Kosovo – perhaps the Quint still doesn’t understand the North?

A way should be found to ensure Mayor-elect, Krstimir Pantic, can take his place without further delay, whilst the Quint should make clear to Pristina that it will not allow efforts to delay or derail implementation.  This new opportunity to move forward with peaceful change could yet be lost.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

Despite the progress made through the Brussels dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, it seems there is still much left to be done to “regularize” the situation of north Kosovo.  Elections have been held and enough northern Kosovo Serbs participated to mark them minimally successful.  But as ever, the devils are in the details and they have shown their faces in the weeks since.  The essential issue remains what it has always been, most Kosovo Serb not surrounded by Albanians still refuse to be absorbed into an “independent” Kosovo state.  That is a reality as much as is Kosovo independence.

In 2013, the Quint – the EU and US – seemed to have finally understood that force could not impose submission to Pristina on the north.  The EU-led negotiations appeared to offer the possibility of a status-neutral approach to reaffirming Kosovo’s territorial integrity – including the north – within an Ahtisaari Plus framework allowing the northern Serbs local autonomy with links both to Belgrade and Pristina.  This had become the state of affairs south of the Ibar since the Quint allowed Pristina’s use of force to bully the Serb-majority areas there into acceptance.  The Brussels negotiations offered a way to bring the north into a similar arrangement but without overt submission to Pristina.  The north would participate in Kosovo elections overseen by the OSCE – which is still bound by UNSCR 1244 – and the resulting local governments – recognized by all – would operate within a Kosovo context with internationals taking the place of direct Pristina involvement.  Serbia would disband its own “parallel” institutions and fold its police and judicial officials into a Kosovo system.  Key would be implementing these steps in a status-neutral manner, with no direct involvement by Pristina nor any imposition of Kosovo state symbols.

Belgrade could go as far as it did in the negotiations to accept the practical loss of Kosovo only if it was not also forced to accept anything that would imply its outright recognition of Kosovo independence.  The deal seemed to be that the EU would find this sufficient to begin Serbia’s move into eventual EU membership.  The German Ambassador to Serbia reportedly has even suggested that recognition of Kosovo is not a requirement as long as Pristina and Belgrade regularize their relationship in some mutually acceptable manner.

The Kosovo Albanians accepted negotiations reluctantly and only under US pressure.  They want the north whole and on their terms and have made clear that they consider Kosovo an Albanian enterprise, as reaffirmed in the recent joint government session with Albania.  They may have been surprised that Belgrade accepted the form of compromise offered by the Quint as it does formally accept the factual loss of governing authority over its “province.”  But faced with the actuality of finding the north locally autonomous, recognized by the internationals, still with links to Serbia and beyond direct control, Pristina has tried to raise every obstacle it can to obstruct implementation in a status-neutral manner.  It will also drag its feet on remaining issues, including the courts, customs fees and property issues.

No detail goes unused by Pristina in its effort to prevent smooth implementation.  It apparently insisted that officials elected in the north – already by a minority vote – sign papers with Kosovo state symbols on them.  Someone among the internationals understood that no northern Serb could sign such a thing.  So they covered the state symbols up with glue and paper.  One poor local Kosovo Serb official swore he could not see through the glued-on paper and couldn’t even peel it off!  But the mayor-elect of North Mitrovica refused to sign.  His refusal may lead Pristina to call another election.  The Quint should stop playing games with glue and paper and ensure genuinely status-neutral means to implement the Brussels agreements.  A way should be found to ensure Mayor-elect Pantic can take his place without further delay.  And the Quint should make clear to Pristina that it will not allow efforts to delay or derail implementation.  This new opportunity to move forward with peaceful change could yet be lost.

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.

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65 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    As usual, very clear analysis. I found myself working on similar contexts, in particular during the impementation of the 1997 municipal elections in Bosnia, when minority councillors were refusing to take the oath to RS or to BIH. This was solved with OSCE proposing neutral oaths, which wouldn’t put elected officials in inconvenient positions and allowed the process to move forward. I can’t believe it was not possible to anticipate this issue in Brussel and propose a solution there.

