bosnia report
New Series No: 55-56 January - July 2007
Kosovo - the end game
by Sonja Biserko

The resolution of the Kosovo issue is entering its final phase. Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal is on the tables of the Albanian and Serb leaders. Belgrade does not understand, however, that the Kosovo issue finds itself on the list of international priorities because it serves to define new rules and principles, as was true also for the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. These rules rest on existing principles such as the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act, as well as on other international documents. The present international constellation, i.e. the disappearance of the bi-polar world, has opened up new fields for the application of international law. The Yugoslav crisis has provided a unique opportunity for international law to be affirmed without the ballast of the Cold War. The activities of the international community during the past fifteen years have nevertheless remained influenced by the relationship of forces created during the previous fifty years; hence the many inconsistencies in the application of these principles, and the surrender on occasions to perceived realities as happened in the case of the Dayton accords.

Despite everything, the international community has since the end of the 1990s conducted a policy of appeasement towards Serbia, accepting with good grace its blackmailing and its use of faits accomplis. The whole region has suffered as a result. Ahtisaari’s plan itself looks a little like the Z-4 Plan, the offer to the Croatian Serbs that Belgrade rejected. In the same way that Z-4 was against Croatian interests, Ahtisaari’s plan is not in Kosovo’s interests either. It turns the Kosovo Serbs into a permanent tool of Belgrade, while placing the Kosovo Albanians in a state of lasting frustration. Kosovo is much too small a place for territorial engineering of this nature, which will moreover inhibit the whole region’s development. As it laments Kosovo, Serb public opinion fails to make any comparison with Vojvodina: though Vojvodina had never been a Serbian territory, it was turned into a majority-Serb area through persistent application of ethnic engineering, i.e. the settlement of ethnic Serbs from all over Yugoslavia.

Partition excluded

Ten years have passed since the conclusion of the Dayton accords, originally designed to end a war - a time sufficiently long to permit an understanding of their limitations. Adoption of the ethnic principle as the basis of politics has proved a disastrous and dangerous solution for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Hence the decision of the Contact Group to avoid the possibility of Kosovo being partitioned, which has been Belgrade’s preferred solution all along. Partition of Kosovo has been the axiom of Belgrade’s strategy during the past eight years, which has implied preventing integration of the Kosovo Serb population into local governmental structures, persistent demonisation of the Kosovo Albanians, and undermining international efforts. The exclusion of any possibility of Kosovo being partitioned has surprised Belgrade, and this is reflected in its new strategy encapsulated in the empty formula of ‘more than autonomy, less than independence’.

It is particularly the example of Kosovo that illustrates the immaturity of the Serbian political class, given its refusal throughout to consider any compromise solution whatsoever. Accustomed to the international community’s readiness to cave in to its demands, and to the constant creation of ‘new realities’ on the ground, the Serbian elite has chosen to disregard the international context and to reject the Albanians as equal partners. All Serbian negotiating teams have at different times displayed a racist, denigratory attitude towards the Albanian side.

The Serbian elite denies the existence of the Albanian nation as such. According to Smilja Avramov, ‘the difficulties in solving the Albanian problem derive from the circumstance that - in contrast to European countries, which became nations before creating their state - Albania became a state before it became a nation.’ She also insists that ‘the ethno-genesis of the Albanians, or more precisely of their individual tribes, is shrouded in darkness and has not been scientifically established to this day, given that there are no written sources nor a reliable cultural heritage.’1 Svetozar Stojanović continues the argument, saying that ‘it is not possible that the United States would seek to satisfy the Albanians against Russia’s will with a unilateral and capricious recognition of Kosmet [i.e. Kosovo], thus endangering cooperation with Russia in solving the grave conflicts with North Korea and Iran.’2 It is assumed here that Russia understands the significance of the Serbian stance, which gives the Serbian side ‘an importance disproportionate to its strength’.3

Another approach of the Serbian elite is to recall the Kosovo myth and its role in forming the mentality of the Serb people. It claims that ‘the basis of the Kosovo cult contains an elevated philosophy, created by the people around a historical event, as moral guidance for a way of life: self-sacrifice for the sake of the principle of justice.’4 The argument leads to the conclusion that Kosovo’s independence is a matter of ‘taking away not just part of our territory, but also an essential component of our way of being’.5 This is linked to the significance which the Kosovo myth has in Serb culture. It is based, in the last instance, on a tragic reading of our own history, exploited by Dobrica Ćosić in his novels. Thus it is claimed that ‘the Kosovo myth is built into the individual Serb’s cultural mentality, whence it radiates into all areas of life and creativity’.6

Anti-Muslim propaganda

A third - and arguably the most authentic - stance of the Serbian side in relation to the Kosovo problem is that its essence ‘lies in the separatism of the Albanians, their desire to take out by force a territory that was the core of the state and the cradle of the Serb heritage’.7 The thesis about the existence of Muslim terrorism was launched a long time ago, and derives from the Belgrade strategy of severing the so-called ‘green transversal’: Turkey-Kosovo-Sandžak-Sarajevo. This thesis played a key role in the planning for genocide against the Muslim population of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Following the terrorist attack on the USA of 11 September 2001, Serb nationalists tried to impose the view that Serbia had in fact been leading the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism.

