In a recent interview James Lyon, the Serbia project director for the International Crisis Group claims that
At present, the Kosovo Albanians view the Serb presence as an obstacle to achieving their independence aspirations. They view Serbs as agents of the Serbian state that for so long repressed them and conducted an official policy of state terror against them. As long as Kosovo’s status is unresolved, the Albanians will treat them as an unwelcome foreign organism that represents policies of a Greater Serbia. When Kosovo’s status is resolved in favor of independence, then it will be logical to expect that the Albanian majority will no longer view the Serb minority as a threat.
He goes on to say that the present situation is onworkable and that independence is the best solution (without saying why). But in the end it appears that he is perfectly prepared to sacrific Kosovo's Serbs for that "best solution":
The final status of Kosovo will probably be decided sometime in 2006. It is widely expected that Belgrade will refuse any outcome that gives independence to Kosovo. Should Belgrade refuse to sign off, independence will proceed without Serbia, which could have negative repercussions for Kosovo’s Serbian minority and give them far fewer privileges than should Belgrade participate.
But let's go back to the question whether the position of the Serbs will improve if Kosovo becomes independent. In Bosnia and Croatia the situation is rather negative. Many refugees have returned, but very often only to sell their property. And many of the people who do stay are older people. In areas that were still multi-ethnic at the end of the war - like Sarajevo - the minorities are still leaving. But Mr. Lyon does not want to see this.
But let's not be too negative. Bosnians lived peacefull together before the war and at some point they will find common ground again - allthough I doubt if that will be in a common state. For Kosovo the history is much more negative. And I fear that Kosovo's Serbs waits the same fate as Turkey's Greek minority (at about 1/3 of the page), that was slowly driven out until long after the 1922 war. The worst times were probably the anti-Greek riots in 1955, that had much similarity to Kosovo's march 2004 riots.
Allthough many newspapers like to use terms as "revenge attacks" for the Albanian attacks on Kosovo's Serbs they date from far before the war. Edith Durham described allready in 1908 in her book High Albania (chapters 9 and 10) a delicate position for the Serbs. After 1913 (when Serbia conquered Kosovo) the position of the Serbs improved (and the position of the Albanians worsened), but as soon as the Albanians got more power in the 1960s the Serb position worsened again. The 1999 war only made a bad situation worse.
In both Turkey and Kosovo the hostility is based on the desire to rob the minority of their property. Remember the names with claims on the houses in Svinjare after the 2004 riots. This should not be confused with the pilfering that happens in nearly every war. That is stopped once the violence is over and the rule of law is re-established.
The situation is Kosovo and Turkey reminds me more of the anti-Jewish pogroms in 19th century Russia and the anti-Christian pogroms in the Ottoman empire. In all those cases you had a situation where the rule of law was not valued and instead a zero-sum view of society prevailed: "if the others get rich it must be at our expense. And so we are entitled to take it back.".
After the march 2004 drownings one saw in the first 2 days many conflicting versions of what had happened. Only later some standard story appeared. But just as with any pogrom many people were not interested in what really happened. They had a reason to "teach the Serbs a lesson" and that was all they wanted. Even now it is hard to find an Albanian who really regrets the riots - except that it spoiled their image with the foreigners.
But pogroms are just the tip of iceberg. They are used when the minority is getting too self confident. More usually is a situation of harassment and discrmination. In Kosovo many of those incidents happen - not daily, but often enough to prevent people from having a normal life. Things are stolen or destroyed, people beaten up, houses or barns set on fire, occasionally someone is murdered or simply disappears. And usually the Albanian neighbours pretend never to have seen or heared a thing. In this type of climate biased justice and police are the norm. And Kosovo's politicians do just enough to keep the internationals content (usually just some cheap talk), but they don't seem motivated to really improve the situation.
I do believe that Kosovo should become independent. But I am very pessimistic about the future of the Serbs there. The scenario is too predictable:
- the first wave of Serbs will leave Kosovo once it becomes independent
- next we will see the Albanians taking control of Northern Mitrovica and adjacent Zvecan. As there is at the moment no city in Kosovo where still live more than a handfull of Serbs the result is predictable: slowly all Serbs will leave the city.
- this will rob the Serbs in the rest of Kosovo of their nearest shopping and services centre. As many still don't trust to be safe in Kosovo's cities, they will have to drive an hour more for Kraljevo or Nis. This will lead to another wave of departures.
- the remainder is predictable. The pressure will keep on and slowly more will leave. Kosovo's government will very probably play an active role in this. We might even see a "development plan for the North" in order to stimulate Albanian settlement in this now predominantly Serb area.
So I think that we should secede Northern Kosovo from the rest (the Albanians could have a part of the Presevo Valley in return). And if we are really serious about minority right we should use the only type of sanctions that works: territorial sanctions. According to this Kosovo would have to give Serbia some territory if after 10 years more than a certain amount of Serbs have left.
Will a split of Kosovo have negative consequences for the stability of the rest of the Balkan? That depends on how the West behaves. As for mr. Lyon, he should stick to the title of his interview: "Kosovo 'domino effect’ no longer genuine issue".