Monday, October 24, 2005

Is Kosovo ready for independence?

Commentary by Wessel de Jong of Radio Netherlands

Every crisis in the Balkans begins and ends in Kosovo. It has been like this for centuries, and is still so today. But now the international community wants a definitive end to the last Balkan war, and so the United Nations Security Council is trying a first attempt at this.
Six years ago, NATO bombers carried out air raids on targets in both Serbia and the Serbian province of Kosovo, in an attempt to call a halt to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In previous years, then-President Slobodan Milosevic’s army drove hundreds of thousands of Albanians out of Kosovo, in an attempt to bring an end to the province and create a purely Serbian region. Thousands of Albianians did not survive the persecution.

Buying time

The 1999 bombardment resulted in the withdrawal of Slobodan Milosevic’s troops from Kosovo: the final chapter in the war in the former Yugoslavia. By negotiating peace, all parties were able to buy time: negotiators at the time placed the region under temporary UN control, thereby passing the buck on this very hottest of potatoes, namely, the question of what should ultimately happen with Kosovo? Should it, or should it not be independent of Serbia? This question could be answered later.
Respecting minoritiesThe agreement was that first of all, Kosovo would have to satisfy a number of demands: only then could there be any talk of independence, and not before. Kosovo must be democratic, minorities must be respected and have a functioning system of rights, to name just three examples.
Over the last few months, a high-ranking UN diplomat has been looking at whether Kosovo has indeed fulfilled those democratic demands. On Monday, the UN Security Council is discussing Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide’s report and will then decide whether Kosovo is ready to begin negotiations. If so, discussions will begin with the international community and Serbia, of which Kosovo is still officially a part. So far so good.

Saying nothing

The Security Council, however, will only pronounce on eventual negotiations. But is Kosovo now able to become independent? About that, the Security Council will say nothing. Formally, that is not the question.
Informally, of course, this is very much the question and the the outcome of the Security Council’s discussion is, in fact, already settled – negotiations will begin. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants this, and has already let it be known. Meanwhile, Kai Eide is not quite so enthusiastic. There are still many things wrong with Kosovo, for example, respect for the remaining Serbians there is still very far off. Their lives are still uncertain, despite the endless escorts and protection from KFOR, the UN’s protection force in Kosovo.

Enough of Kosovo!

The UN does not have that much choice. Most member states want to see a gradual end to the UN mission at some point soon; enough of Kosovo, now other conflicts have higher priority. Furthermore, there is the danger that the international community could become part of the problem instead of the solution if it stays there too long. The sentiments of the Albanian majority in Kosovo are beginning to turn more and more against the UN’s presence, which is increasingly becoming a target of aggression.
Whatever the cost, Kofi Annan wants to avoid a repeat of what happened in March 2004, when more than 20 people died after ethnic unrest. Albanians threaten – sometimes openly – that something like this will indeed happen again if something isn’t done soon. In other words, we’ll finish off the last of the Serbians unless you lot get lost, and soon. In short: the UN will still have trouble leaving Kosovo with its head held high.

Rapid accession

Serbia will try all it can to get its own way in these negotiations.The government in Belgrade will cry out that the territorial integrity of Serbia is at issue if Kosovo is snatched away. At the same time, Serbia realises that, after all, in comitting atrocities, it has gambled away every right to Kosovo. But Belgrade may well come round if it gets a promise of rapid accession to the European Union