Kosovo – Ahtisaari plus doesn’t solve everything

To preserve the chances of a peaceful transition in north Kosovo, everyone will have to accept compromise and avoid seeking to take advantage of what would be a fragile and delicate balance of interests.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

Belgrade and Pristina continue to flesh out a modus vivendi on north Kosovo that may be seen as an implementation of Ahtisaari Plus.  Under EU tutelage – and with the US keeping Pristina on point – the two sides have reached the outlines of an agreement on boundaries, police, customs fees and municipal governments in the north and have been talking about property and the judiciary.  Details on most of the “agreements” remain to be settled and not everything has been implemented.  But it seems that the parties may be nearing agreement on one of the thorniest remaining issues – the courts.  Details still have to be settled – and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vucic says that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed – but something seems to have emerged.  There will be one basic court for the north, which – acceding to Pristina’s wishes – will include seven municipalities including the four Serb-majority ones north of the Ibar and three Albanian-majority ones south of the river.  But it will have two sets of buildings, one in North Mitrovica that reportedly will cover criminal cases and another in south Mitrovica for civil cases.  The chief judge would be a Kosovo Serb while the chief prosecutor would be a Kosovo Albanian.  Somehow, the judicial personal will reflect the overall Albanian majority in the seven “northern” municipalities (perhaps 60/40) but also the local ethnic make-up, meaning mostly Serbs north of the river.

The agreement still needs to be finalized, perhaps in an upcoming meeting between the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo.  Although not what each side would maximally want, a deal along the lines made public so far fits well inside an Ahtisaari Plus approach.  That it took the Quint so long to come to this point is unfortunate but better late than never.  However, the devil remains in the details.  And these details will determine whether the north Kosovo Serbs will accept the new dispensation on the ground – and whether peace will prevail – when everyone decides to implement those details according to their own agendas.

The first set of details concerns the judiciary itself.  What law will be applied?  Who will pick the judges and prosecutors?  Will the current list of Serbian judges be brought into the new system?  Who will guarantee the safety of Albanians crossing over into the north and Serbs crossing into the south for business with the courts (especially important for the Serbs as civil matters include all sorts of normal activity including marriage, divorce, birth and death)? What flag – if any – will fly over the courts and in the court rooms?  Who pays the judicial employees?

Beyond these matters lies the question of how the court system will be utilized.  The major issue is whether the Albanians will seek to use the new courts agreed by Belgrade to impose further ethnic re-engineering in the north by pressing for “returns” based upon “property rights.”  The Albanians have already used this tactic to impose returns in the sensitive Brdjani area of north Mitrovica.  EULEX and KFOR put down Kosovo Serb protests at the time.  Any effort to again impose “returns” via using the courts to remove Kosovo Serb IDPs from “illegal” possession or the Kosovo Special Police (ROSU) to take territory in the north could trigger renewed conflict.

This ties in with a broader set of issues, some of which go beyond the Ahtisaari Plan.  The first is property.  South of the Ibar, Kosovo Albanians have cleansed Serbs from many areas and often used the courts to legalize the seizure of property.  Property rights of all with claims in Kosovo should be settled before any one side uses such “rights” to unilaterally return.  Many of the Kosovo Serb IDPs in the north (and outside Kosovo) live where they do because return for them is unsafe.  Serb returnees in the south still face sometimes violent resistance.  A just solution might recognize that some may choose to receive a fair price for their property rather than risk returning to where they are not wanted.

Many other important details remain apparently unsettled – or at least not communicated to the publics.  They include the final division of state and public property (including Trepca), the funding mechanisms for the Serb majority municipalities, exactly how linkages to Belgrade will work, how the association of Serb municipalities will function, whether minorities will continue to have reserved seats in the Kosovo parliament and the border of the new North Mitrovica municipality (Ibar or not?).

To preserve the chances of a peaceful transition in north Kosovo, everyone will have to accept compromise and avoid seeking to take advantage of what would be a fragile and delicate balance of interests.  The internationals will have to remain strictly status-neutral and not allow Pristina to act unilaterally.  They might also not pursue witch hunts under cover of countering “impunity.”  It is disappointing – if not surprising – to see EULEX seeking to assuage Albanian displeasure at arrests stemming from its pursuit of corruption by arresting possible political leaders in the north like Oliver Ivanovic.  Ivanovic is running for mayor of North Mitrovica – election this month – and EULEX’s action to investigate matters going back to 1999-2000 smacks of cut-rate politics.  (Unless perhaps they are trying to help him win the election by giving him “street cred” through an arrest?)

