Thursday, May 19, 2005

Less than Partition, more than Federal Kosovo

This blog entry is in response to the critique of Goran Svilanovic, Serbian MP and ex-foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, who argued that, concerning the resolution of the Kosovo conundrum, “without a clear position, the text has no value. The time of general arguments has passed, what we need now is a concrete solution to the problem.” I agree that my text was rather vague in its treatment of which particular future scenario I consider realistic and desirable. My intention was, not, to join the bandwagon of numerous Serbian politicians, whom Svilanovic rightly criticizes for producing an infinite number of propoganda and unrealistic political positions as far as the future of Kosovo is concerned. I agree that, at this point in time, every Serb has the responsibility to join the discussion on Kosovo and say clearly what is possible and what is desirable without hiding behind demagogic catch-phrases (i.e. “Kosovo is sacred Serbian soil” etc.). Mr. Svilanovic stepped out with a proposal for what he (and his colleagues from the International Commission on the Balkans) believes to be the best, and most realistic solution for the Kosovo problem.While some of his political adversaries criticized his position in a pitiful demagogic style, his political allies - afraid of siding with a proposal that would suggest independence for Kosovo in any way, shape, or form - tacitly distanced themselves from Svilanovic’s political program for Kosovo. None of the above-mentioned politicians, until now, have offered a clear and elaborate alternative to Svilanovic’s suggestion. Svilanovic’s and International Commission on the Balkans report is the most balanced and objective proposal for the resolution of the Kosovo crisis offered until now by the international community. In this sense, attacks on Goran Svilanovic in Serbia, represent cheap political propaganda, reminiscent of the Milosevic era.

There is one point, however, on which I am not sure if I agree with Mr. Svilanovic and the International Commission on the Balkans. Namely, I would not a priori exclude giving independent Kosovo some kind of federalized institutional structure, based on the ethnic principle.

I am neither unreservedly for independence nor do I lend my unconditional support to the idea either of partition or the Serbian government’s formula of “more than autonomy, less than independence.” I can see the plausibility of Mr. Svilanovic’s argument that “only if both Serbia and Kosovo are moving towards EU membership, can Serbia satisfy its interest in retaining a modicum of control over happenings in Kosovo. If Kosovo does not move towards EU membership, there will be nothing to guarantee that the province’s current Serbian population will be able to remain and nothing to protect other Serbian interests.” I can see that it is unrealistic to expect that the Albanians would consent to anything less than independence, and that they have powerful allies in the international community who are ready to support them in that goal. I, however, want to concentrate on the plausibility of the argument that some future Serbian government might consent to independence and to another problem that is linked to this concern, namely, the fact that the international community seems wholly unready to go ahead with the independence of Kosovo without Serbia’s consent. As one of the most well known international observers of Serbian politics correctly pointed out, Serbia is the only country in the world that can give Kosovo its independence overnight, simply by signing a document consenting to the secession of its souther Province.

Mr. Svilanovic argued that “Belgrade has no position regarding Kosovo, and lacks the courage to deal with this issue. This may change after future elections.” Whereas I might be persuaded by the first observation, I cannot see how realistic is it to expect that some future Serbian government will assume a more assertive stance on Kosovo. Almost the entire Serbian political spectrum, with few exceptions, firmly states that Kosovo cannot be granted independence. Fair enough, this might be simply political propaganda, as Svilanovic states, and it is possible that the positions of political actors will become more sincere after the elections or after the re-composition of the government. Still, since a new government will not be likely to significantly improve its strength, it is rather unrealistic to expect that any of the participants in this administration would decide to play their cards in an open and constructive way as far as Kosovo is concerned. Every party in the government is likely to use the ‘weakness’ of its partners regarding Kosovo to show that it was because of this partner that they had to compromise on certain issues. This is hardly a formula for success, since it leads to political instability as well as stalemate in the process of economic reforms. Entire political debate in the country will be hijacked by the question of Kosovo for a protracted period of time. Only if the new government reaches a consensus on the question of Kosovo is it likely that the problem will be solved. But how likely is that that consensus will be independence even if that independence is to be postponed until the entry of Kosovo and Serbia into the EU? I am not saying that it is impossible but I cannot see the likelihood of such an outcome. I believe that the Serbian government needs to be offered a slightly more concrete incentive to agree to Kosovo’s independence.

