Wednesday, December 26, 2007
By Nick Thorpe BBC News
Among the many strange ironies of history, consider this: the independence of Kosovo in the first half of 2008 will be overseen by Slovenia, as rotating president of the EU.
The richest corner of the old Yugoslavia - and the first to escape from it in 1991 - will steer, from Brussels, the rocky road to independence of its poorest segment.
It took Yugoslavia, that once amiable giant, 17 years to die.
2008 is set to be a dramatic year in the Balkans, though probably not as tragic as some prophesy.
Kosovo, Bosnia, and Macedonia all have intricate safety nets, thanks both to the international presence and the experience gathered in many previous storms.
Serbia has perhaps the greatest potential for international isolation and misery.
The new government and assembly in Kosovo will begin quietly implementing the Ahtisaari plan for conditional independence, despite the sometimes dignified, sometimes desperate, protests of Belgrade.
Kosovo Police Service
The European Union will rapidly phase in its civilian, 1,800-strong law and justice mission, just as the UN phases out.
A poll win for Tomislav Nikolic could damage Serbia's EU hopes
The crucial role in ensuring a peaceful transition to independence will be played by the multi-ethnic Kosovo Police Service (KPS).
The 7,000-strong force, with many Serbs in its ranks, will be in the frontline at a local level, reassuring people with their presence, and searching cars to minimise the movement of weapons.
Behind them the UN police - in place until mid-2008 - can provide extra muscle.
And, finally, the Nato-led peacekeepers of K-For are on call to intervene if law and order breaks down. But that may not be necessary.
If Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party wins January's presidential elections, the potential for Serbia's public anger, and international isolation grows exponentially
As Kosovo slips quietly away, radical Serb leaders in the predominantly Serb north will declare that they want nothing to do with an independent Kosovo.
Theirs is above all a defensive position. They will prepare for "Albanian attacks". But the Albanians will be on their best behaviour, under the watchful eyes of the EU.
The KPS, UN police force, and K-For will continue to patrol in the north too. UN Security Council resolution 1244 speaks of both an "international civilian and military presence".
EU countries and the US say that is quite enough to legalise the new EU mission.
President Boris Tadic of Serbia has already announced that his country will, quite properly, take its case to the International Court of Justice.
Serbia's promised economic blockade will affect less than 20% of Kosovo's imports, and can be sidestepped easily with increased imports from Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania.
Threats to cut off the water and electricity supply from the Gazivoda reservoir in the north are serious, but would rebound on the north.
Water is treated in the south, then sent back. KFOR soldiers are set to secure the reservoir.
The central question of the year is how Serbia copes with the trauma of the loss of Kosovo.
Kosovan towns such as Mitrovica are divided over independence
The presidential election due on 20 January will influence that.
If Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party wins again he will keep Serbia firmly on the road to EU integration - despite Kosovo.
If Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party wins, the potential for Serbia's public anger, and international isolation grows exponentially.
Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian prime minister, is a nationalist who only appears moderate when set against the radicals.
His Serbian Democratic Party is being squeezed all the time between Tadic's pro-Europe stance, and the blood and thunder rhetoric of Nikolic and his master, Vojislav Seselj, on trial for war crimes in the Hague.
This looks like the year Kostunica will have to choose one camp or the other. The presidential race will be close.
If Nikolic wins, the EU can be expected to turn its back on Serbia again. Investment will dry up. And other parts of the Balkans may benefit from increased international help.
If Tadic wins, the pro-Europe camp wins with him.
In Bosnia, a compromise in November over a police reform which goes some way to re-integrating the country, was a precondition for further steps to EU membership.
Many in the Balkans hope EU entry will lift living standards
The sudden shock of being thrown to the end of a very long queue to join the EU seems to have done Bosnia's quarrelsome politicians some good.
The Bosnian Serb leadership are interested above all in preserving their own fiefdom - the Serb Republic in Bosnia. Theirs is a tale of power and money, coloured with identity.
With the sun from Brussels shining a little brighter in the streets of Banja Luka, as well as Sarajevo, there is no reason why Kosovan independence would encourage them to revive their long-lost dream of joining Serbia. The Nato summit in Bucharest in April will be crucial in terms of the overall stability of the Balkans. Macedonia, Albania and Croatia have all worked hard on securing their invitations to join the alliance.
Despite what its president describes as "a wasted year" in 2007, the promise of Nato membership should soothe troubled brows in Skopje.
None of Serbia's neighbours - Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria included - are in any hurry to recognise an independent Kosovo.
But the future of the Balkans will depend on investment, and wages - not the race to set up diplomatic representation in Pristina.
2008 could be the year the clouds of war finally disappear.
Dec 13th 2007-The Economist.
The delicate diplomacy over the handling of Kosovo's looming independence
A JOKE has been circulating among diplomats concerned with the Balkans. The reply to the question, “what comes after December 10th?” is “December 11th.” And so it has proved. The 10th was the deadline for a mission led by ambassadors from the European Union, America and Russia to report to the United Nations on the outcome of negotiations between Serbia and its breakaway province of Kosovo. In the event, the talks produced so little that the report was handed in early.
It would be wrong to conclude that nothing has changed after the failure of the troika's talks. The end of almost two years of diplomatic efforts to find an agreement means that one chapter on Kosovo has closed and a new one is opening. A period of turbulence lies ahead, and it could even be accompanied by a few spasms of violence. But it is almost inconceivable that there will be a general return to the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Kosovo is the last remaining piece of the former Yugoslav jigsaw. Some 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians who have long demanded independence. Unlike the six countries that have already emerged from the old Yugoslavia, Kosovo was not a republic but a province—and one with a special historical significance for Serbs. Serbia's present leaders have offered maximum autonomy, but Kosovo's Albanians have said they will settle for nothing less than independence.
On December 19th the UN Security Council will take up the question. Russia, Serbia's backer, will demand that talks continue. This will be rejected by America and the EU countries, who say there is nothing left to discuss. At the same time, Western diplomats are working out next steps. Serbia is to hold a two-round presidential election in January and February. The Kosovo Albanians are being asked to hold off declaring independence before then, in a bid to boost the chances of the pro-European incumbent, Boris Tadic.
The diplomats are trying to find a legal cover to replace the UN mission in Kosovo with one from the EU. This is proving hard. Kosovo is governed by the Security Council's resolution 1244, which says it is part of Yugoslavia, to which Serbia is the legal successor state. “On this the Serbs and the Russians probably have the law on their side,” sighs a top European diplomat. “But then this is a political decision, not a legal one.”
