Kosovo – what next from Pristina and friends?

A continued frozen conflict over north Kosovo is not the best option. It would have been better for the EU to break itself free of the German/US axis and broker a real compromise approach.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

The EU has labored “mightily” – conducting several rounds of so-called negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina – and left Kosovo exactly where it’s been for the last several years, in a mess. The problem remains what it has been – the Quint offers Belgrade nothing but surrender. Through the weeks of EU-led talks, the Pristina authorities never budged from their position that Serbia abandon the north and turn it over to them. Kosovo Prime Minister Thaci claimed full US support for this maximalist agenda and there’s no evidence he was wrong. Belgrade stepped forward apparently ready to negotiate an arrangement for local autonomy for Serbs – that could have been, with a little flexibility, accommodated largely within the Ahtisaari Plan – but was left talking to itself.

It’s actually time to stop talking about the “Quint,” the five NATO members – France, Italy, Germany, the UK and US – of the former Contact Group (which included Russia). Italy has been playing no apparent role while France and the UK seem to have been standing on the sidelines with their fingers crossed. The main players have been the US and Germany acting through Brussels and using the prospect of EU accession as leverage over Belgrade. As of now, EU Foreign Policy Chief Ashton continues to front for Berlin and Washington. They are still pushing Belgrade to accept the “proposal” the EU offered and still seem to expect Serbia ultimately to agree in order to avoid becoming “isolated” from Europe. Leaving Serbia out of Europe in order to give the Kosovo Albanians 100% of that they demand is bad EU policy. But it suits Germany – which does not want Serbia in the EU anyway – and allows the US to remain off the hook to deliver the Albanians into a compromise settlement.

Having the US and Germany in the lead on Kosovo is potentially dangerous. Their NATO troops patrol the north. The Germans, Americans, Austrians and a few others led the 2011 effort to blockade the north and force the Serbs there to accept Kosovo authority. Now Pristina is talking ominously of new “strategic” efforts to assume control north of the Ibar in “coordination” with its international supporters – meaning EULEX and KFOR (NATO). On the ground, there’s been another explosion and an apparent act of arson. The north Kosovo Serbs have reportedly stepped up their vigilance in the face of increased patrols in sensitive areas by Pristina’s special police (ROSU). The fire reportedly took place at the site of Albanian construction in the Brdjani area of north Mitrovica. This has been the scene of uncoordinated Albanian “returns” since EULEX and NATO pushed aside the UN in 2009. With winter gone, the construction season is beginning. While Kosovo south of the Ibar remains unfriendly for Serb returns, Pristina’s efforts to “return” Albanians to the north – whether they actually ever lived there or not – is simply an effort to gain territory and provoke the other side.

Unfortunately, more provocations from Pristina is what we can probably now expect: renewed efforts to inject its ROSU and customs officials into the north, more “returns” and various complaints and warnings. Despite hints of “Storm 2.0,” Pristina will not invade the north. Rather it will seek to stir Serb reactions to its “legitimate” exercises of authority and thereby prompt EULEX and KFOR intervention. With Germans and Americans in the lead in the north, KFOR and EULEX may indeed provide cover for exercises in “extending sovereignty” and allowing “returns.” This means the next phase could be renewed conflict.

A continued frozen conflict over north Kosovo is not the best option. It would have been better for the EU to break itself free of the German/US axis and broker a real compromise approach. This is still possible. But barring a change in the EU’s offer to Belgrade, a frozen conflict is better than a hot one. It would be entirely unfortunate if the “Quint” allowed Pristina and its allies to once again flirt with the use of force in the north.

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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54 Responses

  1. Fadil

    Gerard,

    You are extremely exaggerating the possibility of conflict in the north. They are just 2% of total population in Kosovo. They can’t be a serious threat for almost 2 million of other population in Kosovo.

    Serbs in northern Kosovo should not be rewarded for crimes they have committed in the past. Serbia may choose not to sign the deal but in such way gives opportunity to Kosovo authorities to copy-paste actions of Serbia on 2001 in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja (southern Serbia).

    In such situation, Serbia can’t blame Kosovo for something it did itself.

    1. ArhangelMihajlo

      Fadil,

      You seem to deliberately misunderstand Gerald. No one was mentioning Serbs would attack. But they use their right to defend themselves. For that matter, you will have to kill them all if you want to control them.

      1. Fadil

        Mihajlo,

        If northern Serbs in Kosovo would not attack, Kosovo authorities would not attack either. Kosovo authorities did not attack Serbs in Kosovo municipalities of Strpce or Gracanica (with Serbian majority) but Serbs there participated in Kosovo elections and elected their legal and legitimate representatives. This was a very peaceful process. The same must happen in northern Kosovo.

        UNMIK chief in Kosovo Mr. Zarif was more then clear when Serbia held elections last time. He said that “holding of elections of Serbia in Kosovo is VIOLATION of UN SC resolution 1244” and hence illegal ones. From such illegal elections were elected illegal institutions in northern Kosovo. The situation MUST be the same as that in the south so Serbs in northern Kosovo should elect their legal and legitimate representatives being in fully compliance of Kosovo laws.

