Though Kosovo’s relations with the Serbian government in Belgrade have certainly improved and a series of agreements reached in April 2013 under EU mediation committed both sides to long-term normalization of relations, questions remain as to what happens next. Officials in Pristina, Belgrade and Brussels need to address a number of additional truths that have become all too inconvenient and, like the previous five, risk keeping Kosovo in political, economic, and diplomatic limbo.
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By Michael Rossi
As global security continues to be challenged across northern Africa, the Middle East, and in parts of the former Soviet Union, attention towards current events in the Balkans is, understandably, minimal. As most international news sections go, if they’re not killing each other, or if the state isn’t on the verge of collapse, it’s not newsworthy. Occasionally, reports on the endemic dysfunctionality of Bosnia give those few readers who are interested a reminder that the region is still scarred by both the legacies of the ethno-civil wars that tore up Yugoslavia, and the cumbersome post-conflict agreements that have institutionally deepened ethnic divisions within a hopelessly convoluted political apparatus. The rare spark of public dissatisfaction through organized protests usually enjoys a brief moment of euphoric optimism that change is possible, but a return to public apathy, economic malaise, and political inertia is almost always expected within a month or so. Life in the Balkans is stable. It’s far from optimal, but stable.
The only exception to this rule is Kosovo, Serbia’s southern/former province, which has been engaged in an uphill battle for international sovereign recognition since it declared independence in February 2008. For those who just tuned in, Kosovo is, depending on one’s point of view, a number of things: an independent country, an international protectorate, or a breakaway parastate. Regardless of viewpoint, Kosovo remains a disputed territory largely because of three conditions: the diplomatic obstacles set up by Serbia, its close ally Russia, and a number of key EU member states who all do not and have no foreseeable intention to recognize its independence; the blunt and often clumsy attempts by Kosovo and its supporters in believing its sovereignty is self-evident throughout a territory it does not completely control; and the approaches taken by mediating international bodies in finding a middle ground between competing sides, which looks to result in a cumbersome compromise.
This puts Kosovo in the unenviable position of possessing many of the trappings of statehood but remaining a ward of the international community, unable to participate in various international organizations. What is more, this ambiguous situation keeps much of Kosovo’s political leadership heavily dependent on external support. Much of the decision-making done in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, remains under the scrutiny of both EULEX, the European Union-based administrative body providing executive oversight to the region, and key Western countries that, through their embassies, exert tremendous influence over political, economic, and social activities.
Kosovo’s problems were apparent well before independence was declared. Like most post-conflict arrangements over the past twenty five years, the propensity of the international community involved in reaching a solution as quickly as possible essentially recognizes a series of “realities on the ground” and goes from there. This often includes identifying the most powerful groups in the area as the partners for peace, which in Kosovo’s case meant promoting the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) from a once-designated terrorist movement to a group of freedom fighters who would fill the vacuum left by retreating Serbian forces. Whether it’s Bosnia, Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, or in this case Kosovo, if this means turning a blind eye and cutting a deal with people with controversial pasts, so be it. If a group is popular among the locals and willing to cooperate with internationals, that’s all that’s needed. A UN resolution, a NATO presence, a photo of local leaders with some mid- to high-ranking U.S. official or a handshake with some EU bureaucrat, and a vague commitment to building a “democratic future” for all people, would sort out the mess and keep the peace. Over the years however, this relationship of convenience has augmented the power and influence of a cadre of elites who turn the region into their own virtual fiefdom where patronage, nepotism, and clientelism shape and define the order of the day. This atrophic situation almost always influences post-conflict power arrangements that stymie growth and development for years, if not decades.
Last year I addressed a number of inconvenient truths that have characterized Kosovo’s disputed statehood since 2008. Though its relations with the Serbian government in Belgrade have certainly improved and a series of agreements reached in April 2013 under the mediation of the EU Foreign Policy Office committed both sides to long-term normalization of relations, questions remain as to what happens next. Serbia is being applauded for its diplomatic pragmatism and has been given the clearest signs yet of its future EU membership, but nothing to date has improved Kosovo’s chances of achieving any of its long term goals. EU officials in Brussels have made clear Kosovo belongs in its club, and negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) were concluded this past June. But membership is years, if not more than a decade, away and with five EU states refusing to recognize its independence, membership seems not just elusive but indeterminable.
