So the Kosovar Albanians are counting the days until the January 21 elections in Serbia.
Not because they care who wins. If they have a preference, they’d probably want the loathsome nationalist Radical party to win, since that would immediately turn Serbia into an international pariah (again) and make Kosovar independence that much easier. But they figure independence is coming anyway, so they’re not much concerned.
But the UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, has announced that he will make his recommendations for Kosovo’s status at the end of January… after the elections. This is, everyone assumes, because he’ll recommend independence. If he were going to recommend that Kosovo stay part of Serbia, he’d do it now. Recommending independence (it’s believed) would be a shattering blow to the current, “moderate” government of Serbia, and might lead to a Radical victory. So, best to wait.
A couple of things come to mind here.
One, will the Kosovar Albanians wait two more months? It’s not completely certain. They were told that they’d have a decision by the end of this year, and they’re not happy about waiting on the Serbs. There are rumblings about a unilateral declaration of independence. And then of course there’s always the possibility of more violence against the remnant Serb minority. I say probably yes, but fingers crossed.
Two, what will Ahtisaari really propose? At this point, it looks like he won’t use the word “independence”. Instead, Kosovo will get a complex and weasel-worded form of “limited sovereignty”, without using the I-word. They’ll have no constitutional connection to Serbia, treaty-making powers, and a small defense force. But they won’t get a foreign ministry or a seat in the United Nations. And there will be an International Civilian Representative, appointed by the EU, who would act as a proconsul rather as Paddy Ashdown used to in Bosnia.
One thing he certainly won’t propose is partition. This is iunfortunate, because at this point partitition is the least bad solution. But it’s politically unacceptable to all the players. (Or almost all — there are hints that the Serbs might be willing to consider it now.) But Ahtisaari’s proposal will continue the pretense that northern Kosovo will obey Pristina, which is just as ludicrous as the idea that southern Kosovo should obey Belgrade.
Three, how much weight will his proposal have? In theory, it’s supposed to go straight to the six-member Contact Group, and from there to UN Security Council. The UN is then supposed to pass a resolution superseding UN 1244 (which put Kosovo under UN administration while formally keeping it part of Serbia.) In practice, Russia and China are going to complicate things. If it gets bogged down in the UNSC, what next?
Four… well, how are Albanians and Serbs going to live together? It’s just not going so well right now.
One example. This summer, a basketball team from northern Kosovo (the Serb part) decided to take part in the Kosovo league. The only Serb team, they’ve played a number of games, winning some, losing some. This has outraged the Serb Kosovar leadership, since it implicitly recognizes an Albanian institution as legitimate. The team members have received threats, and on October 28 their coach’s car was blown up.
Macedonia shows that the thing is possible. Slavs and Albanians don’t love each other, don’t even much like each other… they live in a “two silences” world, coexisting suspiciously. But they do manage to live together, work together, and play basketball together, and the country is doing okay.
So it’s not impossible. But it’s a long way from where Kosovo is now.
Well, we should know more in January.