Friday, November 19, 2010

The precedent excuse against partition of Kosovo

Last week several reports appeared about the Western Balkans. See here for an overview.

It is good to see that after the International Crisis Group also an article in Survival, the journal of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies saw some merit in partition of Kosovo.

On the other hand however, Daniel Serwer of the USIP once again published a report and an article in which he attacks the option of partition as a way to settle conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia. He seems a bit confused about the subject sometimes - he falsely claims for example that the recent UN resolution on Kosovo asks for technical talks only - but as his institute is directly financed by the US Congress we have to take him seriously.

According to him if borders were changed in Kosovo this would "open up border questions" in Bosnia and Macedonia and likely also in Albanian inhabited areas in southern Serbia and Montenegro. It is a modern version of the Domino Theory and just as dubious when you have a closer look:
- when Kosovo declared independence there were also people who predicted that that would lead to the secession of the RS in Bosnia. Nothing happened as everyone knew that the Western countries wouldn't allow it. Similarly when Czechoslovakia split and there were some border changes between Czechia and Slovakia nobody even suggested that that would or should have consequences for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. So there is no reason to suppose that a border agreement between Kosovo and Serbia will have automatic influence on Bosnia and Macedonia.
- The solution in Bosnia has always been obvious: extend the principle of self-determination - on which Dayton is based - to the Croats. Unfortunately by pressing the other way the West has created a hostile stalemate. The longer this lasts the lesser the chance that Bosnia will survive as a state. This has nothing to do with Kosovo.
- A major factor in Albanian separatism in Macedonia is the belief that the US (and to a lesser degree the EU) is an ally of the Albanians against the Slavs. Both in Kosovo (1999) and in Macedonia (2001) the West intervened in a war started by the Albanians and then imposed major changes in favor of of the Albanians. A refusal to change borders in Kosovo - despite the sorry position of its minorities - only strengthens the impression that the West supports the Albanians no matter what they do. The recent weapon catches on the Kosovo-Macedonian border show that preparations for another war are already going on.
- not changing borders has consequences too. In Croatia not changing borders - and just as in Kosovo refusing to discuss real autonomy - led to a war and in the end some 400,000 permanent exiles. At the moment the position of Kosovo's minorities is so bad that it is generally expected that those remaining will gradually leave when the situation doesn't improve. This soft cleansing has an effect that is more destabilizing than border changes.


Gerard Gallucci said...

Wim, I agree 100% with you (and was DeaconBlue). Dan is one of the "Balkanistas" who will ride the "no-partition" horse right over the cliff. I still think a status neutral way can be found to keep Kosovo whole but the US would have to see the light and stop supporting the Albanians in trying to take everything. And the US and EU should stopping trying to push Bosnia into greater unity. Majority-rule democracy doesn't work where people organize themselves into competing national groups. It magnifies conflict. Nevertheless, the US pushed it as the cure-all for everywhere.

Anonymous said...

A deal could be worked out: Serbia can pay Kosovo reparations for the rape camps, carting off much of the Kosovar' property, and other crimes, while Kosovo lets that small part transfer from the nation of Kosovo to the nation of Serbia. A deal that moves things forward.

Wim Roffel said...

Thank you for agreeing with my post. I admire how well informed you are and how well you know to formulate your opinions.

On Bosnia I agree with you. In my own country Holland there was for centuries a strong divide between catholics and protestants. Now it has just evaporated. And the key to that was that the protestant majority left the Catholic minority its autonomy. Similarly I believe that once you give ethnic ethnic groups in Bosnia their autonomy the importance of ethnicity will gradually become reduced. Pressure to adapt only highlights the different identity.

On Kosovo I differ. Many newly independent countries show ethnic cleansing. Even countries with a rather peaceful separation like Slovenia (the "erased") and the former Asian Soviet republics show ethnic cleansing. In Kosovo there was a bloody war and there were already complaints about local cleansing of Serbs buy Albanians before 1989. Also Kosovo misses the kind of undisputed leadership that helped to keep the situation in South Africa and Montenegro peaceful. Finally the groups are very estranged and many don't speak the other's language. So there are five factors pointing to trouble.

You believe that it is possible to draw up a perfect Ahtisaari Plan. I think it is impossible to write a plan that it is so comprehensive that it prevents every hostile trick a politician could think of. In addition in a hostile environment legal guarantees tend to be evaded or ignored.

I think it is good that the West sets some standards and imposes them. And even after KFOR has left EU pressure will maintain some standards. But pressure to leave can take many subtle forms, from a burnt shed to a subtly more harsh police to bureaucratic red tape.

There are already reports that many of the young Serbs have left and many Serb enclaves may simply die out.

Young states tend to be very nationalist and intolerant of minorities that might secede. So I think the chance is very big that Kosovo's government will try to Albanize Kosovo's north when it gets a chance.

My expectation is that Serbia can play the same role for Kosovo as Greece plays for Albania. Once the status issue has been settled in a friendly manner it will become the main contributor to its development. In the end that is much more important for Kosovo than the outcome of the property disputes.

Sure there were rapes: you have them always in wars (there are allegations against Albanians too) and the more so when you send in paramilitary groups that consist of hooligans. But rape camps: I haven't heard of them in Kosovo.