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Panel Seeks Solutions To Albanian-Serb Divide In Kosovo

Over a year after independence was declared, Kosovo's Serbs and Albanians are no closer to coexistence.
Over a year after independence was declared, Kosovo's Serbs and Albanians are no closer to coexistence.
NEW YORK -- Three panels were brought together by the U.S.-based Association for the Studies of Nationalities to examine the challenges facing Kosovo one year after it declared independence from Serbia.

But as the debates intensified, it because clear there were no simple answers.

Panelists had sharp disagreements about the best way for Pristina to deal with its sizable Serbian majority in Kosovo's north, the majority of whom remain deeply loyal to Belgrade.

Some discussion participants suggested a federalist system of government might prove the best fit for Kosovo.

Nebojsa Vladislavjevic, a Serbian analyst who has written extensively on Kosovo, suggested a model close to the 1995 Dayton accord that divided power between Bosnia's Serbs, Croats, and Muslims might bring lasting peace to Kosovo's Serbs and Albanians.

"You need substantial territorial solutions, very radical territorial autonomy for a minority which is essentially under existential threat. And you also need some sort of overlapping sovereignties," Vladislavjevic said.

"That's why I said that the Bosnian-Dayton model is applicable to the Kosovo conflict as it stands right now, because it will provide security to the minority, self-rule, and also extensive links with Serbia. And at the same time you will have power-sharing between the Serbian and Albanian entities."

Others suggested a formal partition was a more practical solution. That would reunite northern Kosovo, where Serbs make up 90 percent of the population, with Serbia proper -- and leave the remaining territory as an undisputed, independent state that even Belgrade would willingly recognize.

But Shinasi Rama, a Kosovo expert and professor of political science at New York University, said such a partition could prove destablizing to the entire Balkan Peninsula, still grappling with the ethnic divisions resulting from the Yugoslav breakup.

While Kosovar Serbs have a natural patron in their fellow Serbs in Belgrade, Kosovar Albanians are far less reliant on their ethnic kin in Albania. A formal partition, Rama said, could hand the Serbs an unfair advantage.

"Serbs [in Kosovo] are being used by Belgrade because they are fully funded, financially supported, structurally organized," Rama said. "The Serbian elite provides leadership to them at the local level, etc. So, in a sense they see themselves as Serbs living in Kosovo."

Social Collapse

Adding to Kosovo's ethnic tensions is its rampant poverty. Unemployment hovers at a staggering 45 percent, suicide rates and criminal activity are rising, and corruption is widespread. Social services like garbage collection are largely defunct, leaving growing piles of refuse piling alongside village roads.

Hundreds of Albanians have had their electricity cut off during the past year for failing to pay their utility bills. But Kosovar authorities have been far more reluctant to cut off services to delinquent Serbian consumers, some of whom have reportedly gone years without paying for electricity.

In another notorious case, ethnic Serbs employed by Kosovo's police force failed to show up for work for over a year but continued to receive their salaries of 200 euros ($260) a month.

Such a situation, said Anna Di Lellio, a sociologist and journalist who has worked for years as a UN consultant in Kosovo, has left many Kosovar Albanians with a sense of deep distrust toward the central government in Pristina.

Anytime the majority feels the minority is enjoying special privilege, Di Lellio said, it's dangerous. "If a minority is not happy, we may solve the problem. But if the majority is not happy, it becomes dangerous for the minority," she said.

"So, actually my concern is for the Serb minority; that they not be presented as special, privileged. Nobody in Kosovo can not show up for work for a year and still receive a salary. But Serbs can do it, and these [Albanian] guys are going to think that they are privileged," Di Lellio. "But they're not. I'm not saying that."