A few days ago Ian Bancroft and Gerard Gallucci published an article "Crafting A Special Status For Northern Kosovo" in which they pled for a condominium status for norther Kosovo. I doubt that solution, but here I want to highlight one of the comments that was posted by readers of the article. This comment - written by some "jeremiah" from Pristina - repeated all the usual arguments against partition. Problem is that they aren't true. So let's begin with the comment by "jeremiah":
Even with the ICJ opinion being so clearly in favor of Kosovo's independence, there's a continuing attempt from Serbia, and those who support Belgrades position (including the authors of this article here) to turn the clock back.
Now, the autonomy of the north, while it might sound good enough for those who are not informed well about Kosovo, is the worst thing that could happen to the region.
If North is to gain special rights, there would be no incentive for Serbs to live outside of this area, just as there would be no reason for the Albanians to continue implementing the Ahtisaaris multethnic concept for Kosovo.
Bosnia, mentioned in this article as preceden for Kosovo, is acctually the perfect example why this sort of division makes the whole state non-functional.
In short, if North was to get autonomy, Ahtisaari's plan would be officialy dead, Kosovo would become another Bosnia (a disfunctional, torn appart kind of state, with hatred and ethnicity still determining the future of the country), while Serbia will be left to continue dreamming of the day of coming back to Kosovo.
Simultaneously, it would give many reasons for Albanians in Souther Serbia (Presevo Valley) and Western Macedonia to rethink their position within respctive states, just as it would further inspire Serb nationalists in Bosnia, and Bosniaks in Serbia's Sandjak region.
Ultimately, with ethnic division as the core feature of this "solution", the European social values would be thrown out of the window, in favor of returning to the typical Balkan ethnic isolationism.
At the end of the day, autonomy for the northern Kosovo would not even be a solution to a problem. it would simply be continuation of a frozen conflict, with rich rewards for hardliners on both sides (serbs who oppose living with Albanians, and Albanians who say that Ahtisaari's plan and multiethimic Kosovo is not possible).
If international community would go this way, as sugested by Mr. Bancroft and Mr. Galluci, then it shuld finally drop all the talk about minority rights, and multethnic conceps, and european values. it should go back to pre WW2 european practices and ideologies, which favored teritorial exchanges and deportations as legal and efficient way of solving painful problems.
So let's analyze this comment:
- I have commented elsewhere on the ICJ opinion. It certainly isn't so strongly in favor of Kosovo's independence as J. suggests.
- J. suggests that after a border change there would be no incentive for Kosovo's Serbs to stay south of the Ibar. This is a very strange statement. People tend to be attached to the place where they live and don't want to move just because fifty km further a border has changed. When Croatia became independent no one suggested that now all the Croats from Bosnia and Serbia would want to leave for Croatia.
- J. suggests that there would be "no reason for the Albanians to continue implementing the Ahtisaaris multethnic concept for Kosovo". This may be the real reason for his previous suggestion: the idea that the Albanians might get frustrated and turn violently on the remaining Serbs.
Let me begin by stressing that the Ahtisaari Plan was written with the situation in Southern Kosovo - where the Serbs are a minority - in mind. The plan doesn't have any special provisions for the north. In a place like Leposavic - about 30 km from the Albanian majority area - it just sounds silly that the Serb population should learn Albanian to get things done.
Border changes should be part of a total package. Kosovo might get Presevo. But it should at least get concrete concessions like recognition of the Kosovo passports and access for Kosovo goods to the Serbian market.
As I indicated in my previous post, the Western countries have a lot of influence on how violent Kosovo turns. If they don't want it and take the appropriate measures it won't happen.
- Then Jeremiah compares Kosovo to Bosnia: "Kosovo would become another Bosnia (a disfunctional, torn appart kind of state, with hatred and ethnicity still determining the future of the country), while Serbia will be left to continue dreamming of the day of coming back to Kosovo.".
Obviously Jeremiah doesn't have a clue what is wrong with Bosnia. The problem in Bosnia there is that there is no agreement between the parties on how to proceed. There is the Dayton Agreement, but the Muslims want to tear it up and in reaction the Serbs consider leaving. This is not that different from the situation in Kosovo now. When there would be an agreement on Kosovo both parties would have a common vision. They might still agree over many details but the question who has how much power where would be solved. Serbia would have rights in Kosovo but it would recognize that it would never again control it.
Jeremiah is just misleading when he suggests that Kosovo now is not a country with "hatred and ethnicity still determining the future". Kosovo is now an Albanian country and its identity is very much anti-Serb and anti-Slav.
- He continues with the famous precedent argument: "Simultaneously, it would give many reasons for Albanians in Souther Serbia (Presevo Valley) and Western Macedonia to rethink their position within respctive states, just as it would further inspire Serb nationalists in Bosnia, and Bosniaks in Serbia's Sandjak region."
One thing at a time:
Presevo: this might be part of the deal.
Macedonia: I expect the Macedonian Albanians to start making trouble again once Kosovo is settled. You can't have missed the reports about weapon transports and the complaints that the Albanians still don't have enough rights. Just like Bosnia Macedonia is a country where the ethnic groups have never really agreed on how to live together. Kosovo can become an example how ethnic groups can solve such a situation. It can also become an example of how conflicts are solved with violence and cleansing. Has anyone forgotten that during the Kosovo War Milosevic copied Croatia's ethnic cleansing tactic (Operation Storm) that had been treated with so much respect by the Western countries?
Sandjak: the Muslim majority municipalities are at the side of Kosovo and not at the side of Bosnia. So border changes couldn't be a solution here.
- Jeremiah keeps trying to please his liberal "multi-ethnic" readers: "Ultimately, with ethnic division as the core feature of this "solution", the European social values would be thrown out of the window, in favor of returning to the typical Balkan ethnic isolationism.".
Self determination of ethnic groups has been a core European value since World War I. There is no denying that as a minority ethnic group your position is worse than when you are the majority. You may have to learn another language for any meaningful career. You may be regularly discriminated. And for certain studies you will either have to emigrate or you have to accept to be teached in another language.
Multi-ethnicity can only exist when there is no dispute about which values and which language dominate. In northern Kosovo there is such a dispute. You can't polish such differences away by giving one side all power and then suggesting that at the other side are irredentists when they don't agree with that.
- Jeremiah ends with throwing up the old bogeyman: World War II. He claims that a mutual agreement would mean "pre WW2 european practices and ideologies, which favored territorial exchanges and deportations as legal and efficient way of solving painful problems".
The ideal of a unity was given up when we accepted the conclusions of the Badinter commission that Yugoslavia should be split up. In fact rich provinces that want to secede are common all over the world and usually that can be solved by giving them the right to keep most of their money. Instead we fell for the Croatian propaganda about the bad Milosvic. Never mind that it was Croatia that blocked national elections for Yugoslavia although they would have taken away the appeal and dominance of Milosevic. Europe had good reasons to oppose partition. Not only was there the risk for ethnic conflicts (everyone knew what had happened there in World War II), but it was was also clear that partition would carry considerable economic costs and the EU taxpayer would partly have to pay for that as the Balkan was in line to become part of the EU.
Once we had given up on unity we de facto had the choice between "territorial exchanges and deportations" as one new country after another proved itself very unfriendly towards its minorities. This was no coincidence: new countries are always nationalistic and intolerant towards their minorities. What else can you expect?: they have been founded on an ethnic base. That is exactly the reason why new countries should only be created with respect to existing ethnic borders.
Consider that other experiment with partitioning along existing borders: the Soviet Union. The partition went largely peacefully due to its suddenness. But since then many millions have left their home because the new state they lived in proved to be too hostile.