AIM: start

TUE, 07 AUG 2001 22:29:56 GMT

Serbia's Search for a Way Back to Kosovo

AIM Pristina, July 29, 2001

After the change of government in Belgrade, the new authorities failed in defining a consistent policy on the question of Kosovo. The fact that since June, 1999, Kosovo has been governed by the U.N. and controlled by KFOR troops (NATO plus Russia), with an unlimited mandate, could offer little maneuvering space for officials in Belgrade, especially given that they are currently preoccupied with the consolidation of government and elimination of numerous problems inherited from the previous regime. One such priority issue was the crisis in the Presevo Valley, where armed Albanian groups, discontent with the status of ethnic Albanians and continued police and military repression, rebelled during Milosevic's rule, posing a threat to order and the territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia. Opting for a political solution instead of a continued conflict, the Serbian government, in cooperation with NATO and UNMIK, succeeded in resolving the Presevo crisis.

After this success the Serbian government began showing signs of willingness to assume a more active and decisive role in settling the question of Kosovo. After Nebojsa Covic, the chief Serb negotiator in the crisis in the Presevo Valley, was appointed Serbian government representative for Kosovo, several new and ambitious initiatives have been launched from Belgrade.

There are several reasons why the Djindjic government has opted to tackle the Kosovo issue more openly. Developments in Kosovo do not allow for a passive policy. One of the challenges for Belgrade are general elections scheduled to be held in November. The Serbian government could not remain indifferent and had to pursue a certain policy, primarily in relation to whether the Serb minority should or should not participate in the elections. The Serb political scene in Kosovo, which in the past supported Milosevic's policies and after the war chose to boycott the international administration, meanwhile has entered a stage of turmoil and established new ties of dependence with the decision-making centers in Belgrade. The Serb political forces in Kosovo failed to come forth with a joint, independent policy, investing all their hopes in the new government, or in remnants of the former regime. Boycotting the elections would mean continuity with the old policies of rejecting the new reality in Kosovo, and promise little to Kosovo Serbs and Belgrade alike. Meanwhile, after intense consultations with UNMIK and the OSCE in Kosovo, Serb officials opted for a more flexible approach, no longer rejecting the participation of Kosovo Serbs in the elections, but conditioning it with several concessions and privileges, to advance both the position of Kosovo Serbs and provide for a larger influence of the government in Belgrade.

The most recent platform offered by Kosovo Serbs and Belgrade is best described as a program of sophisticated obstruction of the process meant to advance the institutions of self-government in Kosovo. The platform demands that a return of Serbs displaced after June, 1999, be ensured, that a significant improvement of their security and freedom of movement be guaranteed, that all Kosovo inhabitants living in Kosovo be registered as well as those temporarily displaced, and that all parties active in Serbia be allowed to participate in the November vote. As a result of negotiations with UNMIK and OSCE representatives Serbian parties were allowed to participate in the elections without having to be re-registered in Kosovo. Their sole obligation is to submit proof to UNMIK that they have at least 500 members in Kosovo.

The Kosovo chapters of several parties from Serbia have already used the opportunity to conditionally apply for the vote. It is not known yet which parties did so, but it is assumed that they belong to the coalition which is currently in power in Serbia and Yugoslavia. However, the election regulations set no restrictions for the participation of the Socialist Party of Serbia, the Serbian Radical Party or the Party of Serb Unity (founded by the notorious criminal Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic) in the November elections, despite years of discriminatory, racist and genocidal policies towards Kosovo Albanians, which resulted in war, great destruction and numerous casualties. A possible participation of these parties in the vote would be a great provocation regardless of the fact that they can obtain only a limited political influence, because the Serb minority accounts for only 6-7 percent of Kosovo's electorate, and cannot win more than that in the future Kosovo Parliament.

It is widely believed in Kosovo that the activities of these three parties should be banned in Kosovo, much like it was the case with fascist parties in Western Europe. The problem for UMNIK and the OSCE, however, lies in the fact that most Kosovo Serbs in the past voted for them, their influence still being rather big. To ban them would mean to exclude a large number of Kosovo Serbs from the election process. For the time being, international administrators can only hope they will not change their mind after having publicly said they would boycott the vote.

Another motive for a more active presence of Serbia in Kosovo is Belgrade's need to define a long-term strategy for the Republic of Serbia and the Serb nation. This is linked to the ongoing crisis in the Yugoslav federation, which is so only on paper. Montenegro, which is one of the two federal units, does not recognize federal institutions and is preparing a referendum on independence. The redefining of Yugoslavia, or its end as a common state of all South Slavs, calls for redefining the status of Kosovo as well, which according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 is still considered a part of the federation.

According to Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic, Serbia would not prevent Montenegro's separation in the event most inhabitants of the other federal unit vote for independence. Djindjic, however, says that the possible dissolution of the federal state would in no way affect the status of Kosovo, which is a part of Serbia. According to him, Serbia is not an ethnic but a civic state, and it should insists that Kosovo remain a part of it.

In Kosovo and international centers, however, as well as among politicians and international law experts, the prevailing view is that the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation, as an independent state consisting of Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo (it being a U.N. protectorate), would not automatically mean the survival of the union of Serbia and Kosovo. In fact, because Serbia no longer has any military or administrative control over Kosovo, it would be hard to imagine the return of Serbian forces and administration there without a new war. Maybe the Serbian government has no illusions about this issue.

The plans of Serbian officials can be best understood from a statement by Serbian Vice Premier Nebojsa Covic, who said there was a way for Serbia's return to Kosovo, and that this opportunity could be used only if Serbia is clever, disregarding the various interests and ambitions of Kosovo Serb leaders, who lack proper understanding of the balance of power and the true interests of Serbia. Covic, who is a pragmatic politician and who led successful negotiations which ended the crisis in the Presevo Valley, seems to be in favor of a minimalistic solution -- the return of Serbian forces only to Serb enclaves, primarily in northern Kosovo. He is convinced this goal is attainable and would not provoke a new conflict as long as Kosovo is controlled by KFOR. Covic is in favor of creating two entities in Kosovo: an Albanian one, which would encompass the greater portion of Kosovo, and a Serb entity, in the north, where Serbs are the majority population.

Covic believes that Serbian forces could return to northern Kosovo, thereby guaranteeing the territorial and political autonomy of the Serb entity. This solution does not require a division of Kosovo or a change of borders, but Kosovo's cantonization as a temporary solution. It is believed in Belgrade that this is the most realistic option in creating a multi-ethnic Kosovo, which relies on the fact that by protecting Serb enclaves with their troops UNMIK and KFOR actually created separate ethnic entities. The return of Serbian forces to these enclaves, like in Bosnia model, would lead to a division of Kosovo. Although Belgrade officials say that Kosovo would remain undivided, it would find it difficult to function as a single territory. Politicians in Kosovo believe that in this way Serbia would ensure full control over a part of Kosovo, leaving the larger part inhabited by the Albanian majority, to pursue its own future, gaining in due time either independence or establishing closer ties with Albania proper.

Shkelzen Maliqi