Thursday, July 10, 2008

The myth of Serbian obstinacy on Kosovo

There is a myth nowadays that it is due to Serbian obstinacy that it took so long to solve the Kosovo case and that the "final solution" is lopsided against Serbia. Serbia is accused of not having never made constructive proposals. It is hard to dismiss the Finland/Aaland proposal as not constructive but in that case the pundits like to say that it is too late for that. By being late Serbia would have lost certain rights. The most recent to repeat this myth is Dusan Lazic of the Forum for International Relations in Serbia. It is also the myth that is used in Western diplomatic circles to justify the imposed independence of Kosovo.

- within a year after the Kosovo war Serbian government officials made suggestians how Kosovo could be solved. But instead of using this as a start for negotiations UNMIK said that first the situation inside Kosovo had to stabilize before negotiations could start. In my opinion this was a stupid decision: the ethnic troubles in Kosovo were related to the subject of the negotiations
- then there is the "Standards before Status" policy as formulated by Steiner from 2002 on. There is nothing wrong with standards. But they are usually enforced with punishments - someting UNMIK consistently refused to do despite the results in Bosnia. Offering "status" as a reward to one party automatically goes at the expense of the other party. Officially the formula only concerns the start of the negotiations but it establishes the idea that the Albanians are entitled to something.
- opinion polls in Serbia show that a large segment of the population believes that partition is the best solution for Kosovo. As a partition more or less automatically implies independence this belies the often heared statement that there is no will to seriously negotiate on the Serb side. Yet the Kosovo Contact Group chose "no partition" as one of its "principles". With this they closed the solution with the most widespread support.
On the Albanian side there was resistance against partition. But this resistance was not principled but centered on the wish to include Presevo in such a partition. The sensible way would have been for the Western countries to suggest that Presevo should be talked about in the negotiations too. But this would have required subtle negotiations. Unfortunately the present diplomatic scene is dominated by Holbrooke-type bulldozers who don't understand subtle negotiations. So the rude confrontation was chosen instead.
- Serbian representatives did participate in Kosovo's parliament from very early on. But their influence was zero and their Albanian collegues competed to show who could insult them the best. This is until the present day the main argument in favor of Serb self-rule in Kosovo. And Kosovo's Serbs had a good reason to refuse to participate as they were only abused as a showcase for a not existing multi-ethnic Kosovo. Yet here too the international community failed. They didn't even bother to publicly criticize the Albanian politicians for their immature behaviour - let alone punish them. Instead they only criticised the Serbs for not participating.
- Ahtisaari's mediation was handicapped by his own "principle" that Kosovo should not return under Serb rule and by the Contact Group principle of "no partition". Neither "principle" is supported by Resolution 1244 or international law. Because of this I don't believe that his role can be classified as honest mediation.
It is also interesting to note that Ahtisaari went to Belgrade with the message that the only thing to negotiate for them was the position of the Serbs in Kosovo. Yet at the same time inside Kosovo Kosovo's Albanian politicians refused to negotiate with Belgrade in the negotiations about decentralization and minority rights there. They stated that these were internal affairs that they wanted to discuss only with Kosovo Serbs. And the international community went along with that.

Of course there was Serb obstinacy - just as there was Albanian obstinacy. But this is not the reason why Kosovo wasn't solved before in some mutual agreement. The reason for the latter failure rests solely with partial Western diplomats who didn't take their responsibility.


Anonymous said...

It's not true that K-Serb parliamentarians couldn't do anything. Innumerous times the opposition voted as a block rather then based on ethnic divisions.

What Serbs would like to have is to hold a veto on everything, which would be crazy since they only have some 5% of the population, but nevertheless they do hold a veto on minority related issue based on the Ahtisaari plan and they should take advantage of that.

But progress in Kosovo doesn't suit them because it means that Kosovo can do without Serbia.

Wim Roffel said...

That they voted does not mean that they could achieve anything of their own goals. So please be more specific and tell me what they achieved for their own people.

Having a veto is different from having the power to change anything in your own fate. I think that is a serious lack in the Ahtisaari Plan.

There are Serbs for who progress in Kosovo doesn't fit. But there are also Albanians who don't like to do anything to help Kosovo's Serbs because they believe that so they can make them to leave. I think Ahtisaari conceded too much to the latter group.

realist said...

"They stated that these were internal affairs that they wanted to discuss only with Kosovo Serbs."

That is their perogative as a sovereign nation. It is patronizing and unrealistic to expect Kosovo to deal with these matters in any other fashion other than negotiations between two sovereign nations.

"But this is not the reason why Kosovo wasn't solved before in some mutual agreement."

Kosovo actually seceded from Serbia in the early 1990s, just as other parts of the former Yugoslavia did. One cannot blame Kosovo for being impatient for wanting to distance itself from an enemy foreign enemy power (Serbia) with a record of significant atrocities visited upon Kosovo.

Things might have gone better if Serbia had paid reparations to Kosovo, and if any of the thousands of Serbian soldiers who raped and killed people in Kosovo has been put on trial. Not to mention returning the truckloads of people's property that were removed from Kosovo at the end of Serbia's occupation of it. But Serbia did everything it could to present itself to Kosovo as a hated foreign aggressor.

The independence of Kosovo is not "imposed".