Kosovo: From Separation to Integration (with maps)

The future of Kosovo and Metohija, a southern province of Serbia under UN administration since June 1999, within Serbia and Montenegro depends on the willingness of both Serbs and Albanians, to engage in serious and accountable negotiations through international mediation in order to restore basic human rights and freedom of movement for all of its inhabitants, provide for the return of internally displaced persons. The ultimate aim would be to rebuild a multicultural, multi-ethnic society in compliance with 1244 UN Security Council Resolution of 10 June 1999. This Resolution has reaffirmed the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro since February 2003) over Kosovo and Metohija, foreseen the return of an agreed number of Yugoslav security forces in the province and implied the establishment of ‘a substantial autonomy’ for Kosovo and Metohija within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (i.e. Serbia-Montenegro). The chief aim of the UNSC 1244 Resolution, at least the one officially declared as such, was not the separation of Kosovo and Metohija from the rest of Serbia and the FRY, but its rebuilding as a democratic society that would eventually, with a high degree of autonomy possibly, be reintegrated into a future democratic framework of a common state of Serbia-Montenegro.


            Nevertheless, none of these goals have been achieved in the past four years, although after the ousting of the authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milošević in October 2000, democracy was finally restored in Belgrade, where both federal and republican authorities were willing to co-operate with UNMIK and start serious negotiations with Kosovo Albanians.  On the contrary, the whole process of rebuilding Kosovo and Metohija as democratic, multi-ethnic society failed due to both the inability of the UN mission and KFOR forces to protect Serbs and other non-Albanian population and large-scale ethnic cleansing, this time primarily against Serbs. Orchestrated by Albanian extremist, this new wave of post-war ethnic cleansing was tacitly approved not only by the majority of the Kosovo Albanian population, but also by their political leaders, as a kind of justified revenge for crimes against ethnic Albanians previously committed by the Serbian police or paramilitaries under the Milošević regime. [2]


            Therefore, the overall situation concerning basic security and freedom of movement for non-Albanian population, the return of internally displaced persons and the building of inter-ethnic tolerance, has been constantly deteriorating since June 1999. The first positive achievement of the UN mission was the quick and safe return of hundreds of thousands Albanians who had left or were forced to leave Kosovo during the NATO bombing campaign. They safely returned to their homes within several weeks after KFOR and UNMIK took control over the province. Nevertheless, dozens of thousands of Albanians from northern Albania, also entered Kosovo in order to pillage the property abandoned by those Serbs who fled to Serbia or Montenegro, as testified by local Serbs.


            Conversely, most of the Serb and other non-Albanian population were forced out the province, while the remaining ones were deprived of their fundamental human rights. In spite of joint efforts by UNMIK and KFOR, the systematic persecution of non-Albanian population by Albanian extremists in the last four years has continued to be the main obstacle to any viable progress in building a tolerant multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society under the rule of law.


            During the first three months of UN administration approximately 250,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians (Roma, Muslim Slavs, Croats and tiny Jewish community) were expelled and displaced from Kosovo, finding asylum in the rest of Serbia or in Montenegro. According to UNHCR data, an additional 11,115 Serbs left Kosovo in 2000, while more than 900 others were forced to leave in 2001. 


            Within weeks, a pre-war 40,000-people-strong Serbian population in the provincial capital Priština was reduced to only 120 inhabitants confined to live in a single apartment building, with no freedom of movement and heavily guarded by KFOR, while Serbs were completely evicted from important towns like Peć, Prizren, Djakovica, Uroševac also within weeks after KFOR took over. There, in the place of thousands of Serb inhabitants, only few dozens of them, mostly elderly persons remained, surviving by hiding in the churches, or in the Serbian Orthodox Theological School (Bogoslovija) in Prizren, under the protection of KFOR forces too. 


