Kosovo & Metohija: A Negotiated Compromise vs. Chaos and Instability

The southern province of Serbia — Kosovo and Metohija — is known for its turbulent past and centuries long ethnic and religious strife. The ethnic distance between the two main communities — Serbs and Albanians — is probably the highest not only within Serbia but in the Western Balkans as a whole. The language barrier that separates them was additionally strengthened by religious differences, continual tradition of bitter, centuries-old ethnic rivalry, conflicting political agendas and opposing views on history in Serbia’s southern province. No separate Kosovo identity, as often claimed, was ever founded neither had real chances to emerge in the future: both communities remained solely Albanians and Serbs, while Kosovo became an enduring symbol of deep divisions. In addition, the absence of democratic culture and the tradition of resolving problems by violence, enhanced during the inter-ethnic armed conflicts in 1998-99, followed by the fateful NATO bombing, is a long-term burden which is difficult to surmount in the decades to come.

 

Since the arrival of KFOR and UNMIK in June 1999, the situation in Kosovo and Metohija, at least as far as the situation for the Serbian community in the province is concerned, resembles more a conflict situation than a post-conflict one. According to UNHCR statistics, within UN-administered Kosovo and Metohija, 257,000 non-Albanians were registered as internally displaces persons (IDPs) in November 1999. Out of these 257,000, 207,000 were Serbs, with the rest being Roma, Bosniaks, Croats, Goranis (Serb-speaking Muslim Slavs), Ashkalis (Albanian-speaking Roma) and so on. In order to evict traces of Serbian historical and cultural presence in Kosovo and Metohija, Albanian extremists have destroyed or heavily damaged, since June 1999, more that 140 Serbian Orthodox churches, while the largest wave of ethnically-motivated violence against the Serb community, orchestrated by the same extremist groups and tacitly approved by provisional institutions, materialized in March 2004 pogroms.

 

The Albanian-dominated Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) in Kosovo and Metohija treat the non-Albanian population as ethnic minorities, although the Serbs are, as elsewhere in Serbia, a constituent nation, not a minority. The motivation behind such treatment is the result of ethnic cleansing.

 

This ethnic cleansing against Kosovo Serbs was organized and implemented in several waves after June 1999, after the arrival of the international community. The result was that the percentage of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija has dropped from 18 to roughly 10 percent, or even less, today. The number of remaining Serbs in the north of Kosovo (in several Serb-majority municipalities) and within KFOR-guarded, several variously sized isolated enclaves scattered throughout the province, is around 146.000. Hence, roughly sixty percent of the Serbian population has been expelled from Kosovo and Metohija during last seven years; most of them still live as IDPs in central Serbia. The actual number of registered displaced and expelled persons is 212,781 in Serbia, and 29,500 in Montenegro.

 

All of the province’s cities, with the exception of the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, were ethnically cleansed of Serbs in 1999, and remain so today. There are practically no Serbs living in large cities such as Priština, Prizren, Uroševac or Peć. In Priština, there were about 40,000 Serbs prior to 1999, while today there are less than a hundred of them living in a single building, under appalling conditions, constantly guarded by KFOR. The conditions in the various Serb enclaves with respect to personal security and freedom of movement are still precarious. There is rampant unemployment (up to 93 percent) and extreme poverty, while the living standards in general remain far below the average in the region and the province itself. The number of returnees, despite many written agreements with UNMIK and frequent promises by both UNMIK and the Albanian-dominated provisional institutions, is still insignificant. So far, only 5.5 percent of the total number of internally displaced Serb and non-Albanians have returned to the UN-administered province, seven and a half years after the June 1999.

 

The Non-Albanians in Kosovo are still under the strong, continuous and highly discriminating pressure of extremist Albanians, deprived of basic security, individual and collective rights, legal protection and the right to maintain and further develop their cultural identity, as stressed not only by UNSC Resolution 1244, but by the eight standards set by the international community to improve the rule of law, inter-ethnic tolerance, democracy and provide for the province’s sustainable development. Thus, Kosovo and Metohija is still very far from the basic standards needed for a modern and civilized society that functions according to the most fundamental European values.

 

Despite all these facts Kosovo Albanians (roughly 1.2 million) are determined to present their case as a success story, which leads, inevitably, to the independence of Kosovo, i.e. the creation of another Albanian state in the Balkans. Nevertheless, the Pro-Albanian lobbies, through U.S. and Europe and funded by money of very dubious, often criminal origin, crowded out the cruel truth that Kosovo Albanians, supported by the Albanian communities of the region, have become, according to the Western sources, a dangerous, uncontrolled nerve center for the criminalization of Europe, and a core region of long-term instability in the Western Balkans.

 

All these facts fully justify the demand of Belgrade that only a negotiated solution with Pristina concerning the future status of the province, reached through a UN-sponsored mediation, can avoid a dangerous ethnically-based domino-effect, prevent chaos in Kosovo and provide long-term stability in the region. The negotiations in Vienna, under the auspices of the UN and its representative Marti Ahtisaari, held during 2006, proved to be unsuccessful, despite the compromise offered by Belgrade in form a wide-reaching and sustainable autonomy for the province, due to the unceasing Albanian demand for independence.

 

All the efforts of the Belgrade negotiating team (representing not only Kosovo Serbs, but the displaced Roma and Gorani communities as well) in Vienna to achieve agreement on so called status-neutral issues (concerning the establishment of new and enlargement of existing Serb, Roma or Gorani municipalities, the new competencies for these municipalities - concerning autonomy in cultural, educational, health, social security and other related areas - internationally guaranteed protection of Serb religious and cultural sites and right of Belgrade to support and fund sustainable development of the Serb and non-Albanian communities), were de facto rejected by the Kosovo Albanian delegation, who insisted primarily on status, offering unsustainable solutions or adjourning the solving of these vital questions for the post-status period.

 

Nevertheless, the Belgrade negotiating team remains fully committed to the negotiated and sustainable compromise that will eventually emerge, in a new round of Vienna talks, after M. Ahtisaari presents his preliminary views on the future status early in 2007, and after the recommendations by the UN Security Council that will follow.

 

In spite of latent instability in Kosovo and Metohija (with Albanian extremists threatening even UNMIK and KFOR with outburst of violence if their demands rejected), it is important to stress that a democratic Serbia, recently invited to join the Partnership for Peace, is due to her strategic, economic and political potentials, a key state in the Western Balkans, and the man guarantor of the long-term stability of the region.

1 Ambassador at large, Counselor to the President of Serbia and a member of the Belgrade Negotiating Team.