How to secure the survival of Serbs in Kosovo
by Ivan Ahel
The Vienna talks on the decentralization of Kosovo have not produce positive results. The Serbian delegation is demanding the formation of 14 municipalities, while the Albanian offers three: Ranilug, Gračanica and Novo Brdo. The Albanians have also offered the status of sub-municipality for the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, conditional upon the town remaining a single whole.
A rational discussion of this problem demands an analysis of the demographic, urban, economic and political conditions that must be met for a specified territory to become a Serb municipality with a perspective of survival and development. The criteria for selecting the territory for such a municipality include ethnic, civic and functional aspects, but the decision on the actual choice of criteria is made by the politicians of the two sides involved.
The Serb negotiating team demands the adoption of a purely ethnic criterion, which leads to the creation of small and non-functional Serb municipalities in rural areas that are not sustainable in the long run. Larger territories including towns, in which the Serbs are very much in a minority, demand the creation of civic-orientated multi-ethnic municipalities which could offer space for quality of life and development, in line with EU standards, to both Serbs and Albanians. The Serb negotiating team neglects the fact that it is impossible to hold on to larger territories that are not settled by Serbs, especially if those do not have proper towns inhabited mainly by Serbs. If the future Serb municipalities fail to meet the functional and civic criteria, they will become unsustainable - in which case it is not worth fighting over them, since Serb emigration would become inevitable. The struggle for small non-functional Serb municipalities serves the actual Serbian politicians in the struggle for power.
The demographic potential of the Serb population
The first criterion for defining a Serb municipality is linked to the estimate of the demographic capacity of the Serb population in the individual enclaves, as well as to projections of its demographic development. Demographic potential is judged on the basis of the movement of fertility, mortality and migration of the Serb population in a realistic situation as projected into the immediate future. It is necessary here to establish whether the return of Serbs to individual enclaves is likely to be only short-term and of low intensity, or whether one can expect a qualitative change with massive returns and on a long-term basis. Due to the highly unfavourable living conditions, migration of the Serb population is directed towards Serbia. At the same time there are now hardly any Serbs left in Kosovo’s larger towns.
According to Serbian experts, there were over 300,000 Serbs in Kosovo before the war. Between 200,000 and 230,000 left during and after the war. On the basis of the data produced by the Albanian side (which rely on Serbian statistics), there were 196,000 Serbs in Kosovo in 1991, of whom 65,000 left during and after the war. In the absence of reliable data, it may be estimated that the number of Serbs who have left is between 130,000 and 150,000, of whom 56,244 are now registered as living on the territory of Belgrade. Polls show that the majority of these Serbs plan to remain permanently in Belgrade, or at least in Serbia. There are also signs of a possible new wave of emigration of Serbs from Kosovo, because life in the small Serbian enclaves is hard, unsafe and lacks perspective.
The two negotiating parties agree that a Serb municipality must have at least 5,000 inhabitants. In order for the name ‘Serb municipality’ to be justified, it is necessary for Serbs to form at least 70% of its population. Municipalities with ethnically mixed population in which Serbs fall below 60% of the total do not have the potential to survive as Serb for long. In order to protect Serb territories from Albanian domination, it would be necessary in fact to form municipalities in which Serbs form 80 or 90 per cent of the total population. Due to the small demographic potential of the Serb community, this leads inevitably to reduction of the size of their territories, and since these are essential rural to a serious reduction of their functionality.
The situation has changed in favour of the Serb population only in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, but the southern part of the town remains settled by Albanians and around 300 Muslims. The northern part is largely Serb-inhabited, but some 1,500-1,800 Albanians also live there. The expansion of a potential Serb municipality based on the Serb-dominated part of Kosovska Mitrovica is possible only in the direction of Zvečani, but the Albanian side is against this.
The district of Š ar contains two areas - Š trpci and Gora - which could become small independent municipalities, but their economic potential is weak. The district of Kosovo Polje contains three Serb enclaves. The first enclave lies around the monastery of Gračanica and in the municipality of Ljipljani. Substantial investment would be needed for a new municipality based on these parts to function. Another area with a Serb majority is linked to the village of Obilić, which contains two power plants. This area, which is closely linked to the city of Prishtina, has a theoretical chance to evolve into an autonomous municipality, provided substantial investment over a long time is made available, but the Albanian side is against it. A third area is linked to Novo Brdo, which contains a lead-zinc mine. This too has the potential to become a small Serb municipality, but only with great investment over a long period on the part of Serbia and the international community. The area of Metohija does not have places that could provide sustainable Serb municipalities. The Serb population in these districts today lives concentrated in small rural settlements, which cannot be turned into prosperous municipalities.
