What is Belgrade doing with Kosovo?

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.

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Conflict Background


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 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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22 Responses

  1. I think what the “international community” and the Albanians have in mind is what happened in East Slavonia after Dayton: a “full reintegration” into Croatia, while paying lip service to human and civil rights. The Belgrade regime would be fine with that. The Serbs living there (and the actual people in the rest of Serbia) not so much.

  2. Fadil


    The Albanians will not, for sure, make a pressure to the Serbs in northern Kosovo. No need for such an action. The Serbs in the north will leave Kosovo, for sure, as a result of uncertainty, of course if they follow “advises” from the “advisers” like you.

    Ivica Dacic is not stupid. As a member of socialist party he can recall the so called “program for the return of Serbs in Kosovo”, designed by his mentor Slobodan Milosevic in 1990. By such program in the first 2 or 3 years as much as 300,000 Serbian colonists would settle in Kosovo. Although Milosevic occupied Kosovo and kept it in military regime, employed Serbs, gave flats and land to them, such a “program” failed. The Serbs did not want to live in Kosovo even though had many privileges given by Milosevic.

    I want to say that the “investment” of Serbian government in the north of Kosovo would not help to those “planners” who see northern Kosovo as part of Serbia. Now everybody who visit Serbia can see how empty is that country, particularly in its southern part. Serbian experts foresee worsening of that situation as “white plague” is going on in Serbia. Serbia, speaking into medical language, is bleeding. A patient bleeding can only loose force and even lose the life. Such a patient should seek to save his life and not fight for other things.

    Having this in mind one may conclude that the Albanians do not need to take strong actions as time is working for them. If the Serbs will continue self inflicting activities they will damage themselves, nor the Albanians.

  3. Fabio

    Something is rotten with the Serbian gov’t vis-a-vis Kosovo. The threat from the Germans must have been a doozy to make them fold so quickly. It might be a good idea for them to pull out at the last second, given that they’ve been getting praised so much lately by the EU. They have some latitude that they can work around now.

  4. The terrorists who shot and killed an EULEX official in north Kosovo clearly wish to create fear and cause destabilizing reactions. Whether as a campaign against voting in the November elections, an effort to paint Kosovo Serbs in the north as a “danger” to peace or a spoiler effort by criminal gangs is yet unknown. (There have been disruptive acts in North Mitrovica as well, including intimidation of candidates and a grenade thrown in Bosniak Mahala.)

    The question of whether to vote or not is an existential one for the northerners. Their decision should be made in an environment free of violence or pressures. The leaders of the “no” campaign – including Mr. Marko Jaksic – should feel encouraged to speak out against violence or intimidation. And the UN and EULEX should do the utmost to identify perpetrators.

  5. PEN

    At this stage it’s difficult to tell who was responsible for the EULEX hit. Although I would surmise that given the K-Alb propensity for ambushing, sniping, and general terrorising, the chances are it was a member of their community. The idea is to create a climate of fear and instability. For once, although I hate to admit it, I find myself agreeing with the general principle of the Belgrade government. The more K-Serbs register and vote, the bigger their presence and organisational capacity in Kosmet. It would be difficult for the internationals to ignore their demands. The Albanians want them to leave en-masse. Don’t play their game by painting yourselves into a corner. Make as much noise as possible. Europe is a rights based culture. Play the system.

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