bosnia report
New Series No:32-34 December - July 2003
Need for an historic Serb-Albanian agreement
by Sonja Biserko

When it comes to the Balkans, the status of Kosovo has been turning into a key topic of international circles in the West. The issue is being referred to as crucial to the stability of the entire region. This is why the West - the USA in particular - has ever more openly been signalling to Belgrade its expectation to see a dialogue opened between Belgrade and Prishtina.

Belgrade has met this U-turn in the West's attitude with a dose of nervousness, since Serbian national strategists have taken for granted that the issue of Kosovo’s status should be resolved gradually and through the implementation of standards enabling the return of Serbs. In his capacity as head of the Coordinating Committee, Nebojša Čović keeps saying: ‘Speeding up a solution for the status of Kosovo would further deepen political instability,’ and ‘Calls for a hasty solution are nothing but typical petty politics.’ However, aware of the pressure from the USA, he has announced ‘a dialogue-oriented strategy’ for early January 2003, and said that he sees prospects for Kosovo in the context of integration of the entire region, ‘with Kosovska Mitrovica as a single town containing three municipalities.’

Hypocrisy and inconsistency

Over the past three years Belgrade's Kosovo policy has been one of hypocrisy and inconsistency. On the one hand Belgrade has laid claim to Kosovo, while on the other it has focussed on Kosovo’s division and (as Čović puts it) ‘functional ties with Serbia’. This is a reference to a well-known line of argument originating in Branislav Krstić’s plans for the partition of Kosovo - Krstić’s terms are simply being adapted for use in current circumstances. The fact is that part of the DOS coalition has never broken with Milošević’s policy when it comes to a national programme, and has been looking forward to ‘a change in international circumstances’ that would make it possible to establish at least a ‘small Greater Serbia’. Illusions still persist about unified Serbian territories encompassing Republika Srpska, Montenegro, part of Kosovo and, if possible, part of Macedonia as well. Đinđić’s recent statement to Der Spiegel that if Kosovo’s Albanians continue to insist on independence, Belgrade will call for the holding of a new Dayton conference - because ‘in that case borders in the region will have to be redefined’ - is most illustrative.

Just like the Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia, Kosovo Serbs are merely tools of Belgrade's policy. Shortly after the NATO intervention, historian Dušan Bataković said that the Serbs of Kosovo had ‘spontaneously organized themselves in cantons,’ a definition upon which official Belgrade has been insisting over the past three years. Actually, it has been insisting on the return of Serbs to Kosovo, and criticizing the international community for its incompetence in not securing more favourable conditions for their return. Interestingly, the Belgrade authorities have never staged a similar campaign when it came to Serb refugees from Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina. For the fact is they have never given up the idea of an ethnically pure Serbian state. But this in itself represents a major problem, when the country’s demographic structure is borne in mind. After all, in spite of a policy of silent ethnic cleansing in Milošević’s era - e.g. Bosniaks from Sandžak were kidnapped, killed or expelled from villages bordering Bosnia; Croats were expelled from the village of Hrtkovci, as well as those bordering on Croatia; and (once the NATO intervention was over) Albanians in southern Serbia were pressed to leave their homes - Serbia s population still includes over 25 per cent of people belonging to ethnic minorities, which hardly suits the concept for an ethnically pure state. Not just members of minority groups, but Serbs too have emigrated from Serbia, for a variety of reasons. Thus even the inflow of refugees has not contributed to ‘a more favourable’ ethnic structure.

Partition plan

Speaking about the return of Kosovo refugees, in a recently published report the International Crisis Group has suggested that major progress in the return of displaced persons to Kosovo in the near future is hardly probable. The report pinpoints the fact that not even ‘President Rugova has taken an active part in efforts aimed at the return of displaced persons.’ According to the report, Belgrade wants to profit from the issue of displaced persons to have Kosovo divided. Kosovo Serbs are frustrated, with good reason. First they have lost power, then all the rest. However, their former power was based on force, rather than democracy. This is why their current idea about return goes hand in hand with a return of the Yugoslav Army and police.

