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NO 113-114

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Helsinki Charter No. 113-114

November - December 2007




By Sonja Biserko

The resolution of the Kosovo status nears its final stage that is marked by tensions and possibly unpredictable reactions. The Balkans is again in the focus of the international community's attention as the entire region's stability and security are once more at stake. Belgrade again emerges as a factor of instability, and Serbia's international position is again rather impaired. Serbia has not lost Kosovo just because of Milosevic's repressive policy - Serbian nationalists wrote off the province back in 1980s when, in Kosovo of all places, they raised the Serbian question in the then Yugoslavia. Ever since, Belgrade has been actually offering nothing but partition of Kosovo, a partition closely connected with the status of Republika Srpska. Ever since the Kosovo status has been placed on the agenda, Belgrade has been destabilizing Bosnia-Herzegovina and using it as the last recourse to accomplish its initial plan: rearrangement of borders in the Balkans. This logically implies the Serbs' exodus from enclaves in Kosovo, i.e. the part of Kosovo that would go to the Albanians.

The last round of Belgrade-Prishtina negotiations ended in a blind alley. Belgrade's various proposals, including the status of Aaland Islands in Finland, did not only come late but disclosed that Belgrade actually never thought of a serious offer. Serbia's top decision-makers were invoking the right to Kosovo but never bothered to address themselves to the Albanian majority. They were insisting on a loose autonomy for Kosovo but did nothing in the past eight years to bring closer the two ethnic communities. Even Serbia's newest Constitution counts not on the Albanians. It claims only the territory, but without the Albanians who are not even on electoral rolls.

Why Belgrade puts all its eggs in one basket and insists on the option that is, in the long run and with such international constellation, fatal for Serbia and its European future? Why has it not developed a B option, a reserve offer for the settlement of the Kosovo issue? For, apart from having an eye on Kosovo's partition, Belgrade uses the problem to hinder Serbia's accession to the EU and NATO. Serbia's political class has not reached a consensus on the accession despite the fact that 70 percent of the population favors the European option. Kosovo is, among other things, a cover under which numerous tycoons (generally connected with Moscow) postpone and obstruct the establishment of the rule of law.

Refusal to accept the realities in Kosovo endangers the Serbs in enclaves the most. The same as the Serbs' departure from Croatia in 1995 and from Bosnia-Herzegovina in the wake of the Dayton Accords, their exodus from Kosovo equals a definite change in their lives and uncertain future. In spite of all defeats, Belgrade is still obsessed with territories. Belgrade's policymakers care little about the fate of the people who will be moving in columns towards destinations the Serbian government has set for them. Belgrade's decision that the Serbs cannot live side by side with the Albanians testifies that it is sacrificing its own people for the sake of uncertain and unrealistic goals.

Ever since NATO intervention Belgrade has been systematically widening the gap between Serbian and Albanian communities in Kosovo. Besides, it did nothing to implement the Resolution 1244 and thus practically strengthened the Albanians' position. Moreover, Belgrade did everything in its might to undermine the Resolution 1244. It did not recognize the international administration in Kosovo (passports, driving licenses and other documents issued by UNMIK) and it installed and financed parallel institutions in North Kosovo. It dislocated Kosovo's former administration, the police, the judiciary and educational system throughout Serbia, and seized all archives and registries. It obstructed the Serbs' return to Kosovo, forbade them to partake in Kosovo institutions and fueled their grudges. It refused to pay out pensions to over 10,000 Albanians and never paid back their foreign currency savings. Belgrade has never been interested in a dialogue with Prishtina.

Belgrade decided that the Kosovo Serbs should not vote in the last elections in Kosovo, the same as in the previous ones - and they obeyed. However, many Serb representatives - like the councilwoman from the G17 Plus - openly disagreed. After she went public with her decision to vote in Kosovo elections a bomb was planted in her house. And it were the Kosovo Serbs she accused of the incident. Though not solved yet, the case is indicative of the climate in which the Kosovo Serbs are supposed to make individual decisions. Electoral boycott was definitely contrary to their true interests, particularly at local level. The international community prolonged the mandates of Serb officials in the municipalities with the Serb majority despite the boycott.

The Serbs' stay in Kosovo will be viable only if they join in Kosovo institutions and establish permanent communication with the Albanian community. Despite Belgrade's obstruction, breakthroughs in this domain were made in the past ten years at the level of the civil society: communication was established between non-governmental groups, journalists, young people, students, women groups, etc. Moreover, individuals from the two communities begun to communicate. Normalization grounded on an institutional partnership between Belgrade and Prishtina would considerably reduce security risks, boost market economy and investment, improve both Serbia's and Kosovo's prospects for joining the EU, and result in Kosovo's economic recovery and Serbia's prosperity.

For the sake of the Serbs' future position in Kosovo, Belgrade should focus on the issues crucial for their stay. Belgrade should support their stay in Kosovo and act as a guarantor of that stay. Serbia would thus not only help the Kosovo Serbs but also speed up regional progress and its own development.

And yet, Serbia's political class turns down all offers affecting the country's future. The UN Security Council discussed the report submitted to it by international mediators, the so-called Troika. As no compromise was reached in three-month negotiations the Security Council resumed Ahtisaari's plan for the settlement of the Kosovo status. As for Russia's obstruction of a new resolution, the Security Council will be coping with it step by step. As it seems, the problem will be solved in stages - through reinterpretation of the Resolution 1244. The US and the EU are adamant that a solution should be found soon for, as they put it, "the present situation is unsustainable" and "resumed negotiations would be senseless. "

The EU already prepares its Kosovo mission. The mission will be both political and operative so as to encourage a reform that would speed up Kosovo's movement towards Europe. The EU has set two priorities for Western Balkans: to settle the Kosovo status and to bring Serbia closer to the EU. The Kosovo status was simultaneously a watershed in the EU's common foreign policy. Wolfgang Ishinger, EU representative in the mediation "troika, " saw his task as the one aimed above all at attainment of "the EU common policy for Kosovo. " And he performed that task successfully. In the matter of the Kosovo status the EU finally emerged as an independent factor, that is an actor with the biggest responsibility to bear, he said.

Responding to the Security Council session, Premier Vojislav Kostunica said Serbia would accept no unilateral decision bypassing the Security Council and breaching the Resolution 1244. For his part, Tomislav Nikolic, vice-president of the Serbian Radical Party, offered Russia the opportunity to establish a military base in Serbia that would counterbalance NATO base in Kosovo. Moreover, he was the one who initiated a parliamentary resolution that conditions the SAA agreement with the EU and recognition of Serbia's sovereignty in Kosovo.

Serbia's neighbors have opted for the EU and they all, without exception, expect Serbia to join the club. Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrije Rupel (as of January 1, 2008, Slovenia presides the EU) calls for prompt signing of the SAA with Serbia be Ratko Mladic arrested or not. Except for the Great Britain and the Netherlands, and despite Carla Del Ponte's demand that the agreement should not be signed unless Serbia extradites Ratko Mladic to the ITCY, Minister Rupel's request enjoys widespread support in the EU. Obviously, Carla Del Ponte has never understood the true nature of Belgrade's policy - she had always played into the hands of Serbia's anti-European bloc.

The latest dynamics in the settlement of the Kosovo status may bring forth new surprises in Serbia proper. This primarily refers to some kind of internal aggression against political opponents (the Liberal Democratic Party and the part of the civil sector - the NGOs that have always warned against one-way policy). To all appearances, Serbia faces yet another defeat of its leadership. And that may lead to inner instability and create a backdrop for lynch calls against "inner enemies."


NO 113-114

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