From creative ambiguity to a constructive process – how to approach northern Kosovo?

TransConflict is pleased to present a second paper by the Democracy for Development Institute (D4D), entitled “From Creative Ambiguity to a Constructive Process – How to Approach Northern Kosovo?”, which examines the various approaches that have been put forward for integrating the north of Kosovo and suggests guidelines towards a better integration process, aiming for sustainable peace.

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Conflict Background


To download the entire paper in pdf format, please click here

By Leon Malazogu and Alex Grigorev, with contributions by Drilon Gashi


There are basically two ways to approach the north, (a) bold mediation by the international community, or (b) facilitation of political dialogue with the risk of the conflict remaining frozen for years to come. Given the right conditions – security provision in the north, and conditionality – dialogue may yield a breakthrough. However, the dialoguing parties alone will not achieve such a result. The end goal must be shown to them, along with the steps they need to reach it.

After twelve years of frozen conflict, it has become clear that an effort to find a practical accommodation for the north is long overdue while Kosovo’s status does not enjoy universal acceptance.

The problem of the north is not administrative but political. Short of a political process, the establishment of administrative structures will have a limited effect. A combination of assistance, service delivery, and improved rule of law by EULEX, coupled with political dialogue, may pave the way for meaningful local governance that is acceptable to all.

The two sides should be requested to engage in a number of confidence-building measures immediately. Both Prishtina and the Serb community in the north must take proactive steps to better understand each other, and they should open an effective channel of communication. All sides should send the message that if relations do not improve, the already difficult conflict will become tougher to resolve.

The elimination of the barricades is essential and would improve the climate for dialogue. Issues of mistrust need to be discussed forthwith to enable wide acceptance to remove the barricades.

The track record of inter-ethnic relations in the south should be assessed by the Kosovo Government together with the Serbs serving in the Government and the Parliament of Kosovo, and those in the opposition. An honest appraisal on cooperation within the Kosovo political spectrum, the workings of the Serb-majority municipalities, and the current level of inter-ethnic trust must be convened. Self-perceptions about the well-being of the Serbs in the south are extremely important. If the perceptions are positive, sooner or later these attitudes may migrate to the north.


Prishtina should send conciliatory messages about the type of parallel structures that will ultimately be embraced. Serb doctors and teachers should not fear losing their jobs and should not feel that Prishtina treats what they do as illegal.

MNAO might achieve some progress only if it is seen as a light presence and spends funds on the real problems facing the people in the city and their priorities, and goes well beyond MPT in its activities.

The Kosovo Government should develop large-scale infrastructure projects in the north, provide incentives for businesses, and bring services closer to the north. Opponents will find it difficult to argue against development projects with obvious benefits.

The authorities should improve the implementation of minority rights throughout Kosovo—especially of the language policy and dealing with the past. The Kosovo Assembly should pass all the lingering laws and obligations emanating out of Ahtisaari and from the European agenda.

Civil society in Kosovo should also back the process supporting a better understanding of relations and mutual perceptions. Prishtina should focus on practical steps to start tackling the north constructively, improving Prishtina’s perception among northern Serbs, and establishing communication.

Prishtina should drop deprecating rhetoric generalizing northerners as criminals. Prishtina should explain directly to northern leaders and civil society that it does not aim to change their way of life and will cooperate with Belgrade and offer investments and extended rights. Such a dialogue should explore all avenues of cooperation, discuss the current models, and include patient listening even to the most maximalist proposals that are put forward.

Kosovo Serbs

Northern Serb leaders should enter into dialogue with Prishtina in order to improve the situation and security of the Serb population in the north and work towards the establishment of mutually acceptable local governance. They should encourage Albanians to return to northern Mitrovica. In terms of local security, northern leaders as well as EULEX should tackle the issue of violent youth gangs in northern Mitrovica. Together with Prishtina, northern Serb leaders should discuss ways to integrate members of the Serb police in the north into the Kosovo Police and do away with the parallel Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs structures.

Prishtina and southern Serb leaders should finalize the final mile of the Ahtisaari obligations. The full functioning of the Serb TV channel of the national broadcaster should be prioritized, in order to ensure better information for ordinary Serbs about developments in Kosovo.


The focus of Belgrade’s policy should be resolving the real problems of Kosovo Serbs, both in the north and south. South Serbs should not be endangered by proposed outcomes for the north. Belgrade should cease pressuring individuals to resist participation in the institutional life of Kosovo.

The leadership should find the strength to assess what is realistic and strive to attain reachable goals. It should advise the local leaders to engage in a dialogue with Prishtina.

Belgrade should also change its attitude towards Kosovo Serb municipalities in the south and provide support. Moreover, it is in the mutual interest of Belgrade and Kosovo Serbs from the south, and more importantly in the Serbs’ in the south interest, for Belgrade to support the newly established Serb-majority municipalities.

Civil society in Serbia should focus on the human aspect of the Serb interest in Kosovo and advocate for policies that benefit ordinary Serbs.

The European Union and the United States

A compromise will not be found by the sides if they’re left to their own devices. Their bilateral engagement is essential and is the only path towards a sustainable, peaceful and prosperous future. Locally developed and mutually acceptable solutions are the only ones that will succeed in the long run. At present, however, the middle ground must be shown to the dialoguing parties, and these foreign stakeholders should give these parties direction. The only outsider that can be most efficient in Prishtina, Belgrade and the north is the European Union. If the EU has its own interests in mind at the same time, the solution will lead to two functional countries developing an instinct for cordiality first and perhaps even friendship later.

To this effect, Prishtina and Belgrade should help the EU to design a solution but will leave the final decision to the EU. Both capitals should agree ahead of the process to agree to whatever proposal that the EU comes up with. Ultimately, the EU should employ sufficient arbitration to end the dispute, but at the same time sufficient involvement by the parties to ensure that the respective political leadership does not get away without ownership, ensuring that the conflict does not return again.

The Democracy for Development Institute is a think-tank based in Pristina, Kosovo. This paper is launched as part of the Project on Ethnic Relations-Kosovo (PER-K).



1 Response

  1. Gerard Gallucci

    All these “shoulds” involve in some way the acceptance by the northern Kosovo Serbs of some sort of relationship with the Albanian-majority government in Pristina. The so-called compromise suggested here tilts strongly to the Pristina side. For example, the northern Kosovo Serbs should allow Albanian returns to the north while there is no global settlement to the property and return claims of Serbs in the south. The northerners know this would mean ethnic re-engineering of the north toward the Albanians. And the barricades and other reactions by the northerners in response to past efforts to bully them clearly underline their rejection of any involvement of Pristina in their lives.

    If the northern Kosovo Serbs should accept such an approach, that would be up to them. But so far it seems they have not. Wrapping up the Kosovo-Albanian wish list for the north as a “compromise” to be imposed by EU and US offers nothing new. More to the point, it suggests the degree to which there is still no real interest in Pristina for real compromise.

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