Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Kosovo – perhaps the Quint still doesn’t understand the North?

JANUARY 14, 2014

A way should be found to ensure Mayor-elect, Krstimir Pantic, can take his place without further delay, whilst the Quint should make clear to Pristina that it will not allow efforts to delay or derail implementation.  This new opportunity to move forward with peaceful change could yet be lost.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

Despite the progress made through the Brussels dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, it seems there is still much left to be done to “regularize” the situation of north Kosovo.  Elections have been held and enough northern Kosovo Serbs participated to mark them minimally successful.  But as ever, the devils are in the details and they have shown their faces in the weeks since.  The essential issue remains what it has always been, most Kosovo Serb not surrounded by Albanians still refuse to be absorbed into an “independent” Kosovo state.  That is a reality as much as is Kosovo independence.

In 2013, the Quint – the EU and US – seemed to have finally understood that force could not impose submission to Pristina on the north.  The EU-led negotiations appeared to offer the possibility of a status-neutral approach to reaffirming Kosovo’s territorial integrity – including the north – within an Ahtisaari Plus framework allowing the northern Serbs local autonomy with links both to Belgrade and Pristina.  This had become the state of affairs south of the Ibar since the Quint allowed Pristina’s use of force to bully the Serb-majority areas there into acceptance.  The Brussels negotiations offered a way to bring the north into a similar arrangement but without overt submission to Pristina.  The north would participate in Kosovo elections overseen by the OSCE – which is still bound by UNSCR 1244 – and the resulting local governments – recognized by all – would operate within a Kosovo context with internationals taking the place of direct Pristina involvement.  Serbia would disband its own “parallel” institutions and fold its police and judicial officials into a Kosovo system.  Key would be implementing these steps in a status-neutral manner, with no direct involvement by Pristina nor any imposition of Kosovo state symbols.

Belgrade could go as far as it did in the negotiations to accept the practical loss of Kosovo only if it was not also forced to accept anything that would imply its outright recognition of Kosovo independence.  The deal seemed to be that the EU would find this sufficient to begin Serbia’s move into eventual EU membership.  The German Ambassador to Serbia reportedly has even suggested that recognition of Kosovo is not a requirement as long as Pristina and Belgrade regularize their relationship in some mutually acceptable manner.

The Kosovo Albanians accepted negotiations reluctantly and only under US pressure.  They want the north whole and on their terms and have made clear that they consider Kosovo an Albanian enterprise, as reaffirmed in the recent joint government session with Albania.  They may have been surprised that Belgrade accepted the form of compromise offered by the Quint as it does formally accept the factual loss of governing authority over its “province.”  But faced with the actuality of finding the north locally autonomous, recognized by the internationals, still with links to Serbia and beyond direct control, Pristina has tried to raise every obstacle it can to obstruct implementation in a status-neutral manner.  It will also drag its feet on remaining issues, including the courts, customs fees and property issues.

No detail goes unused by Pristina in its effort to prevent smooth implementation.  It apparently insisted that officials elected in the north – already by a minority vote – sign papers with Kosovo state symbols on them.  Someone among the internationals understood that no northern Serb could sign such a thing.  So they covered the state symbols up with glue and paper.  One poor local Kosovo Serb official swore he could not see through the glued-on paper and couldn’t even peel it off!  But the mayor-elect of North Mitrovica refused to sign.  His refusal may lead Pristina to call another election.  The Quint should stop playing games with glue and paper and ensure genuinely status-neutral means to implement the Brussels agreements.  A way should be found to ensure Mayor-elect Pantic can take his place without further delay.  And the Quint should make clear to Pristina that it will not allow efforts to delay or derail implementation.  This new opportunity to move forward with peaceful change could yet be lost.

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 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He will serve as Diplomat-in-Residence at Drake University for the 2013-14 school year.

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