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Saving Kosova

Kosova’s political leaders and the non-governmental organizations that brought 30,000 people into the streets on November 19 to protest the UN’s “six point plan” should be supported by everyone who cares about the future of Southeast Europe. The implementation of the six-point plan—based solely on Belgrade’s recommendations about customs, border control, police, the judiciary, Serb religious sites, and the deployment of EULEX in Kosova—would threaten Kosova’s sovereignty, undermine its independence, and end the chance for lasting peace and stability in the Balkans for decades to come. Rejecting the six-point plan was the right message to send to the international community. Let us hope that it is not too little too late.

Last July, I said in “Kosova Adrift” that it was unclear who was in charge in Kosova, that international organizations had conflicting mandates, that all of them lacked teeth, and that no one seemed to be responsible for anything. In addition, I emphasized that Serbia was making gains with a new government that was doing well and advancing its interests on the international scene. With the help of Russia, Belgrade had almost completely succeeded in blocking Kosova’s recognition process, and the Kosova government, instead of taking charge, was bowing to the wishes of the international community. I warned that this situation made it “highly unlikely that any response would be made to Serbia’s efforts to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosova” and that until this changed, Kosova would remain “independent in name only.”

Since then, things have gotten worse. Kosova is slipping out of the international community’s top agenda, because of the economic crisis in the West, the U.S. presidential election campaign, and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Belgrade has taken advantage of the vacuum by undermining EU resolve to support the mandates outlined in the plan proposed by former UN Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, Kosova’s declaration of independence on February 17, and the Constitution of the new Republic of Kosova. EU resolve began to break down out of fear about deploying EULEX throughout the whole territory of Kosova (in particular north of the Ibar River) and possible retaliation from Russia.

Instead of insisting on the unconditional deployment of the EULEX mission, as put forth in the Ahtisaari plan for Kosova’s “supervised independence,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon responded to EU fears and Serbian pressure. He signaled his intention to place the EU under UNMIK. By October, he was calling for new negotiations between Belgrade and Prishtina and proposing a six-point plan as a basis for negotiations that reinvoked UNSC Resolution 1244 (a resolution that recognizes Kosova not as an independent state, but as a “province” of Serbia). This should have been recognized immediately for what it is: a retrenchment of the West to pre-independence policy making that permits Belgrade to have a say in Kosova’s political and economic future.

The Shocking Realities of the Six-Point Plan

The six-point plan challenges the essential elements of a sovereign and independent state. It would place EULEX under the UN and deploy it as a “status neutral” entity. In effect, this would contravene Kosova’s independence and permit Serbia to prolong its battle to reclaim Kosova as a province. Customs Gates number 1 and 31 would not be under the control of the central government in Prishtina or part of Kosova’s consolidated budget. Instead, customs in the north would be placed under the control of Kosova Serbs (and ultimately of Belgrade), and the proceeds would be used exclusively for the northern municipalities. Since customs governs the flow of goods and services, defense, and the protection of borders, this amounts to making the de facto partition of Mitrovica a reality.

Worse still, any Kosova Serb majority community has a special status under the six-point plan. This includes not just the municipalities designated under the Ahtisaari plan, but Serb enclaves scattered throughout Kosova. In these communities, the police will not report to the Kosova police, but to a high-ranking Kosova Serb policeman reporting to a UN police commissioner. In addition, the judiciary would operate under UN regulations, not Kosova’s, and the Kosova Serbian Orthodox Church would be linked to the church in Serbia and accountable to the Serbian government. If implemented, these provisions would create an ethnically-based, parallel system that violates the letter and the spirit of Ahtisaari and the constitution of the Republic of Kosova. It would make Kosova less of a state than it was under UNMIK and Resolution 1244 and one that is more convoluted than Bosnia. The Dayton agreement of 1995 divided Bosnia into three distinct territories. This plan would take away some of Kosova’s territory, carve up the rest, and turn it into a deeply entangled mess. Overnight Kosova would become a failed state, unable to progress politically and economically.