            These people, like all other remaining Serbs (approximately 90,000-120,000), are still living in virtual segregation within the KFOR-protected enclaves in Kosovo and Metohija), deprived of basic security, freedom of movement and all other fundamental civil rights. Only those living north of Kosovska Mitrovica (districts of northern Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Zvečan and Leposavić), due to the direct territorial link to central Serbia, are not completely isolated from outer world, as opposed to other Serbs in the enclaves bordering mostly Albanian-inhabited areas (Štrpce, Kosovska Vitina, Gračanica, Gnjilane, Goraždevac, Novo Brdo, Velika Hoča and others).


            According to the data provided by the Serbian police and confirmed by UNMIK, since 1 January 1998 there were 1303 missing persons: 944 Serbs, 210 Muslim Romas and 149 Albanians. According to the data provided by The Hague Tribunal in June 1999 there were 547 Serbs killed and 932 Serbs and other non-Albanians kidnapped. After the four years of international rule in the province, in 6,391 ethnically motivated attacks by Albanian extremists, 1,192 Serbs were killed, 1,303 kidnapped and another 1,305 wounded.[3]  Nevertheless, none of the perpetrators of these ethnically motivated crimes has been arrested or sentenced.[4]


            From June 1999 until December 2000, all the judges and prosecutors were ethnic Albanians, while seven Serb judges appointed later were forced to leave their posts and fled to inner Serbia after being threatened by Albanian extremists. The appointment of international judges proved to be insufficient due to constant pressures by extremists in the predominantly Albanian environment totally unwilling to cooperate in finding the perpetrators of ethnically motivated crimes. According to the report of 26 June 2003 of the Secretary-General on UNMIK, there were only 15 international judges and 10 international prosecutors serving in the local justice system are capable of dealing with only three percent of the criminal cases. The inevitable consequence of inefficient judiciary was the emergence of a culture of impunity surrounding violence against non-Albanian population and Serbs in particular.


            In addition, thousands of houses, apartments (approximately 75,000) and land properties owned by non-Albanians are still under usurpation by local Albanians, while 30,000 other houses and other properties were robbed and burned down. In comparison to approximately 70,000 Albanian properties that were destroyed during the fighting in 1998 and the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, this post-war record of Kosovo under UNMIK administration is an obvious evidence of a large-scale revenge, a nineteenth-century-style collective vendetta against a distinct ethnic community.[5]    


            From June 1999 to June 2003 the number of destroyed and desecrated Serbian Orthodox churches - at least one-third of them important Byzantine-type medieval Serbian monuments - has amounted to 117, while the most important medieval monasteries, from the Patriarchate of Peć and Dečani to Gračanica and Bogorodica Ljeviška Cathedral in Prizren, under constant protection from KFOR forces since June 1999.[6]  The general impression  that, after the establishment of UN administration there was an orchestrated attempt by Albanian extremists to evict not only all of the Serbs, but also to remove all traces of their cultural and historical heritage, something perceived by them as an important precondition for obtaining independence for an Albanian-dominated Kosovo. 


            As stressed on many occasions by representatives of the Kosovo bishopric of the Serbian Orthodox Church (Eparhija Raško-Prizrenska i Kosovsko-Metohijska), this is a strategy of cutting Kosovo Serbs off from their historical and religious traditions.  Only in November 2002, for instance, a day before UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s visit two separate explosions blew up two Serbian Orthodox churches in western Kosovo: a church in Ljubova was leveled to the ground, while the interior of a church in nearby Djurakovac sustained serious damage. In addition, during the same month, several graveyards in Dečani and Kosovo Polje were vandalized by Albanian extremists,[7] rising the toll of desecrated Serbian graveyards to several dozen all over the province. The discovery of a powerful explosive device, found in the vicinity of Monastery of St. Archangels near Prizren, prevented a massacre of at least one thousand Serbian pilgrims who came, under heavy KFOR escort, to celebrate the 650th anniversary since its foundation.  In May 2003, Spanish and Greek soldiers of KFOR contingent were attacked with the use of hand grenades while protecting Serbian churches in Istok (Monastery of Gorioč) and Uroševac respectively.[8]


            Although reports from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the UN High Commission for Refugees stressed that 2002 saw a continued fall in ethnically motivated crime, it was only due to the fact that many Serbs simply disappeared from many previously ethnically mixed areas after continuous threats, attacks and assassinations by Albanian extremists. Since May 2002, KFOR has begun to scale down its presence in so-called ‘minority areas’, which was a signal to Albanian extremists to continue with their strategy of ethnic cleansing: persecuting Serbs from all parts of Kosovo and Metohija, through a new series of ethnically motivated crimes, in order to force them to leave the province, and, additionally, discourage those willing to return.