Once Kosovo declares independence, it is likely to be recognised by the Americans, most EU members and many Muslim countries. Serbia may try to blockade the new country, apart from the Serb-inhabited part of Mitrovica and the north that it already, in effect, runs. So this may turn into Europe's newest “frozen conflict”. Kosovo exports nothing to Serbia, but Serbian exports to Kosovo amount to €200m ($280m) a year. This trade may be diverted through Montenegro and Macedonia.
The biggest worry concerns the 50,000 or more Serbs who live in enclaves scattered across Kosovo proper. Most, but not all, seem to be staying put. If the birth of a new Kosovo is accompanied by violence these are the most vulnerable targets.
As for Serbia, it is at a fork in the road. The EU's leaders may soften the blow over Kosovo by waiving a precondition that the country co-operate in full with the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal in The Hague before signing a stabilisation and association agreement that would bring it large sums of aid. But Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's prime minister, says it is insulting to believe that his country would trade Kosovo for eventual EU membership, and even hints that his country might refuse to sign the deal. Others close to Mr Tadic retort that Serbia has nowhere else to go.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Nov 17th, 2007 | NEW YORK
Kosovo at the polls, as tension grows over its future
OUTSIDERS can be forgiven for not being able to tell much—from the names at least—about the Democratic Party of Kosovo, the Democratic League of Kosovo, the New Kosovo Alliance and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo. The main four parties competing in an election on Saturday November 17th are in fact quite different from each other. One is dominated by former guerrillas; another is run by a man indicted for war crimes; another was founded as the non-violent opposition to Slobodan Milosevic; a fourth is run by a construction tycoon promising investment and jobs for Kosovo.
The parties do, however, agree on the most important thing about Kosovo: that it should become independent. Whichever party wins is likely to declare Kosovo’s independence after December 10th. That date marks a deadline for mediators who are trying to get Serbia and Kosovo, the latter still technically a province of the former, to agree on the Kosovars' future status. The Serbian position has been that Kosovo could have “more than autonomy” but “less than independence”, citing Hong Kong as an example. For most in Kosovo independence is the one thing not negotiable.
The fate of Kosovo’s 2m people, 90% of whom are ethnically Albanian, matters to the outside world mainly because of the great powers paying it attention. NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days in 1999 until Milosevic withdrew his soldiers from the province. Since then, it has lived in limbo under international supervision. But Russia, Serbia’s ally (partly because of their shared eastern Orthodox Christian tradition), has vetoed any UN approval of independence.
For Europe, too, Kosovo matters for foreign policy. Some guilt persists for past indecisiveness, when Europe's leaders were divided over how to react to the Yugoslav wars. Wider concern is how Kosovo's future could affect the whole Balkans now. Some in the Serb dominated part of Bosnia, for example, give warning that if Kosovo declares independence from Serbia, then they, too, will secede from the rest of Bosnia. No wonder the European Union takes a close interest as it ponders possible enlargement to include parts of the Balkans.
But ahead of the December deadline, talks remain deadlocked. The UN’s special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, has proposed a form of “supervised independence” for Kosovo. This would make it sovereign, but within certain limits, including some that already exist. A chunk of seats in the parliament would be reserved for Serbs (and another chunk for other minorities); the Serbian Orthodox church would get special protection; Serbian would be a co-equal official language with Albanian. The whole arrangement would be overseen, as with Bosnia, by an official from the EU with the power to annul laws or dismiss officials if they violate the agreement.
Russia is insisting that any status change must have the agreement of all parties. But for Kosovo’s Western backers it seems that more talks are unlikely to produce progress. Kosovo cannot remain in limbo forever, and its population will never consent to remain part of Serbia. Yet given a newly assertive Russian foreign policy, under Vladimir Putin, it will be difficult for Kosovo, backed by Western allies, simply to push on for independence regardless. It is not clear how many countries would recognise Kosovo as an independent country if the declaration lacked UN approval.
The election is unlikely to help much. Serbia and the Orthodox church have urged Serbs in Kosovo not to take part in the election as that would legitimise the poll. The prospects of effective dialogue either within Kosovo, or without, look dim indeed.
Friday, October 26, 2007
BANJA LUKA AND SARAJEVO-Oct 25th 2007
From The Economist print edition
Spurred by Russia, the Bosnian Serbs are making trouble again!
ON THE face of it, Bosnia is doing fine. The economy is forecast to grow by a healthy 6% this year. When politics is not at issue, Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats get on better now than at any time since the end of the war. But politics keeps rearing its head. The past week has seen battle joined in a power-struggle that will determine where real authority lies in Bosnia and even if, in the long run, it will survive.
At the end of the Bosnian war in 1995 the country was divided into two parts, a federation of Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims) and the Serbian Republika Srpska (RS). Croats and Serbs were unenthusiastic about being forced to remain in a Bosnian state, but accepted that this was the result of the war. To keep this complex show running, the peace agreement provided for an international governor-general to arbitrate between the Bosnians and intervene when necessary.
The last high representative, as he is known, believed it was time for Bosnians to run their own show, so he stepped back from political life. After all, he argued, the office was due to be closed in June 2007. The result was political gridlock and stagnation, so the office stayed open. An agreement with the EU, widely regarded as the first step towards membership, has been ready since 2006. But Bosnia's leaders have not been able to agree on a number of political reforms that are required first, especially of the police.
Enter Miroslav Lajcak, a highly regarded Slovak diplomat who took over as high representative in July. He tried to break the deadlock over police reform, and warned Bosnia's leaders that unless they agreed to it they would lose another opportunity to move forward on the EU track. They failed, and so on October 19th he unveiled the first of what he says is a series of proposals for big changes.
Mr Lajcak is demanding that the Bosnian parliament and government can no longer be blocked simply because their members refuse to show up, which is often the case now. Bosnia's Serbian leader, Milorad Dodik, erupted in fury. This, he said, meant that Croats and Bosniaks could outvote Serbs; and, in revenge, he threatened to withdraw all Serbs from state institutions. If this happened, it would lead to chaos. Bosnians still remember how the RS was formed on the eve of war in 1992, when the Serbs left Bosnia's institutions.
On October 22nd a meeting between Mr Lajcak and Mr Dodik appeared to calm tensions. Immediately afterwards Mr Dodik left for a meeting in Belgrade with Serbia's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, and Vladimir Titov, Russia's deputy foreign minister. The threats to bring political chaos to Bosnia then started again. “They should either stop this or reveal their real intentions,” says Mr Lajcak. Asked whether, if things got worse, he would use his legal power to sack Mr Dodik, he replied with a firm “Yes”.
