Kosovo – separate tracks

It is increasingly apparent that the respective parties – including the Quint – are talking past each other and reacting more to what has happened, rather than what might be done to move away from conflict.

By Gerard Gallucci

There comes a time in some conflicts when people on both sides come to understand that they cannot get what they want by further violence, or may in fact lose more than they might gain by continuing to fight.  If they are lucky, some outside third-party may take an interest and help the two sides to move into a negotiating framework.  This is the moment that they all begin to move on a single track toward the possibility of an agreement that freezes the conflict and perhaps leads toward a political resolution and a stable peace.

There is a counterpart to this moment in the lead-up to more violence.  It happens when everyone begins to see only their own grievances, their own version of history, their own agenda.  They lose the ability to hear each other and to be able to consider anything new; anything that might require compromise.  Everyone starts down separate tracks to stalemate or a new collision.

It may be that north Kosovo is reaching one of these moments.  It seems that almost everyone – Kosovo Serbs, Albanians and the internationals – grasps at some level that the situation in the north as it is now has become untenable.  The latest report by the UN Secretary General makes this clear.  It may also be that there is increasing willingness to consider possible modes to resolve the current crisis and perhaps even find an approach that would help return things to a more normal life for everyone.

It seems increasingly, however, that people are talking past each other and reacting more to what has happened rather than what might be done to move away from conflict.  The tracks may be separating.
The two local parties – Serbs and Albanians – are the least likely to be able to rise above their history. They believe too that any acceptance of some compromise position would be a sign of weakness.  They feel the ground may be shifting beneath them – Belgrade may sell them out, the EU may want new approaches.  Without outside help, nothing good is likely to emerge.

Unfortunately, the outside helpers – the Contact Group – also seem trapped by their history and political agendas.  KFOR and EULEX find it impossible to commit fully and openly to peacekeeping, instead of continuing to seek a one-sided political outcome at the northern boundary.  They have stopped – for now – using force, but seem unable to address in any way the deep distrust their actions have created in the northern Kosovo Serb community.  The Quint seems to be stuck in place, without the ability to offer anything new.  Russia sees it has no reason to change its support for Serbia, even as the Tadic government remains mesmerized by the slogan of both the EU and Kosovo.

Winter is approaching and hopefully the cold, cold Balkans weather will prevent everyone from doing anything really dumb.  The potential for accidents persists, however, and life for everyone in Kosovo will remain suspended in this local cold war.  And time moves forward.  People will either have something new to consider or find themselves listening more and more to the old voices in their heads. The internationals are still the responsible peacekeepers and the only real potential peacemakers at this time.  They need to get on track.

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. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board.

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