MINELRES: PER's Grigorev in the WSJ Europe: Debalkanizing the Balkans

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Sun Jan 15 14:38:03 2006


Original sender: Alan Moseley <alan.moseley@per-usa.org>


Debalkanizing the Balkans  

By Alex N. Grigor'ev

10 January 2006
The Wall Street Journal Europe

(Copyright (c) 2006, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

As the United States debates whether and when to withdraw from Iraq, in
another part of the world the United Nations is seeking to determine the
future status of Kosovo for which NATO, led by the U.S., went to war in
1999.  

If handled properly, a resolution of the Kosovo question would not only
settle a long and intractable dispute between Serbs and Albanians over
this ethnically divided province but, more importantly, transform the
wider Balkans from a source of instability into a source of security.
This development would make the need for long-term U.S. military
involvement in the region a thing of the past.  

A lasting solution for Kosovo, however, can only be found by also taking
into account other urgent issues facing all of the countries of the
region -- and, most crucially, Serbia.  

---  

The process of settling Kosovo's status began Nov. 15 with the
appointment of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, a veteran
trouble-shooter, as the U.N. Secretary General's Special Envoy for
Future Status Process for Kosovo. Mr. Ahtisaari started his new
assignment by touring the regional capitals (Pristina, Belgrade,
Podgorica, Skopje and Tirana) and the capitals of the Contact Group
members (U.S., Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy).  

Mr. Ahtisaari has the extremely difficult task of working out a solution
acceptable to both Belgrade and Pristina. At present, this seems nearly
mission impossible: Pristina says it will accept nothing short of
independence, and Belgrade asserts that the solution must lie within its
newly created formula of "more than autonomy but less than
independence." Thus emerges an eternal dilemma of international
relations: the right of self-determination versus the inviolability of
borders.  

The outcome of these conflicting principles in the case of Kosovo is
still unclear, but the start of a process to resolve them is a welcome
change. Six years in political limbo has hurt prospects for growth and
foreign investment and hindered the development of democracy and
institutions.  

Albanian frustration is overwhelming; one encounters it at every level
when visiting Kosovo. Not surprisingly, ordinary Serbs experience it as
well. More and more of them consider Kosovo lost, and many would like to
move on with their lives. Most of Serbia's politicians would deny this,
but they cannot deny that the uncertainty about Kosovo has a negative
effect on Serbia's development. Instead of concentrating on improving
people's daily lives, consolidating democracy and passing a new
constitution, or fully dedicating itself to the quest for EU membership,
Belgrade spends a bulk of its time and energy on this dusty province of
two million souls.  

In the late 1990s, the Serbs and Albanians fought for Kosovo. Today, the
mood is different. Recently I had dinner with two very good friends,
both exceptional intellectuals -- one an Albanian from Pristina, the
other a Serb from Belgrade. The conversation quickly turned to Kosovo
and its right to independence. The Serb opposed it but said he would
accept it when both Serbia and Kosovo become candidates for EU
membership; then sovereignty for him will carry very different
implications. The Albanian would accept nothing less than full
independence. To my question of whether they are willing to fight and
die for Kosovo, the Albanian gave a categorical yes. The Serb tried to
explain that this is not the issue -- that people should not be forced
to fight or die for territories and that countries have the right to
keep their borders intact. I took this as a no.  

There are plans for Belgrade and Pristina to meet at the same
negotiating table. Such a meeting, like all previous encounters between
Serbia's and Kosovo's senior politicians, will produce very little, as
was the case in Thessaloniki and Vienna. At such meetings they usually
silently agree to disagree and try to score points with the
international community, not find common ground.  

Whatever the ultimate result of the negotiating process, it is essential
that it be conducted quickly and that it provide a clear solution
accepted by both Belgrade and Pristina. Long, tiresome and confusing
talks -- resulting in half-measures or postponed solutions -- will not
resolve the problem but will only complicate the situation. Life in
Kosovo after 1999 is proof that such half-measures do not work in the
long run.  