The looming struggle is closely connected to Kosovo. Technically it is a part of Serbia. If it gains independence soon, it will strengthen the hands of those, such as Mr Dodik, who oppose the centralising of the Bosnian state and sometimes threaten RS independence. This week Serbia's leaders have weighed in with denunciations of Mr Lajcak, as have the Russians, who have previously co-operated well in Bosnia with their Western counterparts. Now it seems clear that they are opening a new line of confrontation with the West, which stretches via Kosovo to the dispute over America's proposed missile shield.
Western diplomats have shelved the idea of closing down Mr Lajcak's post. Russia has not, and in November Russia's agreement in the Security Council will be required to renew the mandate for the remaining 2,500 EU peacekeeping troops in Bosnia. A fight may be in the offing. And even if Russia agrees to the renewal of the mandate, the broader outlook for the region is not hopeful. Judy Batt of the EU's Institute for Security Studies, who is working with Mr Lajcak, says that “politics in Bosnia and Serbia now mean that the EU perspective for the whole region is dying.”
Thursday, October 18, 2007
BELGRADE AND MITROVICA
From The Economist print edition
Some Serbs dream of a Russian alternative to the European Union
DOTTED across the Serbian north of the divided city of Mitrovica are pictures of its hero: Vladimir Putin. Russia, Kosovo's Serbs believe, has saved them from the independence demanded by its Albanians (Kosovars), who make up 90% of Kosovo's 2m people. It is too early to be sure they are right. But Western diplomats are worried by Serbia's dalliance with Russia.
Marko Jaksic, a member of Serbia's Kosovo negotiating team, helps to run northern Kosovo. He is a deputy leader of the party of Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's prime minister. If America and many European Union countries recognise a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, he expects Serbia to offer Russia military bases “in Serbia, and especially on the border of Kosovo”. He adds that Serbia should abandon its bid to join the EU, and claims that Mr Kostunica thinks similarly but has less freedom to talk openly.
Such talk is meant to send chills down Western spines. If Serbia gave up trying to join the EU, not only would it return to the isolation of the 1990s but it could also drag the whole region down with it. How serious is the risk? Mr Kostunica's party is aligned with Mr Putin's United Russia party, and its official position is that Serbia should be neutral. Mr Kostunica has disparaged a potentially independent Kosovo as nothing but a “NATO state”.
A source close to President Boris Tadic, whose party is in uneasy coalition with Mr Kostunica, concedes that, if Kosovo's independence is recognised, it will be hard to instil “European values” in Serbia. Even Serbs who would secretly like to be shot of their troublesome southern province fear that full independence would be disastrous. They predict that Mr Kostunica would, if not formally end the country's bid for EU membership, at least slow it down, as well as trying to punish countries that recognise Kosovo and companies that trade there and in Serbia.
Yet the Russian alternative does not look appetising. The prospect of Russian bases in Serbia is “very unlikely”, says Ivan Vejvoda, who heads the Balkan Trust for Democracy, a big regional donor to good causes. Serbia is surrounded by the EU and NATO. “The Russian thing is a temporary, opportunistic thing, a balloon which will burst once we are over Kosovo,” he says. There is much excitement in Serbia about Russian companies moving in. On the list for privatisations that may interest them are JAT Serbian airlines, Belgrade airport, a mine in Bor and NIS, Serbia's oil company. Alexei Miller, head of Russia's energy giant, Gazprom, met Serbian leaders to discuss potential pipelines on October 9th. But so far Russian companies (except for Lukoil) have been notable by their absence. Russia is only the 18th-biggest investor in Serbia; the country's largest single exporter is owned by US Steel. The EU has poured lots of money into rebuilding Serbia. If Serbia kept on track, a lot more cash could come—and Russia offers little.
On October 15th Montenegro signed a “stabilisation and association agreement” with the EU, normally a step towards membership. Serbia could soon do the same. But a negative report to the EU from Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor at The Hague war-crimes tribunal, means that it must first be seen to do more to catch the fugitive Ratko Mladic. Ms Del Ponte will visit Serbia soon to check progress (the government has posted a reward for the missing general, 12 years after he was indicted). This suggests that the Russian option is, as one diplomat puts it, “loose talk”—for now. If many EU countries recognise an independent Kosovo next year, it will be their turn to call Serbia's bluff.
PRISTINA-From The Economist print edition
Independence is not quite in the bag
KOSOVO should be abuzz. A general election is due on November 17th. Soon afterwards Kosovo's Albanians (Kosovars) hope to declare independence, becoming the seventh country to emerge from the wreckage of Yugoslavia. Yet gloom hangs over the province, under United Nations jurisdiction since the end of the war in 1999. Too many promises have been broken for the Kosovars, who account for 90% of Kosovo's 2m population, to buzz.
The election will change little. None of the parties has any policies beyond independence. They are based on personalities and quarrels over who did what in the war. It will be, sighs a source close to government, “only a reshuffling of the pack”. There is a wild card, in the shape of Behgjet Pacolli. This Kosovar tycoon made his fortune as a builder in Russia and the former Soviet Union and has plastered Kosovo with posters of the Kremlin and other buildings he worked on, stating how many Kosovars he employed on each.
A troika of ambassadors from Russia, America and the European Union is holding talks between the Kosovars and Serbia, due to end on December 10th. After that, as there is unlikely to be a deal, the Kosovars want to declare independence. But a declaration will be worthless unless many countries, especially in the EU, recognise it.
With holidays and time needed to form a government, little will happen until early next year. Then Kosovar leaders fear that there may be calls for yet another round of diplomacy. They are nervous of a repeat of the Balkan past. In 1878 Bosnia came under Austro-Hungarian rule, but with nominal sovereignty staying with the Ottomans. The Kosovars fear that, once the UN mission is replaced by an EU one, the big powers might press them to accept that, even if Kosovo begins acting as an independent state, Serbia should retain sovereignty at least for a few years.
Kosovo's leaders will not accept this. Ominously, one armed group has made a dramatic appearance on television. Albin Kurti, a former student leader under house arrest for leading a protest that turned violent, says that 2m people in Kosovo are, in effect, under house arrest. He argues against any further negotiations, since negotiations always aim at compromise—and Kosovo cannot compromise on independence.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Eight years after NATO went to war to stop the ethnic purge in Kosovo, it’s time for the international community to recognize the province’s independence from Serbia. The United States and Europe are inching toward that decision, but Russia is blocking action by the Security Council. Although Kosovo’s Albanian-dominated government still has a way to go to fully guarantee the rights of its minority Serb population, more delays would only feed the resentments that led to so much turmoil and bloodshed throughout the 1990s.
