Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Culture, negotiation tactics and North Kosovo

Both Serbia and the USA have an in-your-face culture where not much effort is spent on diplomatic niceties and where power is respected. In general not much time is spent explaining your position. It is a strategy that works when you are the strongest but gives problems when someone else is stronger. Interestingly Serbia's adversaries have been successful with the opposite strategy. Instead of arrogance they try to befriend as much people and countries as they can and they spend a lot of effort and money on propaganda. This doesn't mean that they are weak: they stick very stubbornly to their "principles" and refuse any concession where the payback is not very clear.

Kostunica understood this dynamic at least partially. When faced with the US dominated West he adopted at least some stubborn tactics. He wasn't very good in making friends in the West or propaganda but being a lawyer he stubbornly sticked to Serbia's legal rights in Kosovo and that worked. As soon as Tadic rose to power however this vision disappeared. Tadic made one concession after another to the West and each time he asked his audience to trust him. In 2008 he prevented a Russian resolution that might have prevented the transfer of power from UNMIK to EULEX. Later he failed to protest Albanian moves to fire police commanders and most recently he has he has reached a very weak compromise with KFOR on the border posts. He seems unaware that each surrender leads to an increased impression of weakness and that as a consequence new demands or unilateral moves happen.

I am not going to advice on strategy (Tadic might ask Kostunica), but I want to end with a quote from a recent blogpost by Daniel Serwer, an influential voice in America's Balkan policy, that illustrates how far Tadic has failed in explaining his vision on Kosovo to the West. The fragment comes after Serwer has explained that he understands the Albanian position:

I confess to less certainty about Serbia’s perspective. When Belgrade used to say that all of Kosovo is its Jerusalem and therefore cannot be independent, I understand both the sentiment and the implications, even if I can’t agree with the conclusion. But when Belgrade says, as it has lately, that it wants a deal to keep the north, that is more than a little puzzling. None of the main Serbian monuments, churches or monasteries are in the north. Most of the Serb population lives in the south. And the north would have a wide degree of autonomy if the Ahtisaari plan were implemented there.

The only serious objection to the Ahtisaari plan I’ve heard is that it would make Belgrade’s legitimate payments (pensions, teachers, etc.) to the north go through Pristina; some worry that they might be blocked there. This is a soluble problem, not an insurmountable one.

Some people tell me the real issue is Trepca, the large mine that has long dominated the economy of the north. Others say it is face saving: Serbia has to get something, if only “Ahtisaari plus,” whatever that means. Otherwise, Boris Tadic and his Democratic Party will lose the next election to the more nationalist, but now rhetorically quite tame, Tomislav Nikolic. Sometimes I think it is inat (usually translated “spite”) and the hope that by eventually surrendering Belgrade can extract concessions of more importance elsewhere (extraterritoriality for the Serb monasteries for example). Some claim that taking the north is just part of Belgrade’s persistent attachment to the idea of Greater Serbia, and the underlying notion that wherever Serbs are in the numerical majority that territory should be part of Serbia.

But I really don’t get it, so I invite readers to offer contributions to

1 comment:

The Hero of Crappy Town said...

There is no failure on the part of Tadić's government. Its goal is to find a way to surrender Kosovo without this causing its downfall from power in Belgrade. Seen from this perspective the strategy of endless one-sided concessions makes perfect sense.