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NO 153-154

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 1 > Helsinki Charter No. 153-154 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 153-154

July - August 2011


Kosovo's North


By Miroslav Filipovic

Denouement in Kosovo, including its north, mostly depends on NATO estimate of how would Kosovo Serbs in the north respond to a really serious military-police action by Kosovo Security Forces and KFOR. If the international community assesses Serbs' violent reaction to such an action as acceptable and controllable it will go for it - probably not before Serbia's elections in spring 2012 but will undertake it without doubt.

The news that another 17 countries recognized Kosovo in three days only and that the magic number grew to almost 97 shocked Pristina itself, let alone Belgrade. And all this happened shortly after Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic's visit to the region wherefrom all those new recognitions came and his boastful statements that Caribbean countries would never, never, never . recognize the false state of Kosovo. As for Serbia and its unfortunate and confused citizens they were equally shocked by the Government Media Department's response: the Director of the Department told the press that the latest wave of Kosovo recognitions is "neither a big nor a serious step towards independence" and that Serbia "wages a silent, diplomatic war for Kosovo." The biggest shock came at the end. "We've been winning this war so far. Our Foreign Ministry has been taking a really serious action and that action turned effective," said the said director, Mihajlovic. I just hope he survived.

And yet, this is not the main problem plaguing our neighbor in the south. Security situation is calming but that's only a temporary cease fire. The Kosovo government would not give up complete incorporation of the country's north. Its decision to send the special police unit ROSU to the border with Serbia was the first political decision that unified the regime and the opposition in Pristina. And that was the first political decision after independence declaration that was fully and unequivocally backed by citizens.

On the other hand, Kosovo Serbs in the north live on massive smuggling from Serbia, while paying no taxes to anyone. For them Kosovo state's control over border-crossing posts is a fatal blow to their criminalized economy but also to their political power. Without uncontrolled flow of goods over border crossings 1 and 31, Serbs' criminal economy in the north is sentenced to death together with its protagonists - various Jaksics and Ivanovics from Mitrovica.

I believe, therefore, that there could be no lasting peace in Kosovo's north. The moment they can no longer smuggle at will criminals in the north will again erect barricades, block roads, torch border stations and shoot at their opponents regardless of the uniforms they wear. By threatening local Serbs in neighboring villages with murder and torching of their houses, they will again force them to the barricades, as they did this July and August.

The latest protests against the control over border-crossing points were staged by criminal bosses from Kosovo's north. According to the media, most influential among them are Zvonko Veselinovic, Dejan Vulovic and Vladimir Rakic. They've been backed by Serb politicians and parallel structures in the North established after Serbia's elections. Serb politicians from Central and South Kosovo elected in Kosovo elections more or less denied them their support.

On the whole, organizers of protests did not enjoy support from official Belgrade that even tried to distance itself from "Mitrovica hooligans." And yet, only few day later Belgrade was after making profit from the fact that the international community was reserved about Thachi's action. But Belgrade's hopes melted into thin air the same as its attempt to have a UN SC session called to discuss the situation in Kosovo.

Actual developments in Kosovo's north testify that Belgrade is a hostage to the parallel structures it itself set up and has maintained for over a decade. As these structures are closely connected with the organized crime, actual lord of the territory, it will not be easy to dismantle them: they are not expected to give up just like that the profit they've been making on lawlessness, smuggling and corruption. According to some estimates, their illegal profit amounts to some half a million euro per day. Of course, the same amount goes to their counterparts in Kosovo distributing all these goods to the Albanian part. Until Daut Haradinaj introduced law and order, Kosovo Albanians have struggled over each truck for years.

To tell the truth, Belgrade has managed to considerably reduce the influence of the parallel structures though not as much as the international community expects it to. This is what Ms. Angela Merkel told the Serbian President straight from the shoulder during her visit while announcing a serious military action against Serb criminals in Kosovo's north. Regardless of Tadic's habitually self-conceited statements it seems that their tete-a-tete was more marked by warnings and dictates than discussion. Like in the final scene of "Madam Minister" play, "Don't complain afterwards about not knowing!"

The biggest loser of the latest Kosovo crisis is Borko Stefanovic. Instead of remaining "Mr. Representative" of Serbia in the negotiations with Kosovo authorities, Stefanovic agilely and quite unnecessarily began playing a guard of the barricades and a leader of North Kosovo Serb criminals' political wing - the one that killed on Kosovo police officer. He was of no avail to Serbs as he failed to "restore the situation to the time before July 25" on the one hand and, on the other, so much compromised himself in Pristina that he became persona no grata. He will most probably be replaced with someone else.

Still strongly influenced in Kosovo by the former (now excommunicated) Bishop Artemije, Serb Orthodox Church refrained from making any commentary about the incidents. However, a considerable number of its priests have blessed the protests and protesters.

Official Russia has taken a neutral stand: it didn't even bother to have a UN Security Council session convened, let alone Vuk Jeremic's attendance at the Council's closed consultative meeting. And yet, the word has it that Russians are tacitly encouraging Belgrade to ask for a status for Kosovo's north similar to that of the enclaves in the former Soviet republics (Pridniestovie in Moldova, Aphasia in Georgia or Nagorno Karabah).

At preset the situation is calm though uncertain. The status of border-crossing points 1 and 31 is "midway" between Kosovska Mitrovica's and Pristina's wishes. It seems, nevertheless, that Pristina has the upper hand and that it will realize its plan - control the flow of goods at its borders - in foreseeable future. Serb criminals in the north have no ally. The international community's concern for the lives of its soldiers and officials stationed in Kosovo is their only trump card.

The international community has convinced Pristina that it should be satisfied with the present situation that could change on September 15 or later (which is more probable). The Kosovo police and customs authorities would more easily take over the border-crossing points from KFOR than from Serb policemen in the uniforms of the Kosovo police.

Denouement in Kosovo, including its north, mostly depends on NATO estimate of how would Kosovo Serbs in the north respond to a really serious military-police action by Kosovo Security Forces and KFOR. If the international community assesses Serbs' violent reaction to such an action as acceptable and controllable it will go for it - probably not before Serbia's elections in spring 2012 but will undertake it without doubt.

For the time being Kosovo Serbs and Belgrade manage to intimidate international decision-makers with threats about a heavy toll in human lives on both sides and a humanitarian catastrophe. In my view, the international community and Kosovo government would not overpower the Serb criminal structures in the north without forceful means. Only "stick" could make Serbs in the north give up the immense profit they've been making on illegal traffic and the power it implies. I believe those Serbs would accept no compromise, including autonomy or Kosovo Serb policemen at border-crossing points. Those people have no ear for compromise and "positive loss." They wouldn't let go a single benefit. I am afraid that only a military action - something like Croatia's "Storm" - could resolve the situation in the north. And then we shall again witness columns of tractors heading towards Kraljevo. That will be the most obvious outcome of the policy created by Belgrade's wise duet.


NO 153-154

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