For progress to be made, there needs to be a second set of negotiations, this time with the northern Kosovo Serbs. As long as they resist implementation, little can be done peacefully. The EU should support Belgrade in finding a negotiated result rather than continue to threaten progress on membership, whilst the US can help by making clear to Pristina that further flexibility may be required.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
It’s too early to say that last month’s agreement between Belgrade and Pristina is unraveling. But the way forward is certainly not clear. Pristina is fidgeting but so far patient while Belgrade seems to be getting nowhere in convincing the north Kosovo Serbs to cooperate. Belgrade has alternated between warnings of consequences for northern leaders who don’t follow its lead and suggestions that it is open to working with them on defining the details for implementation. Back-and-forth about a possible referendum has given way to a possible constitutional court challenge. Meanwhile, the EU keeps reminding Belgrade that it expects implementation and the clock is ticking down to June.
As noted before, the change being demanded of the north Kosovo Serbs needs more time than the next two months to be absorbed. The northerners need space to consider their own bottom lines. And everyone needs more time to fill in crucial details of an agreement that seems to place the north firmly within a Kosovo framework. Clarity about how continued links to Belgrade – and Pristina’s exact role in funding northern structures (without controlling them) – fit into the overall approach might help the northerners think about their options.
Implicit behind the 15-point agreement has been elements already contained within the Ahtisaari Plan, such as continued funding from Belgrade and “enhanced” competencies for North Mitrovica with university education and a hospital. The Plan also adds depth to an understanding of how the Association of Serb Municipalities could work. In some ways, the Belgrade-Pristina agreement seems to go a bit further than Ahtisaari – such as the separate regional police commander and northern appeals court – but it doesn’t explicitly incorporate important pieces of the Plan. The EU should stop fussing over deadlines and instead focus on bringing the outline agreement into the context of what the Ahtisaari Plan already provides and adapting it into a framework for implementation.
For such progress to be made, there needs to be a second set of negotiations, this time with the northern Kosovo Serbs. As long as they resist implementation, little can be done peacefully. Belgrade faces this challenge directly as it cannot simply run over the northerners. It may threaten measures against those who resist but the most likely immediate result of cutting support or trying to remove local leaders would be to cast the north off on its own. This could lead to violence and/or partition. As the the EU presumably does not want either, they should support Belgrade in finding a negotiated result rather than continue to threaten progress on membership. The US can help by making clear to Pristina that further flexibility may be required.
Everyone else can help by refraining from painting the agreement as some form of recognition by Serbia of Kosovo statehood. The agreement should be seen instead as a possibly useful practical approach to the continued disagreement over Kosovo status. Yes, Belgrade’s decision to be practical about its loss of control over Kosovo is a step forward. But it does not abandon Serbia’s position that Kosovo is not an independent state. Indeed, it offers the only real approach that allows practical adjustments while both Belgrade and Pristina remain unable to agree on fundamentals.
This is how it works: Belgrade can allow the northern Kosovo Serbs to be subject to Kosovo’s legal and political framework – but not to Pristina’s actual control – by seeing it not as an independent state but, in effect, as a province beyond control. The northern Kosovo Serbs can accept being part of Kosovo in the same light and also as a way to keep alive Serbia’s presence in the territory. Meanwhile, Pristina can continue to assert its statehood. This might be seen as a form of self-deception. But it might be more productive to view it as artful ambiguity, the kind that allows movement forward while people on both sides of the Ibar continue to fundamentally disagree about which country they live in.
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.
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