No time to waste in Kosova




Two prominent NGO activists -- one from Prishtina and the other from Belgrade -- have warned that it is dangerous to delay action on resolving the final status of Kosova any longer. They stress that acting soon is necessary not only for Kosova's sake but also for that of the democratization of Serbia.

Veteran Kosovar student activist Albin Kurti and Sonja Biserko of Belgrade's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia (HCHRS) wrote in Dublin's "The Irish Times" of 5 January that time has come to resolve the status of Kosova.

They argue that the province "is in a state of political turmoil and economic stagnation due to the insistence by the international community on deferring consideration of its final political status until it is deemed that a satisfactory level of political 'standards' has been achieved. While this may appear to represent a responsible policy in theory, in practice it is quite the opposite: it ignores realities on the ground, exacerbates intercommunal tensions, and prevents any effective inward investment.

In reality it represents a failure of nerve by the international community and a desire simply to play for time and defer difficult decisions."

The authors note that the interethnic violence of 17-18 March in Kosova played into the hands of those in Serbia and the international community who, for whatever reasons, are reluctant to grant Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority self-determination and majority rule. "Much is made of the outbreak of violence in March as an example of Kosova's unpreparedness for self-determination: in reality it is the economic crisis precipitated by Kosova's unresolved status that is the root cause of intercommunal tensions and resultant instability," Kurti and Biserko argue.

They also hold that the root of the instability in the region lies in Serbia, and that the democratization of Serbia is the central problem that must be faced if peace and prosperity are to come to the western Balkans.

"The roots of the recent Yugoslav tragedy lay in the resurgence of extreme nationalism in Serbia. This found its initial outlet in the brutal suppression of Kosova, especially from 1987 [under Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic], which in turn galvanized the movements for independence in Slovenia and Croatia," the two NGO officials believe. They also stress that "today it is Serbia's continued designs both on Bosnia and on Kosova and the unwillingness of the international community to deal with these in a determined and proactive manner, particularly regarding Kosova, which is the primary source of instability in the region."

Kurti and Biserko believe that "the problems of Kosova are inextricably linked with the continued ascendancy of the ultranationalist agenda within Serbia, which manipulates the Serbian minority in Kosova in pursuit of its own agenda, while the current policies of the EU have the effect of encouraging aspirations in Belgrade towards the ethnic partition of Kosova."

In addition, they argue, "the flashpoints of instability -- Serbia and Montenegro, Kosova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia -- all have their origins in the as yet incomplete process of disintegration of Yugoslavia and the undefined borders of Serbia, particularly concerning the status of Montenegro and Kosova. Hence a democratic transformation within Serbia is essential for regional stability. Unfortunately, the anti-Milosevic coup of 2000 did not fulfill whatever tentative promise it held in this regard."

In fact, the authors believe, much of Serbian political culture remains stuck in the Milosevic era. "Milosevic's Greater Serbia policies are being resurrected, typified by [Belgrade's] policy towards Montenegro, Vojvodina, Kosova, and the Republika Srpska, by the renewed dominant influence of promoters of ultranationalism -- in, for instance, academia and the [Serbian] Orthodox Church -- and by Serbia's continuing state of denial regarding its primary responsibility for war crimes. Meanwhile, the army continues as a redoubt of extreme nationalism," Kurti and Biserko argue.

The authors add that Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Serbia is playing no useful role regarding Kosova. "Belgrade's policy towards Kosova is entirely negative: essentially to prevent participation of Serbs in Kosova's institutions, to undermine international engagement, and to demonize Albanians. [This is] a policy that has to date been successful, and that can only lead ultimately to the partition of Kosova, which would have disastrous consequences for the wider region."

Kurti and Biserko believe that the stakes are too high for the international community to delay any longer. "Only through concerted EU-U.S. action in support of Kosova's self-determination, Prishtina and Belgrade may agree upon a mutually acceptable solution subsequently endorsed by the [UN] Security Council: that is the only way to stabilize the Balkans. However, without a more proactive engagement by the EU, the political dynamics of Serbia will continue to thwart the best intentions of the EU in this direction," they maintain.