Last February, a United Nations envoy presented a sensible plan that would grant Kosovo — which has been under the supervision of the United Nations since 1999 — a carefully limited independence, with extensive international supervision and protection for ethnic Serbs and other minorities. After Belgrade and Moscow fiercely objected, the Security Council agreed to another round of negotiations between Kosovo’s Albanians and Serbs. But Kosovo’s Serbs, and their allies in Belgrade, say they’ll never recognize Kosovo’s independence, while Kosovo’s Albanians, who compose 90 percent of the population, say they’ll accept nothing less.
The major powers now face a Dec. 10 deadline for deciding Kosovo’s future. Kosovo’s Albanians have agreed to the United Nations’ plan, which gives the Serbs much of what they want, including autonomy for Serb communities and protections for Serb monuments. The Albanians say they will declare independence unilaterally if the Security Council does not act. It is in everyone’s interest, including Russia’s, to have the United Nations maintain a strong role in this process.
Moscow and Belgrade have hinted at partition of Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians. That is a dangerous, unworkable approach that would embolden Serb nationalists and fuel more resentment among Albanians in a region that needs to restrain both sets of passions.
The United States and the majority of European Union countries that also favor independence must now take a firm stand. If Russia continues to oppose the United Nations’ plan, Washington and its allies must move ahead anyway and recognize Kosovo in time for the Dec. 10 deadline. They must also make clear to Belgrade that it has a lot to gain — including eventual membership in the European Union and NATO — if it doesn’t object too loudly or too destructively. Many Serbs would clearly prefer to be a favored ally of the West than of Russia.
A sovereign Kosovo, like all new democracies, will need long-term help meeting legal, human rights, economic and other challenges, but its people deserve the chance to try. And Serbs need to come to terms with the fact that Kosovo will never again be ruled by Belgrade. It’s time to begin healing this last Balkan wound.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
QUESTION: Kosovo is one of the looming crises between now and the end of the year. Is the United States considering unilaterally recognizing Kosovo as independent if no broader agreement is reached in the Security Council this year?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the United States is certainly committed to the logic of the Ahtisaari plan. And the logic of the Ahtisarri plan is that there isn't going to be a reunification of Serbia and Kosovo, and that both Kosovo and Serbia need to get on with their futures and leave behind their past.
We have committed to 120 days to see if the circumstances, the atmosphere, even some of the actual moves that the two sides could make, could make it a more amicable outcome. But in the final analysis, you know, the President was very clear when he was in Albania that there is going to be an independent Kosovo. Now, the question of how we get there, who else - I do believe the Europeans are in the same posture. How we get there, I think, is what's still to be determined. But there's going to be an independent Kosovo. We're dedicated to that. I think it's the only potential - the only solution that is potentially stabilizing for the Balkans rather than destabilizing for the Balkans.
QUESTION: Some of the diplomats involved say that the problem is that the Kosovars and the Serbs have no real incentive to negotiate seriously because they count on the Russians to veto a resolution and the Kosovars have no incentive because they can count on the United States to recognize UDI. What's your response to that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, frankly, I was concerned about the same thing. Now, we've told the Kosovars that we don't think that a unilateral declaration of independence is a very good idea and so we need to go through this process.
I've been pleasantly surprised, as somebody who is fairly skeptical about what could be achieved, that I do think they're making some progress. Not that the Serbs and the Kosovars have - are suddenly going to come to the same understanding of what the final status will look like, but they are making, I think, some progress on some of the other issues that could lead to a more amicable and sustainable outcome at the end of this. And as I said, there's been good feeling about the cooperation between the EU, Russia and the United States.
QUESTION: Do you feel at the end of the process it will - you'll be prepared to let the European Union, as it were, take the lead in determining the final status, or do you think it's going to take American leadership to get the Europeans there?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I think it'll take the United States and Europe together on this one and when I talk to the Europeans, they all say, you know, we know that Europe - the Europeans say about themselves that they know that ultimately, the Balkans is, of course, much closer to Europe than to the United States and they need a stable Balkans so they're going to have to do - they're going to have to take the tough decisions and do the right thing.
We want very much to have good relations with Serbia and for Serbia to find its European home, but it's going to be difficult for Serbia to find a European home if it holds on to - you know, to old hopes. It's really time for everybody to move forward.
I've heard good things, frankly, about the meetings that have been going on, good things about the coordination and work that Russia, the EU and the United States are doing together in the troika. There are new ideas on the table, not about the actual status but about some of the tools and mechanisms that might be used to make relations between Serbia and Kosovo smoother. The Kosovars could do more, and we're pressing them to do more, to assure everyone that they really are going to live up to the other logic of the Ahtisaari plan, which is that this has to be a state that is completely devoted to minority rights, religious protections and so forth.
NYT - (Q): If you’ll allow me to continue with Kosovo, when we’re talking about Kosovo it seems very likely that Russia will stick by its decision to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution. The United States regards this issue as a test of the European Union’s determination with respect to Moscow. Is Europe ready to see Moscow dictate it its foreign policy or is it going to endorse the decision?
Sarkozy- ( A): First, Kosovo’s independence is inevitable in the long term. Second, that Russia should want to regain its full place seems to me legitimate, and even desirable. Third, France wants excellent relations with Russia, but Russia cannot expect the rights of a big power without taking on the duties. Fourth, on the question of Kosovo, Europe has to remain united. It is all together that we must in the end back independence for Kosovo. And if I’ve said it is not a question of months or weeks, it’s because I wanted to preserve that unity. And Mr. [Vladimir V.] Putin [President of Russia] must understand that no one wants to humiliate him, that everyone understands efforts he is making to restore Russia to its standing, and no one can criticize him for this. But at the same time he must understand that his interlocutors have convictions every bit as much as he does, regarding human rights, respect for minorities, the rule of law, and democracy. It is called a frank dialogue.
Q. Is that what you had with him at [the G8 summit in] Heiligendamm [Germany, in June]?
A. Exactly. Just that. I found the talks with him very interesting. He told me his side of the truth frankly. I answered with equal frankness. I believe in Russia’s role. Russia is a great power. But no great power can exempt itself from its duties.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Aug 16th 2007 TIRANA
A tale of corruption and power cuts
BAMIR TOPI, Albania's recently elected president, may find himself doing rather more than his job description would suggest. A 50-year-old biologist, he is the first head of the republican state never to have been a member of the Communist Party. He is also one of the country's few senior politicians not to have been seriously tainted by scandal.
