Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


Future status of Kosovo

236.  As we have said earlier,[584] the Rambouillet proposals were vague on the eventual future status of Kosovo. While it provided for a considerable degree of self-government, a preambular paragraph to the proposals recalled "the commitment of the international community to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." There was also a reference to the "will of the people" in the proposals, which was interpreted by the Kosovo Albanians as providing for a referendum after three years on the status of Kosovo.

237.  Although, as the Foreign Secretary told us,[585] UNSCR 1244 "is quite explicit that Kosovo, for the time being, is part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," there is a degree of ambiguity about the long term future in that Resolution also. UNSCR 1244 again contains a preambular paragraph "reaffirming the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other States of the region." UNSCR 1244 goes on to set out the responsibilities of UNMIK to promote the establishment "pending a final settlement" of "substantial autonomy and self-government in Kosovo, taking full account of annex 2 [which refers to the principles set out in the preambular paragraph] and of the Rambouillet accords." The Resolution later provides for UNMIK to facilitate "a political process designed to determine Kosovo's future status, taking into account the Rambouillet accords."[586] Absent, however, from UNSCR 1244 is any reference to a reassessment after three years, or a phrase such as "the will of the people" which might be taken to imply that a referendum will be held. Thus UNSCR 1244 can be represented as offering a lesser degree of support to those who support independence for Kosovo.

238.  The British Government has certainly expressed its opposition to independence, though this fact appeared to come as a surprise to Hashim Thaci, Dr Rugova and Professor Qosja when we mentioned it to them. The FCO told us that the Government believed that "a settlement under which Kosovo remains in the FRY would be preferable"; that this view was "widely shared in the international community", and that they "see no advantages and serious disadvantages in taking steps...which might encourage movement towards Kosovo independence."[587] As the Foreign Secretary put it, "nearly everybody inside Kosovo wants independence and absolutely everybody outside Kosovo does not."[588]

239.  It was made abundantly clear to us that none of the Kosovo Albanian political parties could support a future status for Kosovo which meant that it would remain within Serbia. Dr Rugova told us that no solution based on Yugoslavia would be acceptable to Kosovan Albanians, who should have the right to determine their future in a referendum. Professor Qosja also argued that Kosovo had the right to declare its independence after a referendum, and that, after the events of 1999, the international community should not ask Kosovo to retain any link with Yugoslavia. Hashim Thaci believed that not even a symbolic link with Yugoslavia was acceptable, and he told us that the Rambouillet proposals should no longer be the basis for determining Kosovo's future. He also pointed out that UNSCR 1244 had not been based on any consultation with the people of Kosovo. The Free Kosova Campaign told us that "an act of self-determination by the people of Kosova in the not-too-distant future—one which will almost certainly lead to independence—is not just realistic, not just legitimate, but also desirable."[589]

240.  The attitude of the Milosevic regime to Kosovan independence is obvious from their obduracy throughout the Kosovo crisis. The referendum of April 1998 on the question of foreign mediation over Kosovo apparently displayed a widespread belief in Serbia that relations with Kosovo were an internal matter for Yugoslavia to resolve. Mr Donnelly told us that, although the result of the referendum might have been engineered, it was "probably not far from an accurate reflection of what people thought." However he believed that, with time and the wooing of Serbian opinion towards European integration, there would be "at least...the basis for what we should regard as proper debate and proper discussion."[590] Similar points were made by Dr Jones Parry,[591] though he told us how difficult it had been to find any group in Serbia which was prepared to contemplate even a status analogous to Montenegro for Kosovo, let alone outright independence. (Indeed, a status of republic for Kosovo would give it the automatic right to secede from the Federation.) According to the Foreign Secretary, it was difficult to see how any progress could be made in discussing this issue with Belgrade while Milosevic was in charge.[592] There is, however an argument which we heard in Kosovo from Albanian politicians, and which was reported to us by John Sweeney,[593] that independence for Kosovo would demonstrate that the game was up for Belgrade; that the weapon of Kosovo would no longer be available for the Serb ultra-nationalists, and that this would be good for Serbian democracy. Moreover, Jonathan Steele made the persuasive argument that the loss of Kosovo should be identified in the Serb mind with Milosevic, and should therefore occur while he was in office, rather than after a more acceptable regime might have taken charge.[594]

