Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kosovo: Calm now, but nervously approaching final status

30 November 2006 Source: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Peter Lippman

Seven years have passed since the 1998-99 war in Kosovo and NATO’s intervention, which forced the withdrawal of Serbian troops. Today, the atmosphere on the streets of Kosovo towns is noticeably less tense than it was a few years ago, when in the spring of 2004, widespread anti-Serb riots caused great damage.

Since then, however, the anger of the post-war period has been replaced by other, milder feelings. During a recent visit to Kosovo, I learned from friends that they enjoy greater freedom of movement within the protectorate than before. A growing confidence in the future of Kosovo as an independent country is accompanied by impatience with the U.N. administration and the slow pace of change. Kosovo’s capital, Priština, is bursting at the seams with new construction.

The Hotel Victory, near the bus station on the outskirts of town, sports a replica of the Statue of Liberty at least 20 feet high. A main road leading into the city is named “Bil Clinton Road.” Hundreds of new shops, NGOs and businesses with bright storefronts liven up the visage of the formerly rather shabby city. In Prizren, meanwhile, Kosovo’s most attractive city and one which escaped great damage during the war, a fifth annual documentary film festival was held in early August, lending a worldly atmosphere to the town. While citizens of Kosovo struggle to rebuild their province, or simply make ends meet, since the beginning of the year officials from Priština, Serbia and the international community have been holding negotiations in Vienna on Kosovo’s “final status.”

On the surface, this phrase refers to the question of independence for the former “autonomous province” of Serbia. Despite the fact that Kosovo has been independent of Serbia since the NATO intervention, this status remains to be legalized. The international community, in the form of a “Contact Group” of six nations, is putting strong pressure on Belgrade to relinquish its former province. Since 1999, when Serbia accepted NATO conditions, no Albanian has expressed willingness to settle for anything less than complete separation from Serbia.

Given these factors, it is widely recognized that the future of Kosovo is independence. Although Serbian politicians are not blind to this eventuality, none of them has stepped forward to accept it publicly. In an early 2006 statement, the Contact Group emphasized that “there should be: no return of Kosovo to the pre-1999 situation, no partition of Kosovo, and no union of Kosovo with any or part of another country.” The international position on independence could not be much clearer than this. Stated Lutfi Hazire, head of the Albanian delegation to the negotiations, “The start of this dialogue is a preparation for Kosovo’s road to independence.”

During a round of negotiations in May, however, Serbian representatives offered Kosovo “extensive autonomy,” but simultaneously demanded continuation of Serbia’s sovereignty over the province. Behind the contentious issue of sovereignty for Kosovo lies the very concrete problem of minorities. Albanians now comprise some 90 percent of Kosovo’s population, at whose hands Serbs and Roma, particularly, have at times suffered serious mistreatment.

While this problem has been under greater control in the past few years, the international community is not about to hand over power to an Albanian-dominated government without very solid guarantees for the safety of minorities. U.N. envoy and mediator Martti Ahtisaari was expected to present a final proposal regarding status and minority issues in a September round of negotiations. This has turned out to be overly optimistic, but commentators in Kosovo are now saying that Ahtisaari’s proposal should be accepted by the beginning of next year. If negotiations remain deadlocked, a decision for independence will most likely be taken by the U.N. Security Council. Any resolution will have to include strong guarantees for minority rights not only from an Albanian-dominated government, but also from some manner of continued international supervision during a phased transition to independence and stability.

Albanians I’ve spoken with in Kosovo say it would be in the best interests of Serbs in the province to throw in their lot with a independent country, rather than continually looking to a meddlesome, politically crafty Serbian government for guidance. They say that Albanian mistrust of Kosovo Serbs, based on the memory of atrocities committed during the war, should subside with independence, because Kosovo Serbs then would not be regarded as a threat.

Albanian Opposition
Entering Priština or Prizren, however, one is struck by the prevalence of anti-negotiations messages spraypainted on city walls. “No Negotiations!” the graffiti shout, and, cleverly, “12:44: Time’s Up—UNMIK Go Home” (1244 refers to the U.N. Security Council Resolution that, upon the expulsion of Serb forces, established Kosovo as a U.N. protectorate.) These graffiti are courtesy of the Priština-based grassroots organization Vetevendosje (“Self-determination”), led by Albin Kurti. Kurti is a young activist with a history of brave leadership of the anti-Milosevic student movement in the late 1990s. During the NATO intervention he was arrested by the Serbs, and spent over two years in jail. Vetevendosje’s deep mistrust of UNMIK (U.N. Mission in Kosovo), the protectorate administration, reflects the common frustration that promised changes over the last seven years have taken place very slowly.

Vetevendosje’s objection to the negotiations stems from the concern that the Contact Group will allow passage of a resolution compromising Kosovo’s independence—specifically, agreeing to Belgrade’s demands that Kosovo Serbs, who comprise a majority in five Kosovo municipalities, be given control of around 10 more. Kurti fears that this group of municipalities could constitute a territorially autonomous unit that would annex itself, in some fashion, to Serbia. While he does not oppose Kosovo’s eventual political decentralization, he insists that such an arrangement must take place after independence, and without the participation of the Serbian government.

Everyday problems
Criticisms of extremism leveled at Vetevendosje are common in Kosovo, where many wish that Kurti would concentrate on more concrete issues such as local corruption and unemployment. Putting aside the drives for independence, sovereignty and protection of minorities, there are serious problems that more immediately afflict the lives of Kosovars—Albanians and minorities alike. Electrical shortages are endemic in the protectorate, where over two-thirds of the labor force is out of work. Poverty is pushing 40 percent, and “extreme poverty” has risen to 15 percent. Only 5 percent of domestically consumed goods are produced locally. “I don’t care about independence,” one Albanian told me. “The problem here is that we are exporting money.”

