The United Nations, European Union, and NATO are all grappling with how to divide authority in the transition period ahead, and have been reluctant to discuss how the divisions may amount to Kosovo's de facto partition between the Serb-controlled north and the ethnic-Albanian south. Arbana Vidishiqi, RFE/RL's Pristina bureau chief, discussed the issue with Balkans expert James Hooper, a longtime U.S. diplomat and current managing director of the U.S.-based Public International Law and Policy Group.
RFE/RL: What are the main challenges you see as we near June 15?
James Hooper: The most important thing I found in my most recent trip to Kosovo was that a big psychological hurdle had been overcome by the declaration of independence by the Pristina government, and the recognition by a large number of international states. That really has helped to clarify things, and I think it gives the Kosovars a sense of confidence in their future.
But now the internationals have left them in a state of confusion and uncertainty about the future. That is, UNMIK [UN Mission in Kosovo] has been unwilling to fully pull out; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been trying to decide on what to do, what the role of the United Nations should be in the future. The EU is planning to go in. What will the relationship between the various components of the internationals be?
RFE/RL: Some have warned that a mixture of UN and EU functions may produce a crisis, especially if their missions are divided along an ethnic basis. Would you agree?
Hooper: This confusion and uncertainty that the internationals are leaving for Kosovo is actually an opportunity for the Kosovars. Frankly, the internationals don't know what to do. They're confused themselves, they're uncertain, and of course, they're under a lot of pressure from Russia and Serbia on one side, and from the United States and Europe and other countries on the other side, and they don't really know exactly what to do.
If the Kosovar people, and the Kosovar leaders in particular -- the prime minister [Hashim Thaci] and the president [Fatmir Sejdiu] and their cabinet -- understand that in such confusion and uncertainty, [they should] produce sensible initiatives, and seize the opportunity to move forward in full consultation with the internationals, and not just ask the internationals for permission for everything, but begin to take on themselves more and more responsibility for their own power.
RFE/RL: Did you visit the north during your recent visit to Kosovo?
Hooper: Yes. It's very clear that Serbia intends to keep the north, and it's very clear that the internationals are not going to do anything to challenge that. And I think that is the biggest problem that the Kosovars face -- the uncertainty about how to deal with that.
Everyone I have met praises the maturity and the responsibility of the Kosovars, who have, despite serious provocations -- primarily from Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade -- maintained their dignity, maintained their restraint, and have reached out to the Serbs in the north and in the enclaves to try to establish understanding if possible.
Frankly, I think the Serbs are shocked. They figured their provocations would lead to incidents, and that the incidents would lead the internationals to say, "Oh well, we'll just give it to Serbia." It's going to be very difficult for Pristina to establish authority in the north. Serbia will do everything possible to stop that. And frankly, the internationals are not going to help the Kosovars to do that, and I think that's a big failure on the part of the internationals.
RFE/RL: Do you see any risk of partition?
Hooper: I think the internationals accepted de facto partition in principle in 1999, when the war ended, when they didn't do anything to prevent Belgrade from establishing its authority over the north. The internationals have no plan to overcome that. It puts the Kosovar government in a very, very awkward situation.
I know some people in Kosovo, some politicians, are calling for preventing [Serbian minister for Kosovo Slobodan] Samardzic and others from Belgrade from driving down south of the Ibar River [dividing the city of Mitrovica] while the Kosovo government officials themselves cannot go to Leposavic or other parts in the north.
I think it would not be unwise for the Kosovo government to work out with the internationals some [measures preventing] Serbian officials coming down south of the Ibar to create problems. That should be stopped.
RFE/RL: So far, 42 countries have recognized Kosovo, including the United States and 20 European Union member states. The question of international recognition remains a source of debate. Some say it's quality that matters, but others argue that quantity shouldn't be ignored. What's your view?
Hooper: Kosovo needs both quality and quantity. Serbia and Russia are trying to roll recognition back. They're not just trying to prevent further recognitions -- they're trying to roll it back. And this will have a very negative effect.
[Seeking recognition from other nations] should be the primary focus of the Kosovo government. They need at least 60, 70, 80 -- the higher the numbers, and the quicker they achieve this, the better off they're going to be. That will undermine the effort by Moscow and Belgrade to roll this back, and I think it will lay to rest the issue of Kosovo's legitimacy. But if it plateaus out, and increases only gradually, this is not a good sign. It should be well above the 40s. I think numbers count. This should be a national mission.