Kosovo – what a mess

Given the spate of bad news emerging from Kosovo in recent weeks, the only way forward is for the international community to again attempt to achieve a political solution, this time with Belgrade directly.

(Gerard Gallucci, Transconflic) Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Though it is winter and should have been a time for nothing much to happen, over the last few weeks Kosovo has produced nothing but bad news. First an election with so much fraud that it required another election to be held in order to fix it. Then a Council of Europe (CoE) report alleging that Kosovo's top leadership had been involved in organ and people trafficking in 1999-2000. This was followed by another CoE report criticizing Kosovo for its failure to protect witnesses of war crimes. The European and American supporters of Kosovo independence were said to have overlooked these issues in the name of political stability. To top it off, the Kosovo leadership has sought to discredit the Swiss investigator who authored the trafficking report - labeling it as Nazi-like propaganda - and conducted what the Washington Post described as a "witch hunt" against Albanians who aided the investigation.

All this comes at a time when the European Union and UN are standing by to facilitate talks between Belgrade and Pristina that some hoped would lead to negotiations and eventual agreement on the remaining political issues that have blocked Kosovo from moving forward. Fewer than 40% of the UN membership recognizes Kosovo independence despite the recent decision by Qatar (#73) to do so. Five members of the EU continue to refuse recognition. It seems clear that Kosovo will reach the third year anniversary of its independence declaration in February as a still un-finished state. It seems likely as well that it will reach that date without a government, or with one severely weakened by continuing charges of corruption and electoral fraud, a cobbled-together coalition that may not be able to survive a vote of no-confidence and a leadership that few countries, including "friends," will be eager to embrace. Negotiations on substantive issues under these conditions are unlikely to be fruitful if they occur at all.

How did all this happen? Four reasons emerge: the Quint's decision to push ahead with a unilateral declaration of independence without the sanction of the UN Security Council and then to seek to brush the UN aside; Serbia's effective diplomacy to raise questions about the declaration and prevent a landslide of recognitions; the refusal of hardliners among the supporters of independence - especially the US and UK - to accept any form of compromise with Belgrade while they supported Pristina's efforts to bully Kosovo Serbs into submission; and the US and EU strategy - while exercising leadership of both UNMIK and EULEX - of appeasing the Kosovo Albanians in order to maintain "control" and stability. The "independent" Kosovo was allowed to come into the world with vast problems - political, economic and criminal - swept under the carpet while the Quint focused on seeking to pressure Serbia to simply surrender its claim to the territory.

It would be easy to say that the US/EU effort to force their desired outcome for Kosovo has backfired. But the real issue is now how to move forward with a Kosovo that is not only incomplete but likely to remain so indefinitely without a political settlement both sides will accept and without continued international tutelage for many years to come. There seems only one way forward, for the internationals to make another try to achieve a political solution, this time with Belgrade directly. The Kosovo Albanians cannot keep up their end in any genuine negotiation as long as they pursue their maximalist claim to all of Kosovo on their terms. Indeed, they would have to be strongly constrained during any negotiations from seeking to provoke instability within Kosovo or the region as a "bargaining chip." The six-member Contact Group - the Quint countries of the US, UK, German, Italy and France plus Russia - should work together with Belgrade on a political accommodation that accepts Kosovo independence as a fact but also recognizes Serbian interests, including economic and commercial and vis-a-vis the Church and the Serbian-majority north. The mess that Kosovo has become requires a new approach to begin cleaning up.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008. Gerard is also a member ofTransCconflict's advisory board. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.