The imbalance in foreign trade has been faulted for hurting local agriculture, causing hundreds of thousands of villagers to flock to the cities—where they still don’t have work. This scenario provides more-than-usual support to one of Vetevendosje’s campaigns, a boycott of Serbian imports which are flooding the stores. Even much of the construction material for rebuilding post-war Kosovo comes from Serbia. More dispassionate, business-oriented people note that the bulk of the post-war construction already has taken place—making the boycott campaign somewhat belated. Moreover, they point out, such a campaign could face opposition from local (Albanian) businessmen, who are developing thriving business relationships with Serbs. In the end, the economic and political problems are connected. Without the stability afforded by final status, international lending institutions will not guarantee loans for Kosovo, and foreign investors will steer clear.

The hope is that the international community can push through a resolution in Vienna in the quickest way possible, with guarantees for safety for all people in Kosovo, leading to a time of calm, cooperation, and development. Unfortunately, the possibilities for disruption from various forces are great, both during and after any resolution of negotiations. Peter Lippman is an independent human rights activist based in Seattle.
Peter Lippman is an independent human rights activist based in Seattle.
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Pristina’s diplomatic offensive

30 November 2006 14:46 Source: B92, Beta

MOSCOW, PRIŠTINA, WASHINGTON -- Kosovo Albanian leaders are lobbying in Washington and Moscow, in a bid to secure support for the province’s independence.

Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu is visiting the United States, while prime minister AgimCeku arrived in Russia, where he is scheduled to meet the Russian foreign ministry officials. Ceku said that the goal of his visit was to “encourage Russia to view the Kosovo case in a more realistic way”.”This is a very important visit, which gives both sides an opportunity to exchange opinions regarding Kosovo. My goal is to explain the situation to the Russian officials”, Ceku said after meeting members of a Duma Committee.

According to him, the aim of the visit is to ask Moscow to appeal Belgrade to adopt a more realistic, and allow Kosovo Serbs to engage and build their future in Kosovo. ”I wish to ask the Russian officials to consider Albanians as legitimate partners on the international scene, which would open the doors for the development of the political and economic relations”, Ceku said. The only cabinet member who travels with Ceku is acting communities and return minister Branislav Grbrić, an ethnic Serb, which is telling of the strategy the Kosovo PM intends to use in Moscow. Ceku’s visit is extensively covered in the Priština-based media. Observers believe Russia could have the vital role in reaching a broader international consensus on granting Kosovo independence.

)Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu, meanwhile, is in New York, where he met the future and the current UN secretary-generals and most UN Security Council permanent member states’ ambassadors. Sejdiu is also scheduled to meet a number of U.S. diplomats. Deputy prime minister Lufti Haziri expects Ceku’s visit to Russia to be successful. “Ceku’s visit to Russia is not purely symbolic, this is a historic visit that should confirm the will of our people for independence. We are eagerly expecting Russia’s role in that sense to be positive”, he said.

Some analysts, like Azem Vlasi, warn that the first Russia visit by a Kosovo official should not cause unwarranted optimism, especially bearing in mind Russia’s firm position regarding Kosovo’s final status. “The Russians have already decided against Kosovo’s independence for their own interests, and Ceku’s visit can only be useful if he manages to let them know that Albanians will not give up on independence in any case, that it is not just an alternative for them, and that they will not agree to be the victim of the relations between Russia and other Contact Group countries”, Valsi said.
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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

War crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj remains Serbian hero

Seselj still Serb 'people's hero'
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Belgrade

Posters of Mr Seselj's Serbian Radical Party in Belgrade
Mr Seselj's party is the largest single grouping in parliament
Drive through the towns and villages of rural Serbia and there is one smiling face you are not likely to miss.

Peering down at you from billboards and street walls is a picture of Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and one-time lecturer, alleged paramilitary leader and now defendant at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Even in Belgrade, regarded as less nationalistic than the more conservative countryside, his picture appears on trees and telegraph polls, his name written in graffitti on the walls of student buildings.

The posters are there for the coming January general election but the graffitti has been there for years, a testament to the support he still enjoys. Mr Seselj's Radical Party remains the largest single grouping in the Serbian parliament.

For many Serbs, but by no means all, Mr Seselj remains a person to look up to, a representative of uncompromising Serb nationalism. In the past, he was one of the key advocates of a greater Serbia.

Conspiracy theories

Serbian television has been closely monitoring events at the Seselj trial in The Hague, especially since he began a hunger strike two weeks ago.

Mr Seselj's supporters hold his picture at a rally in Belgrade on 23 November 2006
Mr Seselj's supporters want to "stop The Hague tyranny"

Many here still believe the death in The Hague of former President Slobodan Milosevic in March is shrouded in mystery and suspicion.

Belgrade's newspapers gave the start of Mr Seselj's trial low-key coverage, although one tabloid referred to an alleged CIA plot to kill him. Conspiracy theories abound, as ever.

"I don't know if he's a war criminal or not," says Mladen, 55, sat in a Belgrade bar.

"But at least he fought for Serb interests. And, anyway, The Hague is totally anti-Serb. He was never going to get a fair trial."

Seselj theatre

Others prefer to look to the future.

"We need to move on and think about where Serbia goes from here. Seselj only represents the past," says Dragan, 44, who runs a small shop in Belgrade.

Vojislav Seselj. File photo
Mr Seselj has been a key advocate of a greater Serbia

At his farewell rally in 2003, thousands of flag-waving Radicals from rural areas flocked to Belgrade to see his final speech before he handed himself in.

I was there in the crowd. His rabble-rousing rhetoric was a hit with his admirers.

Mr Seselj's antics at The Hague and his mockery of the tribunal have struck a chord with many Serbs.

Once he told judges to remove their robes because they reminded him of medieval inquisitors and, on another occasion, refused to be represented by a court room lawyer because he had a "bird's nest" on his head, referring to the lawyer's traditional wig.

