Serbia’s platform for negotiations on Kosovo can be seen as a first real effort to accommodate the diametrically opposed views of Kosovo and Serbia on final status, while also recognizing the realities on the ground in north Kosovo.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
Last month, the Serbian government readied presentation of its platform for negotiations on Kosovo. In short form, it rejects recognition of Kosovo as an independent state and calls for creation of an “Autonomous Community” of Kosovo municipalities with non-Albanian majorities and for treatment of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo along the lines of the Catholic Church in Italy. The Kosovo Albanian leadership predictably rejected the platform and some of Pristina’s international friends reacted with hysteria to Belgrade’s “step backward.” But the platform can be seen as a first real effort to accommodate the diametrically opposed views of Kosovo and Serbia on final status while also recognizing the realities on the ground in north Kosovo.
Belgrade’s “non-paper” proposal is essentially an offer to side step the issue of Kosovo’s status while moving toward mutual engagement and compromise on practical issues. Belgrade’s reiteration of its rejection of Kosovo independence is nothing new. The Quint has suggested that recognition of Kosovo is not expected of Serbia but rather “normalization of relations” between the two. (Normalization has already started with agreements on boundary crossings and to place representatives in each others capitals.) What is significant about the new platform is not that it says about status but what else it puts on the table towards bringing the conflict over northern Kosovo to a compromise, practical solution.
Belgrade’s proposed “Autonomous Community” refers explicitly to being modelled on the form of Catalan autonomy within Spain (and not the Republika Srpska). Most of what the Kosovo platform proposes could be accommodated by implementing the Ahtisaari Plan in a realistic manner. The Ahtisaari Plan already provides for minority rights and participation in government, local self-rule and linkages between local municipalities (with Serb majorities) and Belgrade. It provides a possible framework – along with a status-neutral approach to issues such as customs – for an autonomous north within Kosovo with linkages to other Serb-majority municipalities. The Plan gives communities the right to own language, culture, education, community symbols and media. It 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 streets. The Plan mandates that central government delegate to municipalities responsibility for cadastral and civil registries, voter registration, business registration and licensing, distribution of social assistance payments and forestry protection.
In two key areas, Belgrades platform goes beyond the Ahtisaari Plan: police and the courts. The Plan gives Serb-majority municipalities “enhanced participatory rights in the appointment of Police Station Commander” and provides that these municipalities will have their own local courts reflecting “the ethnic composition of their area of jurisdiction.” The platform would reduce the involvement of Pristina in these and other local affairs to practically nil. On the other hand, Belgrade explicitly accepts the participation of Kosovo Serbs in central institutions.
It would be expected that any real negotiation would lead to departures from the opening proposals of both sides. It is unlikely, for example, that fundamental changes in the status of Kosovo Serb enclaves south of the Ibar would be acceptable to Pristina. And Kosovo Serbs will probably be expected to engage in voting and participation in parliament along the lines of the current Kosovo government. But despite ritualistic Quint demands that “parallel” institutions in the north be abolished, Belgrade’s platform recognizes that there cannot be a peaceful development there until an arrangement is made that leaves Pristina out of local affairs and allows continued links to Belgrade. A somewhat expanded version of the local autonomy offered by Ahtisaari Plan, a status neutral approach to issues such as customs, an agreement on public and private property recognizing both Kosovo and Serbian interests, and an international commitment to staying as long as necessary for any agreement between Serbia and Kosovo to stand by itself offers a real path to peaceful change. Belgrade’s platform is entirely consistent with that approach.
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.