---  

One population, however, that deserves special attention is the Kosovo
Serbs, a victimized minority group that feels threatened by its Albanian
neighbors. Since the U.N. replaced the Serbian government in Kosovo,
they have suffered physically and emotionally, economically and
politically. Very few have returned to their homes after roughly
200,000, or two-thirds of the pre-war Serb population, fled the provice
after the 1999 war. Bringing their lives back to normal, giving them a
sense of security and of a future in their own home, is as difficult -
and as important - a task as negotiating the status of Kosovo itself.  

Too often in the past, the international community has recognized
results of ethnic cleansing or expulsions in the name of greater
security or peace. Too often minority rights were neglected in the
service of a seemingly higher cause. One need only look at the borders
of the entities in Bosnia, certain areas in Croatia or the Abkhazia
region of Georgia. Such solutions did bring an end to violent conflicts
but were far from being fair for all sides and in fact did not bring
about a fair peace.  

A better solution is found in neighboring Macedonia, where, after a
short but bloody civil war in 2001, the majority ethnic Macedonians and
the minority Albanians found a way to accommodate each other's
interests, reform the constitution and establish inclusive, fair and
democratic interethnic governance acceptable to all communities of the
country. The interethnic government of Vlado Buckovski is not a
coalition of opportunity but a coalition of commitment.  

Today Macedonia is the region's leader in the EU integration process,
having recently received candidate status from the EU. This is a
significant achievement for Macedonians and for the country's Albanians,
and an encouraging sign for the other Balkan countries. It shows what
happens if one becomes serious about EU integration including
accommodation of all ethnic communities.  

Kosovo will not be the only issue of concern in the Balkans this year.
In Montenegro, the government of Milo Dukanovic is preparing for a
referendum on independence from a joint state with Serbia to be held no
later than the end of April. Postponing a resolution of Montenegro's
future today will only prevent it as well as Serbia from moving forward.
The people in Montenegro no less than those in Slovenia or Croatia
deserve a right to decide what kind of country they will live in.  

---  

Taken together, the possible independence of Kosovo and Montenegro would
be a devastating blow to Serbia's democracy and its national pride. The
likely consequences are all far from being encouraging. A major
challenge of the Kosovo negotiating process will be making sure that
Serbia does not end up feeling like the loser. Creating an eight
million-strong pariah state in the middle of the Balkans will damage all
hopes for a lasting peace in the region.  

There is no way to prevent the impending shocks to Serbia but there are
ways to soften their impact. Whether it is the establishment of special
ties between Belgrade and the Serbs in Kosovo, the provision of serious
safeguards for the rights of the Kosovo Serbs, the creation of special
rights for the Serbian Orthodox monasteries in the province, forgiving
Serbia's $15 billion foreign debt, obtaining serious financial and
institutional help for the country's EU candidacy, or all of the above,
Serbia can't leave the negotiating table empty-handed. It will not be
easy but the solution to the Kosovo problem is as much about Serbia as
it is about Kosovo.  

Will a resolution of the Kosovo status and the referendum on
Montenegro's independence alone provide for a lasting peace in the
Balkans? Regrettably, the answer is no. In fact, an independent Kosovo
might encourage separatist tendencies among the Bosnian Serbs or the
Albanians of south Serbia. The Kosovo settlement has to include firm
international guarantees of the inviolability of Macedonia's present
borders. These issues cannot be isolated from the other problems of the
region. A lasting solution would require an international conference on
the Balkans to be held after the referendum in Montenegro and the
resolution of Kosovo's status. All the regional capitals, with their
neighbors and the major international powers as guarantors, must pledge
that the resolution of the status of Kosovo and Montenegro represents
the last remaining piece of the Yugoslav puzzle, that no further border
changes will be acceptable in the region by anyone, that the framework
of the Dayton agreement in Bosnia needs to be respected by all, and that
there will be a serious and concentrated effort to bring all the
countries of the Balkans into the EU. Such an effort should include not
only pledges of general political support but smart and significant
financial assistance, meaningful help in completing institutional
reforms, including those aimed at creation of sustainable interethnic
democracies, and a clear and understandable EU admission schedule.  

This is not an easy task, but only making the Balkans a part the EU will
make the Balkan wars a thing of the past. This is in the interests of
the peoples of the Balkans; it is in the interests of Europe, and it is
in the interests of the United States.  

---  

Mr. Grigor'ev is the director for the Western Balkans at the Project on
Ethnic Relations in Princeton, New
Jersey.

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