Kosovars are bearing the burden of the international community’s failure to deploy EULEX. In offering the six-point plan, the international community wants Serbia to feel as if it is winning; it wants to give Kosovar Albanians the impression that it is backing them to suppress the possibility of social unrest; and it wants to claim that its geopolitical defense policy for the region is actually working. The architect of this strategy is EU High Representative Javier Solana (who has been shamelessly supported by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who in his capacity as chair of the EU Council of Ministers has insisted that Prishtina accept the six-point plan). Like other Solana-inspired strategies in the Balkans, it will not work. It will prevent the entire region from being integrated into a united Europe, and it can lead to renewed conflict.

The Ahtisaari Plan Is Dead, and the Kosova Government’s Four-Point Plan Is not Enough

It is time to recognize that the Ahtisaari plan is dead; it is an academic paper that is only alive in the Kosova Constitution. Let us not forget that 90 percent of the Ahtisaari plan is about Serbs. But it is impossible to carry out the Ahtisaari mandate, which gives Serbs not only equal rights but more rights than any minority group in Europe, if Kosovar Serbs reject it and Belgrade still controls them. And so, the International Civilian Office, which is supposed to implement the Ahtisaari plan, cannot do it. Kosova Serb leaders are operating without even a semblance of responding to the government in Prishtina. This makes the official statements from U.S. and EU diplomats that they reject the partition of Kosova mere lip service.

With the demise of the Ahtisaari plan, the Kosova government, which until recently has been largely reactive and compliant in the face of the international community, has an opportunity to save Kosova. Its rejection of the UN “six-point plan” and its proposal of a “four-point plan,” which calls for the immediate deployment of EULEX in all of Kosova and affirms Kosova’s ongoing cooperation with the United States, and European Union, and NATO, is a good start, but it is not enough.

Albanian political officials failed to capitalize on the pro-Albanian sentiment worldwide after the war, when they had the greatest opportunity to counter the Serbian propaganda campaign, to dismantle Serb parallel structures in the north, and to establish Prishtina’s authority over the entire territory of Kosova. Nine years after war’s end, the initial euphoria in response to Kosova’s declaration of independence blindsided Kosova to this reality. Lack of initiative on the part of Kosova’s political parties, who were worrying more about their political futures and the next election, enabled Serbs to consolidate their reality on the ground.

Next Steps for Kosova’s Political Elite

It is time for the Kosova government to stop waiting for the international community to take the lead and to take steps that they should have taken right after the official declaration of Kosova’s independence on February 17. Some of them include:

  • Developing a full-fledged public relations campaign in cooperation with their allies who have the requisite professional expertise around the world. The campaign should promote Albanian values and especially counter the Serbian propaganda campaign portraying Albanians as a Muslim, potentially fundamentalist state in the heart of Europe that is run by criminals and incapable of governing itself. It should challenge the international community for continuing to appease Serbia and to capitulate in the face of its threats. And it should return the world’s focus to the Albanian and Bosnian victims of Slobodan Milosevic’s decade-long wars of aggression. The campaign should also insist that Serbia’s admission to the European Union be contingent on Belgrade’s respecting Kosova’s sovereignty and handing over Ratko Mladic to The War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

  • Taking steps to establish Prishtina’s control over the north. The government’s call for the deployment of EULEX as a partnership of the Kosova government, the EU, and the United States was a first step in this

  • direction. But the government should also lay it on the line with the Kosova Serb leadership by taking over the northern border, arresting the smugglers and the heads of illegal parallel structures, and then offering “carrots” to the Kosova Serb leaders if they cooperate and “sticks” if they resist.

  • Raising the issue of Belgrade’s human rights abuses against the Albanians in Presheva, Medvedje, and Bujanoc. While everything is being done to return Serbs to Kosova, nothing is being done to correct the expulsion of Albanians from the Presheva Valley during the war and the ongoing repression of Albanians who reside there.

  • Calling for the establishment of an Albanian university in the Presheva Valley, since a university is now being built in the north that is a Serb university.

  • Demanding that the Presheva Valley become part of Kosova, if Belgrade keeps its grip on the northern municipalities of Zubin Potok, Zvecan, and Leposavic.

  • Calling for an account of the 2,000 persons still missing from the war.

  • Insisting on war reparations from Belgrade. It is shocking that half of the proceeds of the privatization for formerly state owned enterprises (in the amount of some 550 million Euros) will go to Serbia. There should be a full-scale effort to raise the issue of how much Belgrade should receive, when it was Serbia that occupied Kosova for a decade and drained it economically.

