Kosovo – painting into a corner

Leaving the northern Kosovo Serbs out of the process of determining their future leaves open the possibility that whatever Belgrade might come to accept under EU pressure would not gain the support on the ground to be implemented peacefully.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

From the outside, it’s hard to know what the state of play really is in the Belgrade-Pristina discussions on north Kosovo. The Serbian side appears confused, saying both that progress has been made and agreement near, but also that Pristina is refusing to compromise and the EU’s latest proposal is unacceptable. Pristina’s public comments suggest that it still prefers to hide behind the US and EU support for insisting it gains “sovereignty” over the north. Kosovo Prime Minister Thaci seems to find it convenient repeating opposition to granting “executive” powers to an association of Kosovo Serb municipalities by ignoring the fact that the Ahtisaari Plan already allows them to have a decision-making mechanism. Meanwhile, the EU suggests agreement is near and could be reached at the “next” Brussels meeting but also that time is running out to give Serbia a favorable report by mid-April.

From the outside, it appears that the EU – e.g., the Brussels mandarins plus Germany –and US continue to expect Belgrade to surrender north Kosovo in order to get a date for EU accession talks. The Germans are quite open about making this dependent on Serbia removing its “parallel structures” in the north and convincing the northern Kosovo Serbs to play nice with Pristina and EULEX. It is possible that an agreement really is close and will be reached in April. Perhaps Pristina has been more accommodating in private and both sides are blustering to suggest “tough talks” before announcing to their citizens that they had to accept less than their maximal positions.

It’s also possible that the EU has been trying to paint Serbia into a corner. The only way out would be to take a great “leap” into surrendering the north on Pristina’s terms. Some – Berlin? – may actually hope and expect that Serbia will be unable to make this leap so that potential EU membership for Serbia can be put aside. But taking things at face value, it may be that the Quint still believes that Belgrade will surrender to EU pressure and withdraw its support for the northerners. Without Belgrade’s support and funding, it would be the northern Kosovo Serbs that get painted into the corner.

The northerners seem aware of the possibility they will be presented with an unacceptable fait accompli. On March 19, a joint session of their four municipal assemblies passed a resolution expressing their continued commitment to remain linked to Serbia and refusal to accept withdrawal of Serbian institutions. If Belgrade were to accept breaking those links, “members of the municipal assemblies’ caucuses will, based on the universal and inalienable right of every nation on self-organization, self-determination, association, and free social, political, economic, cultural development, opt for the establishment of the Assembly of Northern Kosovo and Metohija as the highest representing and legislative body.” Sources tell me that while the northern Kosovo Serb leadership may have been briefed on the talks, no one is actually discussing possible outcomes with them or seeking their input. The only other public comment from the north has been expressions of satisfaction that so far no agreement has been reached in Brussels.

Some in the north are beginning to consider ways in which their community could survive within Kosovo as long as linkages to Serbia are maintained. But leaving the northern Kosovo Serbs out of the process of determining their future leaves open the possibility that whatever Belgrade might come to accept under EU pressure would not gain the support on the ground to be implemented peacefully. The EU’s effort to paint the northern Kosovo Serbs into a corner by pressing Belgrade to render them to Pristina’s “control” may instead lead to painting everyone into the corner of partition or violence.  An agreement that would seem to end Belgrade’s support for existing local institutions in the north and instead force them to accept a role for Pristina could leave the northerners with little apparent choice but to declare autonomy. What then would be everyone else’s Plan B? Would it take further violence to get out of that corner?

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.

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

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22 Responses

  1. Fadil

    @Gerard,

    Northerners may declare whatever wish. They may declare themselves as aliens from another star system, as Martians or even special specie. One of the most known professors of international law, James Crawford, from Cambridge University, says “ones declaration is collection of words written in water”! That means, a person or a group may declare everything and it doesn’t matter. What matters is reaction of the others.

    In this regard, Serbs in northern Kosovo may declare whatever they wish but what matters is whether they can apply that declaration. Even Kosovo Assembly on 1991 declared independence bot no one in the world recognized such declaration although Kosovo had been constitutive element of Yugoslav federation with independent entities such as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia.

    Conclusion is: northerners may continue their confrontation with reality but they will harm themselves.

  2. Mirel

    Northens will scream a little and once the Belgrade support is over,and additional american and german troops will arrive in North, they will accept whatever Balgrade and Prishtina have agreed,ore they will drive their tractors towards Belgrade like their brothers in Croatia.

    They will have some more powers than an ordinary town hall, but not RS powers.In the other words they can not veto Prishtina’s policies in international stage and Kosovo flag will be in their town halls.

    Meanwhile Romania and Slovakia have annouced change in their position on Kosovo, after April 2 or may be before it.

    1. Troll Hunter

      One must wonder why some — Fadil & Mirel, whoever you really are — are so full of bitterness over the possibility that some in Kosovo do not want to live under corrupt control from Pristina. Maybe you are afraid that secretly, even many Kosovo Albanians don’t? You so easily talk of sending troops — not yours but Americans and Germans — to enforce this corrupt rule in the north. And you clearly prefer that the Serbs there “drive their tractors towards Belgrade like their brothers in Croatia” and you talk so freely of “Storm 2.0” etc. You are two good reasons no one should expect anyone to volunteer for rule by people like you.

      By the way, I don’t see US troops rushing to force Pristina control in north, Obama wants no new war. Anyway, US tried in north in 2011 and it didn’t work. Now, Germany is another question but Merkel has to save euro first.

      1. Fadil

        @”Troll hunter”

        Could you STOP, just once in your life spreading LIES and propaganda.and understand that Serbia is SECOND TO NONE in regard to crimes and corruption. Even though Kosovo is full of KFOR, EULEX, UNMIK, OSCE personnel we know just few cases, very small ones, of corruption. We have bigger case with 1.4 million euros with passport bribery.

        But what we read for Serbia EVERY DAY. We read for Agrobanka, stolen 300 to 600 million euros from Serbian officials, then drug affair scandal (“mucke sa lekovima” in original) with some 300 million euros of bribery or stolen money. We read for Kollubara and more than 130 million euros stolen there. We read for Azotara, Jugoremedija and more than 10 million euros stolen. We read for “patriotic stealing” with oil, drug and other smuggling of goods and Serbian budget is short for more than 2 BILLION of euros. We read for NIS, sold to Russians for only 400 million euros while it was valued at 2.5 billion euros from very reputable company Deloitte and Touche, so 2.1 BILLION of euros lost.

        We read for narco boss Darko Saric and money laundering from narcotics in amount of 4 to 8 BILLION of euros with more than 600 Serbian companies. We know that even Serbian prime met narcotic dealers of Darko Saric. Just few days ago a Serbian man is caught in Madrid (Spain) with 590 (five hundred and ninety kilos) of cocaine.

        These are just FEW CASES as much more are still to come into surface. This is that criminal and corrupted state you should speak/write about.

        So having this WHY Albanians, Bosniaks, Hungarians should live in such criminal and corrupt state???

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