Saturday, January 12, 2008

History repeating itself

I find it frightening to see how closely the situation around Kosovo's independence resembles that around Croatia's independence in 1991/1992. Both then and now the US was pushing an independence that on itself was not very controversial. But by pushing it under controversial conditions the US creates a mess. Let's compare:

- Croatia's independence was not controversial. Neither is Kosovo's: older opinion polls show that the majority of the Serbs could live with a partition of Kosovo - what amounts to independent for the Albanian part. Serbia's objections are in both cases based on their claim that according to international law they have the power to dictate conditions and unilateral moves by the other side are not allowed.
More recently Serb politicians have spoken out against partition and opinion polls show less support for partition. I think this happened mainly because internationals and Albanians interpreted partition as giving up on the Serbs south of the Ibar. I believe these objections can be overcome with a good proposal.

- in both cases Serbia's main objections concern the fate of the Serb minority. With good reason: In 1991 large numbers of Serbs were leaving Croatia and the fate of Kosovo's Serbs is well known.
A recent opinion poll among Kosovo's Serbs showed that 30% plans to leave when Kosovo becomes independent and 60% plans to stay. The departures will likely be concentrated in the smaller settlements south of the Ibar where a clear majority will leave. Quite a few Serb villages may be emptied. Serbs elsewhere now feel still protected by numbers, parallel structures and peacekeepers. But when Kosovo's government will increase its grip and the peacekeepers start leaving they will feel the same pressure to leave.

- in both cases the West is playing down the security side of the problem. Yet there is for the Serb side the real problem:
In Croatia Western diplomats kept repeating that the Serbs didn't need to worry because Western pressure (and in the end EU admission) would sooner or later force Croatia to adopt better minority rights anyway. In the mean time the Serbs were leaving... Nowadays Croatia has 400,000 Serbs less and there is hardly anybody left to give autonomy to. And with the Serb population the Western pressure to give autonomy has evaporated.
The Ahtisaari proposal in Kosovo would be a quite decent proposal if autonomy was the only issue. But the main issue is security and Ahtisaari is very silent on that. I expect that in a couple of years when the great majority of Kosovo's Serbs has left Kosovo will silently revoke the autonomy.
But don't expect those Western diplomats and politicians to be repentent for what they have done. They will blame everything on Serb nationalists.

- in both cases it is the US that is pushing for independence. Yet they do not take the initiative but instead press other countries to do so. In 1991 it was Germany that did the dirty work for the US and it looks that Germany is prepared to do it again.

- in both cases the US is pushing for conditions that are seen in Serbia as extremely unfair. In the case of Croatia it insisted on Croatia's territorial integrity while it neglected to stress the right of the Serbs for autonomy and human rights. In the end it even helped Croatia to clean many of its remaining Serbs in Operation Storm. In Kosovo we see the same: the right for self-determination of the Albanians is stressed while they support the Ahtisaari plan that offers hardly any protection for the Serb minority. They may even try to help cleanse the Serbs. They tried it already once in 2001, when they searched Serb houses in northern Mitrovica for arms while the Albanians planned a violent demonstration in the south of the city that hoped to overrun the Serb dominated north side.

- in both cases the EU reacts puzzled and doesn't know what to do. This offers the possibility for the US to impose their solution by forming a "coalition of the willing" that then pressures the rest of the EU to follow their lead in the name of "unity".

- negotiations turn out to be fake as the secessionists (Croats and Kosovo) already have the assurance from Washington that they will be recognized. They don't see any need to do concessions.

- in the case of Croatia the EU created a legal excuse for their decision with the Badinter Commission. It looks we will now see a similar attempt for a legal excuse.

- The policy drives Serbia towards radical policies. But the countries that are favoured with these policies pay also a high price. Croatia and Bosnia saw several years of war. Even without war Kosovo may stay in legal limbo for many years.

- In both cases simple measures could have saved the situation. In the case of Croatia there were two points were the West could have done better. The first point was before the independence declarations when they could have explicitly declared that Yugoslavia's central government had the right to military intervention if the republics tried to secede with reaching agreement with Belgrade first. This would have forced Slovenia and Croatia to give up on independence. Most probably they would have soon afterwards consented to federal elections - something they had opposed until then. But a consensual secession would also have been possible. The West followed this course with the Soviet Union, but somehow failed to do it with Yugoslavia.
A second point was after the secession was more or less a fact and it came to recognising Slovenia and Croatia. The West could have demanded that certain minority rights problems were repaired before it granted recognition. As both had minority problems (Slovenia had its "erased") that would have been a strong signal towards these victorious nationalists that we would not accept them unless they behaved themselves.
In Kosovo the most obvious holes in the Ahtisaari plan should be fixed:
1) Serb villages south of Ibar get local parttime policemen. Being in service for only one day a week they wouldn't cost much, but as trained policemen they would have the right to carry a gun and to arrest people outside their working hours this would mean that there would always be somebody to deter criminal attacks.
2) Serb municipalities get the right to appoint their own police chiefs. Of course there is a risk that some of them will appoint a radical. But theer is just as well a risk that Pristina appoints a police chief who is connected to radicals or organised crime. Trust should go both ways.
3) Serbs get control over their own economy. Privitisation and permits are major tools to discriminate minorities. Where possible it will be decentralised. Privatisation of Brezovica will become an affair of Kosovo's Serbs. They will decide whether to privitise and if they want to privitise they will select the buyer.
4) Kosovo's north tip and Strpce get a special status as Serb majority areas. They can decide over all developments in their area. This should give them the power to resist attempt by Pristina to Albanise those areas.
5) Introduce the (Ahtisaari and other) reforms now and let them be in effect for 6 months. If they work they will build trust for independence. If they don't work we will need additional reforms. This is also in line with the "standards before status" principle and with the principle that basic human rights should not be subject of negotiations.

