The future of Kosova is now at stake, and it is time for the international community to come clean about its intentions in the Balkans. Almost four years after war’s end, no one in official circles can say that they do not know what is taking place. Everyone knows that most of Western Europe and part of the U.S. government oppose the independence of Kosova and Montenegro. Seeking to incorporate Kosova into the new Yugoslav entity that the West is trying to create called “Serbia and Montenegro,” the international community continues to delay discussion of Kosova’s final status. But with each passing day, it becomes clearer that postponement of Kosova’s final status is threatening the future of its people and the prospects for lasting peace and stability in the Balkans.
On July 10, Carl Bildt, former Swedish Prime Minister and EU Special Representative in the Balkans, warned the international community that it was risking an “Oslo-like failure in the region” (referring to the raging crisis in the Middle East) if it continued to avoid the issue of Kosova’s final status. In the same period, Congressmen Tom Lantos and Ben Gilman introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives in support of the independence of Kosova as the only way to achieve genuine, lasting political and economic stability in Kosova and to prevent renewed war in the region. Since then, four issues have emerged that demand a response from the international community—especially from the United States. The U.S. government has avoided grappling with Kosova’s political and economic problems and the roots of the Balkan conflict by insisting that Western Europe should bear the bulk of the burden of responsibility for its neighbors to the south. But this position is no longer tenable. Europe is already bearing the lion’s share of responsibility for the Balkans—in terms of both aid and personnel—but the integration of the Balkans into Europe and final status for Kosova cannot be achieved in a just and peaceful manner without substantive U.S. engagement.
Kosova Should Be Integrated into the Stability Pact’s Free Trade Network for the Balkans by the end of 2002 and Have Access to International Financial Institutions
The donors conference that took place in Brussels on November 5 only discussed the future of foreign aid to Kosova. It did not address policy questions, including the most important one of all: whether or not Kosova will be integrated into the regional trade network that is being developed by the Stability Pact for the Balkans. And yet, as one high-level official of the international community in Kosova told me, “the longer he remains in Kosova, the more he realizes that Kosova’s lack of political status is the reason why its economic problems cannot be solved.” Even many of Michael Steiner’s “benchmarks” “cannot be achieved,” he said, as long as Kosova’s status remains in limbo. What many government officials around the world do not realize—and in many cases are not even aware of—is that because Kosova does not have the status of a “sovereign state,”it faces the possibility of being excluded from the network of twenty-one free trade agreements that will be initiated by the Stability Pact for the Balkans as of December 31, 2002 and completed by the summer of 2003.
If Kosova is excluded, it will become isolated from the free trade surrounding it and, in turn, become a dumping ground for organized crime emanating from neighboring states that oppose its inclusion. Why? Because Kosova will face, on the one hand, tariff-free goods entering Serbia and Montenegro based on signed free trade agreements with its neighbors, and, on the other hand, tariff barriers on its exports to Serbia and Montenegro and countries with which Serbia and Montenegro have signed free trade agreements. If Kosova is prevented from developing and exporting its products successfully, especially now that its foreign aid will be reduced by 50 percent, it will become vulnerable to criminal syndicates, especially from neighboring countries where these syndicates are state-sponsored at worst or tolerated at best.
It is deeply dismaying that both the U.S. government (largely out of ignorance because the Bush administration has put Europe in the driver’s seat in Kosova) and part of the Kosovar political leadership have failed to realize that everything that has been accomplished in the postwar reconstruction effort in Kosova can be effectively torpedoed, if Kosova is not integrated into the Stability Pact’s plans for the Balkans. Kosova has been kept out of the free trade agreement process because of the status issue. The underlying assumption is that Serbia has the right to intervene in Kosova’s economy, when, in fact, Serbia, Kosova, and the other constituent members of the former Yugoslav federation had the same authority to govern their economic assets and trade relations and none had the right to interfere in the other’s internal affairs. Far from Serbia being able to lay claim to Kosova’s economic assets, Serbia’s illegal occupation of Kosova from 1989 to 1999 and its massive destruction of life and property during the war have created the basis for Kosova to make claims against Serbia.
The Stability Pact Secretariat, the European Commission, and UNMIK are supposed to explore ways of including Kosova within the regional free trade system under the umbrella of the Stability Pact. Kosova already has a modern tax and customs system distinct from Serbia and Montenegro’s, and it is autonomous in conducting its external commercial relations. Several countries, including Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Albania, have already expressed a desire to conclude bilateral free trade arrangements
with Kosova (while, undoubtedly for political reasons, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, and Bulgaria refuse to follow suit). At the very least, some kind of transitional, no-tariff trade arrangements between Kosova and other countries in the region should be created—one that UNMIK can sign off on, just as it did with OPIC this year, so that liability insurance
could be provided to prospective U.S. investors in Kosova, even though Kosova is not a sovereign state as originally required under OPIC’s charter. The Stability Pact and UNMIK, with input from the Kosovar leadership, should adopt a strategy by the end of December for concluding the transitional trade agreements between UNMIK and neighboring jurisdictions by June 30, 2003. However, if this does not happen, the U.S. government, in my view, should be prepared to act decisively and swiftly, using our economic and political leverage at the United Nations and with the European Union.
