Kosovo – is Belgrade seeking a Republika Srpska?

The Quint would be rightly concerned over a Serbian demand to give an association its own powers, funds and representation at central level. That would be a Republika Srpska. Asking for that would go needlessly beyond what the Ahtisaari Plan already provides and would provoke Pristina and the Quint.

Suggested Reading

Conflict Background

GCCT

By Gerard M. Gallucci

The apparent Quint effort – led by the EU and US – to force Belgrade to surrender north Kosovo to Pristina control or lose the opening for EU membership is misguided and dangerous. The next round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina is scheduled for next week. But from public comments and seeming leaks, the two sides remain far apart. Pristina still appears unready for compromise, claiming complete US support for its maximalist position on the north. And now it seems some in Belgrade may be thinking of pushing needlessly far from the Ahtisaari framework.

The Ahtisaari Plan provides a sound basis for practical decentralization in Kosovo. Ensuring it works fully south of the Ibar should be a prime EU/US focus. But north of the Ibar, decentralization would need to be implemented in a way that reflects the different reality there. North Kosovo has never been under Pristina and still functions as part of Serbia. Seeking to change that through force – or by pushing Belgrade to withdraw its presence there – would either fail or lead to further ethnic conflict.

At the most recent round of talks, the EU reportedly gave Belgrade a paper that repeats the broad outlines of the Ahtisaari Plan – emphasizing the “Constitution of Kosovo” – while avoiding the important details of how it could be implemented in the north in a manner acceptable to the local population. Reportedly, the EU is preparing a further offer for next week – a guarantee that the Kosovo army will be kept out of the north. (Who would guarantee the guarantee and would it include Pristina’s special police, the ROSU?)

Belgrade reportedly is preparing a detailed version of its proposal including changing the Kosovo Constitution to “legalize” an association of Serbian municipalities and granting it competences in areas already mostly covered in the Ahtisaari Plan. According to the press, the Serbian leadership met and decided on nine “criteria” about the association that would have to be answered in an agreement:

  • whether it would have its own powers (or carry out those given to the municipalities), executive council and assets
  • whether it would operate under the law of Kosovo
  • whether it would have an elected or delegated assembly
  • whether it would have the power to assign and confirm places of residence, determine electoral registers and the composition of a separate court
  • whether its decisions would need to be approved by Pristina
  • whether there would be a “mechanism” for Serb participation in central government bodies
  • whether Kosovo security services would stay out of the north.

An official who took part in the meeting told the press that “a negative answer to any of these criteria in fact disqualifies the possibility of agreement.”

These points all need to be defined. But it should be noted that the Ahtisaari Plan (Annex III) is clear that a partnership of municipalities would have a decision-making body of delegates chosen by the municipalities and would not have its own powers. The form participation in central government would take is also clear: through participation in the parliament and government as individuals. The association per se would have no corporate existence at the central level. These are important points and the Quint would be rightly concerned over a Serbian demand to give an association its own powers, funds and representation at central level. That would be a Republika Srpska. Asking for that would go needlessly beyond what the Ahtisaari Plan already provides and provoke Pristina and the Quint.

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.

To read TransConflict’s recently-released policy paper, entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here. If you are interested in responding to this article, please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking here

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

What are the principles of conflict transformation?