The ICO in Kosovo has published a report "Guest in our own House" that is based on interviewing around 100 people in the North tip of Kosovo. It is nice to see that ICO is interested in the public opinion in that area. However, I was less enthusiastic about how it explained its findings.
The report correctly concludes that "In general, the Ahtisaari Plan – even if rejected on the level of status – is seen as being fine in theory, but not in practice. Non-implementation, whether through omission or commission is a real problem.".
This is not surprising. I have mentioned it many times in blog and many others have mentioned it too. The main problem is in my opinion that Ahtisaari offers fake autonomy. It is autonomy where the approval of Pristina is still needed for many details and that way the purpose of autonomy - making a community less vulnerable for discrimination - is missed.
Unfortunately the ICO doesn't want to criticize the Ahtisaari Plan and instead it comes with a whole lot of rather nonsensical explanations and solutions:
- "The contents of the Ahtisaari Plan are not well known, but when people are informed they point to elements that they find are positive for them."
In every country only a small part of the population tends to read this kind of texts. Most people rely on leaders and newspapers for their opinion. And the leaders of Kosovo's Northern Serbs are clear: their community is seriously threatened when their region comes under Pristina rule - what for them is the main part of the Ahtisaari Plan. By pointing out positive points in the plan the researchers were basically misleading their research subjects because they didn't address the question how these will work out in reality.
- the report ignores policies by government of Kosovo that seriously harm the Serb population, like the denial of access to the Serbian mobile phone system and the export boycott of Trepca North on which many Serb depend for their income. In fact by supporting those policies ICO is supporting Pristina in its attitude that discrimination is allowed as long as you dress it up nicely in politically correct language.
- the report is full of nice recommendations about how the government of Kosovo could make the Ahtisaari Plan more attractive for the Serbs, including many points where until now it hasn't fully implemented the plan. But it fails to ask itself the obvious questions: why isn't that happening yet and what are the chances that that will happen in the future? What we see is that Kosovo has a public opinion that - encouraged by populist politicians - favors anti-Serb policies with some arguing for further cleansing of the Serb population. The fact that the international community in Kosovo keeps a low profile and relies on silent diplomacy to correct too extreme policies certainly hasn't helped to turn this climate around. On the contrary, it has led it to become a hostage rather than a shaper of the public opinion and has contributed to such harmful policies as mentioned in the previous paragraph.
- the report describes the Kosovo Serbs as "technically" a minority. But in fact in the North they are the local majority and part of a Serb-majority area that that continues in Serbia. Many people there are more likely to visit Raska and Kraljevo in Serbia than Southern Mitrovica or Pristina and that very likely will not change when ethnic relations become more relaxed. Unlike the Serbs south of the Ibar these people don't have any reason to learn Albanian and are very unlikely to do so. So there are good arguments to treat these people as a local majority. The fact that the Ahtisaari Plan doesn't do that is a major defect of the plan. Some Ahtisaari Plus plan might repair that but until now those plans are rather vague and both Western and Albanian support has been low.
- Kosovo is a cold house for Serbs. They feel as, at best, unwanted guests in the Republic’s house. The Government for its part fears that the room the Serbs want to build in the north will undermine the foundations of the original house, and bring the whole independence project crashing down.
This is how the report starts its summary. It is rather amazing to see how the existential fears of the Serbs are placed here on the same level as the fears of the Kosovo government. In fact the worst case scenario for the Albanians is a long wait for official recognition, some territorial concessions in areas where hardly an Albanian lives and some concessions on business property rights. None of these is in any way comparable to the delicate position of Kosovo's minorities.
- The provision on contribution from Serbia has potential to be positive, but Pristina
needs to be clear that it would not exercise power of veto over Serbia expenditure plans.
This concerns the infamous clause in the Ahtisaari Plan that all money transfers from Serbia to the Serb minority in Kosovo should go via Pristina - giving Pristina a de facto right of veto. The solution of the report consists of nice wishes but evades the issue: Pristina shouldn't have the power to block such transfers. There should be direct contact between local Serb governments and Belgrade.
The Ahtisaari Plan is in fact full of similar clauses where it provides the Serbs some right and then stipulates that the decision should be approved by Pristina. This way its "rights" are not really rights and can at any point be violated.
The West is repeating the errors it made in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. Again it is subscribing to the view of a state as something monolithic that shouldn't be weakened by minority rights. This is a nice prescription for states like France and the US that have strong traditions of individual rights. But it misses the point in new states where previously marginal national extremists now are in charge. Giving a state independence means implicit recognition that they (the Croats in Croatia, the Albanians in Kosovo) have a right to have their own state and that means all others become second rate citizens. In such a situation one should give the minorities real power so that they can get an adequate compromise. That is the only way to avoid discrimination and ethnic cleansing because it will take decades before public opinion and institutions will embrace a more inclusive view of their state.