Kosovo’s Future in the Balance


Chronicles Magazine 

On February 2, U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari finally unveiled his much-anticipated plan for the final status of the Serbian province of Kosovo which has been under NATO-UN occupation since Bill Clinton’s war against the Serbs in 1999.

While avoiding the contentious word “independence,” Ahtisaari presented the framework for a new Albanian state that would have all key attributes of sovereign statehood. The plan gives Kosovo an army, an intelligence service, a new flag, and the right to join the World Bank, the IMF, and eventually the United Nations (UN). The international authorities that have run the province since 1999 will remain, with the European Union (EU) replacing the UN, and the status of Kosovo would supposedly undergo review for the first time after two years. 

The period of international supervision envisaged by the plan, as well as a host of “guarantees” and promises of “substantial” municipal autonomy for the few remaining Serbs and other non-Albanians in the province, are but a fig leaf meant to conceal the plan’s reality: that on the fundamental issue of Kosovo’s legal, constitutional and political status Ahtisaari gives everything to the Albanians and nothing to the Serbs. Even without using the “I” word, the plan proposes de facto separation of Kosovo from Serbia. Its primary focus is to finalize the detachment of Kosovo from the last formal vestiges of Serbia’s authority, with the definition of its future status a secondary consideration.

The promise of a “review” after two years is mendacious: if on their current church-burning, dope-smuggling form, the KLA terrorists and criminals who run Kosovo are deemed worthy of independence, it is preposterous to assume that someone—anyone—would dare suggest otherwise two years from now, once they are even more firmly entrenched in power. If 150 Serbian churches went up in flames, and a quarter-million Serbs and other non-Albanians were ethnically cleansed while tens of thousands of KFOR soldiers and UNMIK policemen were stationed in the Province, what would be the worth of Ahtisaari’s “guarantees” once they all leave and the KLA (under whatever current name) takes over?

Ahtissari’s plan is illegal: it violates the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, and the Security Council Resolution 1244 that all recognize Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is immoral, because it seeks to reward the most egregious violators of elementary human rights and standards of civilized behavior in today’s Europe. It is deeply destabilizing because it helps create a base for jihad-terrorism in the heart of Europe and sets a dangerous precedent that will be emulated by each and every disenchanted minority around the world: from Transylvania, to southern Slovakia to the Basque Country to Northern Cyprus to the Crimea, not to mention Transdnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. (To this there may come yet another assurance from the State Department that “no precedent would be set”; yet, while Foggy Bottom bureaucrats may impact reality, they certainly cannot control it.)

In March the Security Council is expected to review Ahtisaari’s plan, and Russia has said it will veto any resolution that Serbia does not support. The European Union, with barely concealed divisions among its member states (Spain, Italy, Slovakia, Greece and Rumania are uneasy about Kosovo’s independence), finds itself half-on and half-off the court. If the UN Security Council fails to approve the plan, then Washington could turn to Plan B: unilateral recognition by the United States, United Kingdom, and then other states. But, if the Bush administration decides to go it alone, how many EU states would follow that lead, let alone countries in the East and South? Brussels would prefer not to risk such scenario.

Ahtisaari’s plan dwells in a cloud-cuckoo land of elaborate political formulas without substance. As informed commentators have noted, his paper is packed with assertions that have no basis in reality—declaring Kosovo to be “diverse,” multiethnic and democratic, when it is manifestly not so, and there is no known mechanism to make it such. It blandly states the Albanian-dominated authorities would protect human and property rights and freedoms of everyone, when they have shown absolutely no inclination to do so in the past eight years, or ever before in the bloody history of the Province. Today’s Kosovo is not only devoid of democratic institutions that defend the rule of law, it is inherently unable to develop such institutions. The 1999 NATO war against the Serbs was ostensibly waged for human rights, but—judged by any rational standard—the NATO-UN mission in Kosovo has been, and still is, an unmitigated disaster. The pretense that this is not so is nevertheless maintained by Ahtisaari and his mentors, amidst murders, unreversed ethnic cleansing, rampant crime, prostitution, drug-smuggling, and general dysfunctionality of a thoroughly failed, violent, and dysfunctional polity, a black hole utterly devoid of a single redeeming feature.

