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Balkan Report: August 30, 2007

Hard Facts Make Kosovo Compromise Unlikely

By Patrick Moore

Kosovar President Ceku (left) meeting in Pristina with EU envoy Ischinger on August 23

August 30, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Two of the leading politicians involved in the ongoing talks on the future of Kosovo noted recently that the discussions are likely to lead nowhere. There are perhaps some other basic points regarding Kosovo that have become obscured in the heated debates of recent months and are worth recalling.

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.

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.

MORE: What Is Russia's Position On Kosovo?

Deep Divisions

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.

EU Membership?

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.

Albanian Writer Kadare Says 'Every Nation Has A Right To Ask For Its Freedom'

Ismail Kadare (file photo)

August 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The man who is widely regarded as the greatest living Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare, spoke recently with RFE/RL's Kosovo subunit about the current negotiations on Kosovo's independence, Europe's role in the region, and Albania's influence on Kosovo.

RFE/RL: Now that negotiations on Kosovo's status have entered an additional phase of 120 days, what kind of results do you think can be expected?

Ismail Kadare: I don't give any importance to these 120 days. One hundred-twenty days are not big when talking about big things for a nation. In this case, we are dealing with a nation's freedom. The question is: what significance will these 120 days have?

"The problem of [understanding] who committed the crimes and who suffered from them is crucial."

MORE: An interview with Albanian parliament speaker Josefina Topalli.

Why? A problem arises here, in fact, that is not clear to anybody. And this is the problem. It is an extremely and deeply important issue and is not discussable. It's about the freedom or the slavery of a nation. This is the essence, and it should never be forgotten. There is a whole nation requesting the oldest thing the humanity ever asked, the basis of civilization -- its freedom. That is why I am surprised by the foolishness of public opinion, media, diplomats, or governments, regarding an issue that should not be treated as a dilemma.

In fact, previously there was no dilemma. When Europe entered the Balkan conflict, it was clear that it took courage to bomb a sovereign state -- Serbia, Yugoslavia. It was seen back then that the freedom of a nation was being undermined in the most barbaric possible way. Now, there is remorse, a return, a revision of all of it. This remorse is an incomprehensible absurdity, but there is remorse for bombing a state, Yugoslavia. Spoken or unspoken, this remorse is widely known. In the Balkans something happened that was very clear. One of the most monstrous crimes ever known in Europe's history took place. Half a nation, 1 million [people], was displaced. It was ethnic cleansing, which we are not comparing with ethnic cleansing of Jewish people, but for its intensity and the time when it occurred, it rivals [the Holocaust]. It is terrible, because it was done for some weeks, and this crime cannot be compared with the bombardment of a barbarian regime.

I have said it many times -- in the world there is no compulsory and necessary massacre, but sometimes bombardment is needed, like in a case of Nazi Germany. Europe should not get confused. There should be no remorse, no turning back.

On the contrary, it should force Serbia to apologize. Instead, Serbia is being coddled and, by coddling it, Europe is doing the greatest damage to Serbia itself, to its people, by plunging it even deeper into its guilt. This nation must understand what its soldiers and paramilitaries have done in Kosovo and other places of Yugoslavia. If it understands, then it can be freed from nightmares, and Serbian democracy can be helped. There will be no democracy in Serbia if its crimes are not acknowledged.

RFE/RL: Recently there have been suggestions that Kosovo's independence could be accepted if some of its territory is partitioned. What do you think of this?

Kadare: I think this is a continuation of that misunderstanding I mentioned earlier. This partition is not a clean bargain, and I assert this with full responsibility. It will open a new and endless conflict in the Balkans. It will be an open source of disputes and fights, which will have an extremely high cost for the people living in the Balkans, and Europe as well. This option does not provide a conclusion to this issue -- it opens a new and terrible conflict. That's why I said the problem of [understanding] who committed the crimes and who suffered from them is crucial. How one sees the crime is crucial for cleansing democracy.

RFE/RL: In Kosovo there have been some suggestions that, in the event that the 120-day negotiation period fails to result in a deal, there might be a unilateral declaration of independence. Do you think the international community would accept such a step?

Kadare: Of course. I am a writer and a man of culture, and I always think that any conflict should be resolved in a most democratic way, by avoiding violence, misunderstandings, and by avoiding death. But, this should not serve as an alibi to humiliate a nation in every possible way. In this case, the people of Kosovo have every right to respond with all the options. There should be no exceptions when it comes to the freedom of a nation. There can be no negotiations on it. This nation has a right to ask for its freedom by all means and protect it to the end.

RFE/RL: How much is the Albania's intellectual elite affecting the drive for Kosovo's independence? Do you think more should be done?

Kadare: I think Albania should have done more. The pseudo-philosophies of our diplomacy, produced by a lack of ability and morality, are ridiculous and, at the same time, condemnable. Albania is not another planet, and it is giving judgments on Kosovo from the moon, Bangladesh, or Japan. Albania is a primary country of interest, and it should not hide it, because that would be complete hypocrisy. Albania is a country that should have followed step-by-step the problem of Kosovo. It should have engaged with honesty and dignity by being, of course, constructive and not destructive. Therefore, it is Albania's historic moral claim, it's a nation's historic dignity. I hope our diplomacy -- revived lately -- will make a correction in this regard.