The low-key ceremony in Pristina on June 15 was typical of the political developments among the Kosovar Albanians since independence was declared on February 17, in that all involved seemed to know what was expected of them, and events proceeded fairly smoothly.
At the June 15 gathering, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said that "today the dream of the people of the Republic of Kosovo has come true." President Fatmir Sejdiu announced that "this is a historic moment for Kosovo -- the approval of Kosovo's constitution...and its entering into force. This completes the state-building [process] for Kosova." He added that the new measures constitute "the very important message to the international community and the European Union that Kosovo is a democratic country that has accepted the highest international [standards] and will continue to do so."
One part of the June transition that did not quite proceed according to plan was the transfer of the international community's mandate in Kosovo from the UN to the EU. For almost a decade, the civilian UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has administered Kosovo under Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999. Many Kosovars regard UNMIK as a colonial government whose time has passed.
In keeping with the plan for Kosovo's independence announced by UN envoy and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari in 2007, Kosovo acquired a "supervised independence" in February 2008, under which the EU will help ensure the integrity of the police, judiciary, and local government, as well as the rights of the Serbian and other minorities in the 90 percent ethnically Albanian country.
The centerpiece of the EU's project is the 2,200-strong, peace-and-justice mission EULEX, which is ultimately under the supervision of Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith. He is both the EU's special representative to Kosovo and the head of the International Civilian Office. EULEX has been negotiating in recent months with UNMIK to acquire its offices, vehicles, and other equipment.
At the start of the year, perhaps the only serious difficulty the EU anticipated was in deploying in the mainly Serbian north, where UNMIK's legitimacy is accepted but not that of EULEX. The authorities in the Serbian parallel structures in the north -- which the Kosovar authorities, the UN, EU, and United States consider illegal -- reject Kosovo's independence and consider EULEX part of the independence framework. About 40 percent of Kosovo's ethnic Serbs live in the north, while the remaining 60 percent are scattered across the country in enclaves.
As June 15 drew nearer, however, it became clear that UNMIK was in no hurry to transfer buildings, computers, cars, or authority to EULEX, which was also behind schedule in deploying its own staff. Although UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on January 28 that Kosovo is a "European issue" and primarily a responsibility of the EU, he subsequently became increasingly reluctant to hand over authority to the EU in the face of pressure from Russia. Moscow backs Belgrade over Kosovo and, as a veto power in the Security Council, insists that the council vote on any changes affecting Resolution 1244. Ban, moreover, must also tread lightly with Russia because will need its support if he decides to seek a second term in office.
On June 12, Ban set down his ideas on UNMIK in letters to Sejdiu and Serbian President Boris Tadic. Ban said he wanted to "reconfigure" UNMIK in such a way so that the EU's projects could come under its formal supervision. The South Korean diplomat wrote Sejdiu that "in the absence of other guidance from the Security Council, and following extensive consultations, it is my intention to reconfigure the structure and profile of the international civil presence to one that corresponds to the evolving situation in Kosovo, and that enables the European Union to assume an enhanced operational role." Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted on June 15 that unnamed Western diplomats had to wring concessions out of Ban "one half of a sentence at a time" in order to get him to produce a text that provided sufficient backing for EULEX.
Ban wrote to Tadic that he will seek "dialogue" with Belgrade as well as with Pristina regarding the police, courts, customs, transportation and infrastructure, Kosovo's boundaries, and the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
In responding to Ban, Sejdiu hinted at Kosovar frustrations over the continuing presence of the unloved UN mission. He said on June 17 that "we take note of your decision to have the UN perform certain limited residual functions in Kosova.... We understand that the UN will continue to perform, for a limited duration, rule-of-law functions...until the European Union is able to [take on] its operational role." Sejdiu stressed that the UN must consult Pristina in order to make "viable arrangements" regarding the UN's future role in Kosova.
Tadic, who previously rejected the Kosovar Constitution as a violation of Serbia's territorial integrity and demanded new talks between Belgrade and Pristina, replied to Ban that only the Security Council -- where Russia has a veto -- can decide on any changes in the UN's role in Kosova. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and his minister for Kosova, Slobodan Samardzic, stressed that UNMIK's formal role must remain unchanged, adding that the UN should also work to obstruct Kosovar independence.
