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Time To Get Serious About Kosova?

From RFE/RL Balkan Report 21 March 2000, Volume 4, Number 21
The current international administration in Kosova has proven less than a rousing success. Time has come to reconsider goals and formulate plans for a political settlement. The only realistic course may well be independence for the province.

It does not take much effort to identify the problems with the international administration (UNMIK) in Kosova. True, the foreign protectorate has ended the worst of the killing and ethnic cleansing. But non-Albanians continue to be at risk, especially Serbs and Roma. The same might be said for many Albanian Roman Catholics and perhaps other Albanians who have run afoul of persons better armed than they are, including professional gangs from Albania. And as the recent events in Mitrovica have shown, opportunities still abound for Balkan trouble-makers to generate major incidents despite the presence of world-class NATO troops. In the face of these challenges, KFOR and UNMIK seem to lurch from ad-hoc response to ad-hoc response.

UNMIK's Bernard Kouchner has made no bones about where much of the problem lies, and has upbraided members of the international community for not providing the money or manpower he needs to provide security and an effective administration.

But does the UN really want to set up a full-fledged colonial-style administration? Can the international community afford another Bosnian-type protectorate? And does it know what it wants in the end? Kouchner himself feels that it is time to begin discussing what the eventual political arrangement will be. He has urged, moreover, that any discussion be open to all options and extend beyond Kosova "on a regional level."

He has implicitly recognized that--despite the affirmation by Security Council Resolution 1244 from June 1999 that Kosova is part of Yugoslavia--the province will not return to being an integral part of Serbia again. Too much blood has been spilled for that to happen. As Kouchner recently put it, his "most stupid mistake" was to take the advice of lawyers who told him last year to reinstate Serbian law in the province, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 24 February. The former French minister now likens his move to reinstate Serbian law to telling Nelson Mandela that he must live again under Apartheid. Kouchner concluded that his decision to return Serbian law was a "psychological, moral, and political act of stupidity."

It marks a breakthrough that he has not only called for a serious discussion of long-term aims, but has also raised the issue of a broader regional settlement. But that may be premature for two reasons. First, the EU's Stability Pact that aims to provide development and security on a regional basis has gotten off to an even shakier start than UNMIK has. It will need to show a better success record before regional approaches can be regarded as feasible.

Second, until the pact does prove that regional solutions bring big benefits, it is unrealistic to expect any post-Yugoslav countries of the region to enter any closer relations with their neighbors. Indeed, some states, like Croatia, have a pronounced abhorrence of anything that even hints of a return to a Yugoslavia.

This brings matters back to a reconsideration of the political future of Kosova itself. In the same issue of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine" that quoted Kouchner, the daily's former Balkan correspondent Viktor Meier and his successor Matthias Rueb discussed Kosova's future in two separate articles. The two men represent different generations and approaches to journalism. But they both came to the conclusion that independence for Kosova is the only reasonable way out of a sad situation.

The first point they make is that what is taking place in Kosova is a continuation of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia that began in 1990-1991. One should not deny that this is the case and accuse the Albanians of "separatism" from Serbia-Montenegro, which in any event is not an internationally recognized country. The Albanians simply want applied to them the internationally established principles of self-determination and majority rule that have been extended to other peoples.

Moreover, Meier stresses that because Kosova had near-republican status in the former Yugoslavia, it has the right to secede according to the criteria set down by the international community's Badinter Commission in the wake of the 1991 conflict. About the same time as the Badinter ruling and after months of Balkan bloodshed, Germany recognized Slovenia and Croatia in what was then a statement of the obvious: that Tito's Yugoslavia was dead and that there was no use in trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again. It is time, the "FAZ's" experts argue, to apply that same logic to Kosova.

The two authors note, furthermore, that the person most responsible for the current state of affairs in Kosova--and the dissolution of Tito's state to begin with--is Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. He and his policies have been the immediate source of the Kosova problem, not the alleged Greater Albanian dreams of Albanian nationalists that the Serbian media blame. Greater Albania is not now a serious or immediate aspiration of any of the mainstream political parties in Albania, Kosova, or Macedonia.

But Greater Serbia was Milosevic's program, on which he rose to power more than a decade ago. In pursuit of it, he started and lost four wars. If he now loses Kosova, then it is the result of his own policies, just as Germany's huge territorial losses after World War II followed the defeat of an aggressive, power-minded, and nationalistic dictator. Germany's losses, like Serbia's, were not necessarily the result of only the selfish designs of others.

Meier adds that there is no point in waiting for democracy to come to Serbia before deciding on a final settlement for Kosova. He regards the Serbian opposition as too fractious to be taken seriously and points out that many of its leaders--such as Vuk Draskovic and his entourage--are as nationalistic as anyone in the present regime.

When Serbia finally becomes a democratic country, it can join regional groupings of neighboring states. Borders will then become increasingly less important, as has proven to be the case in Western Europe since World War II. In the meantime, Serbs outside Serbia will have to accept something that they have been reluctant to accept throughout the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession, namely that they can live as a minority in a state that they do not control (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 March 2000).

Perhaps the starting point is for each state in the region to stress in its constitution that it is a state of its people--and not of specific ethnic groups on the Leninist model. This same principle could be applied to an independent Kosova with a constitution based on European standards and the rule of law.

In any event, as Kouchner pointed out, UNMIK faces a host of practical problems that require immediate attention. And as Meier and Rueb argue, the time has perhaps come for the international community to give everyone in Kosova a clear perspective and deal seriously with the province's political future by recognizing its right to independence. (Patrick Moore)

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