             The decreased percentage of ethnically motivated killings in 2002, has, however, shown that the targets were not any more large Serbian communities, but mostly smaller and vulnerable ones, mostly in ethnically mixed areas.  On 6 January a Serbs was killed by a grenade in front of his house in Kosovska Kamenica. On 23 February, a Serbian woman was killed in Lipljan, after an unknown perpetrator fired on her and her son. Five Serbian houses were destroyed in August by planted explosive devices in a Klokot, near Kosovska Vitina and several persons were injured, including two members of U.S. KFOR troops. In October, a woman from the same village was assassinated.  In December, a Serbian peasant from the village of Cernica, near Gnjilane, was killed as well. The number of attacks that did not end up in killings was considerably higher. The number of ethnically motivated attacks against Serbs, resulting in serious injuries has increased from 274 in 2001 to 454 in 2003.


            After all assassination cases remained unresolved despite the arrest of several suspects, the next wave of ethnic cleansing campaign targeted other areas with strong Serbian presence but with weak security protection. After three more Serbs were killed in different, ethnically mixed villages from April to late May, on 4, June 2003, three members of the Stolić family from Obilić near Priština were massacred;[9] while  on 12 June, a Serb was shot by an unknown perpetrator while fishing.[10] On 14 June 2003, two Serb youths were shot dead and four others wounded whilst swimming in Kosovo's River Bistrica in the Serbian 1,000-people-strong enclave of Goraždevac near Peć. The assassination occurred on the day of the arrival of the new (the fourth one since 1999) UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo, Hari Holkeri of Finland.[11]  After strong international pressure, Kosovo Albanian political leaders, half-heartedly and unconvincingly, condemned their compatriots’ act of violence against the teenage Serbs. 


            Despite some efforts, the UN administration has been proven unable to restrain the strategy of violence deriving from certain extremist groups of Kosovo Albanians, a strategy that still enjoys the approval of the majority of their compatriots. The prevalent atmosphere of legal disorder and ethnically motivated revenge against non-Albanians and the dramatic security situation in Kosovo concerning the status of Serb and other non-Albanian population have not substantially changed. In addition, under the rule of the Albanian majority, Kosovo became a hotbed of all kinds of organized crime – from illegal trafficking of drugs, guns, human beings, cigarettes and petrol, which turned the province into a paradise for all kinds of smuggling. The ‘Republic of Kosovo’ as proclaimed by the Albanians, has been turned into a ‘Republic of Heroin’, as it was labeled by some international observers that monitor illegal trafficking in the Balkans.[12]


            Within the regional context, Kosovo continued to be a main instigator of political crisis.  The spill-over effect of the KLA insurgency in the Preševo area (Ground Safety Zone in southern Serbia) and western parts of the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) during 2001 was possible only after Kosovo was used as a logistics military and political base for Albanian guerrillas, who recruited their followers from the former KLA. The successful containment of Albanian terrorism in southern Serbia by Yugoslav and Serbian forces was coupled with confidence-building measures, including a mixed police force and substantial financial support for its implementation,[13] while in the western parts of the FYR of Macedonia the Albanian revolt, strongly dependant on logistic and manpower support of Kosovo Albanians, was terminated only after NATO and EU mediation. 


