Kosovo – the alternatives for the North

Though northern Kosovo has been relatively calm of late, albeit with a series of minor incidents, it is doubtful that this situation can persist without continued restraint and an eventual political solution based upon one of two alternatives – special autonomy for the north or partition.

By Gerard Gallucci

Despite a series of minor incidents, northern Kosovo has been recently calm. The local Serbs seem to have reached an accommodation with Belgrade on a new opposition government in North Mitrovica. The new head of EULEX appears to have put aside any plans for using force to alter the status quo in the north and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed in the Security Council the UN’s continued role there despite criticism from Kosovo Albanians. The Albanians continue to inch their way into the north – stationing Special Police where they can in north Mitrovica to hassle local Serbs passing through and preparing for another season of unilateral construction near Serb areas. But with attention south of the Ibar on the December 12 general elections, and with the end-of-year holidays and cold winter weather looming, the relative quiet in the north should continue for the next few months.

Everyone is waiting too for the start of so-called negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina as referred to in the UN General Assembly last September. “So-called” because it is not at all clear what the two sides will be able to talk about, much less negotiate, given fundamental differences over Kosovo’s status. There is also considerable divergence in how each side sees the talks. The Quint countries supporting Kosovo independence – US, UK, Germany, France and Italy – expect these talks to be the venue for Serbia to finally, one way or the other, accept the reality of an independent Kosovo. They look to Belgrade to agree to putting Kosovo customs and courts in the north. President Tadic would like to accommodate the Quint and keep Serbia’s EU membership on track. But politically, he cannot accept any agreements seeming to recognize Pristina’s independence or authority in the north. For Tadic, Serbia’s “readiness” for talks is first of all a way to buy time while the Albanians have their elections and the holidays intervene. Beyond that, Serbia may seek to divert discussions onto topics on which the two sides might agree – missing persons, for one – or stake out status neutral positions on “technical issues” – such as the courts – that the Albanians will not accept (unless pushed by the Quint). Tadic may hope that, meanwhile, he will get lucky and the EU will reward him for playing nice.

At some point, everyone’s contrary expectations for “negotiations” could lead again to stalemate. But if real negotiations begin, then the question of the north will beg solution. If a frozen conflict over the north is to be avoided – and leaving aside the possibilities of conquest of the north through force or Serb surrender to Pristina – one of two alternatives will have to be chosen: special autonomy for the north (some form of Ahtisaari-Plus) or partition (adjustment of the border with Serbia to the Ibar).

Increased autonomy for the north within Kosovo might be the more elegant solution. But why rule out partition? It has been a constant refrain from pro-independence Balkanistas that partition of Kosovo would set a bad precedent for elsewhere in the Balkans. But it cannot be disputed that the independence of Kosovo – whether one views this as good or not – is an ethnic partition of Serbia. The precedent already exists. Furthermore, it is not at all clear why breaking states along ethnic boundaries is a bad thing. Where there has been internal conflict along ethnic lines, it may be best to allow people who wish to live in their own “national” community the space to do so. Some such communities might be deemed too small to be self-sustainable. In some places, groups may be too intermixed to make simple separation possible. But these are practical issues and not ones of principle. Where peoples can be separated and wish to be, why not allow them? Where separation is not realistic, then perhaps it is better for the international community to provide the necessary support for imposing a power-sharing regime with minority rights. This is what the Ahtisaari Plan provides for Kosovo and may work south of the Ibar, where the Serbs are surrounded by Albanians. But in the north, Serbs live as part of Serbia. Drawing the boundary at the Ibar would be a natural possibility.

Pristina’s international sponsors may have to decide which outcome they prefer – northern autonomy within Kosovo or partition – and then bring the Albanians to accept it. (The Albanians will hold out for everything, as long as they can.) The alternative seems to be the current frozen conflict and continued international presence in Kosovo for quite some time. But can calm persist in the north without continued restraint and an eventual political solution?

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. Gerard is also a member ofTransCconflict’s advisory board. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization. You can read more of Mr. Gallucci’s analysis of current developments in Kosovo and elsewhere by clicking here.