The president does not have executive powers, but he has a say in appointing senior members of the judiciary and is also head of the armed forces. Mr Topi, deputy leader of the ruling Democratic Party under Sali Berisha, the present prime minister, has a reputation as a moderate. Could he give Albania's image abroad a boost and help to calm the chronic political in-fighting that came close to wrecking last month's presidential vote and precipitating an early general election?
It took four rounds of voting for Mr Topi to scrape together the three-fifths majority he needed to win. The final vote came after days of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring between Mr Berisha and Fatos Nano, his Socialist predecessor. Mr Nano's own hopes of becoming president were dashed when he failed to win the backing of his successor as party leader, Edi Rama.
The feud between Mr Berisha and Mr Nano, both prominent under Enver Hoxha, is one reason why Albania still suffers from high unemployment and low investment. Albanian migrants working in western Europe and America send home almost $1 billion a year in remittances. Most goes towards building homes and looking after jobless family members. Many Albanians are wary of setting up businesses at home, where licences are given out to political cronies, existing firms use blackmail and intimidation to discourage rivals and the judiciary is corrupt.
Mr Topi's first big task will be to name a new chief prosecutor to replace Theodhori Sollaku, who has been accused of having links with organised crime. Mr Sollaku, who was appointed by the Socialists in 2002, denies this, and his mandate has no expiry date. But Mr Topi is expected to push for a constitutional amendment to set a time limit. He will present this as one of the reforms that are needed for entry into NATO, a goal Albania hopes to achieve at next year's NATO summit in Romania. Without even a remote chance of early European Union membership, Albania is eager to join the other principal Western club soon.
Mr Berisha hopes to attract more foreign investment with his “Albania one-euro” policy of offering sites to foreign companies at minimal rents. But there are likely to be few takers so long as electricity shortages persist. In Tirana this summer, power has been switched off for at least six hours a day; in the countryside, power cuts can last as long as 20 hours. Plans for private investors to build new power plants are way behind schedule. Continuing power cuts are a big reason for a recent dip in the government's popularity and a revival in the Socialists' fortunes.
On the other hand, the economy is growing by about 6% a year. Land prices are rising, especially along the Adriatic coast, as foreigners buy up plots for future development. If the future of Kosovo is settled satisfactorily later this year, the prospects for Albania should brighten.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Chicago Tribute Editorial
August 13, 2007
Eight years after bombing by U.S.-led forces put an end to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, the troubled province still lacks its independence -- an evolution now threatened with further delay. Kosovo, with ethnic Albanian Muslims making up 90 percent of its 2 million people, still is part of Serbia, although it has been administered by the United Nations since the end of the war there in 1999. The U.S. and its European allies want Kosovo to achieve independence. The main diplomatic obstacle: Mother Russia, with its ancestral ties to the Serbian people.
But that's not the whole story. Russia's obstructionist stance is less about deep solidarity with its Slavic sister nation than with Moscow's tussle against Washington for spheres of influence in Europe. There's also Russia's fear that freedom for Kosovo will only encourage impatient separatists in its own multiethnic realm.
As a consequence, Russia in recent weeks has forced the U.S. and the Europeans to withdraw several Kosovo resolutions they had offered to the UN Security Council. All of these proposals would have paved the way for an independent Kosovo while providing for the protection of the prospective nation's Serbian minority.
How to attack the stalemate? The West has now agreed that a troika composed of the U.S., Russia and the European Union will conduct 120 days of shuttle diplomacy, which began Friday, with Serbian officials in Belgrade and Kosovo officials in Pristina. This may be the final attempt to find an amicable solution.
Should those talks surprisingly bear fruit, the EU likely would take over the administration of Kosovo. The EU then could economically rebuild this region of 4,200 square miles that has largely depended on the generosity of ethnic Albanians living across Europe. The Serbs would be compensated for giving away 15 percent of their territory, which many of them consider the cradle of their nation, with the prospect of joining the EU and enjoying the economic boost it has brought in recent years to its new member states.
But persuading the Serbs that liberating Kosovo serves their own long-term interests is a demanding task. They do, after all, have Russia's support for insisting on their territorial integrity, which was enshrined in the Security Council resolution that put the interim UN administration in place. And the perceived strength of their position may well entice Serbian leaders in Belgrade to thwart the West in repayment for what they still regard as unjust and humiliating treatment during the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
The Bush administration is ready to recognize an independent Kosovo regardless of the outcome of the new talks. This proper (and calculated) move has stepped up pressure not only on the Serbs but also on those European governments that have been reluctant to take the same step. Some, such as Spain and Cyprus, would prefer to extend the status quo indefinitely rather than do anything to keep their own domestic separatists from growing bolder. Others, such as Germany and France, want the Security Council involved, both to bolster the UN's credibility and to give the EU legal authority to be involved in Kosovo's reconstruction.
Washington's task is to convince the European governments that the Kosovars are finally entitled to assume responsibility for their own fate. That means pushing the Europeans to set aside their respective domestic fears and act as a group.
Getting Europe united and having the West speak with one voice would send a long-overdue signal to Russia that its muscular tactics won't increase its influence in European affairs.
And in practical terms, a united Europe also is crucial to securing a strong engagement of the EU in Kosovo, even if the shuttle diplomacy fails. Given that, according to the UN, 400,000 arms are still being kept in the province illegally, an EU commitment going forward is critical to prevent new eruptions of violence in what remains Europe's most explosive spot.
Fair use from Chicago Tribune.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Cool school uniform, warm Manchester days and refugee theatre form some of the early impressions of a young orphan rescued from Kosovo, recounted in letters home.
Picture: Saranda lost 14 members of her family in the war.
Saranda Bogujevci, 22, enjoyed the most miraculous of miraculous escapes as Serbian paramilitary killers riddled her body with 16 bullets in a massacre in the garden of her family home in the village of Podujevo on the 28th March 1999. Six of her family - including her mother and brother - were killed.
Saranda left the bloodshed in Pristina behind as she settled in Manchester and recovered from her injuries. But the horror of her family's murder follows her, and years later she returns to the region to testify against the killers.
Below are extracts from letters she wrote home to her grandmother, as she gets to grips with her new surroundings in the north-west of England.
