Saturday, July 15, 2006

Vienna: real negotiations or another Rambouillet?

Since the negotiations on the future of Kosovo have started there have been two currents: one current sees it as real negotiations; the other believes that independence is inevitable and considers the negotiations just some formality before independence can be imposed.

Specially on the American side one can see the latter attitude. The two sides will never agree on the future of Kosovo, so these negotiations are pointless is the reasoning. And so it is inevitable that in the end the international community will have to impose a solution. And so one hears diplomats talking about the end of the year as a deadline. If there is no agreement by then a solution will have to be imposed.

In practice this functions as an encouragement for all three sides to stall the negotiations. For the Albanians it is clear: why should they do concessions when they will get souvereignity (and a much stronger negotiation position) in the end anyway. On the Serb side few politicians will risk making consessions when in the end they will be "rewarded" with an imposed solution. But probably worst is that even on the international side there seems to be little motivation to make the negotiations a success.

For most negotiations it doesn't make a difference whether Kosovo becomes independent or not. If it does not become independent it will be a province with a high degree of self-governance and so the issues of property and minority rights will be the same. In my opinion it is very important that the international community takes an active role in these negotiations. Here there are many issues that some good international negotiator with moral authority could solve in a way that is acceptable to both sides. It is here that even some imposed partial solutions for small problems might have good results.

As for the status: it doesn't take rocket science to understand that no Serb government is going to accept Kosovo's independence if it means that immediately most of Kosovo's Serbs will leave for Serbia. So - allthough I am in favor of independence - it does not astonish or bother me that Serbia only offers autonomy. It just means that the Albanian side will have to stop hiding behind legalistic barriers. As the proverb says: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Only when most of Kosovo's Serbs want to stay their position is really adequately protected in an independent Kosovo.

Negotiations will about status will be a lot easier when other stumbling blocks have been removed. For Albanians autonomy will become less unacceptable once Serbia is no longer seen as blocking Kosovo's economic progress. And Serbs will be more prone to accept independence once minority rights function well.

Ahtisaari has been an expert in doing the wrong things as a negotiator. He is hardly involved in real negotiations. Instead he speculates about what should happen if the negotiations fail and wants to talk about the status resolution at a moment that the other problems are far from solved (as aI demonstrated above such talks are doomed to fail). I think Ahtisaari is a very good demonstration of why I am against further European centralisation: it is too far from the citizens and so the powers ends often up in the hands of the lobbies - just like in the US. Ahtisaari was formerly involved with the ICG - a lobby group that pleads for Kosovo's independence.

I see some flexibility on both sides and I believe that a real solution for Kosovo is possible. Some real international involvement might help a lot by encouraging both sides to accept reasonable solutions. But there is a danger that the negotiations will end up as a similar farce as the Rambouillet negotiations in 1999 - that served to justify starting the Kosovo war. Statements of Burns and others about deadlines and an imposed "solution" if this deadline is not met piont in that direction. The low level of international commitment to the ongoing negotiations makes this scenario even more credible.


bytycci said...

hey Wim,
As far as the status is concerned Vienna negotiations are failed. The Vienna negotiations are about the rights of the Serbian minority in Kosova. The Rambouillet was where the status of Kosova was decided. The "Non-Agreement" in Rambouillet has led to everything that is leading to independence.
PS:Great blog

Wim Roffel said...

Hi Bytyqis,
Nice to hear that you like my blog!

Vienna shouldn't even bother to talk about status now. First all the other things have to be solved. As long as most of the other things are not solved there will be no trust to decide about the status.

Also, if you don't solve the other things first they will continue to poison the relations for a long time.

We have seen in the case of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia how nice it works when the international community "grants" independence. Even in the case of Slovenia - where there was no war - it was quite a mess.

I find it very disappointing that the international community takes such a "relaxed" attitude towards the Vienna negotiations. They are making threats for if the negotiations are not finished on time. But they don't bother to look in the details of what is being discussed. I believed they should be very actively involved and put pressure on both parties to find reasonable solutions.

At the moment it looks like the international community expects the negotiations to fail and sees them just as a show that must be run before they can impose their "solution". That's why I wonder whether these are real negotiations.


bytycci said...

You are right about the other issues. Vienna is practically about the other issues, not the status. And I think they are being adressed pretty well. However as you saw today, it is also hard to reach agreement betw. Kosovo and Serbia in other issues too. That is mainly because Serbs are frustrated and are not sure what they really want. On the other hand Kosovars cooperate with the intl. comm. on other issues cos they see their compromises as a trade off for independence.