It has been known all along that Ahtisaari’s plan would be unacceptable to the Serbs, yet the United States and the European Union are still trying to convince Belgrade that it should sign on the dotted line. They are well aware that only the impression of an ambivalent response from the Serbs—the one that could be (mis)interpreted as “qualified acceptance” of Ahtisaari’s paper—could preclude a Russian veto in the Security Council of a new resolution that would replace UNSC 1244 of June 1999. And so an array of European bureaucrats flew to Belgrade, essentially trying to get something for nothing. Washington, too, believes that Ahtisaari’s proposal is excellent, according to U.S. envoy Frank Wisner, who urged “all parties to engage constructively in the coming weeks, before the proposal goes to the Security Council.” What he means is that the Serbs should give up a sixth of their land in return for some non-binding promises that one day they may “enter into the community of Western Europe and its institutions.”

In Belgrade, Serbian officials have stated their rejection of Ahtisaari’s plan, but with an uneven level of commitment. Prime Minister Kostunica appears firm. He has stated on many previous occasions that Belgrade would resist not only a plan that makes Kosovo independent, but also any attempt to base the solution on a framework that detaches it from Serbia. His position remains predictable and clear.

Not so President Boris Tadic, whose position is ambivalent, which prompts some foreign proponents of Kosovo’s independence to claim that Belgrade’s position is shifting. He is trying to be all things to all men: pro-Western, progressive, forward-looking, Euro-enthusiastic, NATO-friendly… and “patriotic” at the same time. He keeps repeating that Serbia’s integration into “Euro-Atlantic” institutions has no alternative and should continue, regardless of the way the Kosovo issue is resolved, even though those same institutions support Kosovo’s detachment from the state which he represents. Tadic’s desire to have it both ways was reflected in his eccentric statement that he would do his utmost to save Kosovo, but that he did not believe it could be saved.

While Tadic’s ambivalence is and will be exploited by the supporters of Kosovo’s independence, he does not have any constitutional prerogatives to make binding commitments on behalf of Serbia. In the end that decision will have to reflect the will of the majority in the Assembly. That majority still belongs to those parties that have stated and repeated ad nauseam that under no circumstances would they agree with Kosovo’s independence—the Radicals, the Socialists, and the Democratic Party of Serbia.

In Belgrade a caretaker government is temporarily in charge, with the newly-elected parliament yet to be convened and the establishment of a new cabinet uncertain. Marti Ahtisaari nevertheless went ahead and presented his proposals, which is remarkable. An evenhanded and fair negotiator would have waited for the new government to take shape. After Arafat’s death, or in the aftermath of the illness that incapacitated Ariel Sharon, international negotiators were naturally unwilling to come up with any new initiative regarding the “Road Map to Peace,” that is, while the political scene in either Israel or the Palestinian authority was in a state of flux. No such standard exist when Serbia’s future is at stake, however, and Ahtisaari’s behavior, while deplorable, is hardly surprising.

It is noteworthy that Ahtisaari delayed presenting his plan from November 2006, when it was essentially completed, until after the general election in Serbia on January 21, but refused to wait with its release until a new cabinet was in place. His was a double ploy: First, he manipulated Serbia’s electoral process by concealing the details of his proposals during the election campaign, and thus helping improve the vote of those parties that are deemed “pro-Western” and therefore soft on Kosovo. Second, he released his plan in the immediate aftermath of the election, while Serbia has no assembly and no government in place, and then insists on a speedy and final completion of the negotiating process.

In the meantime Serbia remains in a political, with its parliamentary parties unable to form a majority coalition. They may be forced to hold repeat elections—the Radicals’ leader, Tomislav Nikolic, has already demanded a fresh vote—but that cannot happen before some months go by.

The results of elections held on January 21 have not produced any significant changes in the country’s political landscape. The strongest party is still the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), nominally headed by The Hague detainee Vojislav Seselj, but effectively led by Nikolic. The Radicals can reliably count on just under a third of the vote. Their share has remained static since the previous election just over two years ago, although with 81 seats they have actually lost a few mandates in the Assembly of 250 deputies.

The result was somewhat disappointing for the Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica and the coalition of his Democratic Party of Serbia and the New Serbia Party led by Velja Ilic—who had hoped to exceed twenty percent, but received under 18 and a total of 47 seats. A significant surprise is the entry into Parliament the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Cedomir Jovanovic. He is the darling of a wide array of Western NGOs and has been propped up by lavish donations. LDP is the only parliamentary party that openly supports Kosovo’s independence. It has barely managed to get into parliament with 5.2 percent of the vote, and has only 14 deputies, but from now on the acceptance of Kosovo’s separation nevertheless will be construed—abroad especially—as one “legitimate” point of view in the Assembly of Serbia. The secret of LDP’s ability to get into Parliament was in the votes of thousands of Albanians in the Presevo Valley and the separatists in Vojvodina. The latter are represented in Jovanovic’s team by a sworn enemy of Vojislav Kostunica and a proponent of Vojvodina’s separation from Serbia, Nenad Canak.

