by Sonja Biserko
The events of March 2004 prompted the international community to concern itself again with the Kosovo issue. Kosovo’s unresolved status has encouraged a mood of uncertainty among the Albanian population, which after the NATO intervention lived in the belief that independence was only a matter of time. Lack of progress in reforms, and in the integration of Serbs into Kosovo’s institutions, has been due mainly to Serb unwillingness to participate. Despite the visible changes in Kosovo over the past five years, the frustration of the Albanian population has been growing, encouraging radicalisation and violence against the Serb minority. This time, however, the international community was more aware of the complexity of the situation and avoided black-and-white analyses. The decision to speed up the work on Kosovo’s status grew out of a belief that otherwise the radicals on both sides might opt for a solution of the March type. Division of Kosovo along ethnic lines would be a fresh defeat for the international community, and the EU in particular.
Belgrade has used the March events exclusively as an argument against the possibility of common existence, showing that the idea of a multi-ethnic Kosovo is untenable. Numerous delegations headed by clerics of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) have been visiting European capitals trying to persuade the West that Albanians are not ready for statehood, which is why partition of Kosovo is unavoidable. In order to drum up domestic support for this view, Dobrica Ćosić (who remains the key person in formulating Serb national interests) has published a book called Kosovo as a kind of testament, whose message consists of just two points: that it is necessary for Albanians and Serbs to separate on the basis of a compromise between ethnic and historical rights, with the proviso that the basis should be the demographic situation before the NATO bombing; and that the mediaeval monasteries of Peć, Dečani and Devič should become self-governing on the Mt Athos model. This proposal gained wide coverage in the media.
Now that the EU has become a key factor in solving the Balkan crisis, there are growing admonishments that the Serbs should view Europe with reserve. Bishop Atanasije Jevtić has warned the Serbs: ‘not to eat all that flies from Europe. Let’s first see what Europe we are dealing with, maybe the one which wants to take Kosovo from us. They tell us: "If the Serbs want to go to Brussels, let them give up Kosovo." We should return the entry ticket, we don’t need Brussels or entry into Europe if we have to sacrifice Kosovo. We must remain ourselves in our own lands. Those who can’t wait should stop poisoning others around them by spreading defeatism and despair, since they themselves are without hope, lost, without soul or conscience. We are different.’
The SPC and [premier] Vojislav Koštunica want to see Kosovo remain in Serbia. Patriarch Paul and his church asked the local Serbs not to vote in the 2004 Kosovo elections, despite the pressure coming from the EU and the US. Patriarch Paul indeed wrote a letter to Koštunica and [president] Boris Tadić on this issue, fearing that they might give in. His message was: ‘In God’s name, do not ask the remnant of the persecuted and martyred Serb people of Kosovo and Metohija to vote for the governmental bodies there. Don’t ask them, regardless of persuasions and pressures coming from outside. Our recent assembly, having declared its support for the principle of electoral participation, went on to ask those who advocate unconditional voting by the Serbs and other minority confessional-ethnic communities: "In which state in the world can one ask people to vote in conditions that deprive them not only of basic security and basic human rights, including the right to move about, but of the very right to live?" ... Should we be asked to agree to our cataclysm, whether prolonged or final?’ The SPC believes that the issue of Kosovo can revitalize the nation. This is not surprising, given that it is the only visible Serbian institution left after NATO’s intervention, and that Bishop Artemije is treated as the only true political representative of the Kosovar Serbs.
The policy of ‘standards before status’ was another attempt to buy time on the part of the international community, but this approach began to change after the Serbs refused to take part in the elections. That was a clear message to the world that Belgrade rejects constructive dialogue. It seems that, as a result, the international community has decided to proceed to solve Kosovo’s status without Belgrade. This message, contained in a report of the International Crisis Group (ICG), caused a stormy reaction in Serbia, after which Belgrade decided to fashion a position that would permit it to join the negotiating table. One should view in this light the sudden visit to Kosovo by the Serbian president Boris Tadić who, once there, put forward the maximalist position that ‘Kosovo is part of Serbia’. The ICG’s main recommendation was that an international conference should be convened not later than the autumn of 2005, which would approve conditional independence for Kosovo, regardless of whether Belgrade takes part or accepts its decisions. The ICG is strongly against Kosovo’s partition, as is true of all EU capitals as well as Washington. Following the March events there was a good deal of flirting with the idea of dividing Kosovo ‘if the two sides agree’, but in the meantime this too has been abandoned.