So, for issues such as decentralization ect. there will be some agreements. But as far as the status is concerned there will be no agreemente. However, Kosovo won't just be "granted" independence, because they are making compromises therefore earning independence.

Good luck!

Wim Roffel said...

Of course the Serbs are frustrated and unsure what they want. Their rights on paper at the moment are up to Europe's minimum standards, but the reality is quite different. They have seen how the Kosovo police operated during in march 2004, when it facilitated the riots. They see what happens when Albanian bandits attack a Serb village to steal cattle and agricultural machines: the police disarms the Serbs but does nothing to catch the bandits. The have seen how Serb parlementarians were totally ignored.

The real question is how you can guarantee minority rights in the face of heavy discrimination. Some Serbs don't believe it is possible and insist on keeping Kosovo under Serb control. Others insist on fargoing autonomy. But it is a rather pointless discussion when you hear Albanian politicians say that they can change the rules when they are independent.

So I disagree with you that the Albanians are cooperative. They are only cooperative on paper. But in practice they sabotate.

Just take the most recent incident in Srbobran: Albanian villagers rioted against some Serb returns, chased them away and destroyed one house. Maybe I missed something, but I heared nothing of Albanian politicians condemning this. Let alone that they went to the village and tried to sort the situation out.

How can you have Albanians and Serbs living together peacefully when this kind of behaviour is considered acceptable?

bytycci said...

The rights of the Kosovo Sebrs on paper are not bad. The problem is that there is much division and mistrust between them and Albanians and Serbs don't feel secure.

Incidents such as those in Srbobran (where Albanian villagers oppose the return of Serbs) should be seperated from criminal incidents such as shootings etc. Politicians should condemn them both! In the first case, it is sticky, cos those villagers are usually that have suffered a lot during the war and mos likely local Serbs committed crimes. Therefore politicians can't publicly condemn such incidents cos it is seen treacherous.

Serbian media and official Belgrade instill fear among the Kosovo Serbs all the time which contributes to the mistrust and the atmosphere of insecurity.

As far as March 2004 is concerned, K Police could have done a much better job, and KFOR also. But, one thing that is not talked about is that it was the Kosovo Protection Corps that had the biggest impact in stopping the mobs! So, Serbs are wrong to fear that in case of independence they won't be protected by Kosovo institutions.

I meant the Albanian delegation has been very cooperative. As far as Albanians in general, most of them agree that Serbs should return. Keep in mind that every Albanian family has been affected by the war! And some Kosovo Serbs have participated in crimes. So, there has been a change in the Albanian mindset, compared to right after the war.

To answer your question (how you can guarantee minority rights in the face of heavy discrimination?). Rule of law. Albanians and Serbs don't have to hug each other. They only have to respect the Kosovo laws and pay taxes. With economic progress reconciliation will be much easier.

Good luck

Wim Roffel said...

Hello Bytyqis,
You say that "Therefore politicians can't publicly condemn such incidents cos it is seen treacherous". I disagree. Sure, I understand it is a sensitive topic and it may be better if the politicians go to the village and talk to the villagers personally. But the message should be clear: "we are building a new Kosovo and for that we have to leave behind the old grudges. It may be hard for some people but it is absolutely necessary."

You seem to misunderstand how your attitude works on Serbs. It means that Albanian people are excused to do anything if they lost some family member in the war. Serbs don't need government propaganda to see that they are declared as fair game in this way.

I am now reading about the peace agreement in Northern Ireland. Maybe the next post in the blog will be about it. The agreement meant that all prisoners from both sides were freed. Many of these had been convicted for murdering some - often totally innocent - people from the other side. The writer of the book also talked to some family members of murdered people. Their typical reaction was that they found it horrible that the murderer was set free. But if that was the price of peace they were prepared to pay it. I think we need a similar attitude in Kosovo.

But, one thing that is not talked about is that it was the Kosovo Protection Corps that had the biggest impact in stopping the mobs
Stopping the mobs? They interfered to evacuate Serbs or to stop Albanian hotheads from causing a bloodbath. But I can't remember one instance where they actually stopped a mob before overrunning the next Serb settlement.