Radical muscle

Some people even have short video excerpts on their mobile phone of Mr Seselj's confrontations with the judges. It has almost become a party piece.

Others condemn the fact that the leader of the Radical Party has been waiting for three years for his trial to begin.

Despite his trial having begun - and notwithstanding his hunger strike - Vojislav Seselj has just been put at the top of his party's list for January's election to the Serbian parliament.

And no-one is ruling out the possibility that the Radicals will again enjoy electoral success.

Fair use.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Czech FM: We may recognize Kosovo unilaterally

TIRANA -- Aleksandar Vondra made the statement speaking on the frindges of the CEI meeting in Tirana.

Czech foreign minister Aleksandar Vondra told the Czech media that his country might decide to recognize Kosovo’s independence even if the Serbian province decided to declare it unilaterally.

“Naturally, we will be a part of the EU decisions as well, we’ll reach some solution. Ahtisaari’s mandate is relatively broad and I believe the final result will be useful for all”, Vondra said, interviewed in Tirana, where he took part in the Central European Initiative (CEI) summit.

This announcement represents a significant change in the Czech policy, which until recently approached the Kosovo status issue by waiting for a common EU stance.

Former Czech prime minister, now Social-Democrats leader Jiri Paroubek, even advised the division of the province along ethnic lines as the best solution.
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B92 and Beta,

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Archaeology in the Balkans:Looting history

From The Economist print edition

A Balkan battle is on to save the past

THE crime scene is a hole in the ground at Marvinci, in a remote corner of south-western Macedonia. Last month looters dug up a bronze figurine of Apollo and sold it for €20,000 ($26,000) to a Greek dealer. “I know everything, but even the police and customs are involved, so there is nothing I can do,” says Goran Karapetkov, a local archaeologist. “It rips my heart in two.”

Since the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, Macedonia's rich archaeological sites have been plundered wholesale. A burly dealer-digger in Marvinci says that poverty has turned looting, chiefly of jewellery, from ancient Greek and Roman tombs into a “fight for survival”. Aided by fake certificates of origin, his finds go to collectors in America, Germany, Greece and Japan. Ill-paid local archaeologists are involved too, he says. A police source in Skopje readily lists the names of some ardent but untouchable collectors, including that of a former senior ambassador.

Ilce Bojcevski, an official trying to stop the looting, hopes that a new law will help. Another good sign was a recent conference in Macedonia that brought officials from ex-Yugoslav countries and Albania together with experts from UNESCO and Interpol. A haul of looted ancient Macedonian treasures was recently seized on the Slovene-Croatian border. Yet, although political will is vital, hard cash is also needed.

Some 300km (190 miles) from Marvinci, at the southern tip of Albania, lies Butrint (Bouthroton in ancient times), which has a theatre and the remains of an early Christian basilica. It used to be a wretched place, submerged by undergrowth and with a looted, derelict museum. Now local schoolchildren, Austrian holidaymakers, Dutch bikers and day-trippers from Corfu all mingle happily in the cleaned-up site. Butrint's revival owes much to two British lords, Jacob Rothschild and John Sainsbury.

Their foundation has raised millions of dollars, mainly from America, to restore the site and pay for new digging. Some locals find its style a bit colonial. But topping up the salaries of Albanian archaeologists means they are paid three times as much as their Macedonian counterparts—and so are keener to protect their country's heritage.

Many looted items have been returned, including a sculpture found in the possession of Robert Hecht, a dealer now on trial in Rome for allegedly dealing in stolen antiquities. Butrint's good fortune is that Lord Rothschild's holiday home is on Corfu. Sadly, landlocked Macedonia is less likely to attract such a benevolent patron.

Fair Use: Economist.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Serbia Shrinks, and Sinks Into Dejection

The Associated Press
Sunday, November 19, 2006; 12:36 PM

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Outbursts of nationalism are nothing new in Serbia, but the blustering graffiti in a Belgrade park belongs to a bygone era.

"On your knees before Serbs!" it demands.

In June, Serbia lost access to the sparkling Adriatic coastline when its sister republic, Montenegro, gained statehood. This winter, it could lose the southern province of Kosovo if U.N.-brokered talks lead to independence as expected.

As their nation relentlessly shrinks, Serbs _ a fiercely proud people accustomed to ruling the roost in the Balkans _ are slipping into despair.

"How do you like our cemetery?" businessman Zoran Djuric asks cynically, standing on a hill and sweeping his hand over the twinkling lights of the capital below.

A string of staggering setbacks began last spring, when the European Union suspended pre-membership talks with the former Yugoslav republic for failing to arrest Gen. Ratko Mladic, the world's No. 1 war crimes fugitive long believed to be hiding here.

Geographic isolation came within weeks. Serbia-Montenegro dissolved when Montenegrins voted to break away from the union forged in 2002, leaving Serbia landlocked and alone.

Now, if independence comes to Kosovo and the ethnic Albanians former strongman Slobodan Milosevic tried to crush, Serbia soon could suffer its greatest humiliation: losing a province many consider the heart of their ancient homeland.

"Psychologically, it's very difficult to face up to the fact that your country is shrinking," said Braca Grubacic, a Belgrade political analyst.

"Half the population knows that Kosovo is a lost cause," he added. "But what's worse is that we have a serious crisis of leadership. We don't know who we are or where we're going. There are no signs of hope or a future."

Not all the news is grim.

Serbia has become something of a Balkan tiger, with 6 percent annual growth that has won praise from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Culturally and intellectually, Belgrade is regaining some of the vibrancy it once pulsed with during the 1970s, when its music, film and sports festivals made it an exciting, experimental European city in a bleak zone of communist regimes.

Yet unemployment still runs at about 30 percent, and the average monthly salary is less than $345. Frustrated Serbs have watched helplessly as Balkan neighbors Romania and Bulgaria prepare to join the EU in January, while their own prospects of membership now lag even behind impoverished Albania.

