Defining the boundaries and relationship between the two Mitrovicas will require acceptance of the fact that North Mitrovica is perhaps the most zero-sum issue of all and that it cannot be simply left to Pristina to decide.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
Most everyone is now talking about a possible deal emerging between Belgrade and Pristina concerning north Kosovo that recognizes its “peculiarity.” (It’s openly discussed even in Pristina.) Such an “Ahtisaari Plus” outcome would accept that the north Kosovo Serb-majority municipalities will not be part of Kosovo in the same way as are the southern Serb enclaves. The EU must be careful not to push too fast or too far as the conflict between Serbs and Albanians – deep and zero-sum – cannot be papered over with show-piece meetings between leaders. (One can understand Nikolic’ frustration with his recent meeting with Jahjaga. The Kosovo president, unelected and without any real power base, apparently did nothing more than repeat talking points – drafted by the US Embassy? – about Kosovo independence and sovereignty.) The Quint and Belgrade must also be sure to gain the understanding (if not full agreement) of the northern Kosovo Serbs as their peaceful resistance on the ground could scuttle any arrangement. But a plan leaving the north unmolested by Pristina, with links to Belgrade and still an integral part of Kosovo could work.
Other issues remain. Implementable, status-neutral approaches on economic issues including customs, telecoms, energy, water and socially owned property (including Trepca) must be worked out. Returns need to be treated globally rather than used by one side as a way to gain territory, as has occurred in north Mitrovica with NATO and EU assistance. What to do with North Mitrovica itself also remains.
Serb-majority North Mitrovica is the only Kosovo city with a sizable mixed population including Albanians, Bosniaks, Turks, Roma, Gorani and others. Living there are many who fled other conflict areas in Kosovo and the Balkans. As the other three Serb-majority municipalities in the north, it has a local government elected under Serbian law. (The Quint and Albanians call these “parallel” but there has never been any other local administration in the north – except in a limited sense the UN – since 1999.) Two central questions will need answers: North Mitrovica’s borders and its relationship (if any) to South Mitrovica.
North Mitrovica has been defined since 1999 as the part north of the Ibar River. The UN administration there retains responsibility for that area under UNSCR 1244 despite efforts by the South Mitrovica municipality and Pristina to assert control. Those drawing up the Ahtisaari Plan consulted UNMIK on what the boundaries might be as part of a compromise. The Ahtisaari boundaries put the western Albanian-majority villages on the north shore – Suvi Do, Vidomiric and Vinarce – in South Mitrovica. North Mitrovica went to a line along “Doctors Valley” and the Suvi Do Bridge and included the heights of Brdjani. Serbs live in the western villages and Albanians live in the more urban area along the east side of the Ibar’s north shore – Bosniak Mahalla – that would remain part of North Mitrovica. This would make both Mitrovicas multi-ethnic (as of now, there are no Serbs left south of the Ibar) and give them reason to cooperate closely on practical matters. But that would have required mutual acceptance and good neighborly relations. Without those, the more natural border between the two remains the Ibar but this will need to be agreed.
The Ahtisaari Plan also included the outlines of a joint board for the two Mitrovicas. The Albanians supported this as they saw it as a way to gain some degree of control over the north. For the same reason the north Mitrovica Serbs reject it. A forum to bring the two sides of the Ibar together to discuss common issues makes sense (and might include the other three northern towns). But giving such a body executive or blocking authority would probably be unacceptable to the northerners.
The Ahtisaari Plan already includes special features for North Mitrovica, including for a hospital and university. But defining the boundaries and relationship between the two Mitrovicas will require acceptance of the fact that North Mitrovica is perhaps the most zero-sum issue of all and that it cannot be simply left to Pristina to decide. The Albanians still want it all.
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 has a PhD in political science, taught at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Arkansas, George Washington University and Drake University and now works as an independent consultant.