The Democratic Party has done reasonably well by increasing its number of seats to 64, apparently cashing in on Boris Tadic’s exuberant promises of Serbia’s “European future.” He can afford to make all sorts of optimistic statements about Serbia’s embrace of the West and to remain vague on how to fit in the strategy of ‘Euro-Atlantic integration’ with the commitment to defending Serbia’s claim to Kosovo. Tadic’s advantage is that he enjoys media visibility but has no real responsibility, as the constitutional powers of the President of Serbia are very limited.

In the absence of significant surprises we can expect further rounds negotiations aimed at the formation of a new government. Kostunica has already announced that he will not accept any coalition in which he is not Prime Minister, and—echoing the Halstein Doctrine of the 1950s—that he would cut off diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Kosovo’s independence. He will insist on retaining the portfolios of police and justice and on taking over the Foreign Ministry, which is soon to be vacated with the departure of Vuk Draskovic (whose SPO party was defeated decisively on January 21, and whose political career is effectively over).

Kostunica’s main potential coalition partner—the one that that Washington and Brussels push forward as their favorite—is the Democratic Party (DS), yuppified, urbanely post-national, “pro-Western”—and greedy for a piece of action after two years in the wilderness. Kostunica is apparently willing to give the Democrats several key economic ministries, such as energy, foreign trade and industry. This is significant in view of the fact that two of Serbia’s most valuable state corporations—electricity generation (Elektroprivreda Srbije, EPS) and oil refineries and distribution (Naftna industrija Srbije, NIS)—are due for privatization later this year. If G-17 Plus is brought into government yet again, however, the former Minister of Finance, Mladjan Dinkic, will expect to get his old portfolio back and to retain control over the National Bank—which would leave fewer pickings for the Democrats.

There are people in Tadic’s entourage in the Democratic Party who would gladly accept the deal that would give them control of those ministries and grab rich dividends in the process of privatization of the EPS and the NIS. These two shiny jewels in the remaining portfolio of yet-to-be privatized enterprises in Serbia will yield a lot of money and a lot of power to those who control the relevant ministries. On the other hand, Tadic is under heavy of pressure from the West not to settle for these rich domestic pickings that are irrelevant to foreign affairs. Foreign advocates of an independent Kosovo insist that the Democratic Party should control the foreign ministry if Kostunica remains prime minister, or else to refrain from entering any coalition with him.

If there is no coalition that can command a simple majority in Parliament, another possibility mentioned in Belgrade is the creation of a minority government, led by the DSS, which would be tacitly supported by the Radicals—just as the previous coalition had been tacitly supported by the Socialist Party. At the end of the day, however, if the deadlock in Belgrade continues for another week or two, a new election in late April will be the most likely outcome.

In the meantime, a dozen high-ranking Western bureaucrats and government officials—among them E.U. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Portugal’s foreign minister Manuel Lobo Antunes, Belgian foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, US chairman of the negotiating team for Kosovo Frank Wiesner, the EU foreign minister Xavier Solana, and British Minister for Europe Geoffrey Hoon—have visited Belgrade this week, or are expected to do so in the text few days. They appear intent on exploiting the unsettled and confused political scene in Serbia to create the impression of incoherence or ambivalence in the Serbian camp and somehow induce the Serbs to give up Kosovo. The difficulty they face is that there is no counter-favor on offer that could induce their interlocutors to accept the loss of Serbia’s sovereign territory.

If they could come to Belgrade and say, “if you give up Kosovo now, you can join the European Union this year, and no visas would ever be needed for your people to travel to the rest of Europe,” some Serbs would be tempted. If they could say, “if you give up Kosovo, The Hague Tribunal will be abolished, the pressure over General Ratko Mladic will be ended, and Serbia’s debts to the international financial institutions will be cancelled”—again, some Serbs would be tempted. But they are offering none of the above. All they are bringing is a non-binding assurance that Belgrade’s surrender now would be taken into account favorably when, at some unknown time in the future, Serbia’s integration into the EU turns from a vague promise into a likely prospect.

There is no incentive for anyone in Serbia to go along with Ahtisaari’s proposal, with the exception of Cedomir Jovanovic who wants to secure his own credentials vis-à-vis the West that keeps him afloat. On the other hand, there is a steep political price to be paid at the next election for prevarication. Some Serbian politicians would like to have it both ways, but cannot afford the risk of political oblivion.

