Winking at a blind man
by Miroslav Filipovic
The question of all questions is not whether Kosovo will gain independence, since it is already independent, but when it will gain sovereignty in the sense of being recognized by other sovereign states and the UN.
There exist in the Serb tradition several folk songs in which a higher spiritual force tells the Serbs what they should do, teaches them how to choose the best path, but they always fail to recognize the rather muffled signals, the carefully veiled predictions. The Serbs take no notice when it thunders on St Sava’s day, or when lightning strikes on the Day of Precious Chains [of the Apostle Peter] - they continue with their inarticulate, stupid and already lost combat with the rest of the world. Like the horse in Yesenin’s poem which races a locomotive.
It is in conformity with these folk songs that the Belgrade clero-nationalists are behaving in regard to Kosovo. It makes no difference that competent people visit Belgrade and tell our politicians how matters stand where Kosovo is concerned, what has been decided, where it is useless to try and where we can expect a gain. They remain solid as a rock in their mission to embitter our Serbian Serbs’ daily lives, and to make us ever more ashamed of belonging to our nation. Formerly because of the terrible crimes that they supported and defended, now because of the stupidity of our politicians who refuse to solve what they can, and who meddle in what the world does not allow them to meddle in.
Since the start of the negotiations in Vienna everyone appears satisfied, although - apart from meeting face to face and harmonizing positions on a few points - no concrete agreement has been reached between the two sides. After the first meeting about decentralization, it was planned to hold talks about protection of religious sites, protection of minorities, economic issues such as property and debt, as well as about the continuation of an international presence once the decision on final status had been reached. Our media and politicians have somewhat triumphantly declared that the Serbian delegation ‘has presented its platform, which was not properly known to the international community and the Kosovo Albanians, in a clear and convincing manner, leading them to understand that the Serb demands are realistic’. What the Serbian media and politicians hide from public view, however, is the position of the Kosovo delegation, supported by the international community and explained by the head of the Albanian delegation Lutfi Haziri: ‘the start of this dialogue is a preparation for Kosovo’s road to independence’ - adding that ‘we shall talk about all matters that the Serbian side and the international community wish us to talk about, but the measures agreed will be implemented only after the proclamation of Kosovo’s independence.’
Imposing a solution
The mission of the international community is on the one hand complicated and delicate, on the other crystal clear and simple. Their job is to decide what possible status for Kosovo would give the greatest chance for stability and development, and then to recognize that status. There is no doubt that this means a sovereign state of Kosovo, however much that sovereignty may be conditioned or limited. It would be very good if all sides were to accept this prescription, but it is highly unlikely that the Serbian side will willingly agree to the kind of independence necessary for a lasting and stable solution. This is why the international community has decided to impose such a solution, and is busy preparing itself for this rather unpleasant task. As the popular saying goes, the soup is cooked and we must now see who will eat it.
Before implementing this de jure, the international community must solve several problems. Although the Belgrade nationalists believe narcissistically that they constitute one of these, this is not so. The position of Belgrade, such as it is - clero-nationalist and stubborn, quarrelsome and contrary - impresses no one. Belgrade will not be allowed to decide on status. The first problem faced by the international community is to be found in Kosovo. It is the Albanians, whose institutions - even if they wish - cannot ensure the implementation of laws, or security for the Serbs. The international community is consequently seeking a way to force the Albanians to provide a stable packet of laws guaranteeing the Serbs and other minorities their rights in three domains: central institutions, decentralization, cultural and religious heritage. I say seeking, because everyone knows that the solution is nowhere near, since the Kosovo politicians - apart from making promises of the type ‘we swear we will’ - have nothing more convincing to offer the Serbs and their foreign mentors.
I do not wish to question the good will of the Kosovo temporary institutions. On the contrary, if it were up to them alone the Serbs would be the best protected beings on the planet. At least until Kosovo wins independence. The problem lies in the fact that the Serbs and the Albanians have been killing each other, as a result of which mutual antagonism and hatred has reached an unbelievable level, so that it is possible always and everywhere for conflict to flare up. The problem too is that everyone in Kosovo knows the Serbs are better protected by the order issued by Ramush Haradinaj and Hashim Thaci that they not be touched than they are by the law. This prohibition, of course, may no longer apply after the declaration of independence.