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  2. nardi

    In regards to partition of kossovo, if it is a real possibility for only 100,000 serbs…I can only imagine what the hungarians in Vojvodian are thinking, or maybe the ethnic Albanians in Southern Serbia are patiently waiting to say. I seriously contend your ability as an author in the poltical spectrum, without realizing the domino effect of your claim, that which is a true reality for the rewards of ethnic genocide by a people who only maintain their identity through murder and hatred. Must Europe endure the same mistakes of the San Stefano treaty? Further note; Mr Gallucci please refrain from your language that includes words such as surrender, and conquest. It only adds to your bias and obvious support for a brutal and genocidal idealogy of Pan Slavacism.

    have a nice day.

  3. Rob-Roy

    I am curious why it is that you brought up the “special autonomy” of the Serbian enclaves in the northern part of Kosovo but have not advocated for special autonomy in the Presevo Valley and Sandzak regions of Serbia. In those regions ethnic Serbs form the minority and the majority populations – Albanians and Bosniaks respectively would like to have their own states or at the very least their own autonomous administrative regions. The Serbian government has so far refused to grant them the autonomy they seek. Why is it acceptable to you that the Serbs living in Kosovo get autonomy within the state while the Albanians and Bosniaks and other minority groups in Serbia are not allowed to have their own autonomous regions within the state? It seems to me that the Serbs always want to have some special status in any country they have minorities living in but refuse to grant those rights to the minorities living in Serbia. These double-standards are not fair and are unacceptable.

  4. tom

    you albanians on here are very funny for 1 vojvodina is over 75% Serbs and growing your dreams are gone there and second albanians i southern serbia have decreased to about 50,000 and lowering and 3rd the bosniaks are also decreasing in the sandzak region its 50-50 now and the serbs are not a minority maybe look at the 2010 and 2011 and forget about the 1950s and beyond maybe look at albania now if you dont know over 35% of albania are none albanians look it up and thats where your going to have problems very soon so the facts are its 2010 and going on 2011 where you like to live a hundred years back lol

  5. I agree with most of the article but have some disagreement with the commentors.

    When Czechoslovakia split up they had some small border changes. But nobody suggested that because the border between the Czeches and the Slovaks had been moved the border between Hungary and Slovakia should also move (there is a Hungarian-majority area in the southwest of Slovakia). So unlike nardi and Rob-Roy I see no reason why ethnic borders between Kosovo and Serbia should be bad. On the contrary: if you conclude that it is necessary to separate Serbs and Albanians in separate states it seems to me the decent way to do it so that as much people as possible live in their “own” state.

  6. I’d like to be clear that I am not advocating for partition of Kosovo. As I noted at the outset, finding a way to keep the north as part of Kosovo would be, overall, the best solution. I am simply noting that adjusting borders is a practical issue that can be considered from a practical basis. History and current reality seem to show that that multi-ethnicity works only in very rich countries where there is enough “pie” for everyone. Not in post-conflict ones where people still identify primarily by nationality. In some circumstances, co-habitation may be the only feasible way. But then some outside actor has to be around to make sure everyone plays by the rules or else there is the risk of further conflict.

    In principle, there is no good reason to be against Kosovo and Albania uniting if they wish. But also – re Wim’s point – no need to drag the north into that either. Power sharing may work in Macedonia long term if the EU actively embraces it. Albanians in Serbia, Greece and Montenegro are a harder case. But where they are a minority and likely to remain so, then minority rights within a European context should work. No need to have an one-size-fits-all approach. Each case can be treated as a practical matter.

    The EU could change the entire game by bringing all of the former Yugoslavia into the EU at once. Pulling the whole region into the wider EU context would be more serious than insisting that ethnically partitioning overwhelmingly Albanian Kosovo out of Serbia was a unique case.

  7. billy bob

    Great article. Always good stuff from Galucci. You did a great job while in Kosovo, you shouldn’t have left.