If the international community continues to hold Kosova’s economic development hostage to the resolution of the final status issue, the human and financial loss will be devastating and the prospects for lasting peace and stability in the region will be jeopardized. The main solution to Kosova’s economic problems is independence. But if the international community insists on delaying statehood, then Kosova must be given immediate access to international financial lending institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, in order to undertake the large infrastructure projects that are necessary to attracting foreign investment. The involvement of multinational corporations in Kosova’s economy is essential to restoring and expanding Kosova’s manufacturing sector and to creating the thousands of jobs that are necessary to employ Kosova’s workforce in a country that is among the poorest in Europe, where the unemployment rate is more than 60 percent, and half of the population is under the age of twenty-five. If Kosova cannot borrow from the international financial lending institutions and it cannot attract investment, it will remain an “aid society,” dependent on donors. In this event, the human and economic casualties will mount, while the West will reel under the weight of a bill largely of its own making.
2. The U.S. Government Should Join UNMIK Administrator Michael Steiner in
Unifying Mitrovice and Reevaluating His Decentralization Plan for Kosova
The international community has done little since the end of the NATO war to terminate the de facto partition of Mitrovice and northern Kosova, a situation facilitated by French KFOR in June 1999 and sustained by Belgrade ever since. In October 2002, UNMIK Administrator Michael Steiner, with a green light from the UN Security Council and without consulting the political leadership in Kosova, issued a seven-point plan for the “decentralization of Kosova,” which was ostensibly designed to solve the problem. Steiner claimed that the plan would give all of Kosova, not just the north, “a modern and efficient administrative structure in accordance with European standards and the Constitutional framework.”
In reality, the plan was initiated in an attempt to get Kosova’s Serbian population to vote in the October 26 municipal elections. At bottom, it represented yet another concession to Belgrade. And if it were implemented in its current form, Steiner’s decentralization plan would have a profoundly destructive impact on Kosova now and in the future, because it is impossible to apply the concept of decentralization as we know it in the West to a society that lacks a functioning central government. In Kosova, where the parliament lacks authority and is subordinate to the UN administration, Steiner’s decentralization plan would only serve to strengthen control from Belgrade, which already controls three northern municipalities in Kosova. Under this plan, Belgrade would end up controlling many new municipalities and municipal units, and its current funding of parallel structures would be legalized. Under this plan, Belgrade would be able to achieve its goal: the partition of Kosova and the occupation of large tracts of Albanian land.
There are aspects of Steiner’s plan that are positive, including joint Serb-Albanian policing in the north, a donor conference to stimulate economic investment in Mitrovice, and transplanting the Kosova Trust Agency (an important part of UNMIK) to northern Mitrovice, which should automatically increase the number of jobs and the demand for services. These elements should be retained and acted on. But the fundamental flaws in Steiner’s plan are fourfold. First, in the words of Macedonia’s Albanian leader Arben Xhaferi, it “territorializes the ethnicity issue.” If enacted in its current form, it would chop Kosova up into ethnic enclaves and destroy the multiethnic character of Kosova that the international community says it wants to uphold. Second, the plan creates a legal precondition that would make a referendum for Kosova’s independence in the future extremely difficult, if not impossible, because it devolves decision-making to municipalities and, in some cases, to self-administering districts called “sub-units” within municipalities. Third, the current plan fails to recognize that Belgrade, not Kosova, is blocking the reunification of Mitrovice. It is time for UNMIK and the Kosova Assembly to implement a reciprocal return of Albanians to their homes in the north and Serbs to their homes in the south. And fourth, the plan ignores the fact that Kosova already has a very good district system, but that each district needs to be given a degree of effective local power. Currently, municipalities and district administrators have no real power to do anything.
Having come under heavy criticism from Kosovar leaders, Steiner has recently exercised very sound judgment, stating that he will first ask the Council of Europe to engage a team of experts to draft a proposal for decentralization in discussion with the government of Kosova. The U.S. government should actively collaborate with the Council in this process.
The U.S. Government Should Oppose the Criminalization of the Former Members of the Kosova Liberation Army and Partisan Attempts to Thwart the Independence Movement
It is impossible to ignore the value of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) to the Albanian people in ending ten years of the worst occupation in the heart of Europe since the Nazi era. It is equally impossible for the international community, especially the United States, to deny the role that the KLA played in helping NATO halt the genocidal march across Europe of Serbian dictator, and now indicted war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic. And yet, in 2002, more than sixty former members of the Kosova Liberation Army, including war heroes, have been arrested—the majority of them in the weeks leading up to Kosova’s October municipal elections. In August, AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj, a prominent member of the Kosova Parliament, was indicted for an incident that took place in Strellc, Kosova, in July 2000. After much criticism of this indictment by internationals, his case has since been moved to a municipal court, where the charge against him is expected to be summarily dropped on the grounds that it is spurious. Other former KLA members have been falsely reported as having been indicted or arrested, when in fact they were not. I believe that part of the European community is taking advantage of the “war on terrorism” to crush the independence movement in Kosova by discrediting highly visible members of the KLA and KLA-identified political parties. I also believe that the U.S. government is looking the other way, because its law enforcement apparatus is making no distinction between terrorists and anyone who has ever picked up a gun in a legitimate liberation struggle.
