The problem with the Eide Report
Ahtisaari's mediation effort was the result of the recommendations of Kai Eide in october 2005 and its problematic outcome was the result of errors in Kai Eide's Report.
Kai Eide concluded that the "standards before status" principle did not work and that instead negotiations should be started immediately. As a pious footnote he mentioned that "standards implementation must continue with greater commitment and results.". He did no concrete recommendations in this respect and nothing has come of it. In my opinion he should have recommended that the UN should take a more active role in achieving those standards and be less passive towards Kosovo's government.
The present situation is the result of a war that was adopted by the UN and afterwards a UN administration. So the UN is responsible for the present situation and a good evaluation report should contain a chapter "what went wrong and how should we have done it better". This is even more important as Kosovo is often seen as a model for future "humanitarian interventions".
The unwilling attitude of Kosovo's government is no exception. You will see an intolerant nationalist attitude on all sides after any war. And it just stupid to transfer power to one side in such a situation and to expect them to improve the rights of the other side. So the interventionists should take care that powers and rights are sufficiently balanced when they hand over power. More concrete: in a climate where it is political suicide for an Albanian politician to propose better minority rights the UN should take the responsibility and impose them.
How could the UN have improved the situation:
- it could have started with a more aggressive enforcement immediately after the war. Even if they had been incapable of arresting every Albanian who behaved aggressively towards they could at least have arrested many and confiscated the weapons (including knives) from the others. Even such a symbolic act as the confiscation of knives would have contributed to erase the climate of impunity.
- KFOR (and specially the US) did regular searches for arms in Serb settlements. There were no similar searches in Albanian settlements. This communicated in a very powerful wat that the Serbs were now second class citizens who had less rights than the Albanians. UN headquarters in New York should have stopped this.
- if you have used war (the ultimate extra-legal means) to ascertain the rights of one group you cannot hide behind legalistic nicities when it comes to ascertain the rights of other groups.
- rather soon the UN started to transfer responsibilities to local government bodies. This was rather inevitable as it is very hard to rule an area without cooperation of the local population. But the centralised way in which this was done meant that all power went to the Albanians and this strengthened the cleansers in their effort to drive out more Serbs.
- the UN should have imposed Serb-majority municipalities. As winners of the war they should do whatever it takes to achieve the "standards". Instead the UN abolished the Gorani-majority Gora municipality - helping the cleansers. The passivity of the UN in this area was not motivated by respect for some constitutional process. It came rather from Macchiavellian international diplomats who believed that the Serbs' basic human rights could be used as bargaining chips to achieve independence for Kosovo.
The Ahtisaari plan: standards for status
Ahtisaari's nagotiations changed "standards before status" into "standards for status". In Ahtisaari's view Kosovo's Serbs (and Serbia) should be glad to have their basic human rights respected in exchange for accepting Kosovo's independence. This made it a travesty of honest negotiations. And - as can be expected when you make basic human rights the subject of negotiations - it leads to a view where a minimum is enough.
The Ahtisaari Plan creates new Serb municipalities and gives them some powers - including some control over the local police. This satisfies many demands from Kosovo's Serbs. But Ahtisaari creates here some deliberate confusion. What the Serbs demanded - and he offered - are some rights that they need just to live a normal life in Kosovo. As such they should have been granted by the UN long ago.
But there is no certainty that these rights will be sufficient. Kosovo's courts of law are highly biased and may form a major problem for the Serbs in the future. The lack of control over the privatisation of the local industries may form another problem and lead to the transfer of the employment to Albanians (this problem is most acute in Strpce). Unsafety travelling outside the enclaves is still a problem. Very problematic may also be that the Serbs don't have any influence over the central government. The influence of the Serb representatives in the parliament in Pristina is literally zero as their proposals are just ignored. In Macedonia the Albanians have veto power over all laws but in Kosovo the Serbs don't even have that power with those laws that specifically target them. A territorial autonomy for some areas like the north would have restricted the power of Pristina, but Ahtisaari rejected that. Ahtisaari doesn't have any solution for the more than 100,000 refugees who now live in Serbia. Many of them come from the totally cleansed cities where still no Serb dares to live. He doesn't address the problem of discrimination either
This list of probable problem points is far from complete. It is also very difficult to solve. In my opinion there is only one decent road towards independence for Kosovo: implement most of the Ahtisaari recommendations for Serb rights now, spend the next few months to finetune that so that you get an acceptable level of "standard" compliance and restart then the negotiations about independence.
The main argument of Kosovo's Albanians for independence is that they want to be assured that a situation like in 1989-1999 will not be repeated. It is their good right to ask such assurance. But Kosovo's Serbs have a similar right to ask assurance that the situation of the the last 8 years will not continue or come back at a later time. Yet the Ahtisaari plan is short of asurances for the Serbs: it is far from sure whether the plan will be enough and its consessions can rather easily be revoked.
What if Ahtisaari's plan was implemented now?
I consider Ahtisaari's plan in its present form a proposal for ethnic cleansing. If Kosovo is given independence under these conditions it is very probable that in 10 years there will be no Serb left in Kosovo.
It is still unsafe for many to travel or to work their land. And many others regularly find their means of living sabotaged or stolen. Serb majority municipalities will improve this situation but is far from certain whether they can provide enough protection against the hit-and-run tactics of large gangs. The attitude of Kosovo's government - that still aims for an Albanisation of the whole of Kosovo - certainly won't help. The consequence is that many minorities live in absolute poverty. The only reason that they haven't left yet is that they hope for a better future. But if Kosovo becomes independent they will give up and leave.
There are many small newspaper articles like the following: The inhabitants of the village of Straze, in the region of Gnjilane, have announced, following a number of robberies, that they will sell their houses and land and move somewhere else, KiM Radio from Caglavica reported. Cedomir Ivkovic from Straze says he doesn’t feel safe on his property ever since his dog was killed in the yard. “We stay awake all night long, only the dogs are protecting us, while the Albanians come to ask us whether we want to sell the house,” said Cedomir’s sister Smilja, adding that her family is under great pressure and that she is afraid to stay in the village.
Kosovo is far from multi-ethnic. Except for Northern Mitrovica all cities have been totally cleansed of their Serbs. Most Serbs live either in Serb-only villages or in the north or Strpce where the Serbs dominate. In the few remaining mixed villages there are regularly incidents and the Serbs are slowly leaving. Kosovo's government does nothing to improve this climate. Yet they claim to value a "multi-ethnic" Kosovo. In practice this means that they envie the relative safety of the Serbs in their enclaves and that they are determined to expose them to the intolerant climate that drove out the minorities from the rest of Kosovo.
It is a popular line of thinking that once Kosovo is independent the Albanians will become more tolerant towards the Serbs and other minorities. Serbs have largely stopped leaving Croatia after the war was settled, so why couldn't something similar happen in Kosovo? The problem is that the expulsion of the Serbs in Kosovo is an old phenomena that predates the Milosevic rule (and caused it). And it has always been connected with criminal elements trying to get hold of the Serb possessions. As it is generally believed that many of Kosovo's elite have personally profitted from appropriating Serb properties after the war and many (like Thaci and Haradinaj are also suspected of mafia ties) this situation may continue for a long time...
The proposals in the present negotiations comes for the Serb side down to chosing whether Kosovo will be Serb-free in 5 years or 10. So it is no wonder that until now the Serb delegation has preferred to stick to the principle of territorial integrity. When the safety of Kosovo's Serbs is guaranteed they will instead have to look at the practical disadvantages of hostile minority inside their borders - such as in parliament. I think that in that situation the negotiations will go much smoother.