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Analysis: Kosova -- The Fire Next Time

President Ibrahim Rugova is a strong advocate of independence for Kosova The ethnic violence that shook Kosova on 17-18 March might well prove a harbinger of worse things to come. At the core of the problem is the demand by the ethnic Albanian majority for independence based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule.

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, told the BBC's "HardTalk" program on 13 December that tension is likely to rise in Kosova in 2005 as the province moves toward talks on its final status, which for the ethnic-Albanian majority means only independence, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 18 October, and 19 and 24 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August, and 10 and 17 September 2004). He said that Kosova's "fuse is very short" and that the international community must prepare its security forces there accordingly. "Keep the level on the ground you have now but make sure that the boots are on the ground, that you are more mobile, more flexible, and...more visible," Jessen-Petersen warned.

He argued that 2005 is "potentially tense, because as we get closer to the status talks the stakes are getting much, much higher, and in what is a fragile society we can expect that there will be provocations." Jessen-Petersen added that "the Kosovars better than anybody else fully understand another outburst of violence means that they can wave goodbye to immediate status talks." Noting that Belgrade will not have a veto, he added that "neither side has the right to decide final status."
The UN's "standards before status" policy needs revising to give the majority a clearer road map.

Jessen-Petersen stressed that one lesson of the 17-18 March ethnic unrest was that "you cannot keep Kosovo as a holding operation forever." Indeed, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, concluded this past summer that a primary cause of the violence was growing frustration among the ethnic Albanian majority over prolonged colonial-style rule and a lack of perspective for the province's political and economic future. Many Kosovars argue that foreign rule is not only costly and undemocratic, but holding up clarification of Kosova's legal status puts off outside investors. It might be noted that not only Serbian buildings were attacked by ethnic Albanian mobs in March but also about 80 UNMIK vehicles, according to RFE/RL's Prishtina bureau.

Referring to the violence in March, Eide noted during the summer that the UN's "standards before status" policy needs revising to give the majority a clearer road map according to explicit priorities, while providing for decentralization and other measures of concern to the Serbian and other minorities. In an effort to meet a key Albanian demand for more self-government, the diplomat suggested more professional training for Kosovars and that "powers and competences that are not attributes of sovereignty" be increasingly transferred to Kosova's elected officials.

But Annan apparently decided not to modify his policy of adhering firmly to standards before status. He said on 23 November that it is too early to discuss Kosova's final status because not enough progress has been made in achieving the international community's standards. He called the progress made on the standards so far "uneven and limited."

This was not what most Kosovars wanted to hear. Many of them ask why Kosova -- one of former Yugoslavia's poorest regions -- should be expected to meet certain international standards that are not required of other Yugoslav successor states or perhaps even some EU or NATO members. Those Kosovars are similarly puzzled by what they regard as the zealous determination of many in the EU to try to stop the continuing dissolution of former Yugoslavia by opposing the independence of Kosova or Montenegro and warning of a catastrophic regional "domino effect" if either or both become independent, an argument that Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has frequently made (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 16 December 2004).

Daniel Serwer, a Balkans expert at the U.S. Institute for Peace, recently pointed out that the three main actors in the Kosova debate are pursuing very different agendas. The Albanians want independence, the Serbs seek partition, and the international community insists on standards before status. Each agenda has its own logic and rationale.

But the basic fact of life is that the ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population and are impatient to take full control of their destiny. That was the message of the March unrest, as Eide pointed out and Jessen-Petersen also seems to appreciate.

It is understandable that Annan is holding to standards before status lest he appear to be rewarding the March mobs. Many Kosovars note, however, that Annan comes from Ghana, which in 1957 became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to win independence from colonial rule. They wonder how he, in particular, can miss the point that anticolonial struggles based on self-determination and majority rule have a logic of their own, and that the historical record of attempts to hold them back has generally been one of failure, often in dramatic fashion.

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