The second problem is posed by the Kosovo north, i.e. the large Serb enclave gravitating towards Mitrovica. This is a very serious and nearly insoluble problem. Directed from various Belgrade presidential and ministerial offices, various Ivanović’s, Jakšić’s and others have created a veritable bastion of parallel institutions openly defying the government in Prishtina, which for its part has no intention of giving up this part of its territory. This is how a Western diplomat describes the seriousness of the situation: ‘Let’s say that the UN grants Kosovo independence, and that a number of countries recognize the young state. There will be celebration and laughter in Prishtina, but silence in Mitrovica. The Mitrovica Serbs next proclaim at one of their assemblies that they do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, that they are seceding, and that they will defend themselves with arms. In a trice several thousand volunteers, undercover agents, ‘bridge-watchers’, Cossacks, etc gather in Mitrovica. A mass of weapons, guns, snipers, mortars... Uprising! You Serbs like uprisings. We [UNMIK] will certainly not war against the Serbs, and will even more certainly prevent the Albanians from warring against the Serbs. Serbia reacts, after which Russia wades in. What are we to do then? That is the problem.’
The problem of Mitrovica
This is why the international community plans a more active engagement in northern Kosovo, and especially in Mitrovica. Without international help the Kosovo government would be unable to solve this problem, especially if Belgrade does not ask its para-army to be loyal and obedient to Prishtina, which they most likely will not. They will instead encourage them, as they did the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, to show defiance, a crazy disobedience, and even to rise up in arms. This is why one solution that is increasingly being discussed is a transitional international administration in this area, within the borders of an independent and sovereign Kosovo, guaranteeing the Serbs if nothing else that there will be no revenge. There is talk that there will be a place for the Russians in this international administration. But if the Mitrovica Serbs go too far, of course, we shall once again be watching a sad column of tractors moving along the Ibar towards Kraljevo and Kragujevac.
The third problem that the international community has to solve are the Russians. The Russians not as our ‘traditional friends’, but as the dragon that has to be fed in order to be good and allow the international community to tackle its problems. This story is an old one in our area, the last instalment of which we saw at the time of the NATO bombing. I do not doubt that the dragon will be pacified this time too, and so far as I know negotiations with the dragon are proceeding and close to conclusion. The Belgrade clero-nationalists have relied for a long time also on the international support of Communist China. Diplomatic sources insist, however, that Peking has sent a clear message that, while China does not approve of taking away territory from sovereign states, it also sees Kosovo as a European problem in which it will not meddle. ‘We shall sniff the air a little, and line up with the majority’, a Chinese diplomat told his Western colleague.
What is new in the thinking of the international community is the degree of limitation to be set on the new state’s sovereignty. It was long thought that the Bosnian recipe was best, but this position has slowly been being abandoned, and a solution is being sought with less power for the international community’s High Representatives in Kosovo. It has been decided that the risk of Kosovo society ‘going wild and escaping control’ after independence is far smaller than in Bosnia, and that consequently the veto powers of the HR should be smaller. The limitations in this case would be combined with the Macedonian Ohrid model, which has pacified Macedonia at least for the time being. This is both a complicated and a not wholly worked out approach, according to which the international community would recognize Kosovo’s independence while leaving many questions open. Kosovo’s independence, in other words, would be tested for a period of say three years, during which time the ‘open questions’ would remain under international supervision, but also with EU and UN guarantees. The guarantees refer primarily to the rights and protection of minorities, and in regard to the Serbs to the delicate question of cultural and religious monuments and autonomy.
I have written on several occasions that the Kosovo Serbs will soon find themselves in another state, and that they would do best to avoid relying upon Serbia’s future embassy in Prishtina to protect their human rights, freedom and security. For that not to happen, it is necessary that they sober up as soon as possible, abandon their vulgar nationalist rhetoric, and begin in cooperation with their neighbours to create politically self-sufficient Serb communities within independent Kosovo. The international community and the Kosovo Albanians will, I am sure, help them in this.
Translated from Helsinška Povelja (Belgrade), nos 91-92, January-February 2006