This situation forces officials in Pristina, Belgrade, and Brussels to address a number of additional truths that have become all too inconvenient and, like the previous five, risks keeping Kosovo in political, economic, and diplomatic limbo.
6 – Kosovo’s Future Involves Some Type of Power-Sharing
Kosovo has one of the most decentralized unitary governments in the world. This illogical design by committee, due in no small part to ameliorating Serb fears of domination, has left vague and conflicting understandings over power-sharing arrangements between the central government and local authorities; understandings the international community seems happy to leave to Serbs and Albanians to interpret and largely sort out by themselves. But as with everything in Kosovo, there are usually three versions of an agreement: the Serbian version, the Albanian version, and the actual version, which is somewhere in between.
The paradox of conflict resolution in deeply divided societies is that it almost always creates new problems while attempting to solve old ones. The decision to grant Kosovo independence from Serbia partially addressed Albanian national aspirations but created a restless Serbian community that necessitated a complicated peace settlement that risks weakening long term state cohesiveness and future prospects of a shared community. Kosovo’s situation is similar to conditions in Bosnia, Lebanon, Iraq, and most recently Ukraine, where ethno-political wartime associations solidified into peacetime civic and political societies that international mediators frame the future composition of the state around. In addition to empowering elements of the KLA into the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), one of the largest and most powerful political groups in the territory, the international community has also empowered Kosovo Serbs through similar fashions of resistance to form an alternative power base supported by Belgrade that has successfully challenged efforts to establish a unified government.
These conditions raise the issue of whether Kosovo should be reorganized as a federal entity like Germany, a bi-zonal confederation like Bosnia or Belgium, or remain a unitary state with constitutionally recognized areas of special autonomous status like Italy or Spain. Whatever the final outcome, it most certainly will be based on consociational power-sharing, an arrangement that provides a minority group the opportunity to participate in government through a wide range of asymmetrical compromises and consensus-building measures. Whether it is through political coalitions, guaranteed seats in parliament, reserved executive posts, or regional autonomy, consociationalism is meant to incorporate an area that lies outside of the control of the central government but is still part of the state. These agreements are not only disproportionately generous to the minority group, but serve in a way to prevent future threats of separatism and further erosion of sovereignty. In Kosovo’s case, this primarily pertains to the compact territorial region north of the Ibar River that directly borders Serbia Proper, and whose local leadership has prevented the government in Pristina in establishing its authority.
A definitive agreement on power-sharing arrangements will no doubt comprise a major part of the next few years of negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina in reaching an agreement on status. While both sides are expected compromise, decentralization seems the most likely middle ground for two sides that have held diametrically opposed positions for years. What is most important, this solution appears to maximize the interests of both parties and clear the path for two larger goals both sides are aspiring for.
7 – Pristina’s Road to the UN Overlaps Belgrade’s Road to the EU
For better or worse, Kosovo’s progress towards full sovereignty is inextricably tied to Serbia’s EU membership, forecasted to be around 2020. In many respects, this is great news for Kosovo. All major political parties in Serbia advocate EU membership and the EU has enthusiastically supported Serbia’s entry as a key to regional stability and growth in the Balkans. With this in mind, a coveted seat at the UN for Kosovo is only a matter of time. Yet Serbia’s own EU accession will significantly affect the capabilities of Kosovo’s sovereignty and the status of its Serb minority.
Because Kosovo’s independence was coordinated outside any formal UN agreement, its sovereignty remains a matter of choice for individual states to grant or withhold; something that puts Kosovo on par with Palestine and Abkhazia, rather than Montenegro or South Sudan. To date, Kosovo has been recognized by about one hundred countries; however, it is not the states supporting Kosovo that’s important, but rather the group of countries that do not recognize its sovereignty. For the UN, the two most important states are Russia and China, whose Security Council veto is guaranteed to block any efforts at granting membership in a similar fashion to how the United States repeatedly blocks membership for Palestine. While Kosovo could get non-member observer status like Palestine, this has not been formally considered yet as officials in Pristina appear to be going for broke. For the European Union, it is Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Cyprus, all of which prevent the EU from reaching a consensus on Kosovo and necessitating any institutional involvement in the region to be “status neutral” to account for all sides.
