The municipal elections in Albania last sunday (februari 18th) have criticised by "international community". Yet I want at this place to stress the positive aspects. From a fierce confrontation the parties have come to a compromise about how the elections should be organised. Some more pressure may be needed to solve some local problems. But this is how I believe the international community should operate: as a voice of reason that mediates a solution that is acceptable to both parties.
This is a kind of compromise that you cannot impose. It leaves the main initiative with the local community.
Compare this to Bosnia. Since Dayton the international community has constantly hang on the side of the Bosniacs pressuring for more centralisation. Yet in doing so they have produced an intolerant climate that has only lead to more separation between the ethnic groups.
One of the motives to demand centralisation is disfunctional government. Yet most problems are with the Federation. So rather one would expect that folding the RS into the federation will only increase the problems. So it seems that the solution is rather in more autonomy for the Croats in the Federation. If the international community would take this line the pressure will soon stop.
Peacekeeping should concentrate on maintaining a neutral climate and keeping polarising issues away. One such controversial issue is of course centralisation. Another is the genocide complaint against Serbia. I believe in fact finding: the truth helps reconciliation. And I would love this fact finding to be extended to the political domain. But this complaint isn't about fact finding: it is about putting a label on someone. And I cannot see how that can be helpful. The international community should never have allowed this complaint to be filed.
There is considerable international attention to the (lack of) returns to cities like Sreberenica. However, somehow attention to the continuing departure of Croats and Serbs from the Bosniac controlled area is missing. Yet these facts are related. How can you expect Serbs and Croats to be enthousiastic about the return of Bosniacs when they see how their own people are treated by Bosniacs.
Does this mean that Bosnia never would be more centralised. It might be, but as a compromise between local parties - maybe mediated by the international community - just as the compromise in Albania. The compromise a few months ago came close - until the international community allowed Silajdzic to spoil it.
The peace keeping mission in Kosovo has from the first day been overshadowed by the threat of Albanian violence. It worked: allthough the mission was well aware and also sympathic to the problems of the minorities it kept giving priority to Albanian interests. This became even more clear in march 2004: afterwards the general impression was that the Albanians had won. The only punishment was that the Kosovo government was supposed to pay the rebuilding. But there was no tax increase to drive this point home and it was clear that in the end the international would pay the bill.
It could have been otherwise. For example in 2004 the international community could have grabbed power back from the Kosovo government and used it to give the Serbs autonomous municipalities. It could even have asked Serb troops or police in - if only temporarily for Leposavic to release the peacekeepers there for elsewhere in Kosovo.
Similar strategies could have used before. For example by setting ultimatums to the Kosovo government to solving certain problems.
A peace mission needs to keep to stay neutral and to achieve that it needs strategies to use when either side grabs the power.
Peacekeeping is about building the basic blocks of living together - including elementary human rights. Only that basis can you have a real peace proces and reconciliation. In this regards the mission in Kosovo has failed.