The question is why the US is following this kind of catastrophic policy. I believe things went wrong around 1991-1993. The old guard of diplomats (like ambassadors Eagleburger and Scanlan) were business man diplomats who didn't have a clue what was happening and who advocated a wait-and-see attitude. But at the same time the cold warriors at the State Department were enthusiastic about Slovene and Croat elections and irritated by Yugoslavia's lack of "reform". When these cold warriors undermined Yugoslavia's stability and Yugoslavia descended in open war this old guard became incredible and had to give way in the end.

Since then traditional diplomats who value stability have been out of the loop and the policy towards ex-Yugoslavia has been determined by a coalition of non-Serb ethnic interest groups and self styled idealists for whom being anti-Serb is the politically correct attitude.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Answer to Vetevendosja

Vetevendosja has sent an open letter to the foreign ministers of the EU member nations. I will react to some parts of their (rather long) letter.

"This new EU mission has been described as a ‘state-building’ mission and one which will lay the groundwork for an independent Kosova. [...] Furthermore, it will be based upon a Resolution which expressly states in Article 10, that the international mission has as its goal the restoration of ‘substantial autonomy’ for Kosova within Serbia."

- I was surprised to see Albanian nationalists confirm that resolution 1244 does not allow for an independent Kosovo.

"First, the establishment of this new EU mission has been agreed without consulting the people of Kosova. Its existence is based on the (Martti) Ahtisaari Settlement which has not been accepted officially as part of any ‘status’ agreement for Kosova. [...] This is a decision that can only be made by all the people of Kosova, voting in a referendum as an expression of our right to self-determination guaranteed by international conventions to which all of your member states subscribe."

- Sorry, Kosovo isn't independent yet. The Spanish Basques don't have the right to organise an independence referendum either. Slovakia became independent without a referendum.
- Note also the resistance against the Ahtisaari plan. It confirms me in my fears that the implementation of the plan will not be wholeheartedly and will be continuously sabotaged.

"Second, this new EU mission is doomed to fail because although it proclaims that it is coming to help build democracy in Kosova, it will be undemocratic. The International Civilian Office (ICO) will hold executive power in Kosova, ensuring that the political pluralism we enjoy remains simply a façade,
We want the EU to be in Kosova helping us to build our institutions and monitoring minority rights, but we do not need to be governed by the EU. Democracy cannot be established through a system which is undemocratic. It can only be slowly destroyed. The turnout in the last election is evidence enough to prove this point."

- As I have repeatedly written I agree with this. The EU mission should restrict itself to minority rights and leave economics to Kosovo. Of course they will influence Kosovo's economic policies in the context of the path to EU membership. But this is a different process that doesn't involve the right to fire people.

"Ahtisaari’s Settlement will accentuate the ‘ethnic’ nature of the Kosova conflict, rather than resolving its political causes. It prescribes decentralization along ethnic lines which will create a Serb entity inside Kosova, like Republika Srpska in Bosnia. Six new Serb majority municipalities will be created, containing most of the key mineral and water resources of Kosova, for example, the reservoir of Gazivodë which supplies 60% of Kosova’s water. These municipalities will be linked territorially and administratively, and have the right to be funded by Belgrade. The parallel structures which have functioned in these areas, without obstruction by UNMIK since 1999, will be legalized and all the Serbs who work in these structures will still receive their salaries from Belgrade. Thus, Serbia’s influence in Kosova will be strengthened by this plan, not weakened. Once more, Serbs in Kosova will be instrumentalized by Serbia, which has consistently refused to allow them to integrate."

