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INFO   :::  Region > Kosovo - PAGE 1 > It all depends


It all depends

Daniel Serwer

August 26, 2015

People were asking me what I think almost before the ink was dry on the five pages agreed yesterday between Belgrade and Pristina on the general principles/main elements of the Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo. The answer is: it all depends.

It depends on your frame of reference:

If you want to know whether it is consistent with the Ahtisaari plan and previous agreements between Pristina and Belgrade, that is one frame of reference. It looks to me as if it is.

If you want to know whether the general principles will ensure the Association/Community is formed consistent with Kosovo law, that is another frame of reference. It looks to me as if it will be.

If you want to know whether it is consistent with practices in other situations where a minority in one country looks to a neighboring “mother” country for support, that is still another frame of reference. I think you likely can find precedents elsewhere.

If you want to know whether allowing Belgrade to assist in providing education, healthcare and urban planning to Serbs in Kosovo is wise, that is another frame of reference. It at least might lower burdens on the government in Pristina that it would find difficult to carry.


But if you ask me whether it looks like a good idea that Kosovars will have no reason to regret, I confess to doubts. Those doubts originate with the Ahtisaari plan, not with this latest iteration of its most dubious provisions. Kosovo’s negotiators have done well to make it clear the Association/Community will be formed in accordance with Kosovo’s constitution and laws, verified by its constitutional court. It is also clear the Association/Community is supposed mainly to exercise overview and provide services only consistent with Kosovo law. On paper it looks like an ethnically defined version of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) in the United States. How can I object to that?

I can, because it is ethnically–not politically or geographically–defined and could become the kernel of separate Serb governing structures in Kosovo. That of course is the fear: a separate Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina has rendered that country dysfunctional. It is bringing up the rear in the regatta for European Union membership in the Balkans.

Unfortunately, Ahtisaari left the door open for that to happen in Kosovo too, specifically in article 9.1 of Annex III of his proposal:

Based upon the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, municipalities shall be entitled to cooperate and form partnerships with other Kosovo municipalities to carry out functions of mutual interest, in accordance with the law.


9.1.1: Municipal responsibilities in the areas of their own and enhanced competencies may be exercised through municipal partnerships, with the exception of the exercise of fundamental municipal authorities, such as election of municipal organs and appointment of municipal officials, municipal budgeting, and the adoption of regulatory acts enforceable, on citizens in general;


9.1.2 Municipal partnerships may take all actions necessary to implement and exercise their functional cooperation through, inter alia, the establishment of a decision making body comprised of representatives appointed by the assemblies of the participating municipalities, the hiring and dismissal of administrative and advisory personnel, and decisions on funding and other operational needs of the partnership…



This notion of “partnerships” to carry out municipal functions might be perfectly sensible and workable in a normal European context. We’ve got some analogies in the US, like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. But with due respect to the European Charter of Local Self-Government, it could be a nightmare in the Balkans.

Some colleagues have said there is not so much to worry about, because the divergent interests between large and small municipalities, and between those north and south of Ibar, will limit what the Community/Association is able to do. That could be correct, provided the municipalities are driven by their own interests.

But if Belgrade cracks the whip and insists that the Serb municipalities obey its lead–which the flow of its resources may be able to ensure–that argument could be moot. Combined with the disciplined clout of Serb members of the Kosovo parliament, the Community/Association could become a real hindrance to Kosovo’s further institutional development. It will almost certainly become a source of contention within the Albanian community, parts of which will see perfidy even if there isn’t any.

Might Belgrade recognize that a functional Kosovo state is in its interests and a dysfunctional one is not? After all, a weak or collapsed state in Kosovo could create real problems on Serbia’s southern border. I think that is true, but I wouldn’t want to bet on Serbian democracy to come to that conclusion easily. It has been a long time since Belgrade cared much about governance of the Albanians in Kosovo. America isn’t the only democracy that tries all the bad options before doing the right thing.

Do I think the other things agreed yesterday outweigh the risks associated with the Community/Association? No, I don’t. I wouldn’t surrender my kingdom these days for either a horse or an international dialing code, though I might trade a dialing code for allowing a Serbian telecomm provider to operate.

But really the Pristina government had no choice: it was obligated to implement the Ahtisaari plan. Too bad that plan wasn’t better articulated on this issue.



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