Sunday, July 29, 2007

How to negotiate Kosovo's future

Mediation strategies
Negotiating is an old art about which many books have been published. Two principles stand out:
- look for common ground and start from there
- keep the discussion broad to avoid yes/no deadlocks.

Unfortunately the Ahtisaari negotiations were conducted in such a way that they did end in such a yes/no deadlock. More recently US ambassador Michael Polt said that "a new round of talks between the Belgrade government and Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian leaders won't solve the problem of who would govern Kosovo". If you frame the negotiations this way that will indeed happen.

Recent statements by Surroi indicate that the Kosovo-Albanian delegation wants to talk only about independence - without partition. If the Troika indulges those restrictions the talks are doomed.

Until now I haven't read anywhere how the Troika plans to conduct the negotiations - except that they will talk separately with the delegations. I would suggest a system whereby at least four different scenarios are discussed: independence and reconnection with Serbia, both with and without border changes. This would force both delegations to formulate conditions for those options that they find inacceptable. And that would also guarantee that all the other items like minority rights, refugee returns, ownership questions and financial separation are discussed.

An alternative would be to start from absolute minimums: for Albanians that would be a guaranteed control over their own fate and for Serbs protection for minorities and monuments. The mediators would discard all proposals that do not satisfy these minimum requirements.

For the Serb side this would be rather easy. They could for example copy the autonomy laws of the Basques, add some international guarantees to it and that would be it. Copying the pre-1989 laws wouldn't make much sense as they were written for a communist dictatorship and don't deal with the complexities of capitalist democracies.

The Albanian side would have to prove that their proposal guareentees the Serbs adequate rights. I believe that this would be considerably more difficult and that even the Ahtisaari proposal would not qualify.

A third strategy seems most probable at the moment: letting both parties make their statements and then pressure them over the details:
- we see this in the pressure on Serbia to provide details on how it wants to integrate Kosovo. Obviously they want to hear more than Serbian as obligatory subject on the schools and swearing allegiance for government officials. They want also some sacrifice like promises of government investment in Kosovo or reseved seats for Albanians in the Serb parliament.
- a similar strategy towards the Albanians would demand details on refugee returns and confidence building measures now. Unfortunately I haven't seen any such pressure yet.

Finding a balance
The situations in Iraq and Kosovo are quite similar. In both places a US led coalition first created an almost racist situation where one or more minorities where severely repressed. Then they appointed a local government where the minorities had hardly any influence. Later they started to pressure that government to do more for minority rights. But those governments have a weak power base and are operating in a climate of ethnic tensions. So - except for some lip service - they resist the international pressure.

One of the main provisions of the Ahtisaari proposal was the formation of some Serb majority municipalities. One can only wonder why this hasn't been implemented 7 years ago. Even if it had not been enough it would have helped. But instead the only change of municipal borders that UNMIK indulged in was the abolishment of the Gora municipality - which had a Gorani majority.

Kosovo Albanians hold nearly all the cards in these negotiations (the fate of the minorities and Serb monuments, NATO and US support). Serbia has only a few left (status and some influence over Kosovo's Serbs). Yet this lack of balance only makes the negotiations more difficult because it puts the Serbs in the position were the gains achievable are so small that they rather not sign.

Refugees and minority rights are in my opinion more important than status for the moment. It can be expected that after Kosovo becomes independent we will have a similar situation as in Croatia where it has proved very hard to achieve improvements after independence.

According to OSCE figures nearly half of Kosovo's Serbs have left. It is generally expected that without serious changes the great majority of Kosovo's Serb refugees will never return. And that if Kosovo becomes independent 10,000s more will flee the province. Many of them consider their position desparate and will consider independence as a signal that improvement is improbable for many years.

And it will not stay with that. Kosovo's government has consistently refused any type of territorial autonomy and there are many signals that they may try to Albanize the minority areas after independence. For example Northern Mitrovica would get new government offices that attract many Albanians, Leposavic will get hunderds of Albanian soldiers on its army base and Strpce will see its main employer privatised to an Albanian owner who will gradually fire the Serbs in order to employ Albanians.

Given the tense ethnic relations these policies would soon push the Serbs and other minorities to leave.

Despite this probable scenario the Ahtisaari proposal did not address this topic. Ahtisaari's approach is: let the peacekeepers do their job and those people that want to return will return. That it hasn't worked for the past 8 years doesn't seem to bother him. Or maybe he is afraid of the consequences if he does take it into account. It would mean that he had to introduce more controversial aspects to his proposal. However, without such additions his proposal is just a license to cleanse 200,000 people.

I believe that to repair the Ahitisaari proposal one would have to add stronger minority rights so that they are better able to resist the pressure. Crucial however would be numerical targets for returns and sanctions if the number of minorities keeps decreasing.

