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Balkan Report: June 27, 2006

June 27, 2006, Volume 10, Number 6

MOVING TOWARD ENDGAME IN KOSOVA. Denmark's Soren Jessen-Petersen leaves Kosova as head of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) at the end of June. His successor is likely to be the last person in that post before the international community and Kosovar leaders agree on the details of how Kosova will move toward independence.

Jessen-Petersen will probably be remembered by most Kosovar Albanians as the best leader of UNMIK during the transition from Serbian rule, which effectively ended with the departure of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces in June 1999, and the declaration of Kosova's independence, the circumstances of which are likely to be clear before the end of 2006. The international community has made it clear that Belgrade will not have a veto over Kosova's future. Most commentators agree that Jessen-Petersen's successor will be the last person to head UNMIK, which began long ago to hand over some of its functions to officials of the elected Kosovar government.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Jessen-Petersen did his homework relating to his job and did not consider himself bound to steer a middle course in every controversy that came along. It was during his term in office that the UN and the major international powers -- whether they said so in public or not -- came to accept that "political limbo" could not be continued indefinitely because it would compound the fears and frustrations of the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority and possibly lead to more violence like that which shook the province in March 2004 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," September 10 and December 17, 2004). He also recognized that the only way forward was to move toward independence, albeit with strong guarantees for the Serbs and other minorities.

His unambiguous views and his reputed closeness to some ethnic Albanian political leaders, such as Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), prompted some Serbian politicians to call for his resignation, but such tactics only served to underscore the weakness of the Serbian position. The local Serbs, whose future will ultimately lie with their Albanian neighbors in an independent state, by and large boycott Kosova's growing institutions of self-government at the behest of Belgrade and thereby miss out on the opportunity to put their mark on the new state from the beginning.

The Belgrade politicians, who have expected to face early elections for well over a year, are reluctant to say or do anything that voters might interpret as showing "weakness" regarding Kosova. They thus waste time and energy over Kosova, which some of them privately admit is "lost" anyway, that could be put to use in dealing with Serbia's real problems, which are crime, poverty, corruption, and a democracy deficit. Some observers go one step further and suggest that the politicians deliberately draw voters' attention to the Kosova issue in order to divert their gaze away from those same politicians' poor track record in improving the daily lot of ordinary Serbs.

On June 20, Jessen-Petersen submitted his final report to the UN Security Council. He made it clear that the elected Kosovar institutions have made good progress toward implementing the international community's standards, particularly since Prime Minister Agim Ceku was nominated in March. Jessen-Petersen noted that many members of the Serbian minority have cause for complaint, but added that he hopes that their problems will be dealt with quickly. He also stressed that the Serbs should not consider themselves victims of deliberate oppression, and he repeated his call for them to take part in public life. He warned of the dangers inherent in the prolongation of the unclear political status, which, he argued, must be settled in keeping with the wishes of the majority while respecting the rights of the minority.

It will be incumbent on the ethnic Albanians to offer the Serbs fair treatment under the rule of law. If the Albanians fail to do so, they can expect difficulties with the international community. But the violent incidents that take place from time to time seem sporadic rather than planned, may be rooted in personal or criminal rather than in ethnic disputes, and could be, at least in some cases, engineered by Serbian extremists in order to maintain tensions and discredit the Kosovar government.

There are, however, few observers who expect many of the Serbian refugees and displaced persons to return to their old homes. While their numbers are uncertain, figures of around 235,000 often surface in the media, but Kosovar officials claim that the real number is lower.

The root of the problem is that the Albanians tend to distrust local Serbs in general because of the active role that many of them played in bringing Milosevic to power in the second half of the 1980s and in keeping him there. Perhaps more important, most Albanians believe that Milosevic's repressive campaign of 1998-99, which culminated in the "ethnic cleansing" of the Albanians in the spring of 1999, could not have been carried out without the active participation of local Serbs, both as combatants and as providers of "human intelligence" about their neighbors. Some German Balkan experts have drawn parallels with the Czech attitude at the end of World War II toward the Sudeten Germans, whom the Czechs regarded as an incorrigible Fifth Column, even though Kosovar officials are at pains to stress that local Serbs will enjoy full protection of the law.

The local Serbs, for their part, remain fearful. Violent incidents against Serbs have contributed to this tense climate, particularly when those killed or injured are the very young or very old. It should be recalled that in launching his wars in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, Milosevic was able to exploit the fears of local Serbs there who refused to accept that they might possibly live safely and peacefully as a minority in a state in which others constituted the majority. The Serbs of Kosova today are no less worried than were the Serbs of Krajina in 1990, even if they are not seriously planning to arm themselves or expecting military help from Belgrade. Meanwhile, most local Serbian politicians have displayed more skill in criticizing and complaining that in providing leadership or offering constructive programs.

As Jessen-Petersen's mandate comes to its end, Kosova moves toward a clarification of its final status. Most international commentators point out that anything short of independence, however qualified, is simply unrealistic. As Montenegro celebrates its newly won statehood, and Serbia finds itself in growing international disrepute over its failure to arrest and extradite former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic, Kosova's independence probably seems even more realistic that it did at the start of 2006. (Patrick Moore)

BLACK HOLES AND WHITE ELEPHANTS IN THE BALKANS. One truism of postcommunist Europe is that all the countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans will sooner or later join the EU and NATO. It seems, however, that the countries of the western Balkans might find themselves in a "black hole" outside the EU for the foreseeable future even if they are surrounded by member states (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," December 9, 2005).

Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosova, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia face uncertainty in their hopes to join the EU. The Brussels-based bloc has a particular attraction for the countries of the region for three reasons.

First, membership means a seat at the table where decisions affecting all of Europe are made. The small Balkan states might not wield much influence, but it is better to be inside looking out than outside looking in, or so the argument has run.

Second, joining the EU symbolizes the end of the continent's division and the inclusion of former communist countries -- including war-torn states -- in the "rich man's club." For former Yugoslavs, whose passport was once the only one in Europe with which one could travel freely to the East or West without a visa, it means a return to a normal situation. It also means an end to the inconvenience and humiliation of having to go through often long procedures for something that was once simple, such as a visit to relatives working in Germany. The importance of visa-free travel for ordinary people in the western Balkans should not be underestimated.

And third, as poorer members of a wealthy organization, the western Balkan states would be able to look forward to a cornucopia of subsidies, as well as opportunities for more or less unrestricted study and work abroad. In short, even if NATO membership will someday provide for these countries' security requirements, joining the EU is still regarded in the region as an essential stage in its rite of passage into the modern, prosperous, and democratic world.

For Brussels, integrating the western Balkans has long meant that there will be no "black hole" in the middle of the EU -- especially after Bulgaria and Romania join in 2008 or so -- in which organized crime could flourish. More recently, some Western governments have come to see EU membership for the western Balkans as a way of keeping out of that region unwelcome but well-funded political, criminal, or religious influences from Russia or the Middle East.

By offering the prospect of membership, the EU has, moreover, a powerful lever to influence precisely the kind of changes -- called "reforms" -- that it wants to see implemented. Progress has been slow in some countries, but the view from Brussels for years was that it is better to have slow progress than to isolate a potentially volatile region that is indisputably part of Europe and right on the doorstep of several member states.

But then on May 29, 2005, French voters rejected the proposed EU constitution by a clear majority, and Dutch voters did the same by an even larger margin three days later. In both cases, objections to further enlargement of the EU after the admission of 10 new members in 2004 played at least some role in the vote.

One year after those two votes, the EU is none the clearer as to its goals and how to achieve them. In June 2006, a summit took place in Vienna, but there was no agreement on any of the key issues, including the fate of the constitution. The only consensus seemed to be in putting off any possible movement on thorny questions until the German presidency in the first half of 2007, or maybe to the French presidency in the second half of 2008.

It was perhaps telling for the newer members -- and those who would like to join -- that a joint declaration by the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia was "slapped down," as the "Financial Times" put it on June 17, by Luxembourg, Germany, and other, unnamed EU founder states. The five Central European countries had called into question what they regard as their second-class status within the bloc and demonstrated their willingness to work together. Some observers recalled French President Jacques Chirac's remark about a 2003 declaration by a similar group of countries, which backed the United States over Iraq. The French leader said at that time that they had missed an opportunity to "shut up."

Before and during the summit, several leaders of older member states made it clear that one cannot speak of enlargement, at least beyond Romania and Bulgaria, before the growing EU has decided at least on how it will manage its internal affairs. That would mean 2009 at the very earliest. Consequently, many people in countries hoping to join that body began to fear that their chances of obtaining membership within a reasonable time frame have become much slimmer as a result.

This was true for Croatia, which has long sought to convince itself that its membership on the heels of Romania and Bulgaria was a foregone conclusion. Many people in the western Balkans suspected that the EU was keeping them at arm's length as a pretext for dodging the larger and more controversial question of Turkish membership. After all, the reasoning in the Balkans went, had not the West Europeans told them for years that integrating such small states would not require much money and effort on Brussels' part?

Meanwhile, antireform forces in the Balkans took heart, blocking police and constitutional reform in Bosnia. In Serbia, they continue to thwart the arrest and extradition to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal of former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, with the result that relations between Belgrade and Brussels are on hold.

The question then arises: if Brussels is unlikely to offer the western Balkans a serious "European perspective" within a clear time frame, and if some people in those countries are becoming less enamored of a EU that does not seem to want them, might it not be time for the people in the western Balkans to reexamine old beliefs about the necessary postcommunist rite of passage and look for alternatives? Has not the obsession with EU membership become something of a white elephant, like the EU-sponsored bridge over the Prut River from Romania to Moldova that stood unused for several years for want of a road on the Moldovan side?

How else might the countries of the region modernize their economies and expand their markets than with top-down efforts at nation building and seemingly endless rules imposed from abroad? Might it not be to their advantage to concentrate first on developing straightforward free-trade and travel arrangements that would not involve compromising what for most of them is newly won sovereignty in favor of a distant and unelected bureaucracy?

Some Euroskeptics have long argued that the EU is cumbersome, inflexible, nontransparent, and dominated by Paris and Berlin. Might some other parts of Europe now find themselves faced with an opportunity to develop alternative ideas to the EU model that are simpler, more democratic, and hence more likely to produce clear results and win popular support? After all, there is no better incentive for learning to think outside the box than being denied permission to enter the box. (Patrick Moore)

NOTABLE QUOTATIONS: "Accusing the European Union for the country's own failures is not serious. [EU Enlargement] Commissioner [Olli] Rehn considers that it is in the hands of Serbia and its leaders to fulfill the conditions and realize the EU perspective." -- Krisztina Nagy, Rehn's spokeswoman. Quoted by RFE/RL on June 21.

"We are looking for Kosova to become a normal country." -- Prime Minister Agim Ceku to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on June 19. Quoted by RFE/RL.