            Since October 2000 Belgrade has called for a full implementation of UN SC Resolution 1244/99, demanding that the Legal or Constitutional Framework for the transitional institutions should be based on that document. In parallel, there were numerous attempts by Belgrade authorities to engage into political dialogue with moderate political leaders of the Kosovo Albanians, but all offers were declined by the Albanian side. All 1,894 Albanian prisoners from Serbian jails have been released in order to facilitate this dialogue, and to mark the difference from the Milošević regime. However, Kosovo Albanians have not found or released any of approximately 1,300 missing Serbs. Within the plan proposed by UNMIK, only 80 out of approximately 250,000 displaced Serbs have been able to return to Kosovo in 2001, under the auspices of KFOR (village of Osojane) in 2002. The overall percentage of Serb returnees is two percent in four years of UNMIK administration. At this pace, the eventual return of all displaced Serbs would take another 125 years.


            Although there was no progress in a political dialogue with the Kosovo Albanian leadership, the Yugoslav government, through its Coordinating Centre for Kosovo and Metohija, headed by the Deputy Prime-Minister of Serbia Nebojša Čović, has established a closer cooperation with UNMIK. International representatives have become increasingly aware that there could be no solution for the Kosovo crisis without involving the FR of Yugoslavia, as a missing link, in the process of the full implementation of 1244 UNSC Resolution. Despite serious complaints of the Yugoslav government regarding the Constitutional Framework for Interim Self-Government in Kosovo, approved by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative Hans Haekkerup - regarding the protection of Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanians - the Yugoslav authorities have encouraged Kosovo Serbs (including internally displaced person in Serbia and Montenegro) to register for the general elections in Kosovo that took place on 17 November 2001. Roughly 170,000 Serbs (probably 80 percent of the eligible Kosovo Serb population) agreed to be registered. After a special agreement on institutionalized cooperation was signed between FRY and UNMIK in Belgrade on 5 November 2001, the Yugoslav authorities have called on the Kosovo Serbs to participate in the general elections in order to promote reconciliation and foster further cooperation with UNMIK.[14]


            Nevertheless, only a month later, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative Hans Haekkerup decided to leave Kosovo after heavy pressure from Albanians for signing an agreement with Belgrade. The Serbian coalition ‘Return’ that entered the transitional institutions of Kosovo, including the Parliament, were only rewarded for their cooperation with the constant efforts of the Albanian deputies to disregard, by a majority vote,  any of proposals of Serbian deputies aiming to rebuild inter-ethnic confidence and implement measures important for the protection of basic human rights for the Serbian and other non-Albanian communities. For the Kosovo Albanians, the only question they are ready to discuss both with Kosovo Serbs and the Belgrade government is a date for the proclamation of the independence of Kosovo.  


            In parallel, a wide range of options for possible final status of Kosovo and Metohija have been discussed,[15] although the main preconditions, as envisaged by 1244 UNSC Resolution have not been met, but on the contrary, significantly neglected. This was confirmed by the different monitoring groups for human rights, including Amnesty International.[16]


            A policy of ‘standards before status’, inaugurated by the third UNMIK chief, Michael Steiner of Germany, approved both by UN and EU, was welcomed by Belgrade, where hopes were high  that this policy would put an end to the strategy of ethnic cleansing perpetrated against the Serbs in the province of Kosovo and Metohija. Nevertheless, during 2002, two rather distant approaches to Kosovo realities were prevailing at the UN Security Council due to different priorities. The UNMIK chief, Michael Steiner, consistently praised achievements in rebuilding transitional institutions, while acknowledging that the return process has been “too slow”, and that it was disgraceful that in 2002 there were still enclaves in Europe.[17]


            In contrast, the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister, Nebojša Čović insisted that the UN mission and KFOR were all still incapable of preventing violations of human rights where the remaining Serbs and other non-Albanian population and the few returnees to the region continued to be subjected to terror, murders and robberies on a daily basis.  The Serbian representative stressed that international peacekeepers and Mission personnel had been unable to prevent the spate of murders and robberies, despite the Principles for Return of Internally Displaced Persons from Kosovo and Metohija, which he had presented to the UN Security Council in April 2002, and UNMIK's own Concepts of Rights to Sustainable Return. Despite the uniformity of both texts, as stressed by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister, the return process remained more of a ”dead letter” than real action on the ground. Čović also stressed that sustainable return, freedom of movement, restoration of property rights and basic security had to be supported by local self-government. [18]