Serbia is still issuing new passports bearing the old Federal Republic of Yugoslavia name and crest _ partly out of confusion over its borders, but mostly because it simply can't afford to retool its printing presses.

It's all a bitter pill for people here in the heart of ex-Yugoslavia, a prosperous six-republic federation until its bloody 1990s breakup under Milosevic. When dictator Josip Broz Tito was in power, many Serbs traveled the world; today, most struggle just to make ends meet and need visas to go practically anywhere.

And it could get much worse.

Serbia's government, which this month hastily adopted a new constitution declaring Kosovo to be an "integral" part of the country in hopes of staving off its independence, will hold early parliamentary elections on Jan. 21. Many expect the ultranationalist Radical Party to exploit emotions over Kosovo and make big gains, which could trigger an explosion of nationalism and deepen Serbia's isolation.

Although few expect more armed conflict in the Balkans _ Serbia, most observers agree, has lost its capacity to wage war _ nationalists could incite violence if Kosovo becomes independent.

The International Crisis Group, a think tank that accused the government of rigging a recent referendum on the new constitution, warns that Serbia "is moving away from Western values and European integration." Its leaders, contends Serbia's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, "frequently resort to Stalinist methods, notably in personal showdowns."

Serbia could emerge from isolation and end much of its self-inflicted misery by capturing Mladic, wanted since 1995 for genocide in Bosnia. But many Serbs still revere Mladic as a patriot.

Sonja Biserko is a prominent and outspoken human rights activist who attacked and beaten by an assailant last year.

"For many in the West, Serbs became symbols of evil in films and books," she said. "You can only shed an image like that by acknowledging it. But everyone here is in denial."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Kosovo PM welcomed in Moscow irrespective of Serbia

This is Interesting.I am not sure anything will come out of this meeting, but goes to show that Russia only cares about her own interest. Russia will side with Serbia only if it is to her benefit.Perhaps a promise to RUSAL,Russia’s aluminum giant, that it will be given the contract to build Kosovo's next generation power plant will sweeten the pot for Russia.It's always the ECONOMY stupid.

Update:11/22- I was up to something, wasn't I?

Kosovo: Rusal to go in for the race for “Kosova C”
Prishtinë, 20 November 2006 - Kosova Sot indicates that the Russian media report that the Russian company Rusal is interested in investing in Kosovo C and the opening of the Sibovc mine. According to the Russian media, representatives of the Rusal Company have already met officials from the Kosovo Government.Deputy Minister of Energy and Mining, Agron Dida, neither denied nor confirmed this information. “We do not intend to favor any of the bidding companies,” said Dida. “There will be a big competition of as many big companies as are interested in investing in Kosovo and the best one will win.”

Moscow -- Russia’s foreign ministry has confirmed that Kosovo PM Agim Ceku will arrive in Moscow in late November.

Moscow daily Kommersant reports that Kosovo prime minister Agim Ceku has been long pressing for the Russian meeting. The negotiations about future status of Kosovo have reached the final straight, and Moscow with its right to veto in the UN Security Council could become the sole hurdle. So far, the Kremlin has been rather critical about Kosovo’s independence.

Ceku is due to head for Moscow November 30 to return December 2, spokesmen of Kosovo’s government said. He will meet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov and leaders of State Duma’s Foreign Committee.

By sanctioning Ceku’s visit, Moscow was well-aware that it may provoke negative response of Serbia, writes Kommersant, adding that the potential advantage of the talks apparently outweighed all possible annoyance of Belgrade. The Kosovo problem is verging towards its climax and direct contact with leader of Kosovo Albanians will enable the Kremlin to become more active in the outcome.

Kommersant reports that in addition to politics, Ceku will probably focus on matters of economy in Moscow. Russia’s aluminum giant, RUSAL, is said to be willing to acquire (or construct) a power station there.

Moreover, Russia may refer to Kosovo’s independence when pursuing policy in republics of former Soviet Union, including Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria, according to the Moscow daily.
Fair use only: B92

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Holbrooke: Bush Missed the Boat on Kosovo


10 November 2006 Former Bosnia mediator tells BIRN's Kosovo Director that Bush made error in not tackling final status back in 2002.

By Jeta Xharra in New York (Balkan Insight, 10 Nov 06)

As time runs out for the Vienna talks on Kosovo, and the UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari prepares his own recommendations on Kosovo’s final status for the Security Council, America’s former Balkan negotiator says independence, now or next year, is inevitable.

“In the long run Kosovo will be an independent country,” he said, speaking in his Manhattan office, though how long the run is still depends on the Serbia and its biggest ally on the Security Council, Russia.

“The long run depends on what the Serbs do,” explained Holbrooke. “Will they except the reality and look to the future of Serbia as part of the European Union, or cling to a mythic version of a past and deny reality? If they deny reality and try to hold onto Kosovo, they will lose both. They won’t be able to retain Kosovo but will also lose the chance to join Europe.”

Unlike the European Union, whose report this week on the Balkans has praised Serbia’s new constitution, Holbrooke dismisses the document - restating Serbia’s claim to Kosovo - as “a real step in the wrong direction”.

But he says Serbia’s obstructive tactics won’t delay the inevitable. “It is not going to slow down the efforts of Martti Ahtisaari and [US envoy] Frank Wisner,” he said.

“It just isolates the Serbs. I feel very sad about this…the current leadership of Serbia has a historic responsibility to face up to reality but in Serbia itself, as well as the Serbs of Kosovo, they insist on looking backwards… It’s a tragedy.”

He has no illusions that Belgrade will accept reality in the short term. “I don’t think there will be any Serb leader who has the courage to get up and say Serbia should allow Kosovo to become an independent country,” he said, “and this constitution makes it all the more difficult, but I think the international community will declare Kosovo is becoming independent country and then Serbia will have no choice.”

