Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kosovo going the way of Bosnia

At the moment Belgium has been more than a year without a government. Few Belgians worry. They are used to the fact that when the conditions under which the Flemish and the Walloon live together need some update it takes a long time. You have two very large groups with different ideas and many people have seldom contact with members of the other group. And many that do have contact will try to avoid the subject as it might spoil the relationship. But in the contacts that there are slowly a compromise will arise. Politicians may love taking extreme positions but people discussing with friends will find some kind of compromise. It takes a lot of time before such ideas have trickled up and a consensus has been reached.

Unfortunately the West didn't have that patience when the Bosnians needed to agree on how to go further after the Dayton Agreement. Instead of waiting until some compromise arose Western diplomats couldn't resist to choose the side of the Muslims. Initially it seemed to help. But in the end it led to a near complete stagnation.

The problem was that once the Muslims saw they had Western support they increased their demands up to the point where the Serbs even with Western pressure wouldn't agree. The most problematic aspect however was that this changed the communication. Where in the past Muslims had to convince the Serbs (and the other way around) of the reasonableness of their proposals they now only needed to convince the internationals. This meant that real communication between Serbs and Muslims stopped. And without real communication you cannot find a solution.

At the moment the same development is happening in Kosovo. The internationals have chosen sides. At the moment they are still in the phase of self-congratulation - believing they have achieved something. But in the long run it threatens to lead to complete stagnation.

It already went wrong with the issue of the custom stamps. I am really amazed that what exactly happened is still shrouded in mysteries. In my opinion openness would have been the solution. Both the Serbs and the Albanians should explain in details what happened and why they took the position they took - including the concessions they were prepared to make. If there is any disagreement of facts - let the international mediators clarify them. Then let the Kosovar and Serbian public opinion do its work and sooner or later they will agree on what is a reasonable solution in the given circumstances. As Kosovo hardly exports anything there is no real reason for hurry.

Instead the internationals allowed Kosovo to do a grab for the border posts in Kosovo's North. It was a clear violation of the agreement before the "technical talks" that during the talks no one should unilaterally try to change the "facts on the ground", but the internationals chose to ignore that and even defended the Albanian actions. They suddenly "discovered" that the Kosovo government had the right to control Kosovo's whole territory. Never mind that that right was once denied because it would have led to massive ethnic cleansing - something KFOR is supposed to prevent.

It is popular in diplomatic circles to see Balkanians as irresponsible children who would immediately make war if you gave them such basic rights as to negotiate with each other over borders. The decision to create "forgone facts" in the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia fits in the same tradition. This attitude was in the 1990s the most important cause of the wars. We can only hope that the damage will this time be more restricted.

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