Kosovo Serbs – north and south of the Ibar – believe that Belgrade is giving Kosovo away to the Albanians. The Albanians may see it that way too since they have been unusually cooperative in agreeing to Serbia’s demands for status-neutral forms. Both sides understand that the conflict over Kosovo – and the north specifically – remains zero-sum and they both want it and prefer not to have to share.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
The Nikolic/Dacic government has moved incredibly fast and far on Kosovo since taking office in 2012. The West’s favorite – former President Tadic – was stymied by the domestic political requirement of not being seen giving Kosovo away. But the “nationalists” and those with a Milosevic past have been able to reach the brink of a deal that may take Serbia into the EU. Under EU and US pressure, they reached agreements with Pristina on boundary management, telecoms, energy and other matters. Most significantly, Belgrade agreed to abolishing its “parallel” institutions in Kosovo and to pushing the Kosovo Serbs – including in the north – into November elections within Pristina’s governance framework. So, overall, what is Belgrade doing?
Kosovo Serbs – north and south of the Ibar – believe that Belgrade is giving Kosovo away to the Albanians. The Albanians may see it that way too since they have been unusually cooperative in agreeing to Serbia’s demands for status-neutral forms. On the politically sensitive issue of the election, despite some minor disagreement over what to call the lists of Kosovo Serb candidates, Pristina accepted leaving the OSCE to run the election in the north and to keeping its “Republic of Kosovo” off the ballots. Pristina has apparently also agreed to allow existing Serbian telecommunication and energy companies to operate in Kosovo, at least in Serb areas.
Kosovo Serbs living south of the Ibar have been living within Kosovo’s political system since being bullied into it by EU and KFOR support for Pristina cutting them off from Serbian supply lines. Still, they have been receiving some support, including funding, from the Serbian government (as allowed under the Ahtisaari Plan). Now some worry about the effect of Serbia’s closing its municipal structures and throwing them completely into the surrounding Albanian majority municipality. Serbs living in small hamlets between the Ibar and Pristina – such as Obilic, Priluzje and Plemetina – have been treated as part of Serbia’s municipal system. But they don’t exist in any of the Serb majority municipalities recognized by Pristina and thus would not seem to fall under the Ahtisaari mechanisms. It may appear to them that Belgrade is simply giving them away.
In the north, the majority of Serbs also believe Belgrade is intent on giving Kosovo to the Albanians. They understand that the Albanians would not have been so cooperative if they thought they were losing the game. Indeed, both sides understand that the conflict over Kosovo – and the north specifically – remains zero-sum. Both Serbs and Albanians want it and prefer not to have to share. The northerners may surmise that any opening allowed Pristina – any role given in their affairs – will lead to increased pressure on them to surrender or leave. There are some – like the perennial “optimist” Oliver Ivanovic – who are ready to participate in the framework agreed by Belgrade in which the recognized Serbian-majority municipalities would form a community. But it remains very uncertain if the majority of northern Kosovo Serbs will vote.
The EU/US strategy – since KFOR failed to subdue the northerners through force – has been to pressure Serbia to deliver the north by using the leverage of EU membership. This has worked to a point. Belgrade agreed to elections, encouraged the Serbs to vote and has now deposed the northern municipal leaders for not accepting the program. These mayors have urged their citizens not to vote because they would lose their own structures “and gain nothing.” Belgrade officials say that Serbia’s policy has not changed and that they are not giving up Kosovo. As they see it, the agreements reached provide the only way for Serbs and Serbia to continue to exist within Kosovo. Their institutions would become legally recognized by the international community. But if the northerners remain unconvinced and don’t vote in credible numbers, will Belgrade accept that expression of democracy and stop. Or will it throw off the covers and simply allow Pristina and its allies to impose order?
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 learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s reading lists series by clicking here.