The former close ally of ex-president Bill Clinton says there is still a danger of a major diplomatic showdown over Kosovo with Russia, which the West must not shirk.

“Russia’s problem is they are trying to use Kosovo as an excuse for their own ambitions in Georgia,” he said, referring to Kremlin threats to recognise breakaway provinces in hostile Georgia if the West recognises Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.

“Their goal in Georgia is to overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, and they’re going to try to do that by claiming that whatever happens in Kosovo relates to Georgia, which it doesn’t.

“It won’t fly. It is not acceptable and the United States’ friends, Britain, Germany, Italy, have agreed they’re not going to accept that."

Asked whether such a crisis over Kosovo is certain to happen, he answered, “I can’t believe the Russians are that stupid. But let’s clarify. This is not about Kosovo for the Russians. The Russians don’t give a damn about the Serbs. They care about Georgia. They are incredibly angry at Saakashvili. They want to overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili."

Turning to the failed negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo in Vienna, Holbrooke says that irrespective of tactical errors on the Albanian side, “history is on the side of the Kosovo Albanians for the first time in 800 years. The horrible events of 1912 and 1989 are in the process of being reversed. Albanians are very understandably impatient.. [and] I share that impatience”.

He says the Bush administration made a cardinal mistake, putting Kosovo onto the back burner five years ago, when the moderate Zoran Djindjic was prime minister of Serbia and when it would have been easier to sort out Kosovo’s independence than it is today.

“President Bush and his administration are responsible for the delay. They allowed it to happen knowing well that the United Nations and the European Union would never push it,” he said. “The impetus had to come from the United States and the failure was appalling.

“The colossal mistake in 2001 and 2002 of the new Bush administration was turning its back on Kosovo and not negotiating immediately final status, when it would have been easier to do. Then we also had Prime Minister Djindjic who was of the closest things the Serbs have had to a visionary leader.”

Holbrooke says the atmosphere of diplomatic lethargy in the State Department under Colin Powell only changed when Condoleezza Rice replaced him as secretary of state in January 2005 and as Nicholas Burns became her under secretary for political affairs.

“They made a brilliant decision to appoint Frank Wisner as the American envoy,” he said. “Wisner is one of the greatest diplomats of his generation. Wisner has just mastered the issue, and he and Ahtisaari will push it forward.”

Holbrooke counsels Kosovo Albanians in the meantime to invest serious efforts in improving their relationship with the Serbian minority, however much it grates.

“I know the Serbs did not treat them well and I know the desire for revenge is very great in that part of the world,” he said. “But we must move forward."

As soon as the final status issue is announced, the authorities should “reach out to the Serbs and send them public messages that they want to live in peace. I know how difficult that is, but that’s the only way to avoid continuing killing and rape and crimes forever”.

Holbrooke says they should not be deflected from that course by worries over the Serb-run far north and fears that these municipalities may band together to form an equivalent to the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska.

“They won’t have that status,” he said of the Serbs in North Mitrovica. “ We are not talking about two entities like Republika Srpska and the Federation."

Local authorities have every right, he added, “to run local affairs, police, garbage collection, that’s fine, that’s the way system works. If they have close economic relations with Serbia, that’s fine too”.

The rest “lies in the details. Police, courts and economic affairs are three very different things. A local police force is OK, but police that become part of a corrupted system are not so good….”

“The whole area is full of organised crime,” he went on. “But our goal is not to fix every problem in the universe, in a day, with one UN resolution. It’s to fix the status of Kosovo and that status must be independence.”

Holbrooke says Kosovo cries out for a leader of the visionary stature of Nelson Mandela who sent 27 years as a prisoner of the apartheid regime in South Africa before emerging to become a living symbol of the possibility of racial and political reconciliation.

“Do you know that when Mandela was inaugurated as president of South Africa, he invited to his inauguration the same men who guarded him in prison?” he asked.

“That was his gesture of reconciliation. Where is the Kosovar Nelson Mandela?”

Jeta Xharra is BIRN's Kosovo Director. BIRN is Balkan Insight's online publication.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Here Comes Kosovo

A decision to make the Serb province independent is near. Will Serbia and Russia obstruct it?

Friday, November 10, 2006; Page A30- Editorial

THE SERBIAN parliament formally adopted a new national constitution on Wednesday, following its narrow approval by voters in a referendum last month. The document was a necessary replacement of the previous charter, which was adopted during the rule of nationalist warlord Slobodan Milosevic. But it may have won acceptance only because it included a preamble that would have warmed Mr. Milosevic's heart: a declaration that the province of Kosovo, which Serbia in effect lost seven years ago, is an "integral" and "inalienable" part of the country.

In fact, the United Nations, which has governed Kosovo since NATO freed it from Mr. Milosevic's brutal ethnic cleansing campaign, is due to decide the province's future by year-end -- though a decision may be delayed until after a Serbian election scheduled for late January. Serb leaders know what a U.N. mediator will recommend and what all Western governments will support: independence for the territory, perhaps with transitional conditions. Kosovo is populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Albanians; after the ethnic war Mr. Milosevic initiated, there is no chance the province can be returned to Serbian sovereignty. By incorporating a claim to Kosovo into a new constitution, Serbia's leaders staked out yet another of the reckless nationalist stands that have caused their country so much damage in the past 15 years.

They also set the stage for some difficult and potentially dangerous diplomacy between the Bush administration and Russia over the next two months -- negotiations that could settle or destabilize the Balkans and the equally volatile Caucasus region on Russia's southern border. Russia, Serbia's long-standing ally, is the largest potential obstacle to consensus in the U.N. Security Council on a Kosovo solution. Though he knows that independence for Kosovo is inevitable, Russian President Vladimir Putin is hinting that he may support Serbia's obstructionism. He may hope to extract favors from President Bush in exchange for his eventual cooperation -- such as U.S. acquiescence to Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization.