This unusual situation prolongs international administration and perpetuates Kosovo’s status as a parastate. The majority of countries withholding recognition are doing so out of respect for Serbia, whose (official) opposition is based on principles of the territorial integrity of states and the sanctity of borders. This keeps Kosovo in diplomatic limbo, something its international supporters at first dismissed as a minor obstacle, but have come to realize is a major barrier preventing Kosovo in attaining full sovereignty. The only way forward is to reach an agreement with Belgrade which would in turn get Russia and China to change their stance at the Security Council, and to assure the five nay saying EU member states that Serbia’s interests have been met in order for them to extend recognition. Supporting statehood outside an international legal framework may have partially put Kosovo on the map, but a formal diplomatic agreement with Serbia is necessary for sovereign legitimacy.
By tying Kosovo’s UN membership to Serbia’s EU accession, Belgrade has been given an indirect advantage. Knowing that its EU membership is at least five years away and that it does not include Kosovo, knowing Kosovo critically needs a UN seat, and knowing that Kosovo’s international supporters are relatively indifferent to the nature of its statehood as long as it exists, officials in Belgrade are given a potential ace in the hole to request additional rights and guarantees for the Serb community, as well as push for a greater presence for itself in the region as a concession for acknowledging Kosovo’s sovereignty, and thus removing the roadblocks to the UN. The ultimate question therefore is what additional concessions are Pristina willing to give up in order to get in to the UN? Whether they like it or not, the most likely concession is
8 – Kosovo’s Serb Community Will Get More Powers
The international community is slowly acknowledging that Kosovo Serbs will not and cannot be governed by Pristina, no matter how many times Kosovo’s supposed multiethnic heritage is rhetorically mused. Even if Serb-Albanian relations have improved over the years, ethno-federalization, an often-used solution for fractured societies in Bosnia, Lebanon and Iraq has made ethnocentric politics and political culture a lucrative enterprise for socio-political elites. The issues mediated today between Belgrade and Pristina no longer focus on Kosovo’s sovereignty but the nature of that sovereignty in relation to the Serb minority and its links with the rest of Serbia.
Under the plan for Kosovo’s statehood devised by UN Special Envoy Maarti Ahtisaari, power is decentralized to the municipal level, with a number of “enhanced competencies” given to ten Serb-dominant municipalities (of which at least five were gerrymandered from existing districts) to keep Pristina’s authority at a distance. In addition to having control over local economic development, education, healthcare, cultural sites, and urban planning, Kosovo’s Serbs are allowed to retain close ties with Serbia, which would continue to provide financial support, state pensions, supplemental salaries, and voting rights. The goal was not only to enfranchise local economic development through foreign investment and joint-partnerships, but to create conditions that would encourage as many Serbs to stay and even more to return in order to keep Kosovo’s multiethnic composition, despite Albanians outnumbering Serbs nine to one.
This arrangement was enhanced further in the April 2013 Brussels Agreements. Among the points reached towards normalizing relations, the most important was the establishment of an Association of Serbian Municipalities, which would serve as an institutional body for Kosovo’s Serb community. Its functions and duties are expected to carry out rights previously enshrined in the Ahtisaari Plan, but within what appears to be an extra institutional layer separating local Kosovo Serb authorities from Pristina. The Agreement provides no specifics for how this Association will function in relation to control over telecommunications, energy, and the role of the police and judiciary which in theory are to operate within Kosovo’s institutional framework, but in reality have a high probability of independent decision-making.
