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Kosovo: More Talks, More Models For Disputed Province

Kosovo's status is still undecided New proposals and suggestions regarding Kosovo's future have emerged in recent weeks from several sources. The Kosovars continue to want a quick transition to independence.

"The Washington Post" reported on 17 May that "the Bush administration has decided on a new strategy designed to finally settle whether Kosovo will become fully independent of Serbia, [unnamed] U.S. officials said." An unnamed "senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity...[that] "if you freeze the situation for two or more years, you are likely to create a pressure cooker."

The Washington-based daily added that "the plan, which Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns will announce in congressional testimony [on 18 May] and a speech [the following day], has been carefully worked out in intensive discussions with UN and European officials. The United Nations will shortly appoint Kai Eide, the Norwegian ambassador to NATO, to assess whether Kosovo is ready for final-status talks. Once that certification is made, probably by mid-autumn, then the United Nations will sponsor international negotiations on whether Kosovo should remain part of Serbia, become independent, or achieve a hybrid status."

UN Study

Eide made a study on Kosovo for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004, in which Eide called on the UN to move quickly on giving the Kosovars a "road map" for the future. He stressed that time was of the essence, but Annan proved more cautious (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August and 17 December 2004). Eide's report was, however, generally very well received by the Kosovars themselves, who have long sought independence based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule.

In recent weeks, much media attention has been given to proposals by Serbian President Boris Tadic and several other Belgrade leaders for unspecified "talks" with Kosovo's elected ethnic Albanian officials. Serbian leaders have, in fact, repeatedly called for direct bilateral talks in Belgrade or Prishtina, whereas Kosovar leaders want any conference on Kosovo's future to be international in scope and not in Belgrade. The Kosovar leaders are willing to talk about "technical questions" with their Serbian counterparts but do not want full-fledged political negotiations, arguing that Belgrade lost all claims to the province by its behavior in the 1998-99 conflict.
Many people in the Balkans sense that the attitude in Brussels is that if the "peoples of the Western Balkans" want to join the EU, they will have to do as they are told.

Kosovar leaders also note that previous talks with Belgrade have yielded no real results except to enable Serbia to claim that it still plays a role in Kosovar affairs. In fact, Kosovar media note that the Serbian leaders' main interest in the Kosovo issue is probably linked to domestic politics. General elections are widely expected in Serbia before the end of 2005, and the Kosovo question enables the politicians to vie with each other for nationalist votes and divert attention from Serbia's real problems, namely crime, corruption, and poverty.

Kosovo Lost?

In private, many Serbian leaders concede that Belgrade has lost Kosovo and are at a loss for answers when asked what Serbia would do if it ever found itself in charge of the province once again. The UN has, in any event, made it clear that Serbia will not have a veto over Kosovo's future.

The EU, for one, nonetheless seems to have great hopes for bilateral Belgrade-Prishtina talks. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Brussels on 20 April that Kosovo's President Ibrahim Rugova should take up Tadic's offer of talks. "It is very important to start a constructive dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina," Rehn told reporters. He added that he has "noted positive developments in this regard -- the willingness to [extend a] hand by President Tadic, and I encourage President Rugova to take this seriously and proceed to have a constructive dialogue." Rehn also argued that "the [European] Commission Kosovo to make progress towards its European aspirations, provided its political leaders demonstrate a clear commitment to democratic principles, human rights, rule of law, and economic reform."

An international commission recently suggested that the EU extend explicit prospects of EU membership for an independent Kosovo that would, however, be an EU protectorate for at least several years. Many Kosovars have come away from this and other discussions with the impression that the EU is concerned as much with procedure as with results, and that it is determined to somehow "prove" its ability to deal with Balkan problems through prolonged paternalistic rule regardless of what the locals might wish. Many people in the Balkans sense that the attitude in Brussels is that if the "peoples of the Western Balkans" want to join the EU, they will have to do as they are told.

As RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service has noted, many Kosovars also suspect that the EU will ultimately try to force Kosovo into some form of joint state with Serbia and Montenegro, which both Podgorica and Prishtina reject. These perceptions of Brussels' intentions have led some Kosovars to question how well such proposals have been thought through in light of concrete experience. They argue that the track record of creative Western statecraft in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro has not been particularly encouraging.

In 1964, veteran British Middle East expert Anthony Nutting criticized his country's policies in that region by noting that "Britain failed to realize that the Arabs preferred being governed badly by themselves to being governed well by somebody else." His observations are probably still valid four decades later -- and in the Balkans as well.

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