Or Mr. Putin may try to use Kosovo to trigger a showdown with his Caucasus neighbor, Georgia, which has infuriated him by embracing liberal democracy and seeking integration into Western institutions such as NATO. Mr. Putin has said that Kosovo's independence could be a precedent for Moscow-sponsored breakaway regions in Eurasia, including two rebel provinces of Georgia. If Western governments recognize Kosovo's independence, Mr. Putin could respond by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This could easily trigger a war that would draw in Russian troops; meanwhile, Moscow's position could encourage Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia to set up splinter states.

Moscow is no doubt hoping that as the Bush administration contemplates this scenario, as well as its continuing need for Russian help in stopping Iran's nuclear program, it will be bluffed into postponing any decision on Kosovo or will abandon its support of Georgia's democracy and NATO aspirations. Either would be a serious mistake. Putting off Kosovo's independence would only enrage the province's 2 million Albanians and trigger the Balkan meltdown that the West hopes to avoid. It would also encourage Mr. Putin's growing tendency to use threats -- whether of energy-supply interruptions or violence -- to get his way with the West.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kosovo may soon be free of Serbia, but not of supervision

2 November 2006 New York Times
PRIŠTINA -- In the next few months, Kosovo is likely to win independence from Serbia.But it is unlikely to be the conclusion Western governments hoped for, after investing seven years supervising the province at an estimated cost of 1.3 billion dollars a year. It is increasingly evident that the international authorities will need to retain far greater responsibility in Kosovo than they wanted to.The Kosovo Albanians, the province’s majority population, who demand independence, and the government of Serbia have failed to reach an agreement in nine months of negotiations. The Serbs have refused to recognize government institutions dominated by the Albanians in what has been a territory dear to Serbian religious and cultural heritage.

The negotiations are dragging on, raising the likelihood that a solution will be imposed, ending a process that began 15 years ago with the breakup of Yugoslavia, which led to wars in Croatia, Bosnia and finally Kosovo. The conflict in Kosovo began when long-running tensions between its Albanians and the Serbian-dominated local authorities turned to violence with the start of an Albanian insurgency. Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was then the dominant part, sent in troops, who committed atrocities against civilians and caused thousands to flee their homes.

The United States and Western Europe have hoped that a Kosovo agreement would end the risk of violent disputes over borders and alleviate the need for a heavy international civilian and military presence. A European Union-led mission is to take over from the United Nations after Kosovo’s future is decided. “Everybody is anxious to solve this,” said Joachim Rucker of Germany, chief of the United Nations mission in Kosovo. “It is the last bit of the Balkan puzzle.” The Americans are eager to conclude the matter, but that action may be delayed. Since the government of Serbia would have to review any agreement, the United Nations may want to wait until after the elections that are expected there next year. The Americans are no longer heavily invested in Kosovo militarily — the United States has slightly more than 1,000 troops from the National Guard based there — but would be expected to pay some of the costs of establishing a more independent state and would have a role in a European-led mission.

Whatever the timing, it seems that foreign officials will retain extensive powers and continue to act as an arbitrator between the Albanians and the province’s Serbian minority for some time to come, United Nations and European Union officials here say. With Kosovo’s two million people the poorest in the former Yugoslavia, the financial costs may continue to be substantial. Per capita income is just over $1,000 a year, according to the United Nations Development Program. The International Monetary Fund projects a drop in the gross domestic product, because of general economic decline and the loss to the economy when a large United Nations mission withdraws.

“I think the E.U. is going to be in for a bit of a shock,” said Anthony C. Welch of Britain, the coordinator of a review of Kosovo’s future security needs commissioned by the United Nations. “I think their role is going to have to be a little more hands-on. And it is going to cost a lot.” Kosovo has remained under United Nations control since it was pried away from the Yugoslav security forces in June 1999. While it is still formally part of Serbia, the six nations overseeing the negotiations on its future say it cannot return to Serbian rule. The United Nations envoy to the negotiations, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, has been drafting a settlement, but it is being kept secret. It will first have to be put to both sides in the talks and then given to the Security Council to debate. The parameters of an imposed settlement are fairly clear, though, say United Nations and European Union officials responsible for planning the European successor to the United Nations mission.

Russia opposes independence for Kosovo, contending that it would set a precedent for other breakaway states. So, officials say, it is unlikely that a Security Council resolution will grant the province full statehood. “The Security Council would issue a mandate for a mission led by the European Union and invite individual countries to recognize Kosovo,” Mr. Welch said. Kosovo would not automatically have a seat in the United Nations General Assembly. Serbia is strongly opposed, and two-thirds of the Assembly’s members would have to recognize Kosovo before it could gain a seat. The European Union says it does not want to duplicate the overarching powers and cumbersome bureaucracy that the United Nations mission has had in Kosovo, which at one stage totaled 11,000 people, including international police officers.

The outside presence has been a source of tension with the Albanian population, some of whom see it as a colonial occupation. As long as there is substantial international oversight, that friction is likely to remain. The new office, headed by an “international civilian representative,” will have much more limited powers, European officials say, to be reviewed annually. Its major role would be to put a peace settlement into operation, especially with regard to protecting minorities. It would be able to dismiss local politicians, and to annul laws if they were deemed to be interfering with the peace settlement. “We will be limited in scope and in power, because we believe the philosophy has to be one of ownership and accountability,” said Torbjorn Sohlstrom, the Swedish diplomat who leads the small team of European officials setting up the mission.

Decentralization would grant the Serbian municipal authorities in Kosovo a substantial say over their own affairs. But opposition by Kosovo Serbs to international plans may require a more heavy-handed approach, perhaps even forcing the European mission to appoint representatives if the Serbs refuse to elect their own to an Albanian-dominated government, Mr. Sohlstrom said. United Nations and European officials also say a Security Council resolution could lay down much more stringent oversight measures than the ones currently being envisaged. “I think there are deep misgivings,” said Judy Batt of Britain, a research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris. “I think they are probably horrified but know there is not an alternative.”