While Albanians are adamant about keeping it as a coordinating body that merely implements policy from Pristina, Serbs see this as the first step towards the formation of a legislative body with autonomous decision-making. What is most telling about this arrangement is the advantage Belgrade was indirectly given in exchange for removing its direct presence. At the insistence of Germany, which demanded Belgrade dismantle all “parallel institutions” as a key requirement for its own EU accession, the big question everyone quietly asked was what will become of these institutions, especially in the Serb-controlled northern part of Kosovo, which has never come under Pristina’s control. After years of successfully thwarting efforts at integrating it with the rest of Kosovo, with not so subtle approval from Belgrade, the international community is coming to recognize that, like dealing with the KLA before, it is better to work with a “reality on the ground” than against it.
As agreed on at Brussels in 2013, Serbia was to support region-wide elections in Kosovo that for the first time would place all Serb institutions within Kosovo’s constitutional framework. But what this also meant was that Belgrade could, and actively did, campaign on behalf of officials and parties that appealed to its own interests in the region. Many, if not most, of the previously functioning “parallel” institutions were repackaged into the Civic Initiative Srpska, a group that seemed more of a collection of Belgrade loyalists than an established political party. The ensuing elections last November resulted in the Srpska movement winning nine out of ten Serb municipalities throughout Kosovo. In what is probably the most telling indication of Serbia retaining influence over the north was a repeat election in the Serbian half of the divided city of Mitrovica, which functions as the de facto capital of northern Kosovo and where armed gangs prevented people from going to the polls a week earlier. In an effort to encourage as many Serbs as possible to vote, officials from Belgrade, including then-Prime Minister Ivica Dačić, travelled to northern Kosovo. The repeated elections in the city conveniently ended peacefully and orderly in no small part to the presence of Serbian security networks, whose activity in the north is widely suspected.
The November local elections didn’t so much dismantle these parallel institutions as it legalized and expanded their reach under a new name and logo that, via the Brussels Agreement, functions loosely and nominally within Kosovo’s constitutional framework with little specifics on how they can be controlled. As noted by at least one Kosovo Albanian think-tank, what was previously a battleground for Pristina’s authority in the north has now, through internationally sanctioned elections, been ironically extended to at least six more municipalities in Kosovo’s center and south; municipalities that were long thought considered “integrated” but have now essentially regained their links with Belgrade via a Kosovo-based movement that will form the leadership of an internationally approved Association. Whether this was planned or an unintended consequence, Belgrade has strengthened its hand in the negotiating process by reorganizing its interests within a framework acceptable to the EU without losing any of its assets.
What this effectively means is that Kosovo’s Serb community has been given the clearest sign yet that it has the potential to wield significant power and decision-making, and will be a force the Albanian majority can neither afford to ignore nor antagonize. While many fear giving Serbs too much power may create an intractable Bosnia-like scenario, it is more likely the European Union will support something akin to the autonomy of South Tyrol, whose governmental functions enable ethnic Germans to maintain close ties with Austria and also draw directly from EU funding and development as a region with special status in Italy. The Association not only has the potential of developing Serb municipalities into economic hubs largely free from Pristina’s interference, but it also gives the Serbs a potential monopoly in decision-making over key economic enterprises like the vast Trepča mining complex and hydroelectric power station at Gazivoda Lake in the north, and even the ski resort at Brezovica in Kosovo’s southern municipality of Štrpce, all of which could significantly deprive Pristina of needed economic revenue.
The empowerment of Kosovo’s Serb community is both a long-term benefit and goal for the region, but its realization still needs to be met with Pristina’s approval. This is especially acute now that it is obvious Belgrade has found a legally sanctioned back door in the Association as a way of exerting its influence. But this is something the EU seems to have accepted as a way forward. Knowing that Serbia may have to recognize Kosovo in some way before formally joining the EU, it is highly likely this requirement will be tempered by institutional autonomy for the Kosovo Serb community. But any further negotiations by Pristina with Belgrade over the nature and scope of the Brussels Agreements will be risky, because
9 – Kosovo’s “Founding Fathers” are Falling from Grace
While popular opinion among Kosovo’s Albanian community still fervently holds to the narrative that its struggle for independence was nothing short of divine, the leadership that led to Kosovo’s liberation has lost much of its standing over the years. This is not to suggest that individuals like Hachim Thaçi, Ramush Haradinaj, and Fatmir Limaj are not still popular. The spoils of war these and other former KLA leaders inherited have certainly enriched and empowered their network of supporters. The particular relationship cultivated between Thaçi and US officials have made him one of the most powerful men in the region. But even demagogues need to eventually address more mundane issues like unemployment, economic malaise, bureaucratic inefficiency, chronic energy shortages, inadequate social services, and the rampant corruption all these problems seem inextricably related to.
