Serbia and Kosovo – Tadic bets on good behavior?

With Serbia’s president having announced his resignation in order to contest the presidential elections, one might have imagined the Quint giving Tadic some space and peacemaking more time; instead they seem to be focused on squeezing the noose tighter.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

Serbia’s president, Boris Tadic, has announced his resignation so he can contest the presidential election, now to be held along with parliamentary and local votes on May 6. He reportedly was waiting for signs from the internationals that there would be no new conflict or incidents in Kosovo until then. Tadic evidently did not want to be running on a record of progress with his stated twin agenda of both the EU and Kosovo, and then have to deal with any more provocations from Pristina and friends in Kosovo. For his part, he cleared the decks on Kosovo by finding a formula to not hold local elections there, using his police to unblock the main road and close some alternative ones into the north and getting his Interior Minister to release two arrested Kosovo police. Belgrade has also been hinting that it will use the failure to elect some local governments in Kosovo, including two municipalities in the north, to appoint more malleable ones in their place.

How does the EU react to Tadic’ effort to win a mandate for further moves toward Europe? In a somewhat odd way. On the diplomatic front it makes clear that for Serbia to get an actual date to begin accession talks it must make “further efforts toward a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo.” After as much as Tadic has done so far – including also the various agreements with Pristina on documents, freedom of movement and, most noteworthy, the unofficial recognition provided by the asterisk agreement – what more does Brussels want? What is left short of immediate surrender and full recognition?

On the ground, Pristina began the recent crisis – culminating in the rival arrests of police – by making clear it is ready to remove all elements of Serbian institutions south of the Ibar through use of force and has threatened to do the same everywhere. This week, Pristina announced plans to unilaterally implement part of the freedom-of-movement agreement with Belgrade by seizing license plates in a manner “approximately” in line with the agreement.

Also jumping the gun on implementation of Belgrade-Pristina agreements, EULEX continues to seek to force northern Kosovo Serbs to utilize the two “official crossings” being also manned by Kosovo Customs. As noted, Belgrade’s police are helping this effort by closing some of the alternative roads, used by Serbs, on the Serbian side of the boundary line. But so far, the actual joint management of the Gates – with Serbian police also present there – has not been implemented.

Nevertheless, not only is EULEX insisting on their use, but KFOR now says its is under NATO (read: Quint) orders to close the “illegal” alternative roads. The northern Kosovo Serbs have repeatedly refused to bow to efforts to accept Kosovo customs at a new “border” and have greeted the latest move with defiance. The Mayor of Zubin Potok – one of those who could be replaced if Belgrade appoints a new administration in May – told the press that “we do not view the alternative roads leading towards central Serbia as illegal. We believe that these are legal and free roads which our citizens have been using for all these years, and their closure would be an obstacle to the freedom of movement.” Mayor Ristic reportedly added that “Serbs will not accept closing of roads, and this move reintroduces the risk of a strong protest which may include putting up barricades.”

Tadic probably did not have in mind running for president with news of another crisis over blocked roads and more resistance from the northern Kosovo Serbs competing with headlines over how EU membership is so close. One might have imagined the Quint giving Tadic some space and peacemaking more time. Instead they seem to be focused on squeezing the noose tighter. Either they don’t really care if Tadic wins or not, or believe he is so far ahead with the “boost” provided by date-less candidacy that he can’t lose. Or maybe they are just not thinking at all.

None of these possibilities are reassuring about the chances of getting to the point of launching some new effort – to include the northern Kosovo Serbs – to come up with a tweaked version of special autonomy for the north. On one hand, apparently knee-jerk provocations, and on the other, possible efforts to find compromise. Or does someone actually see this as a softening up process?

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.

To read TransConflict’s policy paper, written by Gerard and entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here.

To learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s new reading lists series by clicking here.

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