Rule of law? Nice, but that is mainly an Albanian affair. The bandit attacks on the villages are a matter of rule of law. That many Serbs are afraid to work on their lands is a matter of the rule of law. And that Serb returnees to the cities often leave after a short time because their houses become regular targets for thieves is again a matter of the rule of law.

And this brings me back to discrimination. I believe that the main problem with all these "rule of law" problems is discrimination. The police just doesn't run as hard when the victim is Serb and the perpetrator Albanian. And many Albanians feel less inclined to call the police about a burglary next door when the victim is a Serb.

Of course it doesn't help either that Kosovo is a clan-based society where connections are very important to get things done. And most Serbs don't have these (Albanian) connections. But explaining the problem does not solve it.

Is the rule of law the answer to discrimination? I don't believe so. Laws can help, but discrimination is much too subtle to catch with some laws. More tools are needed, like preferential treatment or autonomy. With preferential treatment the US "solves" the discrimination of its blacks and India that of its Untouchables. Autonomy works better with more developped minorities like the Serbs in Kosovo. But no solution is complete without people speaking out against discrimination - and that is rather missing in Kosovo now.

Finally back to Srbobran: For Serbs this is mainly a simple matter of the rule of law. It may very well be that the main instigator of the protests will loose out when the Serbs return - for example because his cattle is grazing on Serb land. Such economic motives can very often be found in this kind of situation.

WARchild said...

As for the status: it doesn't take rocket science to understand that no Serb government is going to accept Kosovo's independence if it means that immediately most of Kosovo's Serbs will leave for Serbia.

That direct cause and effect assumed by default in your comment is in no way guaranteed. This spread of fear in the local Serb population (either our solution or else mass migration) is being used by the politics of the day in Belgrade and may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kinda like the migration from Krajina, which you argue was ultimately a proof of Milosevic's fears but was actually an immediate result of his and Krajina Serb policies of bloody war, ethnic cleansing of Croats, and secession of a major part of the Croation territory. As they say, be careful what you wish for or you might just get it.

For Albanians autonomy will become less unacceptable once Serbia is no longer seen as blocking Kosovo's economic progress.

Obviously you haven't been to Kosovo lately. Yes economy adds to that. But the war doesn't seem to me like it will be forgotten soon. National roads are full of monuments to this or that hero.

Instead he speculates about what should happen if the negotiations fail and wants to talk about the status resolution at a moment that the other problems are far from solved...

That is the threat to the delegations to get to work. It is much better for the parties to reach an agreement between each other than have it imposed by a third party. But Serbia is making a solution on the technical questions impossible by politicizing them. For Serbia, the status result if it is left too late in the talks (assuming the deadline is really November) is pretty much clear so they are using the technical issues as a trojan horse for status problems. Since Albanian delegation resisted to such a ploy, Serbs demanded status talks, which they were rooting for all along. I, like bytyqi and you Wim, still have high hopes that technical issues can be resolved and eventually the two delegations will return them to the table once again.

bytycci said...

Hi Wim,
I am not saying that politicians "Should not" publicly condemn the crimes. I am saying they "don't" because of this and that. However, many key politicians (such as Prime Minister Ceku) do say that publicly but that is usually not reported in Serbian or English language media.

I am also not saying that Albanian people are excused to do anything if they lost some family member at war. But, remember something Albanians were suffering everything you can imagine, from humiliation to genocide for about 14 years, and it is little ambitious to expect from them to shower the Serbs with love after they return to their homes.

Also, when reconciliation happens there needs to be recoginition of crimes done. Serbs deny that they had any role in the crimes which makes it harder for Albanians to forgive. Also the attitute of Belgrade doesn't help in this aspect.

Off course dicrimination is subtle and it takes more then just laws. But this is not a case where the majority hates the minority and supresses it. This is a case where the minority is also filled with racism towards the majority (much like South Africa). So, it doesn't just take the majority here to improve things. It takes two to tango.

Also, not all crimes that are reported as interethnic are indeed so. And some 30% of interethnic crimes are committed by Serbs.

At the same time, there is affirmative action in Kosovo. Serbs have 10 set-aside seads in the Parliament (out of total 120) and other minorities also have 10. Do minorities have set-aside seats in your country?

Also, minorities have set-aside government posts (Minister and lower level). And every institution has an office for minorities and human rights where they make sure minorities are employed. Serbian parties in Kosovo have acted as extensions of parties from Serbia, which was wrong. They should adapt to the Kosovo enviroment and represent the Kosovo serbs, not Belgrade's policies. Again, it takes two to tango.