Dear Grandma, It's been months since I saw you but so much has happened and I want to tell you how I've ended up here, sitting in a hospital bed in Manchester, England.
We were rescued from the hospital in Kosovo and sent here. I can remember the night so clearly in my head. 14 June. All four of us cousins were in Pristina Hospital. This was where the other soldiers had sent us after the shooting of the family.
It was very dark outside - pitch, pitch black. The lights in the corridor were really dim. It was so quiet inside. I could see the nurses going up and down the corridor but there were no soldiers. Usually this corridor was filled with drunken or injured soldiers. With lots of noise, shouting, laughing, singing, even shooting sometimes, but on this night there was none of that.
In the morning, when the time came for the nurses to wake us up, nothing happened. So I got up with the girl who was sharing my room to go to the toilet. Whilst I was waiting for her, I looked out the window and I caught sight of a Nato sign on one of the tanks. Even though I was tired and weak, I ran down the corridor to tell my cousin Jehona. I just wanted to scream as loud as I could.
Dear Grandma, The last time I wrote I was lying in a hospital bed. Well, things have got better since then. I still have physiotherapy all the time, sometimes up to five times a week but at least I get to go home in the evenings.
About three months ago I had the major operation on my arm. Please don't worry about my injuries, though, the doctors here did a great job. So good in fact that I'm back at school. It's great to be back amongst kids my own age. Plus I get to wear a school uniform which is really cool. No one back home would wear them but here we all turn up in our grey skirts, jumpers and purple ties.
The lessons take my mind off what has happened in the last year. Even though it's only science, maths and the odd art lesson, I can lose myself in the tasks. Plus the other pupils and the teachers are really nice, which makes all the difference.
It's strange though, as the whole school system is different to how it would be in Kosovo. Instead of the teachers having their own room, my class has a room and the teachers have to come to us.
Although I'm healing well on the inside there are still things that get in my way. I can't tell people what I think. So many times I've not been able to say what I'm thinking because my English isn't good enough. It's driving me mad, I want to say to people: "This isn't me, I'm not coming across in the way I intend!"
But I can't so I feel like a different person. I hate it. I was never quiet back home and here the teachers think I'm so well behaved. If only they knew! I miss you and home so much. Hope to see you soon. Love Saranda.
Dear Grandma, I was just thinking about you. I'd got my music system on and cousin Ismet's track was playing. You know, the one about the wedding. If I close my eyes, I can see myself out in the garden in Podujevo, in the bright sun. It's hot here too today. It doesn't happen often but Manchester can get pretty warm, not like home though.
Anyway, I've got some good news. Today I got my GCSE results (they're sort of like the exams you'd do at the end of primary school). I got the top mark in art!
I think I had a really good teacher but still, I feel a little weird, I really didn't write that much for the coursework. I wasn't even sure if I'd pass the exam. So to get an A* is, well, not what I expected.
Having said that, recently I have become so much more confident in speaking to people in English. Now I can say what I really think. I've felt invisible for the past few years and its great not to have someone else talk for me at last. I think I might take art at college, since it was my best grade. The place I've decided to go to has a great art department.
Remember how I thought I might have to be a pharmacist? Well, how things change. I can tell you, I would have been a really bad pharmacist, it's probably better for everyone's health now. Hope to see you soon. Love Saranda.
Dear Grandma, I'm feeling so odd today. We got back from the airport yesterday but it still hasn't sunk in that the trial is over. Ever since that day, when the Serbian army came in and shot us, I wanted to see them brought to justice. Seeing them sitting in the courtroom everyday, it felt so, on the one hand great because we could say what they'd done to us but also scary.
We were worried that something could happen again. It was tough getting through the process: we needed 24-hour protection. From the moment we landed in Belgrade to the moment we left again.
It was weird because I ended up testifying on mum's birthday and in the car on the way back I remember resting my head on the car window and looking at the sun, it was so bright. Anyway, just for a second, there she was, smiling face-to-face at me. I'd forgotten it was her birthday and it took my mobile phone's calendar to remind me of it. When I switched it on at the end of the day it beeped up with the message, "Mum's birthday".
We had to go and I'm glad we did but I'm pleased to be back home in Manchester. I've spent so long thinking about what happened back in 1999 and now, at last, I feel like I can move on, that it's okay to move on, that the people that did this to me, to you, to all the women and children, that they've been punished. I miss you. Love Saranda.
Dear Grandma, I've just come back from meeting a friend in town. She's like me; she has family abroad and totally gets what it's like to have two cultures in your life, one foot in Manchester and one foot elsewhere. She's so chilled out and doesn't judge me at all.
Aside from Claire, I'm making other new friends here all of the time. It's funny, when I went home this summer and tried to hook up with my old mates it was harder than I expected. Most are now married, or have moved away. I suppose we've all grown apart. We're not the people we were back in primary school.
There are other good things going on in Manchester too. I've started to do loads more activities. The local theatre, the Royal Exchange, has got a group together of refugees who act and we're devising a show for the studio theatre. I learned a lot from the cast. Most of us hadn't acted before but this made us all really close as we needed each other. The show we devised was called Face to Face: Love in the UK and is all about relationships. It's very funny. I wished you'd seen it. Love Saranda.
Dear Grandma, I've got time to write to you as I've finished my uni for the summer. You'll never guess where I'm going next year though... Canada. I can remember wanting to go places as a kid, especially coming to England. I never thought I'd live here and now I'm heading off for another land.
I can't wait to see you all. You know that Kosovo will always be the place of my childhood and where I was made but Manchester is what made me an adult. I wish I could talk to Mum and ask her what she thinks of me as an adult. Is this the grown up Saranda she had in mind? I'll never know. I'll write soon, love Saranda.
Fair use from BBC.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Published: July 31 2007 03:00-Financial Times.
Slovenia will try to persuade Serbia to give Kosovo independence in exchange for a chance to join the European Union.
Officials in Ljubljana hope to use Slovenia's presidency of the EU next year to break the logjam over the United Nations-administered breakaway province, in exchange for EU candidate status for Serbia. After the failure of talks between Belgrade and separatist Kosovo Albanian leaders this year, Martti Ahtisaari, the UN mediator, urged the UN Security Council to impose independence, with EU-led supervision to protect Serbs and other minorities in the province of 2m people.
But Russia, Serbia's veto-holding ally on the Security Council, has blocked three pro-independence draft resolutions put forward by the US and EU countries.
Nevertheless Dimitrij Ru-pel, Slovenia's foreign minister, is optimistic. "I have never felt as confident as I feel now dealing with my colleagues from Serbia."