        So need to kill or harass anyone, just apply Kosovo laws.

        1. Arhangel Mihajlo

          Fadil,

          Your reply is not addressing any of my statements. I stress again: Albanians do not WANT peaceful coexistence. That is the root problem. Only if so called “Kosovo government” would really embrace peaceful coexistence, the problems could be solved. That would include finding and bringing to justice those who daily attack Serbs. Don’t see this happening any time soon.

          1. Fadil

            Mihajlo,

            You are wrong. Albanians do want coexistence, that’s why accepted positive discrimination for Serbs. Who is attacking Serbs in northern Kosovo?? There are just attacks against those Serbs in northern Kosovo who collaborate with Kosovo institutions and called “traitors” of Serbian interests. Serbian extremists in northern Kosovo killed 13 Albanians, wounded tens of them and expelled more than 10,000 of Albanians. Serbs in northern Kosovo killed and wounded even international personnel like Ukrainian police and KFOR soldiers.

            Serbian extremists in northern Kosovo attack their compatriots who collaborate with Kosovo institutions. They do not want peaceful solution bur must realize that should stop such behavior.

          2. Arhangel Mihajlo

            Fadil,

            I am talking about daily attacks of Albanians on their Serb neighbors. Like stealing wood. Like threatening monks in monasteries. In Prishtina, Serbs are afraid to talk Serbian because they might get attacked.
            This is not new, and probably won’t change soon. This is the main reason Serbs resist any kind of Kosovo independence. As long as Kosovo is formally part of Serbia they feel some (at least symbolic) protection.

  2. PEN

    Ever since Germany forced the premature recognition of Croatia following the Maastricht treaty, and against the advice of Badinter and others who knew what would follow, Berlin has had one policy and one policy only; Croatia in the EU, isolate and permanently destabilise Serbia. Kosovo is the ideal means to achieve this aim. German companies may happily do business in Serbia where low taxes, and a cheap workforce desperate for jobs are an ideal option. But the German political class is inherently hostile to Belgrade where old historical stereotypes are cast in stone. I personally doubt Serbia will ever join the EU in its present dysfunctional state. The land hungry Americans on the other hand bludgeon their way across the globe, erecting military installations along the way. The Albanian clans are a useful tool for this endeavour as were the mujahedeen, the Contras, and others before them. As far as Berlin and Washington are concerned Belgrade equates to Moscow and must therefore be punished until completely cowed. Refusing to agree to last weeks dictat a ‘la Rambouillet follows a familiar format. As you so rightly state the Albanians would never dare move without NATO backing. Incidents and provocations are the favoured modus operandi. In my view Belgrade should make it clear an attack on the northern Serbs will not be tolerated. The Serbian leadership needs to demonstrate some backbone. As you mention a frozen conflict is better than a hot one.

  3. Mirel

    Totally agree,
    The broker must be Russia,Slovakia,Spain,Venezuela,Kuba,North Korea and other serbian friends.
    In the end of the day the rights of 40 thusand serbs are more important than 1.7 million albanians.

    1. ArhangelMihajlo

      Who claimed that? I guess that is exactly the root of the problem with albanians. They assume the right of the majority over the minority. As long as albanians were minority, they were relatively quiet. When they become majority, they don’t tolerate ANY others.

  4. mko

    How can anyone be hundred per cent sure whether the people of Montenegro really wanted the independence..? Everyone should consider and think a bit more about what Western political powers wanted..

  5. Fadil

    @Arhangel Mihajlo,

    I don’t know for “daily attacks” you are speaking about. There incidents, as everywhere in world. Kosovo can’t be the only country in the world without incidents. The highest number of incidents, however, occurs in northern Kosovo as some Serbs and other groups or employees of Kosovo administrative office in the north are attacked constantly from Serbian extremists.

    As for Pristina and someone that couldn’t speak Serbian I urge you updating your information. Me as Albanians speak in Serbian when I meet in Pristina my colleagues Serbs bot from the north and south. Of course they speak freely their mother tongue Serbian. For more than 10 years I never heard they had a single incident in Pristina because of that.

    So this is not the reason why northern Serbs resist being part of Kosovo society. By human nature its normal that a certain ethnic group (particularly in Balkan peninsula) would feel better being part of major ethnic group rather than being minority.

    Secondly, northern Serbs are manipulated extremely from Serbian state and we see now that Serbian delegation agreed to “surrender” the north, as Gerard Gallucci often says. Certainly Serbs in northern Kosovo are right in what they expected i.e having Serbian laws and being part of Serbia so it does not matter so much who is proposing some police commanders in the north since they have to be appointed by Kosovo authorities and operate based on Kosovo laws. The judges will also work applying Kosovo laws.

    So why then those Serbs in the north were manipulated and cheated. Why is lost so much time and they were not told 5 years ago not to waste time??

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