Kosovo – conflict or politics?

Some may say that Serbs always prefer heroics to acting rationally in their own self-interest.  But Serbs love their children too. If for no one else, voting would be good for them.

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Conflict Background


By Gerard M. Gallucci

Last week the frozen conflict along the Ibar River lurched in the direction of becoming unfrozen.  A group of reportedly professional killers executed an EULEX customs official on a road through northern Kosovo.  The north is majority Serbian but there are Albanian villages nearby too.  The ethnic make-up of the killers and their motive is not yet known (at least publicly).  But one can imagine all too many possibilities as various forces would like to de-stabilize the situation and prevent or discredit the November 3 elections.  Could be radical Serbs or Albanians or common criminals.  But the murder of an international policeman was clearly meant to raise the stakes and provoke reaction.  It dangerously opens the door to a return of violence.

While normally I use this space to present analysis from a peacekeeping perspective, this time I will editorialize a bit.  The choice facing the Kosovo Serb community north of the Ibar seems to me an existential one.  Meaning the decision to vote or not in November may determine their future in Kosovo, as a community and as individuals.  If not their immediate existence than almost surely the quality of their existence as a vital, viable community.  Not voting in significant numbers could lead to the establishment of parallel Pristina institutions in the north controlled by Kosovo Albanians and/or Kosovo Serbs with no legitimacy among fellow Serbs.  How Belgrade might react is unclear.  But the strong attachment of the Nikolic/Dacic government to achieving EU membership suggests that it might accept those results and move on.  It’s already deposed local leaders who reject participation.  Finding a way to work with some northern municipal leadership with at least a Serb cover might allow Belgrade to push on with the creation of a Serbian community in Kosovo and keep Brussels (and Berlin) happy.  Northern Kosovo Serbs would then be faced with living with two sets of institutions, one supported by Belgrade and accepted as legal by the international community and the other defunded and increasingly isolated.  This would greatly increase tensions in the north.

Who would benefit?  Those who prefer the current stalemate or hope that a crisis might be provoked that would deliver them some sort of victory.  Kosovo Albanians would still prefer to have the whole north without any complications from compromise with Serbia.  Conflict – renewed violence – might finally propel the internationals to impose control with Belgrade’s support.  The local Kosovo Serb leadership might also prefer crisis on the assumption that the internationals might finally give up the attempt to add the north to Pristina’s control and instead accept partition (de facto or de jure).  But the Serbian government cannot support partition – and still get the EU – after the Quint organized a compromise that would allow going even further than the Ahtissaari Plan.  The multi-ethnic criminal gangs might still be happy with the status quo of disputed status.  But the pressures on northern Serbs to surrender or leave would probably increase.

There are indications that the core northern Serb leadership is conducting a campaign against voting.  Hopefully violence is not part of their strategy.  They should make this clear by publicly condemning the murder of the policeman and the grenades and other recent acts of political intimidation.  And they should really think twice about encouraging a boycott.  Some of them may prefer to be the “kings” of a no-man’s land.  But that would benefit only them and be counter-productive and unjust to the great majority of Kosovo Serbs north and south.  The Serbian community in Kosovo can best preserve itself – and even prosper – if it accepts being part of a territorial entity of still unresolved status under UNSCR 1244.  Electing their own credible leaders to local and central institutions, enjoying the benefits of being of both worlds, makes more sense than some “heroic” resistance to reality.  Some may say that Serbs always prefer heroics to acting rationally in their own self-interest.  But Serbs love their children too. If for no one else, voting would be good for them.

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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