Silent cleansing
The cleansing in Kosovo is the same kind of silent ethnic cleansing that we have seen (and still see) in Croatia and Bosnia too. The goverments of former Yugoslavia have developed a whole set of tools to achieve the departure of unwanted minorities. In Kosovo the policies tend to be harsher because the ethnic relations have been worse for a long time.

Slovenia started these policies with its administrative "erasures". Soon Croatia and Serbia (in Kosovo) followed with loyalty declarations as an excuse to fire minorities from their job. Later people were also fired without excuses or under the pretext of economic reform. After a war there was always the excuse of war crimes. Croatia was most creative with secret indictments so that each returnee had to fear arrest (and it might take months behind bars to get your name cleared).

Besides those creative rules that "just happen" to harm only minorities there is also the general hostile climate.

Discrimination is omnipresent and complaints are dismissed as just another symptom of how whining and powerhungry those minorities are. History is presented in a way that intentionally hurts minority feelings: a favorite trick is to glorify people who recently or in the past committed war crimes against the minority.

A third push factor is personal safety. There are increased numbers of thefts, vandalism and occasional beatings. Yet the police behaves uninterested and mostly concerned with playing down their significance. Occassional murderous attacks are similarly downplayed and every trick is used to be able to say that the attacks were not ethnically motivated. At the same time you sometimes see the publication of lists of "war criminals" - an obvious invitation for ethnically motivated murderers.

The standard international reaction is one of passivity. There are no big crimes and so there is no reason for an international outcry. It is often forgotten that it is this kind of silent cleansing played an impotant role in starting the war in Croatia. And the possibility that a similar policy might be introduced played an important role instarting the Bosnian conflict. Forcing thousands of people to relocate is an act of war - even if no one is killed.

Sometimes Western diplomats do notice the acts of obstruction, like recently when the OSCE mentioned the problems with Serb property rights in Kosovo. But they consider these as accidents and approach it as such. I believe that this approach is naive. There are enough indications that Kosovo's government is not exactly enthousiast about making its Serb minority content - let alone encouraging the refugees to return.

However, once you admit that the attitude of the Kosovo government is a problem it becomes clear that the OSCE approach is insufficient. By fighting individual policies you will always lag behind the nationalist politicians who think up ten new policies for each that you get abolished. There are many ways to harrass minorities if you really want.

A recent Reuters article gave a good example how this silent cleansing works. It tells of an inhabitant of Svinjare, the village near Mitrovica that was in the march 2004 riots burned down. His house was rebuilt. However, since then it has been burgled or vandalized thirteen times. No one can live that way in the long term.

Sanctions that bite
UNMIK used to have a "standards before status" policy, but it did not work. Kosovos politicans were too well aware that the status of Kosovo is UNMIKs problem too. And they preferred pressuring UNMIK above working on the "standards".

As delaying independence does not work there are few options left to pressure Pristina. Financial incentives are out of the question as Kosovo gets much of its budget from international sources and the international community would be the one who in the end footed the bill of any punishment.

That leaves only territorial consessions as an option to put pressure on Kosovo's government. The international community or a treaty that results from the present status negotiations could set limits that if at a certain time Kosovo does not contain a certain number of minorities it should give up certain territories. There are a couple of nearly uninhibited territories along Kosovo's northern border that would be suitable for such consessions. This could include even the Trepca mine.

But allthough I believe that the international community should use sanctions that bite I doubt whether this will work.

Kosovo has populist politicians who most probably will ignore the threat of sanctions and instead will blame the internationals and the Serbs when they finally happen. For the minorities it wouldn't deliver much: the territories are empty because they are infertile mountain land, so much resettlement is not possible. Only Trepca could bring some money that might be used to indemnify the refugees.

But if one admits that there is no way to pressure the Kosovo government the conclusion is the minority rights should be restored to an adequate level before independence is granted. Or at least that the situation should be changed in such a way that the Kosovo government can do a minimum level of harm.

Partition would then be the first option. It is easy to implement. If Kosovo would get compensation in the Presevo Valley it wouldn't be too controversial. But it would apply only for a part of the minorities. So partition alone can never be enough to solve the situation.

I believe that northern Mitrovica, Zvecan, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Strpce should go to Serbia. The Trepca mine and the road from Mitrovica to Pudojevo should stay with Kosovo. Albanians would get the right to pass through Strpce without special documents.

In exchange parts of the Presevo Vally might be added to Kosovo. This would involve most of the Presevo municipality (over 90% Albanian). Giving a history of shooting incidents over the Kosovo border Serbia might get a safety distance between the border and the road to Macedonia. Bujanovac municipality (60% Albanian) would be split with the west going to Kosovo and the east - including Bujanovac city - to Serbia. Medvedja municipality (30% Albanian) would cede some Albanian majority villages to Kosovo.

