Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Samardzic's partition proposal

Allthough Samardzic's "partition plan" has been discussed in all newspapers I haven't seen yet a complete list of what Samardzic proposes and contradicting reports keep appearing. He claims that the plan covers all Serb enclaves. It seems he felt pressured to come with the plan now because of the Eulex and other time limits surrounding Kosovo's independence declaration might bring the enclaves under direct rule from Pristina within a few months.

As Tim Judah comments, the Ahtisaari plan already provides for a considerable separation. The plan extends this to include police and judiciary - among others. I find this a useful extension. I always felt that the Ahtisaari plan was too limited for the high tension and high discrimination environment of Kosovo.

Some elements seem strange to me. For example the claim that only Serbs would serve as judges. How do they want to explain that to the Albanian villages in the north? I cannot imagine that the UN will accept such a proposal. But maybe there is something in the not published parts of the plan that deals with the rights of the Albanians.

The UN has said to study the plan and - allthough they see many unacceptable elements - seem to accept it as a basis for negotiations.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The US starts its next Balkan conflict

Previously I blogged about the major role of the American deputy Raffi Gregorian in Bosnia (together with other American diplomats) in the conflict on police and parliamentary reform - while his boss Lajcak stayed mostly invisible.

Now we are seeing a similar development in Kosovo. While Peter Feith and Joachim Ruecker are giving the obligtory lectures about tolerance, unity and condemn certain Serb policies it looks like it was Rueckers American deputy Larry Rossin who ordered the attack on the court house in northern Mitrovica despite objections from other UNMIK officials. Rossin seemed to have some unclear communication with Samardzic too what only adds to the impression that the US is once again following a policy of polarisation in the Balkan. The Europeans - who are supposed to be in charge - appear once again to be impotent bystanders.

One may have the opinion that Kosovo's independence is right, that the Serbs are wrong to resist it and that the protestors should have been removed from the courthouse. But even then one has to concede that Kosovo's Serbs have the right to believe otherwise and that right should be respected. In the way UNMIK handled the courthouse this respect was clearly lacking. The date (the 4 year aniversary of the march 2004 riots for which Serb demonstrations were expected), the unannounced character of the attack and the mass arrests were all meant to humiliate the Serbs in submission. It was a clear indication that the Kosovo that the US and Kosovo's Albanian government want to build is not the democratic multiethnic society as it is advertised.

Postscript: Byzantine Blog has the English translation of an interview with Scott Taylor in Glas. He believes that the riots of 17 march were a preparatory excercise for an "Blitzkrieg Against Kosovo Serbs". According to his information in the next round Kosovo's Serb leaders will be arrested and the northern part of the city brought under Albanian control.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Interview with Ahtisaari

Following is my translation of an interview of Ahtisaari with the Volkskrant as published on march 12. It covers about the same subjects as the lecture that I attended (the organisation of the lecture will only publish a short report.) Ahtisaari obviously has a strange idea about negotiating.

The interview was by Paul Brill en Leen Vervaeke. I have omitted the introduction and have started with the first question.

At which moment in the negotiations did you realize that no compromise was possible between Serbia and Kosovo?
‘During my first journey in November 2005. In fact everything was already decided in 1999. The situation of the Albanians in Kosovo had then become so desperate that NATO had to interfere. Next the area has been administered for eight years without involvement from Serbia. Return to the previous situation was out of the question. So when I met premier Kostunica on my first trip, I told him clearly: Serbia has lost Kosovo forever. He said: nobody has told me that.’

That seems to confirm the Serb reproach that there never were open negotiations.
‘They were not negotiations in the traditional meaning. The situation was that one of the sides had misbehaved so badly that external intervention was necessary. The negotiations were only about how the lasting presence of Serbs in Kosovo could be arranged.
‘Serbia did not help at all with that. The Serb leaders kept pretending that Kosovo would return to Serbia although they knew very well that that was no longer possible.’

Shouldn't Serbia be appeased by Europe so that it can easier accept the new reality?
‘The former minister of foreign affairs Draskovic told me once: why are you punishing us democrats for what Milosevic did? My answer was: it would be difficult for us to reward you for what Milosevic did.
‘Why should we appease Serbia? The country misbehaved badly, also during the negotiations. And take care: Serbia wants to become a member of the EU - not the other way around.’

But there could be some understanding for the hurted pride of a nation that in a short time had so much to restrict itself.
‘That it happened that way is not the fault of the EU or Kosovo.’

But it can influence the relations in the Balkan and so also in the EU.
‘That is true. But the solution is not that we massage Serbia. The solution is that Serbia gives account of its past. That it realizes what it has done wrong. Milosevic was definitely not the only one who was wrong. In Europe only Germany had a honest look at its past. Serbia still has to start. It should have a good thought about what it wants. Whether it wants to belong to Europe or that it wants to orientate itself at Moscow.’

What do you say to those who fear that Kosovo will cause a chain reaction of rebellious areas that want to secede?
‘You should never avoid a solution just because other people can abuse it. You have to decide the Kosovo case on its own merits. Where do you have a similar history? And then I don't mean from the 13th century. I see no other areas that have been ruled by the UN for eight years.’