            Both Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo Serbs are in favour of obtaining a territorialized self-government for the Serb-inhabited areas in the province, as the only remaining way of stopping the ethnic-cleansing campaign which is still under way and maintaining the multi-ethnic character of the province. For Kosovo Serbs, the continuous claims of UNMIK that the largest Serbian region, north of the Ibar River in Kosovska Mitrovica should give up its partially parallel local structures to the provisional Albanian-led government have been rejected only because that would inevitably led to another large-scale ethnic-cleansing against Serbs who are living there as in a kind of a safe haven under the protection of KFOR.  


            Up to this point, Kosovo Albanians have been determined to pursue their quest for full independence. All that they have done during the four-year UN mission in the province aimed to fortify this demand. Within this demand for independence, everything, from political to terrorist means, was used in order to undermine Serbian presence and influence on the internal affairs of Kosovo and Metohija, and to achieve - contrary to the 1244 UN Security Council Resolution - a clear and definite separation of Kosovo structures from those of the Republic of Serbia and the state union of Serbia and Montenegro.   Within this narrow, nineteenth-century concept of full ethnic domination, all regional consequences are disregarded, including the possibilities of a new major crisis in the Balkans that would provoke a domino effect with unforeseeable consequences. 


            Despite all these shortcomings, the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro remained fully committed to work both with the international community and UNMIK in Kosovo on building the democracy and the rule of law for all inhabitants of the Kosovo and Metohija province. They are persistent in demanding regional stability, by fully implementing the 1244 UN Security Council Resolution which envisaged a ‘substantial autonomy’ and a ‘meaningful self-government’ within the state union of Serbia and Montenegro.  The Belgrade government has, however, on many occasions shown, its unambiguous commitment to all joint efforts by the international community to combat all kinds of terrorism and extremism in Kosovo and Metohija.  For Serbia and Montenegro, the main goal in Kosovo and Metohija is to contribute to the improvement of basic security for all its residents, provide for the return of all displaced persons to the province irrespective of their religious and national affiliation, to promote inter-ethnic reconciliation, enforce the rule of law  and fully participate in rebuilding a multi-ethnic society.


            To this end, the Belgrade government accepted, through the mediation of European Union, UN and the Contact Group, the Vienna dialogue with Priština, which started on 14 October 2003. There will be a further discussion on the issues of basic security, the return of internally displaced persons, on transport and energy issues. The policy of ‘standards before status’ remains a pillar of the approach accepted by the international community. The Serbian side, fully accepting this concept, has demanded that these standards (basically covering the establishment of democratic institutions, the rule of law, the sustainable return of internally displaced persons, basic security for all and sustainable economic development) should be clearly defined and properly measured 


            The gradual reconciliation of Albanians and Serbs, although still remote, will significantly contribute to reconciling the whole of Kosovo and Metohija with the rest of Serbia and the state union of Serbia and Montenegro. It is of utmost importance that none of the two sides involved in solving the Kosovo status issue will feel defeated or betrayed fueling thus further confrontations and renewed regional instability. Only through the reconciliation of all its residents, through a mutually accepted agreement between Belgrade and Priština the status issue for the province can be solved, and as of mid-2005 the first review on progress in these fields will be made. There are, however, no problems that cannot be solved within existing state borders and within the prospects of common European future. Long-term regional stability, in addition, will not allow any change of the internationally recognized borders. Hence the road to the European Union for Kosovo and Metohija should pass through Serbia and Montenegro.



Source: Co-ordinating Centre for Kosovo-Metohija, Belgrade








[1]  All statements in this paper, presented at the 2003 National Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in Toronto, on 20 November 2003, constitute personal views of the author, as an experienced researcher on this subject, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Serbia and Montenegro, which the author presently represents as Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic.