Again to be fair, Kosovo’s situation differs very little from dozens of other developing regions where the leadership lives off the laurels of past victories while stealing from the very state they were instrumental in founding. In many cases, public scrutiny of once-revered leaders is a good sign of a conscious citizenry holding their officials accountable with the threat of voting them out of office if they don’t meet their promises. However for Kosovo, the problem is accentuated by two extra obstacles. The first is that its disputed status necessitates the prolonged presence of an international administrative body that, when all is said and done, has the final word in Kosovo’s affairs. What leadership is elected is already vetted, and in some cases even hand-picked, by the involved external authorities as cooperative and compliant, and these qualities do not necessarily have to be connected with any experience in governing. The powers that have invested their time and resources in Kosovo’s statehood have made it clear on numerous occasions that if they had to choose between a Kosovo that is either stable or functional, the former wins out. This is exemplified not only in the continued support of individuals who owe their careers to US and EU sponsorship, but also in that sponsorship tolerating, and in some cases covering up, a number of civic, judicial, and human rights violations. This essentially gives elites in Albanian, and even Serb communities in the north, a free pass in building political power and authority though wartime loyalties, patronage, and raw intimidation; hardly the conditions for a democratic civil society to grow.
The second obstacle is that this marriage of convenience between an international community eager for stability and local forces eager for power has effectively demobilized any political alternative from taking form, since what credible opposition that does exist is led by other KLA strongman. At the time of this writing, Kosovo has undergone months of political deadlock from parliamentary elections this past June over a determined effort by at least two political parties, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), to prevent the incumbent PDK from forming a coalition and retaining its control over Kosovo’s government. Hashim Thaçi, the head of the PDK and Kosovo’s current Prime Minister has been a favourite of the West for years, which sees him as the man who can deliver Kosovo to a European Promised Land. His checkered past notwithstanding, Thaçi is fulfilling exactly what the international community expects from Kosovo’s leadership, but this means that Kosovo’s progress and stagnation, the unpopular decisions made, the arrangements reached with Washington, Brussels, and Belgrade, the economic contracts, and the judicial agreements have all come at the expansion of his own power. Not surprisingly, his popularity has noticeably declined over the years as an increasing number of Kosovo Albanians are losing patience over the lack of improvement in their lives while a select cadre of political elites enrich themselves behind international protection.
The only problem is that there is little an opposition-led government would do any differently. Along with the LDK, AAK Party head Ramush Haradinaj, another controversial KLA war hero, and chief rival to Thaçi, has pledged continued negotiations with Serbia, respect for the 2013 Brussels Agreement, and cooperation with EULEX and KFOR. Again, this doesn’t seem to be anything different from politics in Belgrade where previously staunch nationalists have suddenly, though the magic of international encouragement, turned into pragmatically pro-EU statesmen. But with all the expectations political leadership in Kosovo is expected to meet before turning attention to their own electorate, an increasing amount of Albanians are dismissing them as puppets of the West who are signing away parts of Kosovo’s sovereignty, and are opting for more national populist parties like Self-Determination (Vetëvendosje!), whose following draws primarily from the disillusioned and nationalistic sectors of society. Albin Kurti, its outspoken and increasingly popular leader has openly called for a rejection of the Brussels Agreement, an end to any further negotiations with Serbia until it recognizes Kosovo’s independence, and an end to cooperation with EULEX and other international bodies, including the United States, which, he believes, is preventing Kosovo Albanians from taking full control of the territory. More radical elements even go so far as to reject the nature and structure of Kosovo’s statehood and argue instead for merging, along with territories in Macedonia and southern Serbia, with Albania.
