The latest round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina appears not to have reached agreement, with the north still remaining the issue. Yet, the Ahtisaari Plan recognized that the conflict in Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians could only be peacefully resolved if a way were found to allow the two groups to co-exist in a majority-run polity while they also lived their own lives in their own communities.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
I attended last week, in Texas, an EU sponsored conference on secession of states. (FYI, 100 thousand Texans recently signed a petition demanding secession from the US.) Someone there suggested that I stop using the word “Ahtisaari” to talk about some special approach to north Kosovo – by this time, the term raises concerns among both Serbs and Albanians. But the Ahtisaari Plan captures the practical elements of an achievable compromise. Any other plan would have to end up looking much like it. And calling it something else wouldn’t really fool anyone.
The latest round of talks between Prime Ministers Dacic and Thaci appears not to have reached agreement. The issue remains the north. An EU source reportedly said that Dacic rejected the idea that northern Serb municipalities would be run from Pristina, while for the EU, the municipalities cannot have complete autonomy with no control by Pristina. The EU is looking for a “compromise” between the two and using the bully club of possible EU membership in April to get Belgrade to concede.
How does one compromise over sharing one baby? Cutting in two is not allowed. And why is talking about who controls north Kosovo like talking about custody of a baby? Because one side sees control from the other as a danger to its very existence. The northern Kosovo Serbs believe that any “control” by Pristina will be used against them. Whatever Dacic might like to agree to – and perhaps whatever he does agree in order to get EU approval – the northerners would likely resist any effort to put them under Pristina. The baby – local control – cannot be split, it goes to one side or the other.
The Ahtisaari Plan recognized that the conflict in Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians could only be peacefully resolved if a way were found to allow the two groups to co-exist in a majority-run polity while they also lived their own lives in their own communities. The non-Albanian municipalities would have local competencies, links to the outside and some mechanism for cooperating amongst themselves. As it turned out, there was no Contact Group agreement on implementing the Plan and no agreement on independence. Given also the consistent resistance in the north to any “Pristina control,” a simple application of the Plan now cannot work. But a realistic approach to implementing the Ahtisaari Plan in the north – mostly involving having status neutral internationals taking the place of Pristina in key areas – might work. For example, instead of giving Pristina control of funding from Belgrade to the local Serbs, it could be reported to a responsible international authority and/or go through a bank controlled by neither party. Vis-a-vis the police, an international might become commander of the KPS on both sides of the river and play the role of Pristina in the choice of local commanders in the north in cooperation with the municipalities as otherwise outlined in the Plan.
One issue that seems to be a current stumbling point is the right of municipalities to form associations. Belgrade wants it to have some decision-making ability while Pristina refuses to add this “other layer of government.” The international community also does not wish to see in Kosovo anything like the entities in Bosnia. But Annex III, Art 9 states quite clearly that the partnerships may “exercise their functional cooperation through, inter alia, the establishment of a decision making body comprised of representatives appointed by the assemblies of the participating municipalities, the hiring and dismissal of administrative and advisory personnel, and decisions on funding and other operational needs of the partnership.” A partnership of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo would be good for everyone. It would bring together Serbs north and south of the Ibar and make that community a more organic whole within Kosovo. But it does not establish a competitor as it leaves only one central government in place. An important part of Belgrade’s platform is the recognition that Kosovo Serbs would participate in that government. In any agreement safeguarding their local communities, they should.
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.
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