So you are against independence for the Republika Srpska?
‘Yes, they don't have the right to do that. They have consented to the Dayton Treaty and they are obliged to observe that.’

The Russians might think otherwise.
‘Let the dust settle. I think that the Serbs and also the Russians will in the end act rationally/ But I am disappointed by the Russian attitude. They blocked the road via the UN, and with that they encouraged unilateral steps. Th├ít is a dangerous precedent.’

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ahtisaari's worldview

A few days ago Ahtisaari received some Dutch award. For that reason he gave a lecture in Amsterdam last friday. A nice opportunity to hear his story. I hope that the museum that organised the lecture will publish it, but for the moment I will have to rely on my memory.

Ahtisaari started with telling that he is a principled man and that his principle in this case was that Kosovo shouldn't return under Serb rule. And the first thing he did after he was appointed as a mediator was to make sure that the big powers supported this approach. He was very annoyed that Kostunica - whom he considers a worse nationalist than Milosevic - didn't buy this.

His talk was all about his consultations with the Americans, the Russians, the Germans, etc. Albanians and Serbs or his plan were hardly mentioned. On the question whether the local autonomy for Kosovo's Serbs was enough he stated that Kosovo was until recently governed by the UN and that he has good hope that now that they have taken over Kosovo's leaders will do better. He also pointed out that the European mission will only leave when the Kosovar leaders behave well and that for that reason they will be stronly motivated to do so. I found both arguments rather strange: Kosovo's leaders have had some power in the last 8 1/2 years and they have showed with a string of Serb-unfriendly proposals how they think. And Kai Eide concluded in his report in 2005 that "standards before status" does not work in Kosovo. Yet mr. Ahtisaari's way of convincing Kosovo's leaders to behave looks suspiciously similar. Unfortunately, Ahtisaari refused further questions from me.

The lecture left me with the following impressions: his success as negotiator is mainly based on getting the big powers behind a plan - not on any skills to bring two sides together; the plan is very probably written by some subordinates and he has had only minor involvement with it; and it looks like his knowledge about Kosovo is very limited.

Integrating the Serbs

A phrase that I keep hearing nowadays from Kosovo Albanians is "integrating the Serbs". It gives me the creeps. It is always mentioned in the context of one of the present Serb protests against the independence and as such it sounds like beating the Serbs into obedience.

Integrating always seems to concern the Serbs north of the Ibar. This is rather illogical. It is the Serbs south of the Ibar who will be most eager to integrate - when offered the opportunity. They live surrounded by Albanians and have little choice but to make the best of it. If they could be seduced to work closer with their Albanian neighbours the Serbs north of the Ibar would get more relaxed about living in Kosovo (allthough I keep believing that partition is the better option).

Integrating could also be done by removing the obstacles to their full participation in daily life in Kosovo. But I haven't seen any gesture since 17 februari. It would have been easy for Kosovo's government to make a real gesture. They might appoint some extra judges to handle the Serb property claims that stay forever in court. Or they might lay the first stone for the rebuilding of some destroyed Serb church. But we haven't seen any such gesture; only empty rethorics, threats and even the occasional nasty gesture.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Doing business in Kosovo

Sofia Echo has a nice positive article about doing business in Kosovo. It is the story of Kamen Kitchev, a Bulgarian who is regional manager for Austrian Airlines in Kosovo (and Bulgaria, Macedonia and Montenegro). Below the most relevant part of the article:

As someone who had spent time in Kosovo, Kitchev has much to say about "Kosovo myths". “Kosovo is very similar to Bulgaria. It’s a picturesque place with many opportunities for winter sports. But, sadly, when travelling around Kosovo you encounter many mass graves, a legacy of all the wars. This doesn’t exactly engender cheerfulness.” Perhaps surprisingly, Kitchev notes that you can see more bodyguards and Mafia-types in many areas of Bulgaria than in Kosovo. “You seldom see people driving in black 4x4 vehicles with dark windows in Kosovo.”

Business culture in Kosovo, however, was in its infancy. “We were the first carrier to employ a Kosovar.” Kitchev’s more personal approach again reaped dividends. “Through him I was able to enter business circles in Kosovo because they accepted me as one of their own. I never travelled around Kosovo with foreigners or with Austrian KFOR like many of my colleagues at that time. I didn’t pretend to be a foreigner who travels in an armoured vehicle with a helmet. I didn’t stay in the hotel asking people to come and see me. I used to travel with Albanians and I was treated as an Albanian. We drunk tea and ate together.” He also scored points by learning the language.

So what did it mean doing business in such an environment? “At my first meeting with Kosovars I was surprised to see that they had no demands whatsoever. They were just asking me what they should do. So I simply had to explain the rules to them and how to follow them.” The downside was that if they disliked certain rules they tried to play tricks by pretending they didn’t understand them. “As a whole, I have a high opinion of Kosovars,” he says. As things developed he was stunned how Kosovars followed their duties, set by the manager. “Obeying the boss is always their priority,” he notes.