The idea of partition was introduced into the blog entry that sparked this debate as a way to offer Serbian political parties a compromise solution that they can use against the opposition’s criticism. I don’t think that partition is a moral option I just thought it is a plausible way to give Kosovo Albanians independence without provoking serious political havoc in Serbia. I understand Mr. Svilanovic’s fears that partition of Kosovo might provoke a domino effect in the rest of Serbia, this is certainly a consideration to take into account. However, I am not convinced that the Albanians living in the south of Serbia proper and the Hungarians living in the north will have the same weight to impose their demands on the central government in Belgrade, as the Serbian minority in Kosovo with support of the Serbian government might have. The two (three) situations remain very different. Partition would likely provoke some political instability, but not as much as the independence of Kosovo without Belgrade’s consent.

I am neither convinced that the Kostunica’s government is principally against partition nor that such a position may not change in the future. I believe that it is more international pressure than the fear of the domino effect in Serbia proper that made Kostunica’s government abandon the idea of partition.

I believe that it is highly unlikely that the international community will recognize Kosovo’s independence without the consent of Serbia. Sure enough, they will try to do everything imaginable to force or court Serbia into accepting this solution, however, it is not certain to what extent they will be successful in doing that. Bearing in mind the rigid Serbian and Kosovo Albanian positions, the extent to which compromising on Kosovo’s status (for both sides) can be detrimental for their internal political standing, and the difficult position in which the international actors are facing themselves (having to decide between what seems politically inevitable- to grant Kosovo independence – and what would be revolutionary in terms of international law – to grant this without Serbia’s consent) we might risk an indefinite prolongation of the potentially explosive and politically debilitating status quo situation.

The interest of the Serbs in Kosovo should come before the national interests of the state of Serbia. Losing a part of its territory would not be necessarily damaging to Serbia’s national interest, having in mind the prospective of the EU integration. In this sense, I support the proposal of the International Commission on the Balkans and the position of Mr. Svilanovic. It is important to note that the Commission has clearly stated that, “Kosovo’s independence should not be imposed on Belgrade.” Moreover, while the Commission has suggested certain institutional guarantees for the Serbian minority in the province, it remained firmly against the idea of partition and, as far as I understand, contrary to any kind of Dayton style arrangement for Kosovo: “The need for policies focused on the needs of minorities should not obscure that the culture of civil society, and not the principle of ethnic separation, is at the heart of the European project. The ‘ghettoisation’ of ethnic minorities could promote institutional weakness and dysfunctionality in the future state.” While I see the rationale for such consideration, I would personally be inclined not to categorically exclude an institutional arrangement whereby Kosovo is given administrative separations that amount – at the very least – to federalization. The prospective of EU membership alone will not satisfy the Serbian politicians sufficiently to prompt their consent to Kosovo’s independence. This is especially true if we consider that that EU membership might come extremely late for both Serbia and Kosovo. At the same time, the Albanians are likely to be pressured into accepting the federal model (or maybe even more?) in exchange for obtaining independence. While the principle of ethnic separation seems anachronistic in the context of the European Union, political reality suggests that the Serbian side (especially the Serbs in Kosovo) must receive firm guarantees, even if these do not follow the principle of multicultural society. At the end of the day, since the principle of ethnic separation is the primary mover of Kosovo’s independence, there are no moral reasons to suggest that Serbs in Kosovo should not benefit from the same principle. As far as practical realities are concerned, they are debatable. I accept the argument that the international community should not seek to impose federal arrangement for Kosovo if that arrangement is likely not to be accepted by the province’s Albanians. Only practical considerations, not moral reasons work in this case. I still believe that imposing a federal structure for the independent Kosovo on the Kosovo Albanians might be possible. It could present a suitable compromise for the Serbian side when the time is ripe. Dysfunctionality (like in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina) still remains a lesser evil than pushing for Kosovo’s independence even without the probability of Serbia consenting to such an outcome.

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