Finally, the basic Serb frustration - which also reflects Serb racism towards Albanians - is that NATO, i.e. the international community, has sided with the Albanians and above all with the Bosniaks. This policy on the part of the USA and the EU is reduced in the Serbian mind to a thesis about ‘an American imperialism that hides behind such benign phrases as "globalisation" and "new world order".’8

Such views held by the Serbian elite are reflected in the new Serbian constitution, as well as in the first session of the Serbian parliament at which Ahtisaari’s proposal was rejected and an appropriate resolution passed. Serbia, we are told, ‘will not surrender to the pressure of a superior force and sign whatever is demanded of us’.9 This stance derives from an assessment that the proposal infringes the sovereignty and integrity of Serbia, which is an internationally recognised state. The resolution insists that Ahtisaari’s proposal calls into question the possibility of a compromise solution as the basic aim of negotiations concerning the future status of Kosovo. 225 deputies voted for the resolution, 15 voted against, and three abstained.

The prime minister, Vojislav Koštunica, argued that the resolution was a joint effort, because all the parliamentary parties had participated in drafting it. Boris Tadić insisted that ‘Ahtisaari’s proposal is basically a plan opening the path for Kosovo independence, something that violates our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity of which Ahtisaari makes no mention’; and that acceptance of his proposal would be anti-constitutional, as is clearly stated in the text of the resolution.

Crime as normal

What is particularly interesting is the politicians’ perception of Serbia as a civilised state occupying a morally superior position to that of the Kosovo Albanians. Yet even the current ‘democratic’ government has failed to condemn the ideological basis and criminal behaviour of Milosević’s regime. This shows the manipulative interpretation of the recent past practised by the Serbian elite, tantamount to making peace with the past and accepting crime as normal conduct. Our current politicians, in other words, have failed to reach a minimum understanding about the criminal past and the need to go beyond it. Hence, the token stance of President Tadić - ‘we offer the Albanians all the rights they could enjoy within a civilised and democratically organised state: an essential autonomy that would permit them to decide independently on nearly all issues of everyday life, linked to a renewal of economic ties with central Serbia and a readiness on our part to aid the economic regeneration of the province’10 - sounds both cynical and amoral.

Furthermore, for the president’s offer to be seen as valid it would need to have been supported by a ‘constructive policy’ since 2000 on the part of the so-called democratic government, which would have had to distance itself clearly from the policy conducted by Slobodan Milošević. This, however, Belgrade has failed to do, which is why all its proposals appear unconvincing, not only to the Kosovo Albanians but also to the citizens of Serbia. Tadić has formulated his proposal as ‘a compromise solution to be reached by negotiations’, since only a compromise ‘has the lasting nature’ which could ‘lead to the regional stability that is of vital interest to the countries of the western Balkans and a precondition for their faster integration into the European Union’.11

The most cynical and morally unacceptable positions were those adopted during the parliamentary debate by the Radical Party and the Socialist Party. In their Programmatic Declaration of the 1990s, the Radicals had worked out in detail a plan of repression to be implemented against the Kosovo Albanians, essentially giving notice of what did indeed happen to the Albanians at the end of the decade.12 In the event this plan was thwarted, because US President Bush in his 1992 Christmas warning announced the possibility of intervention if Milošević decided to opt for it. The Socialists, on the other hand, had signed the Kumanovo agreement which, together with Resolution 1244, established an international protectorate over Kosovo. The so-called democratic government has never accepted any responsibility for the Kosovo tragedy, not even in such circumstances as the discovery of mass graves across the territory of Serbia. The Serbian elite, if it is to discuss the Kosovo issue seriously, would find it useful to bear in mind the chronology of events, so that both Serb and Albanian victims may be honoured equally, and accordingly to accept its own responsibility for all that happened in Kosovo in 1988-9 - not to speak of the preceding period.

Koštunica and the old regime

The outgoing prime minister Vojislav Koštunica is responsible for the continuity with and preservation of Milošević’s inheritance, hence also for the return of the Radicals and the Socialists to the political scene without first having to account for their criminal policy. His strategy of ‘legalism’ has made it possible for the old regime to survive in all the institutions of government. It is responsible for the obstruction of all reforming efforts in parliament, and above all for protecting war criminals like Ratko Mladić.

The vice-president of the Radical Party Tomislav Nikolić, as leader of the strongest party, announced in the Serbian parliament without a trace of moral sensibility that his party would support the government so long as it was willing to defend Kosovo, since ‘if we do not accept independence, and if every representative of the Serbian state clearly states this, Kosovo will not become independent.’ The new president of the Socialist Party, Ivica Dačić, endorsed this warmongering message, saying that he ‘supports any activity leading to the defence of Kosovo-Metohija’.