The effort to denigrate and even crush the independence movement initiated by the Kosova Liberation Army is also being enacted with the help of Kosova’s President Ibrahim Rugova, and it is time to face the truth about this. The West views Rugova as a “moderate,” because he is compliant. (The UN Security Council knows that he will sign whatever agreement the UN Security Council puts in front of him.) In reality, Rugova is not at all moderate. His only interest is in maintaining political power. He would like nothing better than to have one-party rule in Kosova, in which he would personally control all aspects of Kosova’s government, regardless of Kosova’s status. There are many fine people in the leadership of Rugova’s party (LDK), but the party as a whole is the least democratic of the major parties in Kosova, and has never had any internal democratic mechanisms. Two years ago, a prominent NGO in Kosova reported to me that LDK is the political party in Kosova “most wedded to the old Communist system and most resistant to change.” This is the reason why support for LDK at the polls has been falling in Kosova with each new election and will drop once again in 2004.
It is also the case that part of the LDK leadership has strong connections to organized crime and criminal elements in the international administration. They are not the only party with these connections, but they been wrongly portrayed as pristine by themselves and by the West—as having no connection to criminal networks—when this is simply not the case. The names of LDK operatives involved in criminal networks have surfaced in the indictments of former KLA members, and I suspect that they will also turn up in the charges filed with The Hague against Albanians who acted to save defenseless civilians from Serbian genocide. In an ominous turn of events, War Crimes Tribunal Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte has announced that she will indict at least one Albanian for war crimes by the end of the year and three others thereafter in 2003.
Finally, the U.S. government should resist the effort to establish parity between the KLA’s defensive struggle for liberation and the state-sponsored terrorism committed by Serbian forces against Kosovar Albanians from the onset of the occupation in 1989 to the war in 1998-1999. And it can begin this effort by assuaging Europe’s fear that an independent Kosova and Montenegro will somehow legitimate the creation of other “new states” in Europe. Kosova was illegally annexed by Serbia at the end of the Balkan
Wars, and along with Montenegro it had and still has the same right as any other constituent member of the confederal presidency in the former Yugoslavia (which is still in the process of disintegration) to declare independence. As Balkan expert Noel Malcolm has repeatedly stated, this is not precedent setting, because there is no other federation in the process of dissolution in Europe today.
The U.S. Government Should Reject the Preamble to the Newly-Drafted Constitution for “Serbia and Montenegro”and Support Kosova’s Independence within Existing Borders
The possibility of renewed conflict in the Balkans is growing, not diminishing, as the majority of Serbs (and the majority of Kosovar Serbs) continue to embrace the ultranationalist, deeply anti-Western perspective of indicted war criminals Slobodan Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj. This is very clear from three recent events—the results of the elections in Serbia, the revelation of Belgrade’s involvement with Republika Srpska in the sale of arms to Iraq, and Belgrade’s inflammatory inclusion of Kosova as part of Serbia in the recently drafted preamble to the constitutional charter for “Serbia and Montenegro.” UNMIK Administrator Michael Steiner has rightly opposed the preamble. Nevertheless, the preamble is also not as innocent as he and others have claimed. If the international community were to endorse or gloss over this, it would then appear to make Kosova a legal part of Serbia, in total violation of UN Resolution 1244. Albanians have had too bitter an historical experience with others making decisions about their fate in the aftermath of forced expulsion, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Contrary to Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic’s assertion on November 12 that “the final status of Kosova will be decided by Belgrade and the international community,” Kosovar Albanians have every right not to allow others to decide on their future without their participation any longer.
Without resolving the issue of Kosova’s final status, other issues in Kosova —such as the return of noncriminal Serbs to Kosova—and regional issues—such as the need to end racist violence against non-Slavs—cannot and will not be resolved.
As a result, Kosova and the international community should introduce a new concept. Instead of clinging to the unworkable dictum of “standards (benchmarks) before status,” the international community should guarantee Kosova’s independence within existing borders, and then give it access to international institutions so that it can actually meet the benchmarks set forth by the United Nations and, from there, integrate into Europe. Official, international recognition of Kosova’s independence would occur (as both the Goldstone Group and the International Crisis Group have recommended) based on Kosova’s demonstrated respect for the rule of law, protection of minority rights, and development of civil society.
Shirley Cloyes is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League.