Kosovo and the Ahtisaari Plan

In the absence of a status agreement, the Quint must look at the Ahtisaari Plan once more by re-engaging Russia and focusing on trying to fill in the details through a new round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina.

By Gerard Gallucci

After the violence in Kosovo in March 2004, the powers supervising implementation of UNSCR 1244 on Kosovo – the Contact Group of Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United State – began moving apart over the question of what to do next. The Western five countries – the Quint – came to the conclusion that waiting for Kosovo to fulfill certain standards of good behavior before moving to determine final status would not work. The Albanians were clearly growing restless, things had to move forward. But everyone had to wait first for the tensions arising from the March events to subside. When I arrived in Mitrovica as UN regional representative in July 2005, the bridge connecting north and south was still blocked with barbwire and it took sustained dialogue and diplomacy to return to at least the superficial normalcy of reopening the bridge and keeping it open. In November 2005, the Contact Group – in what was essentially its last gasp of consensus – announced guiding principles for resolving status. At the same time, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was asked to lead the process of arriving at a status agreement.

I first met President Ahtisaari in the 1980s while I was working on southern Africa in the US State Department and he was representing the UN in the process of achieving Namibian independence under UNSCR 435. When I heard of his appointment as Special Envoy for Kosovo Status, I thought it a good choice because President Ahtisaari understood tribal conflict, which is what Kosovo was really all about. It seemed unlikely that Belgrade and Pristina would actually be able to agree on status since they had completely opposite positions. President Ahtisaari’s job seemed to be more about trying to draw, from both sides, elements of a possible compromise arrangement around which the Contact Group could reach consensus and then press upon the parties. President Ahtisaari and his team worked to bring Belgrade and Pristina into face-to-face encounters and he managed to derive from these and separate discussions the elements for what came to be known as the Ahtisaari Plan. It was clear from the start that neither Pristina nor Belgrade were ready for real negotiations and it gradually became clear as well that the Contact Group could not hold up its end. There were substantive issues between the Quint and Russia – Russia pushed for recognition that Kosovo would be a precedent for other disputed regions – but in the end, it seemed that Russia was simply in no mood to do any favors for the US and its allies by facilitating their smooth exit from Kosovo. (Russia had withdrawn its own troops some time before and had only a small police and political presence in the peacekeeping mission.) It seemed partial (and cost-free) payback for NATO expansion.

The inability of the Contact Group to agree on an overall package and pass a new resolution in the Security Council was not the fault of President Ahtisaari. But by 2007, it was clear that there would not be a new resolution. Guaranteed Quint support, Kosovo declared independence on its own in February 2008. Technically, the Ahtisaari Plan remained the basis for this declaration and for a continuing international role – to be carried out by the International Civilian Office (ICO) of the European Union Special Representative. But since then, the Plan has been moribund and the ICO lifeless.

During the “negotiations” over status, there was much debate over what models might apply and especially for the north. Some suggested Brcko, some Mostar, some others. In fact, the Ahtisaari Plan seemed to draw on these various experiences elsewhere in the Balkans to derive a formula that would allow Kosovo Serbs to remain in charge of their own local institutions and communal life with continued linkages to Serbia but without partition and instead within the framework of a multi-ethnic Kosovo. It would establish six new Serb majority municipalities (including North Mitrovica) with important elements of self-rule in health, education and social issues plus a role in choosing the local police chief. These municipalities would have the right to own funding, block grants from central government and funding from Belgrade. They could form associations with other municipalities including in Serbia. The intent seemed clear, to allow Serbs in these Kosovo municipalities to live in two worlds at once, in both Kosovo and Serbia. It was an imaginative plan worth trying. But it was predicated on implementation within the framework of an agreed arrangement on status sanctioned by both Belgrade and Pristina and the UN Security Council. This did not happen.

As in any compromise arrangement, the devil would be in the details. Even if all parties had agreed on the Ahtisaari Plan, implementation would have faced many difficult trials. Details important to both Serbs and to Pristina centered on exactly what role the central government would play in the linkages to Belgrade and on setting policy in areas such as education. Without a status agreement, these details, plus the distrust on both sides over the intentions of the other, make it impossible to simply “implement” the plan. The Quint is stuck with the “half-baked” outcome of the declaration of independence without a status agreement but has so far done little to get beyond this. Local elections coming up in November offer a chance to get some of the southern Serbs to accept three of the six planned municipalities. But this will not by itself fill in the missing details. And Pristina has shown little eagerness to implement the Plan, including on protection of cultural heritage, perhaps out of a belief that without getting Serbian agreement in return, why should it accept the burden of Ahtisaari.

All parties need to look again at the Ahtisaari Plan. The Quint should seek to re-engage with Russia and focus on trying to fill in the details through a new round of talks with Belgrade and Pristina. The Serbs living in Kosovo, including in the north, need to get over their simple rejection of Ahtisaari – as linked to Kosovo independence – and reexamine the Plan closely to see how it could be made to address their concerns. In a transitional period, the international community – the UN, EU or whoever – may need to play the role of intermediary and facilitator so that the minority can feel assured that Pristina’s role will stay within the bounds of the eventual agreement. But the plan is too good to either leave aside or seek to implement in a one-sided way or perhaps through force.

The Ahtisaari Plan can be found at – http://www.unosek.org/unosek/en/statusproposal.html

Gerard M. Gallucci retired from the US Foreign Service in 2005. His service included as Chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Khartoum, Chargé d’affaires in Brasilia, and at the National Security Council. His 25 years with the US State Department focused on Latin America and Africa and included working on the Angola and Mozambique peace processes, implementation of UNSCR 435/78 for Namibia and on the transition to full democracy in South Africa. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and now serves elsewhere. Gallucci has taught in the School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University and, prior to government service, at West Virginia Wesleyan College and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in Political Science. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.

You can read more of Mr. Gallucci’s analysis of current developments in Kosovo by visiting http://outsidewalls.blogspot.com


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