Saturday, March 10, 2012

How (not) to negotiate on Kosovo

In its heart the problem of Kosovo is rather simple. Serbia wants better living conditions for Kosovo's Serb minority - and to a lesser extent also for its other minorities - and the Kosovo's Albanians want international recognition of their independence. The balance of power is rather in the middle and a solution should be easy to reach. But such negotiations have never been held.

After the 1999 War the West blocked all negotiations for the first five years claiming that Kosovo was not ready. In the later years this was called "standards before status". After the march 2004 riots this policy was given up. Not only were standards no longer needed for negotiations: the West stopped asking for compliance to standards at all. The Ahtisaari negotiations were clearly fake: the Albanians knew they would get their state no matter what so they didn't see any need to placate the Serbs with concessions. And now we have the "technical dialogue" facilitated by the EU.

There have now been 9 rounds of talks. The result of the latest round of talks was that Serbia allowed Kosovo greater representation at international meetings and consented in some border procedures. In exchange it got candidate membership for the EU. So basically these are negotiations between the EU and Serbia. It is the EU and not Kosovo that makes concessions to Serbia. Sure, the Kosovo government has to agree and sometimes it or Albin Kurti protests. But that is always about wanting bigger steps towards full recognition. Not about Serbia's demands on minority rights, refugee returns and monument protection. These are not even discussed.

So one can conclude that these technical talks are not real negotiations but just serve to placate those in the EU who have tied their political fate to the independence of Kosovo. They do this by using blackmail - what unfortunately has become an accepted feature of our supposedly superior Western civilization. This way these "negotiations" do nothing to build trust between Serbs and Albanians and they do nothing to achieve a negotiated solution. On the contrary, by giving the Albanians the feeling that what they do won't influence the process it seduces them to anti-Serb policies.

The Serbian government has been reproached for not having more concrete demands regarding Kosovo. But the problem is that agreements tend to stay on paper. What is the use of talking about improvements to the Ahtisaari Plan when the plan is just a cover-up for a reality where 200,000 refugees cannot return home? The only thing that might achieve some results is setting concrete numerical targets. But after the failure of "standards before status" it is doubtful whether the EU is prepared to support once again concrete targets.

It is doubtful whether it was a good idea to have the EU as mediator (see "Belgrade cannot control political will of northern Kosovo" as to many of its members have - by supporting Kosovo's independence against international law and public opinion - have tied their own reputation to the success of Kosovo.

In fact Albanians and Serbs might achieve a solution rather soon when left alone. But when some time ago Albanian intellectuals started discussing deals with Serbia - including the possibility of border changes this was interrupted by the US that flew in its highest diplomat to warn that this was not acceptable.

I am afraid the Serbs and Albanians will have to muddle through until the West gets finally tired of the Balkans.

Some people like to argue to the period before 1999 as a proof that Serbs and Albanians cannot be trusted to settle the subject among themselves. But until Milosevic introduced his discriminatory policies around 1990 the Kosovo Albanians did have adequate rights.

Western politicians now like to stress how bad Serbia treated Kosovo's Albanians in the 1990s. But they forget that many of those discriminatory policies were copies of similar measures that Croatia had taken against its Serbs - with silent support of the Western countries. This one of the things the West likes to forget: how it contributed to the poisoning of inter-ethnic relations by the condoning and encouragement of unilateral measures.

Even if he had wanted later in the 1990s Milosevic was politically too weak to take measures to improve the fate of Kosovo's Albanians - measures that certainly would have been unpopular in Serbia. Some Western pressure could have helped here. But the West was not interested in improving the fate of the Albanians: they only wanted to overthrow Milosevic. And so - instead of exercising just enough pressure to get Milosevic to introduce better rights for the Albanians - the West supported an Albanian guerrilla war and then held a "peace conference" at Rambouillet where it made proposal that it knew would be unacceptable to Serbia so that it had an excuse to start a war.

1 comment:

The Hero of Crappy Town said...

These aren't even negotiations between the EU and Serbia. They are negotiations between the Empire (its other capital in the Brussels) and its clients in Serbia. The idea Tadić represents the interests of and speaks on the behalf of Serbia is as preposterous as the Stalin's regional commissars spoke on behalf of his district.

The closest comparison these negotiations have is the negotiation between central and regional authorities in Stalin's USSR. You have Tadić desperately pleading with Brussels to lower the quota of things he is to deliver for it, because he thinks their idea of what he can deliver is unrealistic, but this is it. He does not doubt his role is to take from his jurisdiction on behalf of the center.