The urban potential of the Serb enclaves
The presence of towns is a precondition for the development of every society regardless of its ethnicity. Without them there is no economic, cultural, scientific and educational development. For a Serb municipality to exist, it is of essential importance to estimate the urban capacity of the Serb enclaves, i.e. to estimate which Serb towns, given their level of urbanization, could become centres of future Serb municipalities. It makes no sense to form Serb municipalities from poor and deeply rural villages with a few thousand inhabitants, unless they are supported by a Serb or ethnically mixed urban centre that contains the potential of further growth. For a municipality to emerge and develop, it needs good communications and strong links with larger neighbouring towns and with industry in the near or wider region. None of the Serb enclaves, with the exception of the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, meet any such criteria.
In the area of central Kosovo, the candidates for becoming Serb municipalities are the enclaves of Gračanica, Lipljani, Belaćevac i Novo Brdo. The trouble is that they too have limited urban potential and consequently poor perspective. They will in any case become sub-regional centres of the city of Prishtina (Obilić and Belaćevac, in particular, are literally part of Prishtina). Viewed from the urban perspective, the potential of Serb municipalities in Kosovo’s south, west and east is even more limited. They do not possess the necessary urban structure, while the towns that surround them are inhabited exclusively by Albanians. This suggests the need for acceptance of multi-ethnicity as the criterion for forming new municipalities.
The economic criteria for forming Serb municipalities
It is of great importance that the Serb municipalities be economically sustainable and have a clear perspective of development. Without economic potential and developmental programmes in a situation in which living conditions are unfavourable, if existence is dangerous, meagre and in every way monotonous and meaningless people will leave. This is a general characteristic of all Kosovo municipalities and especially those inhabited by Serbs. Albanians too are emigrating in large numbers. Economic aid on the part of Serbia, foreign donors and international bodies is small and unsustainable in the longer run. Self-financing is a condition of survival, and this should be the main criterion when forming Serb municipalities.
The Serb enclaves receive most of their money from the Serbian state (c.60%), and some (c.20%) from the Kosovo budget. The northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica and Zvečani alone cost the Serbian government 1,500,000 euros per month, and Kosovo 500,000 a month. This amounts to 24 million euros per year. (According to some information, Kosovo costs Serbia in all between 70 and 80 million euros per year.) This situation is unsustainable in the long run. It demands the creation of multi-ethnic municipalities - something the Serbian side rejects.
The gross social product per capita in Kosovo is about 700 euros. If one compares this with Serbia (c.3,000), Croatia (7,000), Slovenia (12,000) and the EU average (c.20,000), it is clear that life in the Serb enclaves is hard and without perspective (it is not much better in the Albanian-inhabited areas either). It is clear too that Serbs will be migrating to Serbia and Albanians to the EU. These are the true problems of the two peoples which cannot be resolved through any quick political fix.
The political criteria for forming Serb municipalities
Serb municipalities also have the specific tasks of protecting the Serb population from a currently unfriendly Albanian population, and of securing the integration of refugees who fled to these enclaves during and after the war. It should be possible to organize within them a secure existence, as a condition of self-government, that would permit the Serbs to retain their national individuality. The belief on the part of the majority of Serbs that coexistence with the Albanians is not possible drives them to give primacy to the political factor in defining Serb municipalities, even though they know that such municipalities have no perspective and lead ultimately to their emigration from Kosovo.
The Serb people, and especially the Serb community in Kosovo, must be told openly that the Serb population cannot meet the demographic, urban and economic criteria that would permit the establishment of a large number of Serb municipalities. If the Serb community wishes to remain and develop, it must replace the ethnic principle by the principle of functionality. There is no other, better perspective. In order to ascertain which of the Serb enclaves have the capacity to become sustainable Serb municipalities, it is necessary to engage experts but also to consult Kosovo Serbs and Albanians who best know the local situation, rather than just politicians from Belgrade and the international community. If the rational approach to the problems of Kosovo continues to be ignored, and the Serb people in Kosovo continues to be deceived about realities, then they will indeed end up disappearing from Kosovo.
This analysis has been extracted from a longer study in Republika (Belgrade), 1 June. - 31 July. 2006.