Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku and Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, who are members of the rival delegations holding talks in Vienna today, said recently on separate occasions that they doubt the negotiation process will lead to a compromise settlement. Some prominent diplomats from outside the Balkans have made similar statements in recent weeks. Indeed, it has often been pointed out in the regional and international media that if a compromise were possible, someone probably would have hit upon it long ago.
Any final settlement will most likely be determined primarily by two facts on the ground. The first is that Kosovo has a 90 percent ethnic-Albanian majority that does not want anything to do with Serbia as a result of the 1998-99 conflict. On the basis of the principles of self-determination and majority rule, all Kosovar Albanian political parties insist on independence. They stress that any discussion of Kosovo's future must proceed from the realities that stem from the war, during which tens of thousands of Albanians were forced to flee their homes and many Kosovars died.
Another legacy of that conflict is the profound suspicion on the part of many Kosovars that the brutal policies of Serbian forces there would not have succeeded to the extent that they did without the political support and "human intelligence" supplied by the province's Serbian minority.
The mistrust between the two ethnic groups is, in fact, mutual and deeply rooted. Like their fellow Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina at the start of the 1990s, Kosovo's Serbs fear becoming a minority in a state they do not control; many fled their homes at the end of the war for that reason. The Albanians worry that Belgrade and its backers in Moscow want to drag the status talks out indefinitely in the hope that the Western powers will lose interest in the Balkans and that Serbian forces can then return to the province.
The circumstances of the war and the tense aftermath it produced have led to what might be called the second truth, namely that Kosovo is in practice partitioned into Serbian and Albanian sections, the existence of scattered enclaves notwithstanding. At the urging of Belgrade, most local Serbian politicians have boycotted Kosovo's nascent state institutions, including the parliamentary seats reserved for them. Instead, parallel structures have been set up in northern Mitrovica and other parts of northern Kosovo, despite frequent admonitions by the international community that such structures are "illegal." Kosovo's Serbs look to Belgrade rather than to Pristina for their political cues.
Officially, none of the parties involved in negotiations supports a de jure partition of Kosovo. This is true of the Kosovar Albanians and of Serbia, as well as of the international "troika" of the United States, the EU, and Russia. In practice, however, all concerned know that partition is a possible option. Wolfgang Ischinger, who is the German diplomat representing the EU in the talks, recently made hints to that effect, although he subsequently denied that partition is under consideration.
UN envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari said in Bled, Slovenia, on August 26 that the international community must not allow Kosovo to become another "frozen conflict," but instead must act on the plan he put forward for supervised independence. Belgrade and Moscow both reject any form of independence and argue that the plan is "dead." But Jeremic hinted at the same gathering as Ahtisaari that the EU might "energize" the regional political process if it were to offer candidate membership status to all the countries there.
In fact, there has been much media speculation in recent months that Belgrade takes the tough line that Kosovo must "remain" Serbian only as a maximum negotiating position. According to this view, Belgrade's real aim is to obtain a fast track toward EU membership and possibly a partition of Kosovo that would leave it in effective control of the Serbian-dominated north. Brussels' long-standing position is that membership is not a prize that is awarded on the basis of political considerations but is the result of completing a lengthy and clearly defined process.
Ischinger has made it clear that Serbia's and Kosovo's future relations with the EU will depend on the outcome of the current talks. He, Ahtisaari, and Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country currently holds the rotating Presidency of the EU, have all said in recent days that Kosovo "must be primarily a matter for the EU."
Brussels will need to come up with some concrete offers to the countries of the region if such statements are not to be remembered as an idle boast, like the words of Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos at the beginning of the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991,when he said that "the hour of Europe" has come. Kosovar Albanian commentators in particular also stress that the EU cannot expect to continue to delay a settlement in Kosovo or impose an unwieldy political structure on it, as Brussels did on Serbia and Montenegro in an arrangement that lasted only from 2003-06. Those Albanian commentators also note that only the United States has the full confidence of the Kosovars on security matters and that the Albanians will insist on a continuing U.S. military and civilian presence.
Pro-independence graffiti in Prishtina (epa)
FINALLY STATUS? Sabine Freizer, director of the Crisis Group's Europe Program, told an RFE/RL briefing that deep divisions in the UN Security Council make it uncertain what form Kosovo's future status might take.
Listen to the entire briefing (about 70 minutes):
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