While there is little chance of them controlling government in the immediate future, Self-Determination represents the most popular opposition to Kosovo’s political and institutional status quo, having come in third place in the June 2014 parliamentary elections, and comprising a critical element to the coalition determined to prevent Thaçi’s PDK from forming the next government. Its popularity and allure is almost expected to increase in the coming months and years because, among other things,
10 – Those War Crimes Allegations Turned out to be True
As it turns out, Kosovo’s worst kept secret has come to light, as a number of its founding fathers are alleged war criminals. Numerous internationally-sponsored investigations into wartime atrocities committed by elements of the KLA both during the war in 1999 and afterwards in a series of revenge attacks have documented dozens of cases of kidnapping, torture, and murder of soldiers and innocent civilians alike, including Serbs, Roma and even a number of Albanians who were either accused of “collaborating” with Milošević, or were seen as political rivals for backing the LDK under its late leader Ibrahim Rugova, then the chief competitor to the KLA’s claim to power. The most notorious and gruesome of the allegations committed by the KLA is the kidnapping of prisoners, primarily Serbs, who were transported to northern Albania where their organs were removed and harvested for trafficking on an international organ trade market based in Istanbul. In what sounds like something right out of a horror movie, investigations into the alleged “Yellow House”, the remote location of organ harvesting in north-central Albania, had produced leads but no conclusive evidence. Many of those involved in the investigations have noted repeated obstruction from officials in Tirana, Pristina, the UN, and certain Western governments in a supposed effort to cover up the truth and dissuade any further investigations.
In December 2010 however, Council of Europe member Dick Marty issued a report that documented many of these allegations, and specifically cited individuals who were connected to these crimes, including a number of high ranking Kosovo Albanian officials, chief of which included Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi. Its conclusions were nothing short of devastating for Kosovo and embarrassing for governments and international organizations which had previously dismissed these rumors but now quickly called for a thorough investigation in an effort to distance themselves from individuals who had suddenly become toxic to associate with. The reactions among officials in Pristina and Tirana ranged from haughtily dismissive to irrationally visceral, all blaming the report as little more than a “racist” smear campaign concocted by Serbia against the unblemished image and reputation of the KLA, its leadership, and the Albanian people. Thaçi even threatened to sue Marty for libel and to publish a list of individuals he believed contributed to the report.
The Council’s subsequent adoption of the report led to an EU-approved Special Investigative Task Force (SITF) the following spring to thoroughly investigate all allegations. Three years later, a report written by SITF Lead Prosecutor Clint Williamson concluded that a series of war crimes did take place in Kosovo following the 1999 conflict involving senior KLA officials whose names remain classified at this time but nevertheless ordered and coordinated the systematic targeting of Serb and Roma communities, as well as a number of Albanians regarded as rivals to their power that went beyond the random and sporadic “revenge attacks” that had previously been designated. What is more, the report also confirmed much of the allegations on organ harvesting, though it concluded the numbers of victims were in the tens, not hundreds as had been originally presumed. Also, while enough evidence exists for a series of war crimes committed, no definitive evidence is currently available to specifically prosecute anyone over the organ harvesting case, though that may change with further investigations. The report concludes with a recommendation to establish a criminal tribunal in The Hague specifically for the to-be indicted officials as a way of providing a safe environment for witness protection due to the interference that officials in Pristina are presumed to make if the tribunal were based in Kosovo.
