Kosovo – Belgrade moving too fast?

The pace of events over the north should not be dictated by getting an EU date in June. That’s just not a reasonable amount of time to begin the process of change being demanded of the northern Kosovo Serbs, nor can any quick change on the ground be forced upon them if they resist. The EU should delink the accession date from implementing the agreement.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

Belgrade is acting like a man fleeing a burning building only after he sees out the window a new house waiting for him. Perhaps, it’s a nice new house in the EU village?

After years of wishing the Kosovo issue away, a government of Serbia has seemingly accepted the reality of loss and started making peace with the Kosovo government. President Nikolic and Prime Minister Dacic have moved more smartly and daringly than the previous Tadic administration. Perhaps too quickly for some, but under the EU gun held by Germany. What Serbia gets is to insist a bit longer that Kosovo is not independent though this too will have to be abandoned by any EU accession date. What the Serbian leadership gets is the respectability it clearly sought and the chance to lead Serbia forward into Europe. This is all to the good for most everyone.

It seems the Germans are still holding the gun to Serbia – to implement the agreement in the north before June. Maybe not all immediately but starting with removal of Serbian security structures. The removal of Serbian “parallel” structures has long been the target of Pristina and its international supporters. The Kosovo Albanian leadership frequently complains of the existence in the north of Serbian police (MUP) and “civil defense” formations. Pristina believes these should be the first to go. Supposedly, these police and others are what prevents the majority of Serbs in the north from accepting rule from Pristina. However, the Serbian security structures have probably been more useful in keeping the northern Serbs under control than inciting them to resistance. Their removal would not change northern rejection of the agreement but might make conflict more likely.

It remains clear that the northern Serbs continue to refuse rule from Pristina in an “independent” Kosovo. Their leaders remain at odds with the Serbian government over implementing the plan. The Prime Minister insists it will be implemented and without delay. Dacic reportedly warned that the government has “mechanisms” to implement the agreement such as stopping salaries and shutting down the “parallel institutions.” It wants “at least the minimum agreement with the Serbs from the north.” Others in Belgrade hint that the mayors could have their mandates taken away if they don’t work with the government on implementation.

The Kosovo Albanians are wisely standing back from this as they seem to be the winners so far and now they have Belgrade on their side. Kosovo Interior Minister Rexhepi reportedly even cautioned his side to be patient as implementation in the north will be difficult and take time.

The northern Kosovo Serbs feel they are being told to pay the price of Serbia getting EU accession talks. (Some Serbs south of the Ibar have expressed the same view.) While almost all reject the agreement, many are still not sure of what to do about it. Some – who have the means – may be thinking of leaving. Some are determined to resist. Some are thinking seriously about how to survive without support from Belgrade. Some are thinking about ways that perhaps the agreement could be made to work. And many may be doing all of these at once.

The pace of events over the north – possibly finding how to implement the agreement through further negotiations – should not be dictated by getting an EU date in June. That’s just not a reasonable amount of time to begin the process of change being demanded of the northern Kosovo Serbs. Nor can any quick change on the ground be forced upon them if they resist. The EU should delink the accession date from implementing the agreement. The members could agree, for example, to grant the date for EU talks to begin while delaying Kosovo local elections until 2014 and setting a 6-9 month timetable for negotiating implementation with the northerners.

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 read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here. If you are interested in responding to this article, please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking here.

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

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