Friday, October 26, 2007

Bosnian Politics: Cracking up

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

Serbia's future: Serbia's future

Oct 18th 2007
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.

Kosovo's future: Fretting

Oct 18th 2007
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

Sovereignty and Limits for Kosovo

New York Times Editorial.

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.