NORTH MITROVICA AND PRISTINA|| The Economist
The outlook is darkening in Kosovo—and in Serbia
IN THE cafés of Pristina, Kosovo's capital, most of the talk is of parties. Who is planning the best one to celebrate the country's independence, which Kosovo's leaders have promised will come within weeks? Such questions make their advisers in the province blanch. If, as seems likely, the resolution of Kosovo's future is delayed again, the anger of ordinary Kosovars could be felt quite soon.
On maps, Kosovo is Serbia's most southerly province. But some 90% of its population are ethnic Albanians who have long demanded full separation from Serbia. Since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, the place has been under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. This week members of the UN Security Council circulated rival drafts of a resolution on Kosovo's future. Many countries, including the Americans and (though some had to be cajoled) all members of the European Union, favour a plan for Kosovo drawn up by the UN's special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, that envisages a conditionally independent state. But Russian diplomats are firmly against this; they are circulating a counter-draft. They have not quite promised to veto any resolution that endorses the Ahtisaari plan, but they have come close to it. At least one American diplomat has retorted that, if Russia blocks a resolution endorsing the Ahtisaari plan, Kosovo should declare independence anyway—and America, for one, will recognise it.
Surroi, accuses the Russians and Americans of “playing chicken” with Kosovo's future, which is just one of many points of dispute between Russia and the West. Lots of “rough scenarios” are on the agenda, he says. If the Ahtisaari plan were to be fully endorsed, the UN mission in Kosovo could be replaced by an EU one, with an international pro-consul similar to Bosnia's. If not, the outcome may be a lot murkier.
Until now, in the hope that Russia would cave in, Western diplomats have insisted that there is no Plan B. Now they are falling back on a Plan C, for contingency. One idea, if Russia refuses to budge, is being called “Ahtisaari minus status”. It would accept much of the plan, including the replacement of the UN by the EU. But determining the formal status of the territory would be put off until a review in, say, a year's time. American diplomats furiously reject this suggestion, arguing that Kosovo's status must be settled now. Yet without the endorsement of the Ahtisaari plan, all other options are unpalatable.
What if the UN fails to approve Kosovo's independence? It was assumed that Kosovo's assembly, which the province's Serb members boycott, would declare unilateral independence, leaving America and others to recognise the new state. But Kosovo's leaders now say they will do nothing without the Americans' say-so. If the assembly declared independence without a new UN resolution, the UN representative in Kosovo would be legally bound to annul the decision, making recognition by any other country tricky. The UN mission in Pristina has asked the lawyers in New York for guidance on what to do—and it is still waiting for the answer.
There may yet be a new breathing-space. Failing a resolution in the next few weeks, some smart money is betting that the whole issue could be deferred until the autumn. Serbs in ethnically compact northern Kosovo are certainly optimistic. Marko Jaksic, a leading Serb in north Mitrovica, is confident that there will be no new UN resolution, thanks to Serbia's resurgent friend, Russia. Even if there is one, he says that northern Kosovo would ignore any declaration of independence.
In Serbia's capital, Belgrade, meanwhile, months of wrangling over the formation of a new government are coming to a head. This week Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the extreme nationalist Radical Party, was chosen as speaker of parliament. He said it was a pity that Serbia was not a Russian province. If no new government is formed by May 14th, a new election must be held—with the Radicals likely to benefit. Sadly, rising hostility in many EU members to expansion of the club has reduced Brussels's leverage against a nationalist revival in the Balkans.