The prospect of greater European responsibility in Kosovo is unlikely to be welcomed by the European Union’s members, already disaffected over the costs of the union’s enlargement process, especially since they are likely to bear the brunt of Kosovo’s substantial economic needs. “Undoubtedly a change in Kosovo status is not a magic wand for solving socioeconomic problems,” said Frode Mauring of Norway, director of the United Nations Development Program in Kosovo. “With the downsizing of the international community there is a risk of a recession.” And economic difficulties can breed social unrest, he added. Mr. Rucker, the head of the United Nations mission, said, “I think it is very clear: if you expect stability, this has a price tag.”

Independence days

The future of Kosovo
Nov 2nd 2006
From The Economist print edition
An independent Kosovo is coming. The question is how best to achieve it.

THE shabby manoeuvring that triggered first war and then the break-up of Yugoslavia began in Kosovo in 1989, when Slobodan Milosevic scrapped the Serbian province's autonomous status. Now the Balkans have turned full circle, back to negotiations over Kosovo's final status. But this time there is no doubt as to the result: independence from Serbia.
Kosovo is an emotional matter for Serbs. It lay at the heart of their medieval empire, it is where they lost a battle in 1389 that led to 500 years of Ottoman rule and it has some of their main religious sites. It is a Serbian province, not an ex-Yugoslav republic like Macedonia or Montenegro. Yet since NATO's war with Serbia in 1999, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations, not Belgrade. Over 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians who will settle for nothing short of independence.
This remains true despite the recent noisy (if narrow) approval of a new constitution for Serbia reaffirming Kosovo as an integral part of the country. The constitution and the election that will follow, probably in December, are mere delaying tactics by a Serbian government that is not ready to take the blame for “losing Kosovo”. The issue for the UN envoy overseeing the negotiations, Martti Ahtisaari, is whether conditions can be attached to independence to make it more palatable to Serbia (see article).
One such must clearly be the guaranteed protection of all ethnic minorities in Kosovo, especially the 100,000 or so Serbs who remain. That will require local autonomy to be given to municipalities, including Serb ones, which may necessitate redrawing boundaries; and full protection of Serbian religious sites. Another condition may be stopping Kosovo uniting with neighbours (eg, Albania). All this means keeping NATO troops and international observers in Kosovo, even after independence. Other possibilities—partitioning off the Serb-dominated bit of north Kosovo, refusing to let Kosovo join the United Nations—are unlikely to make anyone happier.

Nasty side effects
In short, it seems unlikely that any way can be found of dressing up Kosovo's independence to make it more acceptable to Belgrade. A conditional independence may thus have to be imposed internationally. Russia could block formal approval of this by the UN Security Council, so it may be up to individual countries to choose whether to recognise Kosovo. Most will surely do so, leaving non-recognisers (including Serbia) to follow later. Indeed, some Serbian leaders might welcome such an outcome, since it would show that they had done their utmost to obstruct Kosovo's independence.
Independence without Belgrade's consent may be regrettable, but it is better than denying it altogether, since this would only lead to renewed fighting. Yet it carries two big dangers. The first is of leaving Serbia, the biggest country in the region, in a disgruntled, nationalistic grump. A resentful Serbia may be unable to start another war, but it could still cause trouble across the Balkans. The way to avoid this is for the European Union to lure Serbia back onto the path towards accession negotiations, which it will also be doing for Kosovo. Indeed, it is the EU, not the UN or NATO, that must now play the decisive role. That will take money, but ultimately it also means taking in the western Balkan countries as members.
The second danger is of setting an awkward precedent. Leaders of the (Bosnian Serb) Republika Srpska already ask why, if Montenegro and Kosovo can be independent, they cannot be. Russia mutters menacingly about Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two enclaves in Georgia, and Transdniestria, in Moldova (though it keeps strangely quiet over Chechnya). But parallels between countries and ethnic groups rarely hold. Few people have been as attacked and oppressed as the Kosovars. Nor should “ethnic cleansing” be rewarded, which it would be in an independent Bosnian Serb republic or Abkhazia. Kosovo's loss of autonomy started the Balkan wars; its independence may, with luck, end them.

Ethnic groups in Kosovo:The minorities within the minority

Nov 2nd 2006 BRODFrom The Economist print edition
Kosovo is lived in by others besides dominant Albanians and minority Serbs
HAMDIJE SEAPI, a local Gorani official, excuses himself to go to the funeral of a woman from a neighbouring village. He did not really know her, but since her village was all but abandoned in 1999, somebody has to. In his village, Mlike, there were 1,380 people before the Kosovo war, but now there are barely 400, 70% of them over 65. “Before, we were somehow like shock absorbers between Serbs and Albanians, but now we have our backs to the walls.”
The Gorani are among the smallest of Kosovo's minorities. Before the war, say officials, anywhere up to 18,000 of them lived in Gora, a rural sliver of land squeezed between Macedonia and Albania. Now a mere 8,000 remain. They are Muslims, living in villages in the remote south and speaking a language close to Serbian and Macedonian. At school they have always been taught in Serbian. Many of them were loyal Serbian citizens, serving in the police and as officials until the end of the war in 1999.
This has incurred much enmity from Kosovo's Albanians. Since 1999 Serbia has continued to pay Gorani teachers like Serbian ones, and they have continued to use the Serbian curriculum. Now the Kosovo authorities want to force them to change. If they did, Gorani children could not go to Serbian secondary schools. Serbia pays its teachers in Kosovo at least twice what the Kosovo authorities do. As a result of this dispute, several hundred Gorani children are now locked out of their schools.
In the village of Brod, locals still burn manure for fuel. Hakija Cuculj, a member of the local council, says that since the UN took over in Kosovo it has redrawn local boundaries so that Gorani are now outvoted on everything by Albanians. Immediately after the war many Gorani left for Serbia; now they go farther afield. Mr Cuculj's son works in Italy and sends home money. “People are just living in uncertainty,” he says. “They just want to survive.”
There are no reliable figures for anything in Kosovo. But a rule of thumb is that some 90% of the province's 2m people are Albanians. At least half of the remaining 200,000 are Serbs. The biggest minority after that are local Slav Muslims, many of whom, since 1999, have chosen to identify themselves as Bosniaks (ie, Bosnian Muslims). Then come Roma, some of whom are called Ashkali and some Egyptians; Turks; Gorani; and, finally, a tiny number of Croats. Since the early 1990s most Croats have left, many to settle in places in Croatia from which Serbs have fled. The Gorani are now the smallest of the small.

