The conflict over the north has been – and remains – zero sum. No matter what the Kosovo Albanians say to their internationals, the local Serbs do not believe that they will be allowed to remain in possession of the land, water and border with Serbia in the north should they be forced to accept Pristina law and control.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
After decades of difficult relations between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, the Quint has given them two months to reach an historic accommodation. Brussels has convoked the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo to meet again because “swift implementation” of the recent agreement is “of key importance.” Key importance to whom? Serbia for sure. The German parliament will vote on June 27 whether Berlin can support giving Serbia a date for the start of EU accession talks. The Germans are looking for the agreement on “parallel structures” to be implemented by then. Serbia is being asked to flee from the Kosovo issue before the Germans and Brussels mandarins burn down its EU house. The Quint seems to be still following the strategy of painting Belgrade into a corner and leaving it to enforce surrender on the north Kosovo Serbs. This is crazy, and dangerous.
The Kosovo Albanians are starting to get pushy again. Pristina “expects” a timeline for implementation by next week and the Kosovo government was in north Mitrovica celebrating the anniversary of its Potemkin office there. The Serbian government has been desperate to get the northern Serb community to accept the deal that it agreed with Pristina. The leaders of the northern municipalities have met with the government in Belgrade and Deputy Prime Minister Vucic visited the north. The talks reached no substantive agreement but both sides have made an effort to appear to remain on speaking terms. The mayor of Zvecan pointedly noted that the Serbs do not have a “spare state.”
In public, Vucic said there would be no use of force against those in the north who disagree with the government’s intention to implement the agreement but called on everyone to act in the interest of all Serbia. In private he may not have been so polite. In any case, his meetings in the north left most everyone there disappointed, bitter and afraid. The conflict over the north has been – and remains – zero sum. No matter what the Kosovo Albanians say to their internationals, the local Serbs do not believe that they will be allowed to remain in possession of the land, water and border with Serbia in the north should they be forced to accept Pristina law and control. Indeed, the Ahtisaari Plan as written gives Pristina a significant role in sensitive areas – choice of local police commanders and judges, funding from Belgrade – and it’s silent about returns. Nothing has been agreed on the boundary of North Mitrovica or the disposition of Trepca North. Resolving these issues in a way that could be peacefully implemented in the north would require time and a focused effort by all the parties, something that no one appears to be working on.
Some believe that the northern Serbs will eventually have to accept the inevitable – or be pushed aside – as Serbs were elsewhere in the Balkans. Some also talk about how the southern Kosovo Serbs have accommodated themselves to rule by Pristina, suggesting that after the bluster, the northerners will too. Mention is often made – including these days by Belgrade – of those rejecting the agreement for partisan reasons. No doubt some in the north may be thinking of leaving and some may be playing politics. But the great majority simply refuse to accept rule from Pristina because they see it as eventually being used against them. They don’t trust NATO and the EU to remain and protect them.
NATO is warning against anyone in the north trying to defend themselves with guns. The northern Serb resistance so far has been almost entirely peaceful. Perhaps KFOR is simply more aware of the tensions in the north as the locals feel that they have been abandoned by their government as the price for EU admission.
The bottom line seems this: There is no ground for mutual trust between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo. The Albanians have the upper hand and the northern Serbs fear for their survival. Fear and loathing are not a proper ground for the quick and peaceful change being demanded by the EU.
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 policy paper, entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.
To learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s reading lists series by clicking here.