What is perhaps most damning about these revelations is that the crimes happened under the knowledge and in some cases the watch of the international community, which either ignored these crimes or actively worked to keep them buried. Accusations of corruption, drug trafficking, mafia connections, murder, and other criminal activities have dogged Thaçi and other former KLA leaders for years, but the SITF report, the most formal and official statement to date, has irrevocably shattered the carefully crafted and fiercely defended image of the KLA and the moral leverage it claimed to have for independence; an image that is not only propped up by Kosovo’s own leadership to the point of dogmatic canon, but also by officials in Washington, London, Berlin, and Brussels who for years ignored these facts while stressing a one-sided and carefully sanitized version of Kosovo’s struggle for independence that downplayed Albanian crimes, and praised Kosovo and its leadership as key partners for peace, multiethnic democracy, and stability in the Balkans
However the structure and functionality this tribunal takes, and whoever is actually indicted and found guilty, the pressure on officials in Pristina to suddenly cooperate with international officials in uncovering a truth they long stressed was a lie will be both enormous and enormously unpopular among Albanians. Like Serbs before them, Kosovo Albanians will be pressured to more objectively examine their activities in 1999 and after that will challenge their narratives of collective identity and victimization which, like nearly every other group in the former Yugoslavia, is rooted in the conviction that their side fought a war only in self-defense against a clear and clearly guilty aggressor. And as with Serbia, this need to “come to terms with its past” is necessary if Kosovo wishes to preserve, and in many cases regain, its “international credibility”. While none of this exonerates Serbia for their own crimes committed, it does readjust the story to deemphasize a case of one side brutalizing the other for a more balanced understanding of the Kosovo conflict as an ethnically stratified civil war between two belligerent sides equally determined to control a territory at the expense of the other. The number of indictments and guilty verdicts may add to the credibility of granting Kosovo Serbs autonomy as compensation for a state that emerged, like so many others have in the past, on ethnic cleansing of the undesired community.
Whether this comes easy or not, the impending tribunal calling for the arrest and extradition of numerous officials may result in Kosovo’s KLA-dominant political establishment suddenly experiencing a systemic collapse, opening the door for a cooperative but marginal LDK, and a vocal and potentially unpredictable Self-Determination to inherit most of the spoils. While the LDK can be counted on to continue with international cooperation and does not have the controversial legacy the PDK has, the increasingly popular Self-Determination may, like their Serbian nationalist counterparts in the 1990s and early 2000s, stoke the flames of ethnonationalism in response to an unpopular tribunal and resentment from continued international encroachment, further antagonizing Serb-Albanian rapprochement.
The truths about Kosovo need only be as inconvenient as its leadership and its international supporters make them. Entrenched elites, socio-ethnic cleavages, deeply-held historical memories, political divisions, and economic uncertainty all make the challenges of building a democratic civil society in Kosovo something that will take years to achieve. Yet it finally seems that leaders in Belgrade and Pristina are ready to agree on a number of pragmatic solutions. Belgrade has already implicitly recognized Kosovo’s loss, and Pristina is quietly agreeing to granting Kosovo Serbs greater institutional competencies. Animosity still exists between the two communities, but the risks of open conflict are increasingly remote and relegated mostly to empty nationalistic rhetoric in comment sections on the Internet.
Having secured a foothold on the map, the next step is to extend a hand of cooperation to Serbia whose interests and influence in Kosovo will remain for the foreseeable future. For Serbia, “normalizing” relations is expected to culminate in some implicit recognition of Kosovo’s independence, or at least some formal acknowledgement that Kosovo is no longer under its constitutional authority. Despite repeated claims from Serbian officials that no such recognition will ever be made, past experience has shown that pressures and constraints necessitate solutions that make previously hardline positions less pragmatic. In so many words, Kosovo’s statehood is guaranteed, but reaching full international sovereignty and membership in key organizations puts the price of admission squarely in Pristina’s court. It won’t look pretty, and it won’t work perfectly, but with any luck, Kosovo’s negotiated road to full international sovereignty may eventually resemble that of other Balkan states: cumbersome, far from optimal, but stable, where making the news means public protests are over inefficient government and economic stagnation, instead of an ethnic community protesting and mobilizing against the other.
Michael Rossi currently serves as Instructor in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University and has recently served as Visiting Assistant Professor at the College of New Jersey. His current research centers around the role of historical memory and its association with political culture during transitions from authoritarian rule. He is also working on a manuscript that focuses on the role of state-sponsored memory in modern Serbia, a segment of which was recently published in Nationalities Papers titled “In Search of a Democratic Cultural ‘Alternative’: Serbia’s European Heritage from Dositej Obradovic to OTPOR”. His most recent publication, ‘Ending the Impasse in Kosovo: Partition, Decentralization, or Consociationalism’, was published in the latest issue of Nationalities Papers. A portion of this article was previously published as “Autonomy and Power-Sharing in Kosovo” via openDemocracy.net.