A province prepares to depart

From The Economist print edition
Despite its last-minute manoeuvring, Serbia now seems certain to lose Kosovo.

Despite its last-minute manoeuvring, Serbia now seems certain to lose Kosovo
WHAT you see is not always what you get. Serbia has a new constitution stating that Kosovo is an inalienable part of the country. Serb leaders told their people that, if they voted for the constitution in a referendum on October 28-29th, it would speed their entrance into the European Union. But as Danas, a Serbian daily, noted tartly, “They promised a Kosovo in Serbia and a Serbia in Europe. It is hard to tell which is further away.” Politics in the Balkans has been going through a surreal phase—but reality is around the corner, in the form of Kosovo's independence.

Serbia has needed a new constitution ever since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. The old one was designed when Serbia was part of a bigger country, with Montenegro. How odd then that, when Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president who was asked by the United Nations to oversee negotiations between Serbs and Albanians on Kosovo's final status, said he would present his plans at the end of October, Serbia's leaders should have rushed a new constitution through parliament with almost no debate.

The leaders of all main parties rallied to the cause, asking people to vote in the referendum, which needed a 50% turnout to be valid. An aggressive campaign was launched, with millions of text messages sent out to remind people to cast their ballots. Yet only 55% actually voted, many of them late in the day. Suspicious eyebrows were raised; one politician who had called for a boycott declared that he did not believe the threshold had been reached. But given the chaos that a failed vote would have caused, nobody of significance was prepared to question its validity.
The reason for holding the referendum now was to delay, even by a few months, the loss of Kosovo. The idea is that, with the constitution adopted, Serbia will hold an election before Kosovo goes, stopping the extremist Radical Party from picking up more disaffected votes. This has been accepted by Mr Ahtisaari and other diplomats dealing with the Balkans. The election may be held in December. Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, wants a presidential election too, but this is being resisted by the prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica. He fears that Mr Tadic's popularity might pull in votes for his Democratic Party, reducing Mr Kostunica's chances of becoming prime minister again.
Serbian leaders also argued that a vote for the constitution would tell the world that Kosovo belonged to Serbia and should never be given independence. Most Serbs would like that to be true. But opinion polls show that few believe independence can be prevented. “Lies, lies, lies,” commented a taxi driver as he passed a billboard demanding a yes vote to keep Kosovo. “It was lost years ago.”
Since the war of 1999 Serbia's southern province has been under the jurisdiction of the UN. Some 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians who want nothing short of independence. Yet, ever since Mr Ahtisaari began his talks last February, Mr Kostunica has been repeating that Kosovo will never be independent. Now it seems he may have been playing a cleverer hand than some have thought.
What seems to be happening is that his government, the Kosovo Albanians and the outside powers involved (the “Contact Group”) are moving towards a messy and perhaps temporary solution. The scenario goes as follows. With Serbia holding an election in December, Mr Ahtisaari puts off presenting a final version of his plan to the UN Security Council. When he does so, it will suggest that Kosovo becomes independent but with limits placed on its sovereignty for some years to come. An EU team is in Pristina planning a mission to take over from the present UN one, which will be wound up. The EU is planning a similar set-up to the way Bosnia has been run since 1995. A post will be created called, probably, the International Civilian Representative, who will at the same time represent the EU. As in Bosnia, the job will come with considerable powers to intervene in the running of Kosovo. The NATO-led force now in place will remain.
Right now, says Enver Hoxhaj, a member of the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team, “The real talks have...begun. They are not between Pristina and Belgrade, but between the members of the Contact Group.” The key ones are the Americans and the British, who support independence, and the Russians, who do not. Trade-offs between them are being proposed, some involving issues unrelated to the Balkans, such as Iran. But what is expected to be agreed by the end of March is a new UN resolution that avoids using the word “independence”. At this point Kosovo's parliament will declare independence unilaterally. Some, perhaps most, countries will recognise the new state—but others, including Serbia, will not.
Kosovo's Albanians will be happy with this—but they will have a bitter pill to swallow too. The Serb-inhabited north of Kosovo (north Mitrovica and beyond) will ignore independence and continue to operate as it does now—which is, in effect, as part of Serbia. Whether Serbs in the rest of Kosovo then choose to flee depends on what happens. In the long run Mr Kostunica may hope for a formal partition. Some Albanians would like that, but only if they get Albanian-inhabited parts of south Serbia in exchange. Partition, sighs one diplomat, is “the love that dares not speak its name”. If Kosovo can be partitioned, why not Macedonia and Bosnia?
Kosovo Albanian politicians seem curiously resigned to losing control of the north. Many think that, in the long run, Serbia will be forced to recognise the new Kosovo's territorial integrity as the price it has to pay to join the EU. In the short run, it is fashionable also to refer to the Irish precedent. Until 1999 the Irish Republic claimed the whole island of Ireland under its constitution, but it did not act on it. A future Serbia, with Kosovo still enshrined in its constitution, could take the same approach. If it does not, says Milica Delevic-Djilas, head of Perspektiva, a new think-tank meant to produce ideas about the Balkans and European integration, “It's the end of regional co-operation and of our aspirations for the EU.”