Some people claim that border changes will deteriorate their position. I disagree. Instead it will improve their position as it will stress the Albanian domninance of Kosovo. There will be less reason to see the minorities as Trojan horses who might one day serve as an excuse for a Serb invasion. Even if Kosovo would stay with Serbia this would be with ethnic borders that make clear that in Kosovo Albanians are the boss.

Population exchange
Population exchanges were popular up until 1945 to solve minority related problems between neighbours. It was often very unbalanced with one side sending several times as much people as the other side. Respect of human rights was not very high: many of those transfered lost all they had. Some of those "exchanges" were arrangements that sought to give at least some decency to ethnic cleansings that had already started. Besides that there was the price in people believing that "our peoples cannot live together". This intolerant conviction was very probably one of the sources of the holocaust. But for all there shortcomings they were at least solutions that were accepted by both sides.

Population exchanges reached their climax at the end of World War II when there were a few dozen exchanges (including one between Italy and Yugoslavia). The most infamous were those that moved millions of Poles and Germans in order to satisfy Stalin's desire to move Poland to the west. At the same time however the Nuremberg Trial took the line that population transfers in which people were forced to move against their will was a war crime and a crime against humanity. This position has since then been reinforced by international treaties.

However, in the face of the situation in Kosovo one seriously has to consider a "population exchange" as the least bad solution that at least gives everyone a home in Kosovo. In the rest of this section I will investigate how such an exchange might look in order to get at least a reasonably decent outcome.

The first step would be decent census data. We would need to know how many Serbs and other minorities still live in Kosovo, how many live in Serbia and how many elsewhere. Next we would need to know many of those in Kosovo plan to leave when Kosovo become independent. They would be candidates for exchange. People who have left Kosovo would be counted in all cases. Whether they actually plan to return is not of interest: ethnic cleansing should under no condition be rewarded.

Albanian families tend to be bigger than Serb ones, so one could argue for exchanging families instead of individuals, but I believe that would cause more problems than it solves.

The next problem is determining an area that Kosovo would have to give up. The area west of Mitrovica would probably fall off because of its thin connections to Serbia - making it difficult to give it a viable economy. The Presevo Valley has not been involved in the violence that has driven out so many Serbs in the last eight years, so it would be a bit odd to punish them with a population exchange.

That leaves two areas: Mitrovica and Pudojevo-Kamenica. From the point of view of city-countryside mix Mitrovica with surroundings would be most suitable: many of the exiled Serbs come from cities (40,000 from Pristina alone). But as this automatically would include the Trepca mine this might evoke Albanian objections. The only alternative would then be in the Pudojevo-Kamenica area. The area ceded to Serbia would then be bigger and might include Gracanica.

A population exchange without force is impossible. However, there are a number of ways to attenuate the process.

Pensioners should be excluded: old people are often extremely attached to their homes and this should be respected.

Exchanges of whole villages should be encouraged.

A population exchange would cost a lot of money to encourage people to move and to compensate for the costs.

Security is another issue. One needs to take care that houses are not vandalised once they have been abandonned. And homeowners whould be encouraged to leave their houses in a decent state for the new inhabitants.

It would be naive to see Kosovo as a stand-alone case. The world is full of minorities and minority conflicts. Whether one likes it or not Kosovo will be used as a precedent.

Some people like to stress that what in Kosovo happened is so horrible that special treatment is necessary. But compared with other ethnic conflicts Kosovo with its estimated 10,000 dead was a minor case: Biafra had a million dead, in Turkish Kurdistan the counter stands at about 40,000, Chechnia had some 40,000 to 100,000 dead and so on.

Abchazia illustrates better than anything else the consequences of the policy according to the Ahtisaari/Kosovo model.

The Abchazian ethnic group consisted before the war of only 18% of the population. In the 1992/1993 war they threw out most of the other ethnic groups so that they now form about half the population - giving them solid control. According to the Ahtisaari/Kosovo model the Abchazians would become the new rulers and the refugees would de facto have to give up both on returns and compensation (except for a possibility to sell their house). In theory they would keep these rights, but this would only serve to keep anyone from advocating stronger measures to help them.

The lack of attention to the refugee problem in Kosovo in the previous negotiations places in doubt whether the international community really believes in a multi-ethnic society. And as at the same time they don't want to give up their "no borders changed" dogma they tend to end with the conclusion that the Serbs have had bad luck. And in order not to seem unfair they blame it on the victims who shouldn't have engaged the fight in the first place. Of course this makes ethnic conflicts a risky business: either you win and get everything or you lose and become a refugee. This kind of conviction is bound to make future ethnic conflicts even more bloody.

A final question would be who would propose what at the negotiations. I think that the main burden will be on the Albanian delegation. At the moment that the international mediators no longer qualify their proposals as satisfactory they will have to find ways to keep more Serbs on Kosovo's territory. It is to them to decide whether they want to achieve this with extra rights, border changes, population exchanges or other means.

In this all the "A house for everyone" principle that I introduced in a previous post will be crucial.

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