Much progress has been made so far in the Brussels negotiations.  But no one should believe that everything is nearly settled.  Ahtisaari Plus opens the doors but there remains many practical matters needing practical approaches and international oversight.  The Quint may still be tempted to take short cuts and – once Belgrade has signed off on the new model – use EULEX and KFOR to enforce it.  The role of the UN and UNMIK to monitor the fairness of any implementation of the agreements will remain vital to peacekeeping under UNSCR 1244.

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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27 Responses

  1. Brian

    No country is a greater ally than Serbia in kosovos effort to gain increased recognition. Based on precedent all the answers to the questions above will be whatever Kosovo wants. Serbia has said yes to Kosovo in EU and FIFA and rokcec logo on ballots!

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  3. Mónica Lleó

    For Pristina and the international community is very important the success of local elections that will take place next Sunday in northern Mitrovica as they will legitimize the independence of Kosovo, its failure would mean the collapse of the entire Brussels Treaty.

    The local elections are the most important part, and the most complicated and hardest part, of the treaty because the institutions of the police and justice are established institutions as they have their own chain of command and do not allow much interpretation , while the local elections have to deal with ordinary people and there is much fear among the Serbs to any type of integration.

    Conditions are not met, nor they where in December, for holding free and fair elections as there is much vagueness about what is actually written in the Brussels agreement and leaves the door open to wide interpretations. There best would have been to postpone the election process until all the issues, documentation, security, etc were resolved, so that people knew their position, but the international community seems to be in a big hurry to settle this issue and implement the agreements on the ground.

    It’s no coincidence Dimitrije Janjićević murder and the arrest of Oliver Ivanovic, that followed Krstimir Pantic refusal to sign his post as Mayor, as this leaves the door open to the unknown Goran Rakić , the new candidate of the Srpska list , as he will not cause any problem in the implementation of agreements in the field.

    As everyone is aware that if an Albanian is elected for Mayor the scenario will be the same as we have seen in the past years in Mitrovica – with riots, civil disobedience, and this mayor will not be able to apply the Agreements directly in the field –Belgrade and the international community will not hesitate to use next Sunday all the means at their disposal, including manipulation and theft of votes , so the candidate of the Srpska llsit will be elected, as we already could see in the last local elections in December.

    Pristina and the international community through the local elections are trying to integrate Serbs in an independent Kosovo through the back door and will not not hesitated to use all means at their disposal for their purposes. They have forced Serbia to use the darkerst tactics to force the citizens of northern Kosovo to vote in the December elections and in the next election is unprovable things will change.

    1. Gerard Gallucci

      I agree that Belgrade is clearly hoping to have a “successful” election in North Mitrovica this weekend with a Serb win but also someone who will work within the framework it has negotiated with the EU. Clearly, the “election” of a Kosovo Albanian in the north would not help implementation of the Brussels agreement. But as many details need to be filled in before the “agreement” can actually breath life, the northern Kosovo Serb community will still be the ones to decide their future. Working with what the new framework offers while remaining able to resist the totally unacceptable may be the best way forward at this point. Testing Belgrade, the internationals and Pristina to actually adhere to a highly de-centralized model with continued real links (and funding) with Belgrade might be the best strategy. Election of even a “compliant” Serb will leave that person still in need of the support of his community. Politics is the art of the possible.

      Although EULEX and NATO tried, the use of force to subject the northern Kosovo Serbs to rule by Pristina won’t work and isn’t acceptable in 21st Century Europe. Would Ashton or Berlin want a Balkans Kiev?

  4. Mónica Lleó

    I don´t know if you where in Mitrovica during past elections and saw the show mounted around them, pure teatrocracy, I have everything recorded I can show you.
    November 3rd was a real scandal and what follow shameful for someone who believes in democracy. Is this state building? What can we expect out of this behavior, democracy?
    Are KFOR and EULEX working under status neutral or working for Pristina?
    Ahtisaari said: “History and what happened in the Balkans should not be forgotten. When certain things happened, Serbia lost the right to govern Kosovo” does this mean that Kosovo Albanians can behave the same way and not be punished?

    1. Fadil


      What you are talking about?? Do you know in which century we live and big troubles for liars? Do you know for the crimes Kosovo northern Serbs did commit to Albanians, killing them, wounding and expelling from their property? And this is not enough so you want again punishing the Albanians!!! I really do not understand why one, like you and Gallucc,i would be so hard supporters of the group which is one of the last in the planet to deserve support as Kosovo northern Serbs are!!

    2. Fadil

      Gallucci asks “What law will be applied?” This is very ridiculous question. Of course for one to have read at least once the Brussels agreement. The agreement is more than CLEAR – the laws to be applied are KOSOVO laws. Even one Serbian minister (Selakovic, minister of justice) would say to Kosovo Serbs “I know, it is very hard for you to apply Kosovo laws”. The Serbs know very well which laws will be applied, only Gallucci not.

      Gallucci is obviously bigger Serb than the Serbs themselves.

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