Whereas up to now international representatives have tended to blame the Albanians, they are now increasingly stressing Belgrade’s own responsibility. UN general secretary Kofi Annan has said that ‘the lack of readiness on the part of the Kosovar Serbs to engage in dialogue and support the implementation of standards has checked progress’, and that ‘most of the Belgrade government failed to support participation by the Kosovar Serbs in the transitional institutions.’ The UN representative in Kosovo, Soren Petersen, has stated that ‘it would be better for the Serbs to join the interim institutions, since that way they can best defend their interests’, and that ‘they should stop referring constantly to Belgrade’.
Kosovar Serbs are particularly vulnerable, because Belgrade is using them without any regard to their true needs. They were prevented from voting, and [Slaviša] Petković, who had the courage to take up the post of minister for return in Haradinaj’s government, was condemned. Some Kosovar Serbs are aware that their entry into Kosovar institutions is the only way forward, but one wonders whether they can resist the pressure from Belgrade. If not, they could suffer the fate of the Croatian Serbs. Thus the Srpska lista electoral slate is asking the Serbian government - and especially Vojislav Koštunica, who was against Serb participation in the elections - to make their views and positions clear. They say that ‘our active participation is vital in order to show that standards are not being respected within the institutions of the system.’
Belgrade’s diplomatic re-animation has been seen in a number of areas. The promotion of Ćosić’s book came to an end. Dušan Bataković, who for years during his visits to Washington had advocated Kosovo’s partition, is now expounding the formula of ‘more than autonomy, less than independence’ as a realistic framework for compromise. Serbia’s vice-president, Miroljub Labus, who tries to play the role of a more reasonable politician, says that time is not working in favour of the Serbs. Back in November 2004 he proposed the holding of an international conference as a way for Serbia to gain the initiative, instead of being constantly on the defensive. The conference, he argued, should reach an agreement on protection of human rights, decentralisation, entities, temporary sovereignty and collective security. He favours the Kosovo Serbs enjoying territorial autonomy, which means the creation of two entities in Kosovo - i.e. partition.
Territories, not people
The change in Belgrade’s stance is, alas!, not due to any acceptance of reality, but is a simulation designed to buy time. More than ever there is great insistence on standards in Kosovo, as if they were flourishing in Serbia itself! At the meeting of the Security Council in New York, Nebojša Čović, who now supports the most radical position, said that he expected ‘measurable standards in the sense of return, security, freedom of movement and all other parameters’, and that he did not know ‘what is the basis of optimism that in the next few months things will happen which failed to happen over the past few years’. He used the occasion to refer to the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina as an example of failure of the multi-ethnic concept - omitting to mention, of course, that it is the Serbs themselves who are resisting a multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina. He said that decades are needed to create a multi-ethnic society, which is true, but without the participation of both sides such a process is being denied in advance. It is normal and desirable that Belgrade should take part in the negotiations, but it should not reduce this to blackmailing everybody else. Belgrade has thus far sacrificed the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and it is to be expected that it will do the same to the Kosovar Serbs. On the eve of war in 1991 Dobrica Ćosić and others, many of them now on trial in The Hague, insisted that Serbs could not live with others. Territories, not people, were always more important to them.
Belgrade’s stance is insincere. It reflects an inability to face up to the outcome of the old policy. Indeed it continues to embrace the old policy. Belgrade’s stance reflects the mentality of the Serb nationalists who try to rationalize their defeat with the theories of a world conspiracy against Serbia, the idea being that ‘the West wants to turn the Balkans into a laboratory for creating new hybrid states and hybrid identities, like Kosovars, Bosniaks, Sandžaklije, etc.’. Serbia, in their view, should at present maintain a defensive strategy based on refusal to consider any final solution. The Serbian side thus insists on full application of Resolution 1244 in order to gain time. This strategy rests upon the thesis that the passage of time will bring a ‘change in the geopolitical equation going beyond Bosnia-Herzegovina, The Hague or the future of SCG.’
Translated from Helsinška Povelja (Belgrade), January/February 2005.