A stern test of maturity
by John Norris
Tuesday's indictment of Kosovo's prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia came as no particular surprise. It has been the elephant in the room during much of the recent back and forth about Kosovo's yet-to-be-determined political future. Speculation about the indictment and its potential to spark rioting, political gridlock, Serbian adventurism and violence by former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas has been a staple of hushed and agitated conversations in Prishtina's smoky cafes for months.
The reaction of both Kosovars and the international community to the indictment and Haradinaj's subsequent resignation, will say much about whether Kosovo will slowly emerge from its long trials or accelerate into another round of ethnic reprisals and mounting frustration. For the moment, everyone is holding their breath and hoping that the crisis will be a short one, and initial signs are good. But all the parties on the ground - including the United Nations, NATO, the United States, the European Union, neighbouring Serbia and Kosovo's Albanians and Serbs - now face a stern test of their maturity.
Certainly, the indictment comes at a remarkably difficult time. For many conspiracy-minded Kosovar Albanians the indictment is being interpreted as a direct sign of bad faith despite the prime minister's calming words as he headed for The Hague. They fear that the international community has rejected any notion of Kosovo emerging from its current limbo as a UN protectorate and securing independence. Why else, they reason, would the international community indict a wildly popular prime minister who has generally said and done all the right things while delivering on a wide array of requests made by the UN administration? Kosovar Albanians suspect the war crimes tribunal has danced to the tune of the "great powers" and that no measure of cooperation will be enough to get a yes on independence.
Yet, almost to a person, UN officials and other internationals in Kosovo also found Haradinaj to be the most competent, serious and capable of Kosovo politicians they have worked with to date and view his indictment as a serious loss. While few doubt that there is at least some case to be made against Haradinaj, many international officials wonder if prosecutors in The Hague lost sight of the forest for the trees in going after Haridinaj at this exact moment.
The merits of the case are ultimately for the courts to decide, but some very clear steps need to be taken on the ground to avoid letting the situation get out of control. First and foremost, the United States and its European partners need to put dealing with Kosovo's final status far higher on their agenda than they have to date. For close to six years, Kosovo has languished awkwardly in a netherworld, uncertain whether it would become a country, remain a protectorate indefinitely or be forced back into a desperately unhappy and manifestly unworkable union with Serbia. This monumental question mark has made long-term planning, sound economic development and genuine self-government virtually impossible. Few investors are willing to gamble their money in a quasi-state governed by a rotating cadre of UN officials where it is impossible even to get a clear determination of property ownership.
Kosovo's status quo is simply untenable, and only the international community can resolve the situation. Yet for far too long, the international community has exercised what one UN official called an "intellectual veto" over any discussion of issues requiring a final status determination.
Despite the unwillingness of Western capitals, and the outright resistance of Moscow and Belgrade, there is a growing body of sentiment that Kosovo should be granted conditional independence, with this step contingent upon protections for Kosovo's Serb minority, a strong international monitoring presence and guarantees that the current provincial boundaries will be converted to unchanging international borders. Much now depends on the Kosovar Albanians and their ability to practice something that has not always been their long suit: restraint.
Rather than lashing out in anger, they need to understand that the end game for their aspirations is here, and that by continuing to hold their anger in check, avoiding attacks on the Serb minority and forming a government that can make real progress on international standards, they can show they are ready to assume the mantle of statehood.
This will require Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaçi, the leaders of Kosovo's two largest political parties, to rise above a long history of mutual animus and political rivalry. Though both have their hands full in tamping down those in their own ranks who would resort to violence, they need to exert real leadership and maintain the momentum for reform that Haradinaj created. Political paralysis and clashing egos would be a disaster and directly play into the hands of those who argue that Kosovo can wait.
John Norris is special adviser to the president of the International Crisis Group and the author of the forthcoming book Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo; this comment appeared as an op-ed in The International Herald Tribune, 12 March 2005