    Partition isn’t a bad idea. Candidly, Albanians I’ve spoken to in Kosovo are more than happy to get rid of the North so that they can focus on other issues. Plus it will give the Serbian government something that they can take back to the population with at least something. This will keep Serbia on track towards the EU and a lot more calm in the Balkans.

  8. nardi

    @ tom.

    I will try to answer your pseudo-factual and lack of a better word “response” as best as I can, and I will be kind enough not to comment on the limits of ones mental capacity. I believe that everyone with your type of learning disability should have a fair opportunity to be part of any discussion if they feel they need be, I applaud your courage and desire.

    “you albanians on here are very funny”

    Yes we are, with such an array of actors and comedians, it brings to mind one in particular by the name of James Belushi…quite nice of you to recognize our light hearted nature.

    “vojvodina is over 75% Serbs”

    O’ contrere! Serbs make up a total of 65% of the total population in the province of Vojbodina, and the Hungarians make up approx 15% total, which equals to 300,000, that is triple the total of Serbs in the country of Kossovo. Could partition be a real possibility? you decide.

    Further more you have based your number on those who use Serbian as their native tongue, not to what ethnic class they identify themselves with.

    “albanians i southern serbia have decreased to about 50,000 and lowering”

    The real number is at approx 65,000 Albanians in present day Serbia, and where do you come up with the idea it is lowering? here is a bit of info, it takes 2.2% birth rate to maintain a population. Im sure you can do the math on that one. if not you can ask me.

    “and 3rd the bosniaks are also decreasing in the sandzak region its 50-50 now and the serbs are not a minority maybe look at the 2010 and 2011 and forget about the 1950s and beyond”

    please refer to the inforamtion I posted above about birth rates.

    “albania now if you dont know over 35% of albania are none albanians”

    This is an interesting number you have posted. I think that if you place a decimal in the right spot you would have a far more accurate number of minorities. Based on the CIA Fact Book as well as The Watson Inst for Int. Studies the total number of minorities in present day Albania is no more then 3.5%. With the largest minority being that of Greek ethnicity which makes up 60,000.

    In conclusion, The problems I can only foresee, “lie” with the ignorant and redundant attacks on the truth. If one could only live with the voice of reality and not the ghost of propganda’s past talking inside ones head.

    have a nice day.

  9. nardi

    @ Win Roffel

    “But nobody suggested that because the border between the Czeches and the Slovaks had been moved the border between Hungary and Slovakia should also move (there is a Hungarian-majority area in the southwest of Slovakia).”

    I think you just solved the greatest Serbian paradigm. congrats! How do the hungarians in Slovakia do it? Let the Serbs follow that same example and apply it to the Serb Minority in Kossovo? Eureka! Then there will be no more talk of border changes and partitions and finally the Serbs can live with in the Nation of Kossovo as equal citizens, and begin to worry about issues that are important to them and stop being used as pawns for political gains of others, inside and outside the borders of Kossovo.

    have a nice day.

  10. LZ

    What are the problems with partition? It seems like there is much acrimony over that would ease from partition. Could it be implemented with a reasonable border? If yes, then why not? Eventually once the ethnic feuds die down then the reduction of the borders would hopefully occur.

    It is true that minorities in other countries may make claims but perhaps in some cases they are valid (and precedents already exist). For example Karabakh Armenians clearly should be part of Armenia and not Azerbaijan.

    Would be interesting if (though almost certainly will not happen) one day the Western Balkans and Eastern Balkans found commonality and new dawn witnessed the founding of a new Dalmatian-Illyrian-Thracian-Moesian-Macedonian-Hellenic League..

  11. Winston

    I just do not understand why the Kosovo Albanians want to rule the majority population in N. Mitrovica. What is that all about? Is it that they would like to rule over the Serbs now, like the Serbs ruled over them for so many years? Is it a monetary issue, border revenue, mineral mines, what exactly is it? The Albanians wanted to split from Serbia because of ethnicity, why do the Albanians not afford the same to the Serbs? The Serbs in the North do not want to be dictated to by Pristina. Is that so hard to understand? My personal opinion, Pristina distracts their under achievements in Kosovo’s progress, both socially and economically, by deferring to the North, and not on the overwhelming rest of Kosovo.