Most businesses in Kosovo are family-run. “Everybody is someone’s brother, daughter, grandchild or nephew. The family culture is an essential part of business. This leads to a very clear family structure. If you have the right approach you never hear the words ‘this is too expensive’. Kosovo is not about money but about attitude. Of course, this will probably change – and might have already – but this was the situation at the beginning.”

Serbia's government crisis

In economic matters nationalism pays. For example, Japan and Korea developed by being selective in allowing Western companies access to local markets and by protecting local companies were they considered that necessary. Of course this is a strategy that requires wisdom. In other countries similar strategies failed because the wrong sectors of the economy were protected or the support was wasted in corruption. But a strategy of surrender to international economic interests on the other hand usually doesn't work either. Most companies and countries are somewhat greedy and if you give them a chance to exploit you they will not pass it.

The strategy is to find a middle road. That is difficult - in Serbia too. And while many Radicals and Kostunica seem to err on the conservative side the "pro-Western" parties seem to ignore that too much generosity to international interests is an invitation to be exploited.

Until now these "pro-Western" parties have been used to getting their inspiration from foreign diplomats. And that places them in an awkward position towards Kosovo's independence. They can keep following the wishes of their Western minders or they can try to find a compromise that unites their own wishes with those of the majority of the population. The first strategy is a collision strategy that probably will bring new elections and that they very well might loose - leaving Serbia to the Radicals. The compromise strategy would try to modify the present anti-European resolution in such a way that life can go on.

Such a compromise is certainly possible. An EU membership is something for the long term. And if Serbia doesn't want to become an EU membership it should do wise to strive for a similar status towards the EU as Switzerland. And that would still mean implementing many of the EU regulations. So a compromise would consist of some restrictions of talks with the EU with a commitment to specific economic reforms. And it would involve a time limit after which it should be reviewed.

But for this the reformers will need to think for themselves. And they will also needf to explain it to their voters who tend to be just as naive when it comes to international relations.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Matters of strategy

Inside Kosovo
After Kosovo's declaration of independence Serbia has done its best to block its realisation. My preliminary estimate is that both sides have scored some points and the final situation is still undecided:
- Kosovo was recognized by the US and a couple of other countries and the Kosovo government has a solid control over the main part of their territory (thanks to KFOR). Belgrade lost also much international sympathy with the attacks on the embassies. And Serbia's government is divided.
- Serbia can count that most countries did not recognize Kosovo and that many never may do so. Also access to many international organisations may stay blocked. For the moment Kosovo's north tip is under Serb control and even the Serb enclaves south of the Ibar follow Belgrade's lead.
The big question is what will happen now. We will face an instable situation for quite some time and in that period anything can happen. It is also a war of nerves as any party that goes too far may loose support from the international public opinion. But unless the Albanians achieve some diplomatic breakthrough they are faced with a situation where they will have to negotiate again. And this time Serbia will have a better position as it should have had from the beginning according to international law. But it may take quite some time (I expect several years at least) before the Albanians and their international supporters realize the situation. It may also happen that the Albanians will not be very eager to solve the situation: an ongoing conflict keeps them in the news and that pays by bringing them more foreign aid.
In the north tip Serbia seems to be in control. But KFOR and UNMIK are still there too and Kosovo's government, the US and the EU are all opposed to partition and aim for "integration". I have never understood why people in this area should be forced to learn Albanian because of the whims of some international politicians. At some point the situation may stabilize in some informal truce (the Cyprus option), but for the moment the situation is still unstable.
Nicholas Burns found the guts to tell the world that the US is opposed to partition. He has shown in the Krajna what is his solution to Serb minorities. Nice to know that he will quit this month.
South of the Ibar Serbia couldn't achieve very much. The attacks by reservists on the border posts there went nowhere and they now seem to realize that they will have to accept those border posts as they are - with KPS personnel. The main other action has been the refusal of the Kosovo Serb police officers to accept commands from the Kosovo government. On itself I think that this action makes sense as the lack of control over their own security for the Serb enclaves is one the main problems of the Ahtisaari Plan. But for the rest I wonder whether the Serb government isn't creating more problems than it solves by isolating the Serb enclaves from their surroundings: the present deadlock may last for years. They might mitigate the effect by making a gesture towards the Albanians like introducing Albanian in the local school curriculums.
But the main question is of course how "independent" Kosovo really will be. Until now I haven't seen any great initiatives yet from Kosovo's government.

The Belgrade riots
The withdrawal of the police before the attacks on the embassies during the demonstration has raised suspicion that the attacks were planned. But it is not clear who is responsible. Most probably it was a rogue minister, but it might also be some high police officer and other politicians may also have been involved. We may never know it, but I think that in order to pacify the foreign indignation Serbia will have to sacrifice some scapegoat.
That would also pacify the local indignation. The police showed great imcompetence by not mobilising enough cops for such a large demonstration and by allowing not only attacks on the embassies but also the pilfering of a lot of shops and other vandalism.