  • Insisting that not one euro be handed over to Belgrade until Serbia recognizes Kosova’s independence.

  • Dealing with the problems of ending corruption through robust rule of law. USAID’s September 2008 early warning report shows an increase in the number of respondents reporting public officials who “conditioned performing their services by asking for bribes, gifts, and other favors.” Urgently needed foreign investment will come to Kosova only if rule of law is in force. Also, the government needs to take over publicly owned enterprises and to enforce corporate governance.

  • Challenging the international community to either enforce the Ahtisaari plan or replace it with a democracy based on one person-one vote and protection of minority rights, consistent with the standards of Western democracies.

  • Unifying the political parties in opposition to the UN’s six-point plan. Disagreements should be put aside in support of shared diplomacy and mobilizing the citizenry to conduct peaceful demonstrations. If necessary, the current leaders should resign from their positions in protest.

The Price of Inaction for Kosova and the Albanian National Cause

It is not only time for the Kosovar political elite to take a proactive stance towards the future of Kosova, but for all Albanian politicians in the Balkans to stand up to Belgrade and the international community—especially those in Albania, because of its status as a sovereign state with all of the protections and opportunities that this status confers. Regrettably, Tirana has been largely silent in the face of the six-point plan. Meanwhile, Albanian politicians in Macedonia and Montenegro have been hopelessly locked in intra-party power struggles, and many have been thoroughly co-opted by the governing Slav elite. Much of the diaspora, which has provided moral and material support for the past two decades, has grown complacent (thinking that Kosova is independent, and so nothing more needs to be done), politically fragmented, and busy pursuing individual interests related to their places of origin in the Balkans.

The price of Albanian inaction has been the resurgence of Serbian control over the lives of the peoples that it tried to expel or exterminate. Since the war ended nine years ago, the Albanian problem has been to a great extent a public relations problem that Albanian politicians have contributed to by failing to develop an organized campaign on behalf of the victims of the war. We cannot afford to forget that there are very few key officials in the European Union who know firsthand what Bosnia and Kosova endured under Slobodan Milosevic, who waged four wars of aggression in the Balkans, killing more than 300,000, including more than 12,000 Kosovar Albanians, and displacing 4 million. When the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia ended in June 1999, Belgrade immediately began an intensive public relations campaign to create a false parity between the perpetrators and the victims of the war. That campaign continued throughout the trials in the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague of Fatmir Limaj and Ramush Haradinaj. More recently, the Serbs have succeeded in portraying Albanians as a corrupt and incompetent group who do not deserve a state. Dressed in expensive suits, Serbian officials have been presenting themselves to the international community as Christians and as political experts. They are intent on creating a picture of Kosova as a nation of “Muslims run by criminals.” Belgrade wants Kosova to explode so that it can say, “You see, Kosova is a failed state.”

Albanians can no longer afford to remain passive, especially in the face of the threat posed by the UN’s six-point plan. Albanian politicians must insist that the international community honor Kosova’s sovereignty, recognize that Serbia through its genocidal war against Albanians has forfeited its right to intervene in the affairs of Kosova, and provide a road to EU membership for all states in the Balkans that are prepared to accept the European Union’s values. If Kosova is partitioned, it should be noted that the European Union will have been complicit in the violation of its own values, because such a land grab would mark the triumph of Slobodan Milosevic’s quest for a “Greater Serbia” built on ethnic cleansing. Before this happens, it would behoove the EU to consider the fact that partition also might not end with the north. If the international community and Albanians do not defend the sovereignty of Kosova, Serbs from other municipalities might either flock to the north or wrest control of the Presheva Valley and expel Albanians from their homes there.

Above all, partition and Belgrade’s continuing control over Kosova’s future would spell the end of the more than 100-year struggle to bring freedom and justice to Albanians in the Balkans. It is worth remembering Senator Joe Biden’s warning in 2002, when he said that, “We are already witnessing the dimming of the spotlight on an area [the Balkans] that it has taken five hundred years to focus the spotlight on.” He implored Albanians to work to keep the spotlight on the gross injustices against Albanians that must be remedied in the region and to counter the propaganda that misrepresents them. Otherwise, he said, “the world will not care if seven million Albanians are being persecuted” and Albanians will continue to remain history’s “pawns that can be moved on the chessboard by others.”

Ossining, New York

November 22, 2008

Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League.

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