  12. Anne

    I entirely agree with Winston.
    People always manipulate with figures.
    Simply referring to the “CIA Fact Book as well as The Watson Inst for Int. Studies” doesn’t mean it’s true…
    It is a notorious fact that so many manuals, books,booklets etc were printed with wrong data…US tends to change the facts and the history for its own benefits.

  13. nardi


    “What are the problems with partition? It seems like there is much acrimony over that would ease from partition. Could it be implemented with a reasonable border?”

    In the case of Kosovo. Partition is a reality. It parted itself from the artificial country of Serbia and became independent. It only took a century of bloodshed and the failed attempts of genocide against the Albanian people. In this case we believe it was valid.

    Why is partition is an only option when Serbs are involved? Is this a double standard? Hippocritical? even Racist? I believe the solution is not partition, but the re-education and the introduction of modern civility to the Serbian people.

  14. Obilic

    Simply amazing. Please explain oh dear Albanians how you became the majority in Kosovo Metohija. It’s a fact that Kosovo is the cradle of Serbian nation and also the home of our church. Serbs have built Kosovo into a modern province while Albanians have only contributed to it’s destruction. It is a fact that the term “ethnic cleansing” was first used to describe the plight of Serbs from Kosovo due to illegal Albanians crossing into Kosovo and driving Serbs out. Serbs will NEVER accept a illegal, immoral independent Kosovo. Just isn’t going to happen. The west isn’t as powerful as it once was and as soon as Tadic is voted out of office, Kosovo will be liberated once again. It took us 500 years to be free from the Turks so we can wait just a couple years to free ourselves from western bondage!

  15. winston

    Nardi, I have seldom come across a blind nationalist as yourself. Were you possibly rejected by a beautiful Serbian girl, to have such hostility towards a nationality? Enjoy your hatred, I am glad I am not suffering like you.

  16. LZ


    I think both Albanians and Serbians should get fair treatment and their claims should be analyzed and as fair as possible a solution implemented. I am not an expert on the situation and just read about it and other political events across the world out of interest.

    The Albanian majority parts of Kosovo will very likely remain independent. The main question is how reasonable is it to try to keep the primarily Serbian populated region in the north as part of a unified Kosovo. Ideally, there would be cooperation among the peoples of the Western Balkans rather than the types of hideous conflicts that have occurred in recent history.

    Most of the Balkan people seem to be closely related in many ways and have common ties dating back thousands of years. From what I have read and examined about the region it appears that at various points in history some countries now against each other were at various points part of the same culture group or very closely related culture groups. If the factors that turned so many within the populations against each other could be extinguished.. If the region were not so divided and could somehow reach for a new era of commonality (not erasing unique cultures though) then it would experience a great advance.

    Unfortunately the present situation is characterized by acrimony and conflict.

    Since it seems that the Serbians in northern Kosovo wish to remain part of Serbia it would seem to be easy to just partition the area. Then Albanian Kosovo will receive recognition from Serbia.

    A quote:

    “Why is partition is an only option when Serbs are involved? Is this a double standard? Hippocritical? even Racist? I believe the solution is not partition, but the re-education and the introduction of modern civility to the Serbian people.”

    I think that there are several cases where partition and readjustments are valid. Sudan (the partition of this country is coming next year in a referendum), Kurdish areas, Karabakh (Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict), and there others. I am not saying that no multi-national or multi-ethnic states can exist. But in some cases it seems that adjustment is the main readily apparent solution.

    The Albanians absolutely deserve fair fulfillment of their national rights as do the Serbians. Hopefully both will see success in the future.

  17. LZ

    By the way, since Western countries were heavily involved in the partitioning of Kosovo from Serbia it would not be true that no one in these countries supports partition only when Serbs are involved.

  18. LZ

    I meant to write, “…it would not be true that no one in these countries supports partition except when Serbs are involved.”