- Come on, guys, the conflict is ethnic. Kosovo's argument to become independent is ethnic.
- Decentralisation along ethnic lines is an old principle that is applied in many countries. The fact that some anti-Serb people make a lot of noise about the RS in Bosnia doesn't change that.
- Integration comes not by force but by seduction. If the Albanians make it attractive enough the Serbs will come sooner or later to their cities for shopping and work. This will not apply for the Serbs north of the Ibar: you will have to accept that the ethnic border is there and that north of the Ibar it is the Albanians who are the minority and have to adapt themselves.
- I would consider that with Stari Trg and the coal mines the Albanians have the majority of Kosovo's mineral wealth. For access to water many countries are dependent on each other. If the north would become part of Serbia (what I prefer) it would very well be possible to make a treaty stipulating the Albanian rights.

"Decentralization is not being implemented in order to bring government closer to the people. It is being used as a tool for apartheid."

- Calling the autonomy of the Serb villages "apartheid" is in my opinion racist rethorics. Any minority with its own language and religion will to a certain extent keep to itself. Connecting this with self-government is a quite normal - specially in an area where inter-ethnic relations are tense and discrimination is common.

"Many Albanian families have an Orthodox heritage. Many of their ancestors worshipped in Orthodox churches until the 18th century when the majority of conversions took place under the Ottoman Empire. [...] The Ahtisaari Plan establishes the absurd logic that should an Albanian want to convert to Orthodoxism, he will also have to become a ‘Serb’. "

- As far as I know before the conversions the Kosovo Albanians tended to be Catholic - not orthodox. But maybe they want to point to the fact that up to a third of the ancestors of Kosovo's Albanians may have been converted Serbs.
- For the moment I can see very little Albanian attachment to those church monuments (and nobody who wants to convert). One can only hope that this will change one day as they are Kosovo's main tourist attraction.
- One should be glad that the Serb church wants to spend millions to maintain Kosovo's monuments. I expect that one day somewhere in the future they will no longer have so much money available and Kosovo will have to take over the maintainance. So: enjoy the bonanza as long as it lasts!!!
- The fact that Orthodox churches are bound to countries is nowadays a problem in many countries (Macedonia, Montenegro, the Russian church in France, etc.). The Orthodox churches will have to adapt themselves to the modern times where people are free to choose their own churches. But let's give this time. The Kosovo problem is complicated enough without it.

"the plan envisages the creation of special zones around selected monasteries, further isolating them from the community and including hundreds of hectares of socially owned and private property. In the zone surrounding the Monastery of Deçan, villagers have only been allowed the right to cut hay on their land, nothing more. "

- In anarchic Kosovo it may be new, but in other European countries it is very normal that land use is restricted by planning. In the case the owners of land are disadvantaged by plan changes one should talk about indemnifications.

"The economic relations of the decentralized municipalities will be much closer with Serbia than the rest of Kosova.
Therefore, what will be known as Kosova’s single market will be much smaller than it is today (and today it is very small)."

- money has its own logic. Just as smugglers and criminals have never had problems over the Kosovo-Serbian border and as many Kosovo Albanians keep buying Serb products - so will the Kosovo Serbs buy Albanian products if they are cheap enough.
- Kosovo is a very small market anyway. Given the scale on which many companies operate nowadays I expect multinationals to build one factory for the whole Balkan.

"The Serb entity will be de-facto controlled by Belgrade and the Albanian will be controlled by the EU and held hostage to Belgrade by mechanisms such as a double majority voting system for the Serb minority, which gives them the right to veto changes to the constitution and to a number of domestic laws. Belgrade will be guaranteed the ability to destabilize Kosova’s government at will."

- the right to veto certain laws does not open the possibility to destabilise Kosovo's government.
- for the moment Kosovo's Albanians make it very hard for the Kosovo's Serbs to identify with Kosovo. One day that will change and Serbia's influence will diminish.
- once Kosovo's status is settled in an agreement with Serbia the Serb government will feel much less need to interfere. This should be seen as one more stimulus for Kosovo to seek a real agreement with Serbia. For this the Ahtisaari plan is insufficient as it doesn't provide Kosovo's Serbs with enough protection. A good plan should have at least two extra aspects: 1) more security for the Serbs south of the Ibar by appointing part-time local village police men; 2) a kind of autonomy for the area north of the Ibar that gives them the power to resist Albanisation policies from Pristina.

The Transparancy report on corruption

Transparancy International has published a report on corruption and Kosovo is in the top 10. I am not impressed.

4 of the top 10 "countries" in their "corruption barometer" are on the Balkan (Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Romania). It is a consequence of their method: They simply ask 1000 people from each country whether he has paid a bribe in the last year. In many post-communist countries health care is free, but you often need to pay a bribe to get served. This makes them score very high. This is definitely a less harmfull type of corruption as when you need to bribe the police or some privitisation is corrupted but TI doesn't differentiate between types of corruption in their ratings.

Kosovars seem very hopeful that the situation will improve. Amazingly, just over the border in Albania people are very pessimistic. Quite a few Western countries - including the US - are pessimistic too.

The energy ministry is considered the most corrupt institution in Kosovo. Bad news for foreign investors in the new power plant.