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August 09, 2010

Kosovo Status Talks Redux

Morton Abramowitz
How do you deal with a government, in today’s case Serbia’s, that refuses to accept reality, achieves defeat, and persists in proposals that continue to defy reality? Clearly with difficulty, certainly in a divided Brussels.

Serbia prolonged its agony over Kosovo’s independence for over a decade. In the last two years Serbia  successfully blocked an independent Kosovo’s further  integration into the world by getting the UN General Assembly to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on whether Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 was legal. To the Belgrade government’s consternation and domestic political embarrassment Serbia did not get the answer it wanted—the Court declared it not illegal. But defeat has apparently not diminished the Serbian government’s determination to resume negotiations and secure a political arrangement with Kosovo the rest of the world and indeed most of Serbia know is impossible. Thus Belgrade is proposing another UN General Assembly resolution calling for new “status” talks between the two parties to work out an agreement on the status of Kosovo, while simultaneously declaring that the independence of Kosovo is forever unacceptable to Serbia—an approach that one would guess is not appealing to Pristina.Whether their effort gets very far remains to be seen.

Remarkably, instead of using the ICJ decision as a way of finally resolving the Kosovo issue and moving to further stabilize the fragile situations in Bosnia and Macedonia, European countries seem to be more obsessed with indulging a Serbian political elite that fears accepting reality will lead to political oblivion and has never in the past twenty years provided a roadmap for accommodating reality in Kosovo.  By not discouraging talks between the two parties that can lead nowhere in the vain hope that ultimately reality might set in, and also expressing by word and deed Europe’s dedication to bringing Serbia into the EU—seemingly in the face of the Kosovo issue— the Europeans hope to support the EU oriented government of Boris Tadic and prevent the more hardline elements from taking over in Belgrade. Worse the effort to secure many more recognitions of an independent Kosovo has so far gotten little traction, and if that continues will not only mute the jubilation in Pristina but continue to encourage Serbian fantasies and deepen uncertainty in Kosovo and in the region.

Serbian determination will impress a good number of its followers, particularly Russia and China, which will, of course, encourage negotiations and continue to preclude Kosovo from joining the UN. It is dismaying but not surprising to see numerous commentators and some countries declare that the ICJ ruling will encourage secession movements everywhere. Certainly in  a few countries an independence movement may well emerge to win the support of the world as Kosovo did, but few if any countries are going to recognize an independent Tibet, Sinkiang, Northern Cyprus (except for Turkey), Catalonia, Abkhazia.. That is after all the indispensable requirement for independence.

It is important not to let this moment slide and allow Serbia yet again to set an agenda that perpetuates continued uncertainty in the area including a greater potential for violence. The EU has its troubles working out an effective position because five of the twenty seven countries do not recognize Kosovo’s independence. That requires the US to again play a more active and determined role and not be totally bound trying to shape who runs Serbia. That should include the following:

—A determined American effort to secure more recognitions of Kosovo, indispensable for bringing greater reality to Belgrade and encouraging progressive Kosovar behavior.

—A message to Serbia that they will support serious talks between the two parties if Serbia commits to a severe  time limit  for such talks and makes a serious proposal on resolving the problem of the Serb inhabited part of Northern Kosovo, and agrees to Kosovo joining the UN if some sort of agreement can be achieved. Failing this the US should encourage Kosovo not to participate in such talks, not that they need encouragement.

—A message to Kosovo making it clear that the government must continue its policy of protecting the security and interests of its Serb population.

This article was originally was published in Albanian language by the Kosovo newspaper Koho Ditore

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