Numerous analysts, experts, advisers and negotiators have characterised the parliamentary resolution as instructions for the Serbian negotiating team in regard to each and every point of Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal for Kosovo. Some, like Aleksandar Simić who advises Koštunica, have insisted that the steps Serbia is likely to take towards countries recognising Kosovo will ‘certainly be appropriate and measured’, and that ‘nothing is being expected of Russia and the USA’, since according to him ‘America aims for a blitzkrieg in Kosovo, moving fast and testing Serbia’s steadfastness and will to resist the ultimatum presented to it’.

Vladeta Janković, another of the prime minister’s advisers, has stated that ‘Serbia will not give up Kosovo in return for membership in the EU or NATO, or billions in non-returnable loans.’ He also announced that Serbia ‘could scale down political, economic and cultural ties with countries so drastically breaking international norms’ as to recognise Kosovo.13 Desimir Tosić, a member of the Democratic Party’s political council and one of the rare voices to accept reality, has said that ‘we cannot give away Kosovo, we can only beg that it be returned to us. Kosovo is in the hands of the United Nations.’ He adds that Kosovo will never again be in the position in which it found itself in 1999, 1945 or 1918. ‘Every normal and thinking Serb must know this. Nowhere in the world today is it possible to run a territory on the basis of 3% of the population.’ Serbia, in his view, should negotiate with the international community rather than conduct an anti-American campaign or a campaign against negotiations. He describes the various platforms and resolutions on Kosovo adopted throughout Serbia as ‘infantile’.14

Power of truth

The only person taking a crystal-clear position has been the leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), Čedomir Jovanović, who stated: ‘We do not accept the resolution and will vote against it; but at the same time we are ready to support the parliament, the government and the president in changing their political course.’ What is the importance for Serbia of a statement supported by only 15 out of 250 parliamentary deputies? In a situation when a society descends into barbarism, which is what happened to Serbian society in the 1990s, a moral minority can play a major role in setting off a process of transition, and especially in a process of transitional justice. Nor should one overlook the power of truth that this minority represents, which can prove liberating for Serbian society. To be sure, this is a ongoing process that will not be easy or simple. But the coalition led by the LDP has opened up the new political space indispensable for such a process.

Hence the displeasure shown by Serb nationalists at the fact that Čedimir Jovanović has entered the Serbian parliament, since it is the first time that dissonant voices can be heard there, and especially since ‘although only a small minority, their vocal power is inversely proportional to their strength, as is shown by the echo they produce in the international power centres.‘15 For the Serbian elite, however, a far greater concern is the question of whether Russia is indeed returning to the world scene in a big way (using the new energy realities), and whether as part of that context it will veto a Security Council resolution recognising Kosovo’s independence. Many analysts doubt this eventuality (‘a return of the Cold War when SFRJ was able to balance between the two superpowers’16), and in recent times the Serbian public has been gradually prepared for there being no last-minute change. Apart from that, there is the crucial question for Serbia itself of where it belongs. Playing the Russian card assumes that ‘Serbia will not join NATO and the EU, and will instead be a Russian protege’.17 Some Serbian strategists aspire to this, and it is they who are articulating the thesis of a neutral Serbia. It seems, however, that such speculation is above all a flight from responsibility for the war and its crimes, and an inability to come to terms with the final outcome.

1.Smilja Avramov, ‘An international-legal view of the Kosovo-Metohija crisis’,Srbi na Kosovu i u Metohiji, SANU, Belgrade 2006, p.15.

2.Svetozar Stojanović, ‘Istorijska anomalija’, Politika, Belgrade, 13 December 2006.

3.Svetozar Stojanović, ‘Searching for a solution’, Politika, 13 December 2006.

4.Zoran Konstantinović, ‘The Kosovo cult in contemporary Serb mentality’, Srbi na Kosovu i u Metohiji, SANU, Belgrade 2006, p. 40.


6.Zoran Avramović, ‘Kosovski kult u suvremenom srpskom mentalitetu’, Srbi na Kosovu i u Metohiji, SANU, Belgrade 2006, p. 95.

7.Mihajlo Marković, ‘Evolucija kosovskog problema i mogućnost njegovog rješenja’, Srbi na Kosovu i u Metohiji, SANU, Belgrade 2006, p. 214.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10.Boris Tadić,, 15 February 2007.


12.This is why foreign diplomats like the British ambassador to Belgrade Stephen Wordsworth view the Radicals as a problem. As he says, ‘as long as Vojislav Š ešelj sticks by his views or as long as his party members do not find a new leader, we in the EU shall treat it as a dangerous and hostile plan. A party led by such a leader is not a party with which the EU states, in the British view, can have any dealings. If matters nevertheless take that course, Serbia I believe will become very isolated.’ Danas, Belgrade, 17-18 February 2007.

13., 15 February 2007.


15.Slobodan Ikonic, ‘Grmoglasna manjina’, NIN, Belgrade, 15 February 2007.

16.Miroslav Jovanović, ‘The veto has lost its power’, NIN, Belgrade, 15 February 2007.


Translated from Helsinška Povelja 103-4, January-February 2007


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