Kosovo – November elections loom

For there to be any chance for a peaceful evolution of the Kosovo stalemate two things must happen –  agreements and implementation must be status-neutral, and the northern Kosovo Serbs must decide that the future of Serbs in Kosovo can be best guaranteed through such an approach.  For the November elections to be successful, everything needs to be clarified soon.    

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

No doubt there’s lots of talk in northern Kosovo about where things are and where they’re going.  But as far as I know, the NSA is not listening and not much is being said in the open.  The northerners have reacted with road blockages to the recent arrests of Kosovo Serbs by EULEX and efforts by EULEX to transport Kosovo customs officials and police to the northern boundary.  But Belgrade may have prevailed on the northerners to keep otherwise quiet while there is still much to clarify about the various “agreements” reached or still being negotiated.  Perhaps they expect – hope – that in the end Pristina will refuse to accept the sort of status-neutral implementation that the agreements will require if there is to be the chance of peaceful change.  Then Belgrade might be left off the hook and the north left as it is – still part of Serbia.  I suspect that is not the most likely outcome and that the northerners should be ready to participate in implementation – and the coming elections – as long as arrangements can be implemented in a status-neutral manner, with only notional involvement of Pristina.  But that will be their decision and perhaps an existential one.

With Pristina, it’s a mixed bag.  There have been warnings of a secret list for arrests of northern Serbs – which EULEX denies and Kosovo officials have stopped talking about.  The press there reports dissatisfaction with the new Kosovo Serb police commander in the north because he is not taking direction from Pristina but also that the Director General of the Kosovo Police has been stripped of his role in choosing the northern commander (in line with the Belgrade-Pristina agreement and Ahtisaari Plan.)  The amnesty law is on hold pending court review.  Pristina has charged Serbia with not disbanding the “parallel” institutions yet and turning local affairs over to its “liaison office” in north Mitrovica.  Kosovo officials have also said they would refuse to negotiate over the Gazivoda Reservoir or Trepca North.  Nothing has been said about the boundary of North Mitrovica – the Ibar or where?  But supposedly, progress is (still) being made on telecoms and electricity though not so much on the judiciary or implementation of the boundary agreement.

Perhaps most interesting is speculation that the possible inclusion of Serbs in Kosovo elections would add considerable “spice” to the mix of intra-Albanian politics.  Koha Ditore suggests that if Kosovo Serbs – including IDPs outside the territory – agreed to participate in local elections with one joint political list, they could win the most votes.  In theory, the potential 300,000 Kosovo Serb voters would form a faction larger than the current ruling party (Prime Minister Thaci’s PDK).  Koha noted that in the words of some “experts,” this could lead to “a result that would not reflect demographic circumstances on the ground.”  The southern Kosovo Serbs also see great opportunity in adding the northern numbers to their votes.

On the international side, KFOR has reaffirmed that it will not use force to implement political arrangements while EULEX reportedly has assumed a greater role in the north including monitoring the remaining Serbian police (MUP).  EULEX has also clarified that it will not be leaving Kosovo in 2014, only restructuring.

One can read in all this whatever one likes.  Could be that the northern Kosovo Serbs and the Kosovo Albanians are getting ready for a new phase.  Or it could be that each is still waiting for the other side to make the next big mistake.  What seems clear is that for there to be any chance for a peaceful evolution of the Kosovo stalemate two things must happen:  agreements and implementation must be status-neutral and the northern Kosovo Serbs must decide that the future of Serbs in Kosovo can be best guaranteed through such an approach.  For the November elections to be successful everything needs to be clarified soon.

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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