As the only ex-Yugoslav republic in the 27-nation bloc, Slovenia hopes it can broker closer ties with other former Yugoslav countries.
Eight years after the end of the last Balkan war, efforts to solidify the region's peace badly need a jump-start. The EU is struggling to overcome the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina, inter-ethnic political deadlock in Macedonia and the status of Kosovo.
Although the EU endorsed the Ahtisaari plan, many EU members have resisted pushing Serbia too hard over Kosovo, fearing a resurgence of extreme Serb nationalism and a return to economic isolation for the largest ex-Yugoslav republic.
Slovenia's chief advantage in approaching each of these is its intimate familiarity with the region. Slovenes share a similar language and culture with most former Yugoslavs, especially Croats and Serbs. Yugoslav-era political connections remain as well.
Unlike Croatia or Bosnia, Slovenia won its independence almost without bloodshed. No deep scars of war prevented it from re-establishing relatively good relations with its former Yugoslav partners.
Ljubljana is motivated by growing commercial interests across the region.Slovenian investments in the western Balkans ac-counted for nearly two-thirds of the country's out-going foreign direct investment in 2006. "Slovenia has a similar interest in a region in the way Portugal has an interest in Africa," said Janez Jansa, prime minister.
Slovenia's understanding of the region, however, guarantees very little. Its plans for Serbia and Macedonia could be overly ambitious. Even shepherding Croatia closer to EU membership may prove problematic. Despite generally good relations, Ljubljana and Zagreb have been in dispute over their borders. Croatia has accused Slovenia of obstructing Croatia's EU accession talks to gain the upper hand in a maritime dispute, which Ljubljana denies.
Plucky nation of 2m ready to take on the might of union's giants
Europe's political game of musical chairs has entered an intriguing new phase. The next time the music stops, Slovenia - an Alpine country of 2m people - will be in the hot seat, running the presidency of the EU, a bloc of almost 500m people.
For the former communist country, the first of the EU's 2004 intake of new members to assume the rotating presidency, it is a sign and a test of Slovenia's growing maturity.
Other countries have run a mile from taking on the cost and commitment of running the EU. Estonia, for example, has managed to avoid the fateful moment until 2018; Poland will not have its go until 2011.
One can see why. Slovenia has pencilled in €62m ($85m, £42m) as the cost of running the six-month presidency starting on January 1, while Janez Jansa, prime minister, reckons at least 70 per cent of his time will be devoted to European issues.
It is the diplomatic equivalent of hosting the Olympics. A brand new conference facility is taking shape at the lakeside venue of Brdo in the shadow of the Alps.
Slovenes expect to chair 3,000-4,000 meetings and are taking courses in how to conduct them, as well as crash courses in French; scores of officials are being dispatched to Brussels.
There was near unanimous parliamentary support in 2004 for Slovenia taking on the presidency, and the main parties have agreed to suspend hostilities on European issues while Mr Jansa is in the chair.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
The West seeks a way around Russia's veto in the Balkans
Still technically part of Serbia, Kosovo and its 2m people have been under the jurisdiction of the UN since the end of a war there in 1999. Some 90% of the population consists of ethnic Albanians who demand nothing less than independence. Serbia's leaders say that Kosovo, a land studded with medieval Serbian churches, can have anything it wants except full independence—the only thing Kosovo's Albanian leaders say they will not compromise on.
In the past four months Western countries have circulated several draft Security Council resolutions on Kosovo's future. All aimed to give it independence, making it the seventh and last state to emerge from the wreckage of what was Yugoslavia. Russia, with its power of veto, objected every time. It said it would support such a package only if it were agreed between Serbia and Kosovo's Albanians. Last year 14 rounds of talks between them, overseen by Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, failed to achieve any result.
Now, say the diplomats, it is time for the parties to talk again, this time under the aegis of the Contact Group, the informal body that has co-ordinated policy towards the former Yugoslavia since the early 1990s. Its members are Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States. Officially, this is what Russia and Serbia want. In fact, Serbia has no idea what its strategy should be. Kosovo's Albanians have no intention of making any more compromises than they already have for Mr Ahtisaari's plan for an internationally “supervised independence”, which has now hit the buffers at the UN.
Russia may have less interest in Kosovo itself than in the chance to stir up differences between its EU neighbours. But some EU diplomats say they have no intention of being thwarted by Russia. Along with the Americans, they aim to use the coming months to build up a critical mass of European countries ready to recognise a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo when the talks inevitably fail. But, in exchange for this, the EU wants Kosovo's government to invite a strong EU mission to replace the withering UN one in the disputed territory.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
BUCHAREST, July 24 (Reuters) - Twelve Romanians died and fire-fighters, soldiers and volunteers battled wildfires across southeastern Europe on Tuesday as a persistent heat wave broke temperature records across the region.
Serbia was battling 50 forest fires on what meteorologists predicted would be the hottest day of the year, with the temperature topping 43 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit).
In Romania, the heat wave's death toll rose to 30 and 19,000 people had been admitted to hospital in the region's second devastating hot spell this year.
Bucharest tried to cope with sporadic power blackouts under an increased load of air conditioners and fans, but health officials were able to cancel "Code Red" emergency measures declared on Monday as they forecast easing temperatures.
"We have good news ... from Thursday we will shift to 'Code Green'," Health Minister Eugen Nicolaescu told reporters.
More than 35 people died in Romania, Turkey and Greece in June when the mercury shot up to 46 Celsius.
Forests in Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece have been ravaged by flames this week, blamed on record-high temperatures after the dry winter.
"I spoke with the Greeks and the Bulgarians to ask for help, but they have the same problem," said Predrag Maric, chief of Serbia's police rescue department.
"We hoped a Russian water-bomber would arrive in the morning, but they had to go help in Bulgaria where the situation is critical. And today will be the hottest day of the year."
In Macedonia temperatures were expected to hit an all-time record of 45 degrees Celsius during the day. One man died of smoke inhalation overnight in the southern town of Bitola and 200 were evacuated from a suburb.
In Bosnia, the southern towns of Citluk, the Adriatic port of Neum and the mountain town of Visegrad declared states of emergency. Towns and villages faced power cuts and water shortages due to the fires.
"The wind is our biggest enemy, it speeds up the burn enormously," said Stanko Sliskovic, Civil Defence Secretary of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation.
There were 18 fires burning in Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province, most near inhabited areas including the capital Pristina, and police, forestry officials and soldiers from the resident NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR were battling flames.
