Oct 5th 2006 | SARAJEVO
From The Economist print edition
The future of both Kosovo and Bosnia gets murkier
THE Balkan endgame is starting to look messy. Expectations that Kosovo would be independent by early next year have just suffered a blow. Over 1.8m of the Serbian province's 2m people are ethnic Albanians who will settle for nothing less than independence. Yet the UN talks on Kosovo under Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, have got nowhere. Two weeks ago Mr Ahtisaari was given the go-ahead to draft his own plan for Kosovo's future. On September 22nd the UN Security Council said it hoped that the talks would finish by the end of the year.
Mr Ahtisaari, who is likely to propose some form of independence, was expected to present his plan later this month. But on September 30th the Serbian parliament adopted a new constitution that declares Kosovo to be an inalienable part of Serbia. This was a shrewd delaying tactic on the part of Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian prime minister. The constitution must be ratified in a referendum at the end of October, and it will be followed by an election. Mr Ahtisaari can hardly put forward his plan before then, as the voters might react by switching in droves to the extreme nationalist Radical Party. That could destabilise the whole region.
Diplomats dealing with Kosovo prefer Serbia to have its election first, in the hope that democratic forces will win and then come round to accepting Kosovo's independence. But the election could be delayed. And if Kosovo's Albanians then start fretting that Serbia is successfully outmanoeuvring them, there is a risk that extremists among them will return to violence, which would not do their cause any good.
Voters in Bosnia also caused an upset on October 1st. A majority chose to put Bosnia's wartime foreign minister, Haris Silajdzic, into the Bosniak (Muslim) presidential seat in Sarajevo, turning out Sulejman Tihic, who was seen by Western diplomats as a moderate with whom they could work. Mr Silajdzic wants to scrap the Bosniak-Croat federation, as well as the Serbs' Republika Srpska. That upsets the Croats, who form a 14% minority, mostly in the south and west of the country. It also ruffles Milorad Dodik, who was easily re-elected as prime minister of Republika Srpska.
Many Bosnian Serbs see their republic as a legitimate legacy of the war. Mr Dodik has been making secessionist rumblings, claiming that, should Kosovo gain independence, his republic should be allowed to do so as well. The election of Mr Silajdzic will encourage more such talk, even though Bosnia's international overseers firmly reject the idea.
Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the German who now wields the power of international proconsul, has said that his office should be closed in mid-2007. It will be replaced by a lower-key European Union mission (and some of the 6,000 soldiers of the EU peacekeeping mission will stay). Although most parties in Bosnia say they want to get into the EU, one analyst, Senad Pecanin, fears that the necessary reforms could be blocked by the political radicalisation that is splitting the country into opposing camps. It does not help the moderates in Bosnia and Kosovo—nor in Serbia, for that matter—that the mood in Brussels and other EU capitals has recently turned against letting any more countries into their club.