Yet some circles in Serbia are fully aware of the fact that Kosovo is a lost cause. According to Miodrag Mitić, former legal adviser in the Foreign Ministry, ‘Serbia has missed the opportunity to win a legal battle for its southern province.’ ‘Even were Kosovo to be a constituent part of the federation,’ says Mitić, ‘one million, five hundred thousand Albanians would oppose the state as such. The option of keeping the whole of Kosovo within Serbia is not a good choice. We have made a mistake in not having kept the part inhabited by Serbs, along with the industries and holy places, while giving up the rest. We could have spared ourselves the trouble of Rambouillet, NATO, Haekkerup or Steiner.’ Actually, this is what Ćosić has long been advocating, along with the notion that Serbia would be getting something better part in return - Vojvodina. Recently Ćeda Antić, a young historian and former student leader, has gone public with an thesis about the necessity of making ‘an epochal agreement with the Albanian population in Kosovo and Metohija,’ i.e. a kind of ‘territory for peace’ agreement. In his view, Serbia should give thorough consideration to its possible relationship with ‘a territory marked by deep internal instability and a demographic surge Serbia simply cannot match.’

For the Serbian public, the Kosovo question is an emotional issue - and an issue that is being skilfully manipulated. There are few who genuinely see Kosovo as part of Serbia. However, while still insisting on its partition, the national strategists keep ignoring the fact that this would open the problem of southern Serbia. As Daniel Server of the US Institute for Peace says: ‘In my view, Serbs and Albanians could hardly reach an agreement on partition, given that the Albanians would want part of the Preševo Valley in return for Kosovska Mitrovica, which would be a dangerous precedent.’ As for the Yugoslav Army, giving up the Preševo Valley would represent a strategic loss, since access to the Vardar Valley would thereby be denied. Professor Milorad Ekmečić calls the Vardar Valley ‘the key to the Balkans’, saying: ‘Whoever controls the Vardar Valley is the Balkan hegemon.’ All these arguments are couched in 19th-century logic. Nevertheless, guided by this very logic Serbia has suffered a historic defeat, the one with its epilogue in The Hague Tribunal.

A solution for the status of Kosovo would also affect the Serbian-Montenegrin Constitutional Charter - should the latter ever come into effect. The Kosovo government has already denounced the Charter for defining Kosovo as a constituent part of Serbia. Furthermore, a new constitution of Serbia - which is already on the horizon - will doubtless have to solve the same ‘What about Kosovo?’ problem. Since UN Resolution 1244 defines Kosovo as part of FRY, the latter’s disappearance would open the question of Kosovo’s status as well. A variety of solutions may derive from such a context - independence included.

Independence now only solution

To all appearances, the problem of Kosovo’s status will surface as soon as early 2003. This is why the official visit of a Serbian delegation to Tirana does not come as any surprise, even though no delegation as such has ever been to Prishtina. A thorough analysis will show that Serbia has never stopped looking for a counterpart for the Greater Serbia (nowadays ‘small Greater Serbia’) project in a Greater Albania partner. But - regardless of what its true motives may be - the fact is that Belgrade is late. Belgrade has definitely missed the opportunity to make a historic agreement with the Albanians of Kosovo, an expanding nation that has displayed vitality and an aspiration to be emancipated. Instead the dominant tendency among Serbs has been to demonize and belittle Albanians. Today this is an almost insurmountable obstacle to confidence-building between the two communities in Kosovo, and for that matter to the return of Serbs.

Bearing in mind the actual situation and the Albanians’ bitter experience when it comes to Serbs, I am afraid there is only one chance for Serbs to make a historic agreement with the Albanians of Kosovo. This solitary chance, I deeply believe, consists in support for their independence. Such a gesture would create conditions for the two nations to become partners and - after a century of intolerance - neighbours with shared interests, in a democracy based on an adequate position for minorities, a struggle against organized crime, and association with the European Union.


8 January 2003


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