Kosovo – what or who can convince the northern Kosovo Serbs?

“Multi-ethnic democracy” is a peculiar Western myth that few in Kosovo really believe in but that the Albanians have been very clever at using to manipulate the foreigners. The northern Serbs may just decide to tough it out and resist incorporation.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

The Quint – i.e., Brussels, Berlin and Washington – plus Belgrade and Pristina have their fingers crossed that it’s a done deal on Kosovo. An agreement has been reached to push the north into the Kosovo state while seeming to sidestep the status issue. Not everything has been agreed and little actually implemented, but it’s enough for Serbia to be given the promise of a way forward into EU membership. The Albanians in Pristina – under pressure from the EU and US – are granting “amnesty” to some northern Kosovo Serbs and everyone seems to assume the “parallel” structures will be dismantled and meaningful local elections held in November. Everyone, that is, except the northerners.

The Kosovo government appears to be on cruise control. Pristina officials are telling themselves that the barricades along the Ibar will be taken down before November and acting as if everything has been decided. The OSCE is getting prepared to oversee the elections. Belgrade is talking about the “only way forward” and “not missing more opportunities” (i.e., to please the EU) while assuring the Kosovo Serbs of continued support. Brussels is “closing the gaps” between the two sides on telecoms and energy. But on the ground, those directly involved still don’t seem ready to play along.

On the Kosovo Albanian side, the mayor of south Mitrovica – Mr. Kastrati – is still trying to push unilateral Albanian returns into north Mitrovica at Brdjani. For him, there is no separate North Mitrovica municipality so he is free to assert the authority to oversee construction in a Serb majority area that even the Ahtisaari Plan does not give to his municipality. Perhaps, acting as if there is still no border between north and south Mitrovica is meant to pressure the northerners into accepting the Pristina-Belgrade agreement? If so, the northerners have responded by blocking constructions efforts through their demonstrations on site. So far, NATO has chosen not to get involved this time but it doesn’t seem to bode well for any easy slide into the preferred Quint outcome.

While the northern Kosovo Serbs have not done anything irrevocable to disavow the EU-sponsored agreement, they don’t seem to have accepted it either. They have declared their own autonomous assembly to keep them, as they explain, under the constitution of Serbia. They continue to reject any idea of taking part in the November elections despite warnings that this could mean Albanian local governments chosen in their place.

Outsiders cannot decide, nor predict, what the northerners may do as an August deadline for registering to take part in elections passes. Belgrade may find ways to pressure them to go along. It ostensibly controls budget and security in the north. But one should not underestimate the northern refusal to give themselves over to Pristina. On the ground, this has always been a zero sum conflict. Serbs believe that any opening to Pristina will ultimately lead to their departure and the Albanians, no matter what they say or do now, mean for this to happen eventually. “Multi-ethnic democracy” is a peculiar Western myth that few in Kosovo really believe in but that the Albanians have been very clever at using to manipulate the foreigners. The northern Serbs may just decide to tough it out and resist incorporation.

What then? The situation would remain as it’s been since 1999: frozen. The Quint – now joined by Belgrade – can “huff and puff” but still can’t blow the house down. If the northerners refuse to go along, Belgrade still can’t be seen simply cutting them off and throwing them to the dogs (i.e., out of the Serbian constitution). Even if the small Albanian community in the north “elects” the local governments there as the Serbs boycott, nothing would change. There’d be local Serb-majority, self-organized, Serbian communities unable to be removed by force or imposed “agreements.” The Albanians would still be claiming “legality” under their own unilaterally declared constitution with the UN left in the middle. Then? Partition the partition? This may still be the northern hope.

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.  He will serve as Diplomat-in-Residence at Drake University for the 2013-14 school year.

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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25 Responses

  1. David Mclean

    What has changed nothing, lack of contact with the northern Serbian community is none existent. All that E.U. and USA power in the south and no common sense to enhance talks with the local community. I feel as if the south wants to force Belgrade into them taking action on the Northern part of Kosovo. This can only be done successfully from the south and like before make the North another Region of Kosovo and have its own Police still KPS and answering to Pristina and the Local authority including courts and the prison having dual control. This takes time to organize and has to be done with local participation for all events.

  2. bozana1978@live.com

    The failure of the Quint at this latest stage was to exclude the Kosovo Serbians from the negotiating table. It is markedly unconscionable to hold negotiations on the future status of a region without consulting the population that actually has to live there.
    Moreover, the arrogance of the Quint in refusing to allow for most expeditious and peaceful resolution of the conflict (i.e. partition) has only made things worse.
    I personally believe that this is not the fault of State policy, but rather, of a small group of “hardline” inviduals in the Qunit who are pursuing their own agendas.

    I am hoping that the writer of this article would be able to name the individuals he believes are partly responsible for this?

    1. Fadil

      If you like so much partition why not partition of Vojvodina, Sandjak, Presevo valley. Let have a look what happens there and can apply for the north of Kosovo.

  3. Fadil

    Northern Serbs will be convinced as those in the south. Partition!!! What kind of partition Jerry?? You are the most comic person writing here. Jerry urges Serbs to “resist”. This is exactly what the most Serbian extremists write. Visiting Serbian forums is the best way to know that.

    Actually Serbian “resistance” would mean their constant weakening until one day simply disappear from Kosovo and the north in particular. Nobody can blame Albanians for that. Surely for such outcome Serbs themselves and people like Gallucci must be fully responsible.

    But seems like there some Serbs more clever. According to Serbian media, there are Serbs in the north willing to participate in Kosovo elections and hence respect Kosovo Constitution and laws.

  4. Gerard Gallucci

    One can see in the news that the Serbian government is talking now with the local leaders of north Kosovo about the election and other parts of the Brussels process. It will be up to those involved to determine their course of action. But many of the details about elections, police commanders, boundary crossings, the boundary of North Mitrovica, future of Trepca North, telecoms & electricity, etc remain un-agreed, unclear and/or with both sides seeing them differently. Pristina may still be trying to inject status elements into implementation. That will complicate matters. Some in the north may simply play along and wait for Kosovo Albanian maximalism to derail everything.

    1. Fadil

      The “Albanian maximalism” is regarded as giving the maximum of imagined right to a certain group, which by the way doesn’t deserve even minimalist right.

      Actually the real Albanian maximalism in giving maximal rights to a small group of people probably was wrong since Serbs in this case and their proponents (Gallucci@Co) would never stop. So maybe the right thing was giving to Serbs normal rights as everywhere in the world. It mean giving to the minority rights by European standards and nothing more.

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