[2]  A review of first period of UNMIK rule, mostly during the administration of Bernard Kouchner in: Alexandar Yannis,  Kosovo under International Administration, Athens: ELIAMEP/PSIS 2001. 

[3]  Figures provided by the Coordinating Center of Serbia and Montenegro and the Republic of Serbia for Kosovo and Metohija in Belgrade.

[4]  More details in: Memorandum o Kosovu i Metohiji Svetog Arhijerejskog Sabora Srpske Pravoslavne Crkve,  Beograd: Srpska patrijaršija 2003.

[5] More details in: Tim  Judah, Kosovo: War and Revenge, New Haven & London: Yale University 2000.

[6]  Cf. documentation in: Crucified Kosovo. Destroyed and Desecrated Serbian Orthodox Churches in Kosovo and Metohia (June-October 1999), The Voice of Kosovo and Metohija, Gračanica 1999. Additional documentation can be found in: Branislav Krstić (ed.), Saving the Cultural Heritage of Serbia and Europe in Kosovo and Metohija, Belgrade: Liber Press  2002.

[7]  Info Service of Serbian Bishopric in Kosovo and Metohija (ERP KIM), report from Gračanica,  28, November, 2002, idem, report from Gračanica, 30 November,  2002: The statement of the latter report is the following: “Marking the national holiday of Albania, the so-called Flag Day, during the night between November 28 and November 29, local Albanian extremists destroyed a total of 46 grave stones at the Orthodox cemetery in Kosovo Polje […] the grave stones of prominent Serb families and Serbs killed after the arrival of the international mission in Kosovo and Metohija. On most of the grave stones the photographs of the deceased were completely destroyed and their names removed. […] Following the attack two days ago on the cemetery of Dečani, this latest act of vandalism demonstrates the intent of the Albanian extremists to fully achieve their goal and erase the last traces of Serb graves and holy places in Kosovo and Metohija. In all of this, especially concerning is the fact that the UN mission and KFOR have no solution for this problem and that cemeteries and more recently built churches have been completely abandoned to their fate and the barbarism of the ‘Balkan Talibans’.”


[8] ERP KIM Info Service, Obilić, 4 June 2003

[9] ERP KIM Info Service Obilić, 4 June 2003


[10]  The list of ethically motivated assassinations is available in: NIN, Belgrade, 21 August 2003, p. 11.

[11] Ian Trainor, “Atrocity at the Bistrica Beach“, Guardian, London, August 15, 2003.  As stated by Fr. Sava Janjić of Dečani, “The massacre of innocent children in Goraždevac is first and foremost a shocking indicator of the real situation in Kosovo and Metohija that the majority of UNMIK and KFOR representatives, together with Albanian political leaders, are persistently attempting to hide from the global public in order to rationalize their own failures.” (Info ERP KIM, Gračanica, 15. August. 2003)

[12] Cf. Vreme, Belgrade, 27 August 2003, pp. 15-18.

[13] The complete plan for resolving the crisis in Preševo area is available in: Milo Gligorijević (ed.), Serbia after Milošević. Program for the Solution of the Crisis in the Pčinja District, Belgrade: Liber-Press 2001, pp. 69-148.

[14]  All documents regarding the cooperation between Belgrade government and UNMIK are available in a bilingual (Serbian/English) edition of Documents on Kosovo and Metohija/Dokumenti o Kosovu i  Metohiji, Belgrade: Liber Press 2002. FRY - UNMIK document, signed in Belgrade on 5 November 2001, pp.171-177.

[15] A good review of these options is available in:  Kosovo Final Status. Options and Cross-Border Requirements, United States Institute for Peace, Special Report, July 2002.

[16] Amnesty International's concerns for the human rights of minorities in Kosovo/Kosova.

[17] Michael Steiner, however, admitted that about 1,000 people returned in the first six months of 2002, while 268 had left, without specifying their ethnic origin. (UN Security Council, 30 July 2002, SC/7472) 

[18] UN Security Council, 30 July 2002, SC/7472.