Dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade has moved surprisingly well since the new – supposedly radical nationalist – Serbian government took up its side late last year. The Quint will now have to convince Pristina to stop the violence against Serbs already under its authority.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
Dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade has moved surprisingly well since the new – supposedly radical nationalist – Serbian government took up its side late last year. The two Prime Ministers have met various times and the two Presidents may meet next month. Not all they have agreed to has been implemented as yet but progress has been made on “normalizing” their relations. Names are floating to serve as the agreed representatives in each other’s capitals, joint presence at the boundary crossings has begun (in some fashion) and now there seems to be an agreement on customs collection in the north. Along the way, Belgrade offered a “platform” that appears to open the door to further normalization in the context of finding a formula for local autonomy for the northern Kosovo Serb communities.
It’s been clear for a long time that at some point, Serbia and Kosovo would have to return to the Ahtisaari Plan as the basis for a compromise that avoided continued conflict or partition. Together with the UN Secretary General’s “six points,” it offers a number of pragmatic measures relating to policing, customs, the courts and infrastructure, plus local autonomy in education and culture, and special features for Mitrovica (the University and Hospital). The Plan provides mechanisms for ensuring transparency in Belgrade support to Serb municipalities in Kosovo. The continued refusal of the northern Kosovo Serbs to any involvement by Pristina in their local affairs points to the necessity to go a bit beyond Ahtisaari by filling in the details of implementation in a way that would provide linkages between the north and both Belgrade and Pristina while preserving local autonomy. This can be done if both sides approach the practical issues with compromise in mind.
The Kosovo Albanian side has long used threats of instability to seek to keep its Western supporters from entertaining any thought of compromise. Acts of violence against Kosovo Serbs in the south and provocations in southern Serbia and Macedonia have been slyly used to underscored the threat. But the Quint – mainly the US and EU – appear to have taken the point that force will not work in the north. Thus perhaps they have pressed Pristina to be more “pragmatic.”
The deal on customs may be the first fruit of this new Quint approach. Belgrade and Pristina have reportedly agreed to collect customs fees in the north on goods bound for the north (customs are already collected on goods for the south once they cross the Ibar). The fees will go into a fund to be used for development in the north. The fund reportedly will be held at a commercial bank under EU control with decisions made jointly by it, Pristina and Belgrade.
Details must be worked out. Belgrade says its side will be represented by a northern Kosovo Serb. Pristina reportedly wants the fund to be used as well for three Kosovo Albanian municipalities on the south side of the Ibar. (Would customs now collected in south Mitrovica then go into the new fund?) Agreement must also be reached on how the three parties will reach decisions and whether any of them will have a veto. The northerners will be especially sensitive to any sign that Pristina will be able to block use of funds in the north that are collected in the north. (There is already some differences within the northern Kosovo Serb community over whether to accept the fund.) But this apparent breakthrough could resolve one of the three remaining thorny issues concerning the north.
This would leave the other two: the local security and political structures in the north, and North Mitrovica. Both sides say that the local structures were discussed at the recent Dacic/Thaci meeting. Belgrade appears open to making them formally autonomous bodies within Kosovo with linkages both ways. The Quint will have to really push Pristina on this one and also convince the Albanian side to stop the violence against Serbs already under its authority. That would leave Mitrovica.
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.