Prime Minister Kostunica’s statement that Serbia would sever diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Kosovo’s illegally proclaimed independence has a solid international legal precedent. The Federal Republic of Germany, known as West Germany at that time, for decades had pursued the so-called Halstein Doctrine, which postulated that Bonn would break off diplomatic relations with any country that recognized the GDR (East Germany). Likewise, China has a long-established practice of breaking off relations, or not establishing them, with any country that recognizes Taiwan. What Kostunica had said was neither remarkable, nor extreme. If unilateral declaration of independence by a secessionist movement in some part of a sovereign country’s territory prompts another country to recognize that territory as a state, it is obviously an unfriendly act made in violation of international law and in violation on the assumptions on which the international system has rested since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.


Reading between the lines of Kostunica’s statement, it is clear that Kosovo simply cannot function without Serbia’s acceptance of the final solution. The only railroad and the only two road links between Kosovo and the heart of Europe go across Serbia. All other alternative transit routes, through Montenegro, Albania, or Macedonia, are taking Kosovo away from Europe, not into it. In any event, Kostunica has no prerogatives right now, as the head of a caretaker government, to make any commitments or to negotiate issues of substance. He can give his personal opinion on the Ahtisaari’s plan, and declare that it is unacceptable, but he is not authorized to make any binding decision until a new coalition is in place.

The pressure on Serbia is likely to fail for two reasons. One is that there is no incentive for the Serbs to give up. Another is that for as long as Belgrade remains firm, the Russians have no reason to do a Yeltsin and cave in. To start with, they have not received any offers from Washington vis-à-vis their own enclaves (Abkhasia, Transdnistria, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh). Quite the contrary, on February 7 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated to Russia that Washington’s support for Kosovo’s eventual independence from Serbia does not mean it would back the breakaway aspirations of Russian autonomous regions in the Caucasus. For a newly assertive Russia that is looking for ways to show its strength and independence, Kosovo offers an easy and easily justified way to demonstrate it. As the former U.S. Ambassador in Belgrade William Montgomery warns in a recent column, Moscow’s position has dramatically changed the equation and “given the public comments now made, it is hard to see how Russia can change course without losing face.” As the United States and some EU members continue to push for Ahtisaari’s scenario, they are hoping that in negotiations over the Security Council Resolution, they will be able to secure wording which will be ambiguous, but sufficient to then move rapidly to independence:


In other words, the U.S. Administration is pressed by its domestic constituency to continue to pursue an option which looks unlikely to succeed. The United States is thus faced first of all with the problem of keeping increasingly skeptical Europeans on board for this solution while figuring out how to bring Russia along. It will require very “heavy lifting” on the part of the United States with Russia and the EU will be of little help in this process.




Montgomery concludes that Russian intransigence could well lead to three possible outcomes:

A. Moscow stays firm and there is no UN Resolution at all, and Europeans unwilling to move into Kosovo to replace UNMIK without a UN Resolution authorizing it. Kosovo is left with a depleted, demoralized UNMIK for the foreseeable future. The U.S. objective of “wrapping up” the Balkans is frustrated.

B. There is a dramatic rise in violence by Kosovo’s Albanians which KFOR would not be able to prevent. Initial targets may well be the remaining Serbs and UNMIK, but “in their bitter disappointment over the lack of movement on independence, even the U.S. forces may become a target”—which would be the Bush Administration’s worst nightmare.

C. There is a split between the EU and the US, either if the EU proves willing to accept wording from the Russians in a Resolution which is unacceptable to the United States, or if they are unwilling to circumvent the UN altogether.

Ahtisaari’s “deadlines” and Western pressure notwithstanding, for as long as there is no government in Belgrade qualified to negotiate on the issues of substance there can be no movement on Kosovo’s final status—and Kostunica is in no hurry to oblige his detractors. If there is no progress on forming a coalition, another election may be held in late spring and the Radicals have already expressed support for that option. That would mean further delay over Kosovo, but in resolving a problem that harks back to 1389, all deadlines “deadlines” are arbitrary and artificial anyway.

A new election may be needed—now that Ahtisaari’s cards are on the table—to neutralize the effect of his sordid attempt to manipulate Serbia’s democratic process. His goal is to create a new Muslim state in the heart of Europe that would be a veritable black hole of criminality, lawlessness, and jihad terrorism. He must not succeed: pandering to Islam’s geopolitical designs—in the Balkans, or anywhere else—is not only bad, it is counterproductive, and violating laws of God and man along the way is evil.

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