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.
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.
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