Wim Roffel said...


Yes, the Serb publications about the incidents in Kosovo strengthen the fear. You have the same effect when newspapers publish about crime. Yet nobody suggest that newspapers should stop publishing about crime.

People rely not only on newspaper reports. They rely also on their own experiences and those of the people they know. And they look how the authorities react to the reported incidents. And that is often totally insufficient: the "investigation" of the march 2004 riots is probably the best example.

Just do some research in the positions of the American blacks. One of the first thing you will read about are crimes against blacks that remain unpunished. Justice is very important.

I don't suggest that the Albanians forget all what has happened. But they have to make a choice for the future. If they choose to keep hating all Serbs there is no future for Serbs in Kosovo and measures like border changes should be taken to protect the remaining Serbs. If they choose to live together peacefully than Serbs should be treated like equals - and considered innocent until proven otherwise. You cannot have it both ways.


As I said: I may have missed something. If Ceku or someone else did condemn it please inform me. But of course condemning alone is enough. It should be followed by measures to sort out the situation and prevent a repeat.

when reconciliation happens there needs to be recoginition of crimes done.
Albanians did some warcrimes too. And they are at least as reluctant to confess them. Reconciliation is based on two parties being honest. Not on one party being honest and the other party using his confessions to badger him.

Given the high position of people like Haradjinaj and Ceku I don't expect we will see a speedy reconciliation for the whole of Kosovo. But maybe on the local level more is possible.

In the case of Kosovo with its history of bad ethnic relations I believe reconciliation will mean going back as far as human memory goes.

The most hope giving are the processes in Serbia like the Suva Reka process at the moment. But this has mainly to do with Serb self respect and coming to terms with the bad side of the Milosevic reign.

So don't expect some truth commission that reveals all crimes. Instead we will see a slow process where war crimes are recognized one by one. I don't think this is a problem as long as there are guarantees that the situation will not be repeated.

But the most important is that both parties recognize that it is very easy to get contaminated by some nationalistic fever. For me there is no real difference between the Albanian rioters in march 2004 and the local Serbs who got enthousiastic when the Serb Army and militia moved in during the 1999 war. I believe that once people recognize this similarity they will much more inclined to forgive each other and to prevent similar incidents in the future.

This is a case where the minority is also filled with racism towards the majority.
A minority looking down on the majority is not so rare as you think. For example many Hungarians in Rumania think their culture superior to the Rumenian. And even obviously disadvaged minorities like America's blacks have their own subculture with its own values. The blacks for example consider themselves "relaxed" and condemn blacks who adapt themselves to the white culture as "Oreos" (black cookies with a white core).

Everyone likes to believe that he or his groups is better than the others. And if the own group is doing better economically it is easy to feel that this feeling of superiority is justified. A situation of discrimination works specially weird on those superiority feelings: for the oppressors it will strengthen their feelings of superiority, while the oppressed will see some moral degeneration with the oppressors.

I don't believe you can stop people from feeling superior. But instead you can create a situation where people are treated equally. The beliefs will change in due course and in the end people will see each other as equals.

It is easy to believe that Albanians are some primitive threat when they have chased you from your land and they regularly threaten or insult you. It is much harder to do so when you daily work next to them and are treated well.

The UN has set 10 Seats aside in the Kosovo parliament in order to make up for the expulsion of a big part of the Serbs in 1999. If they had not done so they would have rewarded the Albanians for the ethnic cleansing. Unfortunately it didn't work. They were simply ignored and couldn't do any good for the Serb community.

I think this lack of result is an important reason why Kosovo's Serb parties stay so connected with Serbia. They don't have a way to get a profile on their own.

Bg anon said...

That last post was well put Wim although bytyqis and warchild made sound arguments - even if I dont agree with some of them.

Or perhaps its the level of maturity I'm enjoying. Still, after all these years discussions on Kosovo are marked by utterly entrenched positions, insults and double standards.

Not here, well done Wim and company!

bytycci said...

Bg Anon,
don't tell me you ever took those "arguments" full of insults seriously?


Wim Roffel said...

Bytyqis, sorry to hear that you find my blog insulting. That's not how I meant it. If I insulted you please accept my excuses. But I would prefer if you came with arguments instead of just discarding what I write with negative qualifications.

The goal of my blog is to highlight those aspects that are usually forgotten. Nice to hear that you like that, Bg Anon.