"We have ordered all fire fighters to work," said Mahir Hasani of Kosovo's Emergencies Department. "There is no day off, no holiday for anybody. We are on high alert." (Additional reporting by Kole Casule in Skopje, Fatos Bytyci in Pristina and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo and Luiza Ilie in Bucharest)
Fair use from Reuters.
Monday, July 23, 2007
BalkanUpdate website is back online again. The website was hacked by an Islamic extremist ( Jihadi) because, according to the message, the website supported United States and Israel. I was really surprised to see this site come to the attention of a Jihadi as we don’t comment on issues that raise the ire of Jihadis. There is only one article: Kosovo Leader visits Israel that even mentions Israel, but that seems to have been enough to cause them to take the site down. An investigation reviled that the hacker was attracted to the site by the above link that was posted in another pro Russian/Slavic blog. I don’t know what to make out of this, but I am glad the site is back and running.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
……while his victims continue to be found in mass graves in the fields of Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia. Oh, the butcher I had in mind is Slobodan Milosevic. The grave is guarded by a 44 year old Serb whose only comment to the journalist from the daily Express, who visited the grave, was "I am glad I have this job". We are glad too, pal. Enjoy it!
Thursday, July 12, 2007
IN THE Serb-controlled northern part of Mitrovica, in Kosovo, a banner calls on the Russians for help. “In the name of God and justice,” reads another, in English, “do not make our Holy Land a present to Albanians.” Yet a few hundred metres south, across the River Ibar, Albanians stroll around in the sunshine. Kosovo feels calm and peaceful. It could, however, be the calm before the storm.
This week diplomats at the United Nations were working on the fifth draft of a Security Council resolution on the future of Kosovo. Russia has all but promised to veto any text that foresees independence for the territory. It seems that, although the war is far from over, they have won this round in the new battle of Kosovo.
Technically Kosovo is part of Serbia. But since the end of the fighting in 1999 it has been under UN jurisdiction. Some 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians (Kosovars) who want independence. In 2005 the UN invited Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, to chair talks between Serbia and the Kosovars on the province's future. Serbia says the Kosovars can have anything they want but formal independence. The Kosovars say they will compromise on anything but that.
In March, after the two sides duly failed to agree, Mr Ahtisaari sent the Security Council his own plan for “supervised independence”. This foresaw an independent Kosovo, with highly autonomous zones for the Serb minority and the replacement of the UN mission by an EU mission, with a form of international governor. Serbia rejected this, as did Russia.
The Russians assert that Kosovo's independence against Serbia's wishes would set a precedent for other separatists. Not so, say Western supporters of the plan, who argue that Kosovo is a unique case. Many Western diplomats thought that Russia would eventually make a deal, trading Kosovo's independence for something else. Their mantra has been that “there is no Plan B.” But now, says Veton Surroi, a senior Kosovar politician who is de facto foreign minister, “Plan A is dead.”
Diplomats in New York are trying to tempt the Russians with a resolution which, though not endorsing the Ahtisaari plan, would allow the EU to replace the UN mission in Kosovo. The odds are against them, because the draft calls on Serbs and Kosovars to talk again for 120 days while the EU mission takes over. Once that is done, it would be easier to recognise an independent Kosovo.
Meanwhile, Mr Surroi observes, nobody is saying “what we should talk about.” Diplomats say the talks are meant to “go the extra mile” but, as Mr Surroi asks, once you have already done a marathon, what is the point of running an extra mile? The answer is that, for now, neither America nor the EU has the stomach to face down Russia. But when the EU mission is running, a unilateral declaration of independence would be easier.
On June 28th Serbs commemorated the 618th anniversary of their defeat in the battle of Kosovo at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's prime minister, declared that a new battle was being waged for Kosovo. It is a battle of “might or right”, he said, “and only right can win in Kosovo.” Yet Vuk Jeremic, Serbia's foreign minister, seems discomfited by the recent assertion of Russia's Vladimir Putin that the Balkans had always been a sphere of Russian special interest and that it was “natural that a resurgent Russia is returning there.” Russia is a good friend, says Mr Jeremic, but Serbia's strategic priority is still to join the EU.
Serbian and EU officials are at pains to insist that there is no link between Kosovo's future and Serbia's EU aspirations, but in the long run there must be. If Kosovo remains unresolved and restive, the EU will not admit Serbia as a member. Mr Jeremic claims that, in the coalition government, “we are all on the same page”. This is not widely believed. Partisans of President Boris Tadic argue (privately) that joining the EU is more important than keeping Kosovo, whereas supporters of Mr Kostunica say (publicly) that keeping Kosovo is more important than joining Europe.
Privately some Serbs and Kosovars say they could have serious talks on partition, but only, say the Kosovars, if the Serbs are prepared to trade the north of Kosovo for Albanian-inhabited areas of Serbia outside Kosovo. Diplomats hate such talk. For them it risks discussion of similar divisions in Macedonia, Bosnia and beyond.
In the next few weeks Serbs and Kosovars seem likely to be asked to talk again. They will doubtless glare at each other for a few more months, and the issues that confront the diplomats now will then return. At that point, if Russia continues to insist that Kosovo must stay part of Serbia, the Americans and the EU may be forced to do what they balk at now: unilaterally recognise Kosovo's independence.
At least, despite menacing words from some former guerrillas, Kosovars are not reaching for their Kalashnikovs. They understand, says a well-connected source in Pristina, that “any violence would be a bad investment now, because it would give ammunition to Russian diplomats who would argue that we were troublemakers.” For now, says Enver Hoxhaj, a Kosovar deputy, “we are just the first victims of the new Russian imperialism.”
Monday, July 02, 2007
A voice comes at me sideways: the cab driver wants to know if I like Bill Clinton.
With the taste of cabbage and champagne mixing in my mouth, I try to remember what Kosovo looks like in the remote space of my childhood dreams. I see rolling green hills dotted with stone monasteries of the gothic, Serbo-Byzantine variety. Erected in the Middle Ages, they’ve magnificent domes, lots of gold paint, and walls inside overlaid by paintings.
Two Serb women – close to my age, in their mid-twenties, or slightly older – sit frozen in place, their eyes and lips still, as if anesthetized. Sometimes they lean forward, holding the side of their face in one hand, and then you just know that they’ve heard all this – “Kosovo will be a place for all ethnicities” – many times before, so many times that this moment has taken on that painful kind of tension between their desire for it all to be true and their certainty that it’s all just talk.