Russia did not react immediately to Ban's declaration, although it recently accused UNMIK chief Joachim Ruecker of trying to modify his organization's mandate in favor of EULEX without Security Council approval. Moscow called for Ruecker to be sacked, presumably knowing full well that he was about to leave office anyway. Media reports suggest that Italy's Lamberto Zannier will succeed him.
It is not clear where Ban's proposals will ultimately lead. Alexander Anderson of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank, concluded recently that Ban's letter could result in "a tactical week-to-week chess game, at which the Russians will be dogging the UN and EU at every step." Some ethnic-Albanian commentators in Pristina argued that Ban's letter grants legitimacy to parallel Serbian police and court systems in Kosova.
RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on June 17 that Nebojsa Jovic of Mitrovica's Serbian National Council and some other local Serbian leaders believe that Ban's statement indeed reaffirms support for the status quo, meaning for a de facto partition of Kosova. Some other Kosovar Serbian politicians, however, feel that Ban's proposals are merely the thin edge of the wedge that will ultimately open the door to EULEX and to the international community's full acceptance of an independent Kosova.
In any event, it seems that Kosovo will not pass smoothly from having a strong UN presence to enjoying a "supervised independence" with a much more limited EULEX, even though UNMIK has made it clear that it has no desire to remain at its present strength. As noted recently, the UN and EU have actually become part of the problem in Kosova
Some ethnic-Albanian commentators in Kosovo argued that their country now faces a new reality in which there are two international missions, each of which is perceived differently by the local Serbian and Albanian communities for the sake of their own respective interests. According to this argument, the bifurcation of the international presence in Kosovo will ultimately reinforce the partition that already exists in many places on the ground.
In a similar vein, the ICG's Anderson said recently that "we now have a situation with one lame-duck authority and its successor, [which is] unable to take over. This [development] risks unraveling key institutions like the police and judiciary, and undermining a fragile democracy."
Feith has sought to stress the positive in his public statements. He told the "International Herald Tribune" of June 16 that he is confident that EULEX will be deployed by October and that UNMIK will continue during a "transition period." He warned, however, that "there could be a problem in implementing our plans if we do not have acceptance in Serb communities in Kosovo. Much will depend on whether we have a new government in Belgrade that is EU-friendly."
In the meantime, the outgoing government of Kostunica and Samardzic has taken steps to reinforce the de facto partition of Kosovo by strengthening the system of parallel structures linked to Belgrade, which the Serbian authorities call a "functional division" of Kosova. Samardzic announced on June 13 that "we have agreed to constitute the Serbian assembly in Kosovo, consisting of deputies from all municipalities. It will have a merely representative political role, and not an executive one."
He added that the assembly will be set up on June 28, which is a symbolic date in Serbian history for several reasons, not least of which was that the Battle of Kosovo Polje took place on that date near Pristina on 1389. A UNMIK spokesman nonetheless warned on June 18 that UN officials "have been clear in their positions that there should be no functional [partition] of Kosovo."
The main problem facing Serbian politicians in Belgrade and Mitrovica who seek to divide Kosovo along ethnic lines is that 60 percent of the local Serbs live in the enclaves, where they must either somehow come to terms with the new Kosovar state and with EULEX, or consider leaving their homes.
On March 25, veteran Kosovar Serb political leader Oliver Ivanovic, who is an ally of Tadic, accused Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of "playing politics" with the fate of the Serbs in the enclaves by proposing what amounts to partition. Ivanovic argued that "in the north it's easy to play the big Serb and score cheap points, but it will cost the Serbs of central Kosovo dearly. The feeling of being abandoned would be intolerable for them, and would inevitably increase the migration of Serbs from Kosovo."
The Kosovar state meanwhile continues to take shape in a process that has been unmarred by serious violence, despite many predictions to the contrary. In fact, violence has been chiefly limited to the Serbs, including one incident in Mitrovica in the March that resulted in the death of a Ukrainian policeman. Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac, who is an ally of Tadic, said soon afterward that Kostunica and Samardzic "coordinated and led" the riots without informing the rest of the cabinet, a charge the DSS denies.
The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" concluded on June 16 that Kosovo is successfully making the transition from being half-independent to having three-quarters of a state. The paper argued that UNMIK's role will now be mainly symbolic, while EULEX does the actual work. Deutsche Welle suggested on June 16 that the de facto partition means that UNMIK will exercise some measure of control in the troublesome north while the Kosovar authorities are free in the rest of the country to build their new state.