    A clearer version would be, “…so there are at least some in these countries who support partition in cases where non-Serb ethnic groups are involved.”

    While I doubt most Western publics are very concerned with the issue they probably, if/when the think about the issue or know what is going on, are concerned about the fate of the Albanians (and the Serbians).

    Some of the politicians? Hmm..hard to say what they are thinking.

  19. LZ

    Dardania is a great name by the way. If the area becomes a bi-zonal federation maybe the name could be Dardania-Kosovo or if partitioned then Dardania for south and Kosovo for north.

  20. Andrej

    This may sound like a chorus from us Serbians, but still, just to make it clear: WE WILL NEWER, EVER, UNDER NO AMOUNT THREATS OR BRIBES ACCEPT SECESSION OF KOSOVO. That said, I personally am not against finding some middle ground-for example that Serbia informally stop lobbying against Kosovo in UN for exchange of north. Anyway, town of Kosovska Mitrovica and its environs were administratively within Raska region and not Kosovo until communists changed administrative border in the late forties. That is I believe a functional and rational offer.
    On the other hand if Albanians get some crazy ideas for “cleansing” of Serbs by force like they tried back in 2004. then Serbian Army should definitely intervene in order to preserve lives and property of citizens. Hell, I would gladly volunteer for that one.

  21. Mike

    Kosovo needs to be Daytonized like Bosnia. It’s not clean, it’s not pretty, but it works. If Kosovo’s borders are not to be changed by the international community, and if the Albanians insist on this unhealthy fixation on trying to lay claim to a piece of territory north of the Ibar they have never controlled, and don’t appear to have any idea what to do with, then as Mr. Galucci says, the north needs to be given wide degrees of autonomous self-administration akin to Republika Srpska in Bosnia with direct ties to Belgrade. Let Kosovska Mitrovica be Kosovo’s Banja Luka. It’s the only way the rest of the Serb enclaves south of the Ibar can have any formal insitutional representation and be able to survive in Kosovo.

  22. Pingback : Kosovo – alternativna rešenja za sever | TransConflict | Transform, Transcend, Translate - TransConflict Serbia

  23. Korrik Sofalia

    “… Meanwhile Kosovo-Albanian politicians in unison refused this proposal. Apart from a moral approach regarding the years long terrible suppression of the Serbian apartheid regime in Kosovo, there is also a practical reason to do so: Besides a further shrinking territory and the economic future of Kosovo, the mining industry, also the main water reserves of the country are located in its northern part. … ”


  24. Pingback : Kosovo - kako bi mogao da izgleda 'Ahtisari plus'? | TransConflict | Transform, Transcend, Translate - TransConflict Serbia

  25. Albanian

    @ Obilic
    You should know better than to refer to history. We both know that we will never agree with your “historical facts”. Wasted effort on your part.

    @ Winston. “I just do not understand why the Kosovo Albanians want to rule the majority population in N. Mitrovica”

    I (and many Albanians) think that Kosovo’s territorial integrity is a concept that has been imposed on Albanians by the international community. The current Kosovar leadership has been told to forget Presheva and rule N. Kosovo. Being that their independence was due to NATO, they are reluctant to go against NATO’s will. In reality most Albanians would be happy to give away North Kosovo, BUT ONLY IF Presheva Valley joins Kosovo or if there is a population exchange. Why would they let 65,000 Albanians in Presheva be ruled by Serbia AND give away N. Kosovo at the same time? N. Kosovo and Presheva Valley are two sides of the same coin, one country cannot have both.

    The international community is trying to apply a level of democracy, that isn’t even available in the West, in a region that has recently seen the worst atrocities in Europe since WWII. The result is the creation of ineffective states that are bound to fail and remain on EU aid for a long time. Co-existence between old enemies is great, but it should be implemented at the EU level when the region joins the EU. Country borders won’t matter soon, but country governments should be able to implement laws without having to deal with parallel structures and informal borders within their own country. Too much time and energy is being spent on these issues in both Kosovo and Serbia, when both countries should just focus on improving their economy and standard of living.

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