for the north.
The Ahtisaari Plan provides for minority rights and participation in government, local self-rule and linkages between local municipalities (with Serb majorities) and Belgrade. These provide a possible framework – together with the six-point plan of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – for an autonomous area in the north within Kosovo. Together, they offer a number of pragmatic measures relating to policing, customs, the courts and infrastructure, plus local autonomy in education and culture, and special features for Mitrovica (the University and Hospital). The Plan provides mechanisms for ensuring transparency in Belgrade support to Serb municipalities in Kosovo.
The Ahtisaari Plan (Art 3.2) requires the “protection of the national or ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of all Communities and their members.” Article 4 provides for the right of return and to reclaim property. Article 6 provides for local self government and that municipalities “shall have the right to inter-municipal and cross-border cooperation on matters of mutual interest in the exercise of their responsibilities.” The Plan’s Annexes expand on these: Annex I (Art. 8.3) gives municipalities the right to local sources of revenue and (8.4) to “inter-municipal and cross-border cooperation in the areas of their own and enhanced competencies.” Annex II (Art. 4) provides communities the right to express, maintain and develop their language and culture; receive pre-school, primary and secondary public education in their own language; establish and maintain their own private schools (with public financing); display community symbols; and have their own media (including TV).
Annex III defines local government, decentralization and linkages to Belgrade. Article 3 gives municipalities full and exclusive powers for local economic development, land use, urban regulation, public services and utilities, education, health care and social services, public housing, licensing local services and naming of streets. Article 4 gives Serb-majority municipalities “enhanced participatory rights in the appointment of Police Station Commander” and provides North Mitrovica with “enhanced” competencies for university education and a hospital. Art. 5 mandates that the central government delegate to municipalities responsibility for cadastral and civil registries, voter registration, business registration and licensing, distribution of social assistance payments (excluding pensions) and forestry protection. Annex III also allows for municipalities to cooperate with (Art. 10) and receive funding from (Art. 11) Belgrade and use educational material from Serbia in local schools (Art. 7). Annex IV provides that municipalities will have their own local courts and (Art. 2.2) mandates that “Kosovo judicial institutions shall … reflect the ethnic composition of their area of jurisdiction.”
These elements provide for a special status for Serb communities in Kosovo. But the Ahtisaari Plan places these into a context where the role of the central government has been accepted by all parties. The central government it envisions is multi-ethnic in participation and functioning. Legislation passed in Pristina (Annex III, Art. 4.2) would govern how the rights and competencies granted are implemented and central government would have administrative oversight of local competencies. But there is no overall status agreement and, given the northern Serbs’ continued refusal to accept connections to Pristina, the role played by central institutions would be a chief element of contention.
The courts and the local police are of extreme interest to the two sides as they are both tools of, and symbols of, state power. President Ahtisaari designed the Kosovo judicial system as unitary and multi-ethnic. But implementing an ethnically neutral judiciary – even if previously antagonistic ethnic groups ostensibly accept it – would be difficult at best. In Kosovo, both sides see the justice system – courts and prosecutors – as a tool to impose authority. The Albanians favor their system while the Serbs want their own. Finding a way to allow local courts, within a district for the Serb-majority north, will probably be essential to gaining their support for any agreement.
- Possible solution: The law to be applied could be a mix of Yugoslav law and UNMIK regulation with a court of appeals to settle disputes and handle cross-River issues within a Kosovo context. This court could be exclusively international or mix an ethnically-balanced body with international oversight.
Annex VIII governing the security sector provides for (Art. 2) a “unified chain of command” for the KPS but also that police districts should coincide with municipal boundaries. The ethnicity of the local police should also reflect the municipality’s ethnic composition. The procedures for choosing the local commander (Art. 2.6) are somewhat complex and require give and take between the municipality and central authorities. But if everyone followed the rules in good faith, the municipality would have the last say. Still, the northern Serbs would probably not accept any direct involvement by Pristina in the choice of commanders, as Pristina would resist any procedure that left it out completely.
- Possible solution: Appointing an international police official to a command position within the KPS with over-all responsibility for both sides of the Ibar River and with the authority to take the place of central government in the choice of commanders (in consultation with both sides).
Annex III puts its extensive list of competencies to be reserved for municipalities and the enhanced features for North Mitrovica into the context (Art. 4.2) of Kosovo legislation that would set standards to be met. Given the refusal of the northern Serbs to participate in Kosovo’s legislative process, any legislation approved in Pristina would be rejected in the north.
- Possible solution: The application, instead, of appropriate EU standards.
Annex III (Art. 6) provides for administrative review of municipal actions by central government. If the central government and municipality disagreed, the matter would be decided by the Kosovo courts. In the case of delegated competencies, the central government could suspend, change or revoke the municipality’s action. This too raises the issue of acceptability and enforceability vis-a-vis the northern Serbs.
- Possible solution: Administrative review by the responsible international authority in consultation with both sides.
The central government (Annex III, Art. 7) may object to the curricula or books used in local Serbian-language schools. Disputes would be settled by an “independent” commission including participating Kosovo Serbs and the central government. The same procedure would be followed for the Serbian language university in North Mitrovica. This raises the issue of acceptability and enforceability vis-a-vis the northern Serbs.
- Possible solution: Review by a panel of international education experts, possibly with local and central government participation with the final decision to be made by the internationals.
Local finance (Annex III, Art. 8.) is left almost entirely in the hands of municipal authorities subject to adhering to international standards and independent audit. Municipalities can collect local taxes and fees and would receive block grants from central government. Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo could also enter into (Art. 9) cooperative associations with each other in their areas of competency. They could make cooperative agreements with the government of Serbia (Art. 10) to include funding. However, these associations and agreements would be subject to review and action by the central government. Funding from Serbia (except for payments to individuals, such as pensions) would have to pass through (Art. 11) the central bank of Kosovo and be notified to the Kosovo treasury. The provisions providing Pristina with the ability to reverse or stop cooperation and funding between municipalities and Belgrade would be a very hard sell. The Serbs might accept transparent reporting but almost certainly not channeling funding through Pristina.
- Possible solution: Reporting transfers to the responsible international authority.
Implementing the Ahtisaari Plan in the north, as it now stands, is impractical given the continued refusal of the Serbs there to have anything to do with Pristina. It may be inevitable that the international community – either the UN, or if it becomes truly status-neutral, the EU – takes the place of Pristina in the Plan’s implementation. It will not be easy to reach such an agreement and the Contact Group may need to lead the way. But to avoid either continued stalemate or renewed violence, there will have to be an eventual compromise. The wheel may then turn back to President Ahtisaari’s Comprehensive Proposal.
Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He has a PhD in political science, taught at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Arkansas, George Washington University and Drake University and now works as an independent consultant.