  2. Brian

    Virtually all Serbs recognize Kosovo independence now. Only one Serb refused to sign a document that had state symbols and republic of Kosovo? Amazing. And of course all Serbs don’t seem to have a problem with pristina appointing the Serbs police commander in n Kosovo

    1. The acceptance of Kosovo police in north Kosovo goes back to the successful work of UNMIK. It oversaw the KPS on both sides of the Ibar — through the turmoil of the UDI — and turned over that oversight to EULEX in late 2008. Regional EULEX (as opposed to the Quint-controlled EULEX HQ in Pristina) was wise enough not to ruin it by seeking to politicize the northern, Serb-majority KP. Peacekeeping can work with patience and practical approaches to practical problems.

      1. Mospyt

        This is an interesting perspective! Most impartial observers trace the current problems in the north to that ‘successful work’ of UNMIK, which you, Mr Galluci, led. The need for peacekeeping implies an immediate aftermath of conflict. That conflict in Kosovo ended 15 years ago. How much more time is needed to put right the shoddy legacy of UNMIK?

          1. Mospyt

            Kosovo is not Cyprus, Mideast or Kashmir. Belgrade wishes it to turn into one and that’s what the government in Prishtina, with international help, is trying to avoid.

  3. Mospyt

    What is at stake in northern Kosovo is the entire long-term viability of an independent Kosovo. Both Belgrade and Prishtina know this. Any so-called neutral-status solution for the four Serb municipalities north of Ibar river (or the ten thousand Serbs, as Serbian PM Dacic called them) undermines Kosovo’s sovereignty and independence and leaves open the option a possible return under Serbia. This is the long-term game Belgrade is playing. The quint know this, as does Mr Galluci. The solution is to abide by what was agreed in Brussels and for the ten thousand Serbs (Mr Dacic’s counting) to accept Prishtina’s authority. They already take its money.

    1. Peter

      Best solution is land swaps mutually agreed.i think the
      Former Yugoslavia as a whole needs a type of Versailles summit to rearrange their borders.

    2. Accepting Pristina’s authority means for the northern Serbs leaving the country they were born in and accepting rule by a nationalist Albanian elite. Why would they accept that any more readily than Kosovo Albanians would accept being ruled by Belgrade again? But yes, I agree that Kosova is a fragile “state.” It would be better for it to let the north go and concentrate on making itself a model democracy, transparent, tolerant and free of corruption. N’est pas?

        1. Peter

          Mospyt,the three municipalities you mention preseva only has a absolute Albanian majority,bujanovac is about 50/50 basically divided by the e-75 highway west of the highway is Albanian and east is serb and Roma.medvegia is about 25% Albanian as you can see:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Medvedja_karta.png

          As for trepca since it lies within northern Kosovo and is hotly contested After the swap happens for north Kosovo for the Albanian populated areas of presheva valley then a CBM would be implemented and the mines should be administered by both Serbia and Kosovo jointly.Both will recognize each other and sigh a peace treaty.

        2. PEN

          Gerard Gallucci and Peter offer sanity to a problem the Albanian clan chiefs in Pristina have no intention of resolving on anybody’s else’s terms but their own.
          Mospyt however peddles the absolutist aim of all Albanian militants; all or nothing. He calls for Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac to be ‘given back.’ Given back to what exactly? An entity that’s never existed before. When did these towns belong to an Albanian state. And apart from Presevo, the other towns don’t even have an Albanian majority as Peter so rightly points out. This obsession with the Presevo valley as being worthy of a land swap with northern Kosovo and its absolute Serb majority, doesn’t wash. Pristina administered ‘Kosova’ is nothing but a shambles, protected by the United States and Germany with the UK dutifully towing the line.

      1. Fadil

        Gerard,

        Your last comment has no difference with that of the worst Serbian extremist. Just imagine “Albanian nationalist elite” giving to Serbs use of their language in the whole territory of Kosovo. Giving to the Serbs reserved seats. Giving to the Serbs establishing new municipalities with only 5,000 inhabitants. Giving to the Serbs ruling of medical services and education and many others you know perfectly Something like that would be just a dream for Albanians in Serbia.

        And again the very ridiculous statement of “the country they were born”. Yes, its known fact that majority of the Serbs in northern Kosovo were born in the country called Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia! Can you revive that country??

        Serbs in the north must accept rule of law from Prishtina as Albanians in southern Serbia do so. Just imagine situation of Albanians in “democratic” Serbia, which killed its own children (six young boys in Peja on 1998). If the state of Serbia killed it own, Serbian children, what Albanians can expect?

        1. Troll Hunter

          @ Fadil:

          “Giving, giving, giving.” As in what is “given” can be taken back again?

          And what about all that talk about greater Albania during and around the recent Kosova-Albania joint government session?

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