241.  Within Kosovo, even the moderate Serb, Father Sava, told us that Kosovo Albanian politicians had not really demonstrated any concern for a multi-ethnic society, and that, in the circumstances, independence could not be contemplated by the Serb population. Any precipitate move towards independence would, in his view, lead to a complete exodus of Serbs. He told us that he could conceive of a democratic Kosovo where the human rights of all citizens were entrenched which could in due course become an independent state, though he warned us that many Serbs believed that the Albanians would not respect such a constitution. In the circumstances, he believed that perpetuation of the current constitutional limbo was best. Although Father Sava spoke only about the Serb population of Kosovo, it is equally likely that a move towards independence would result in the exodus of other minority groups. If independence also means greater control by Kosovans of their own affairs, as opposed to international control, then Father Sava's concerns are likely to be legitimate.

242.  The future of Kosovo has important repercussions for neighbouring states as well as Serbia. In the case of Macedonia, Albanian speakers form 20 to 30 per cent of the population, and many of the Macedonian political parties are organised on ethnic lines. The Albanian speaking population has close connections with the people of Kosovo—in the days of the former Yugoslavia, for example, many went to university in Pristina. Underlying many Slavic Macedonians' view of their Albanian fellow-citizens is a concern that demographic trends will result in dominance of Macedonia by Albanian-speakers. This concern was behind the reluctance to admit Kosovan refugees during the period when they were being expelled from Kosovo.[595] Independence for Kosovo—at least in the short term—is thus seen as a potential threat to Macedonia's stability. This is because it might encourage Macedonia's Albanian population to seek to join an independent (and ethnically pure) Kosovo, taking with them parts of Macedonian territory. As Dr Jones Parry put it, any redrawing of Macedonia's borders would be "inherently destabilising for the whole region."[596] Dame Pauline Neville-Jones also referred to Macedonia as very fragile.[597] Others, however, suggested that the lesson of the Kosovo crisis was that Macedonia is "much more stable than many diplomats and others had predicted," as Jonathan Steele put it[598]—though this may bear some relationship to the thousands of NATO troops stationed on Macedonian territory during the conflict. Dr Rugova and Professor Qosja both told us that independence for Kosovo would actually have a stabilising effect on Macedonia, as on the whole region. We find this implausible, and conclude that the effect of Kosovan independence on Macedonia is potentially destabilising, at least at present. Macedonia is the one state which has left the former Yugoslavia without bloodshed, and it is important that bloodshed should be avoided in the future.

243.  The same is the case in Bosnia, where the precedent of Kosovan independence might encourage extreme nationalists to press for their own independence. Dame Pauline Neville-Jones drew our attention to the fear among Bosnian ministers that the independence for Kosovo would result in the dismemberment of Bosnia, and she told us that "that fear is not foolish."[599] The Foreign Secretary also believed "it would be a very serious reverse of the Dayton process if there was an independent Kosovo."[600] In Montenegro, as we discuss elsewhere,[601] there is also opposition to Kosovan independence.

244.  One concern which has been raised is that an independent Kosovo might press for union with Albania proper. All the evidence we received, and the discussions we held in Kosovo, suggested that this was an extremely unlikely possibility. Dame Pauline Neville-Jones told us that there was an absence of fellow-feeling between the Albanians of Albania and those of the former Yugoslavia;[602] Professor Roberts and Jonathan Steele both believed that the historical differences between the Albanians of Kosovo and those of Albania, and the lack of contact over the last century, had made many in Kosovo suspicious of union with Albania,[603] while Professor Roberts also believed that there was "a good deal of nervousness" in Albania itself about any proposition of a union with Kosovo.[604] Dr Jones Parry told us that he did not think that the concept of a Greater Albania was "actually that much of a threat."[605] All of this evidence was corroborated by discussions we held in Kosovo, though subsequently Dr Rugova has been reported as saying that the Albanians are a "divided people", and that, while independence for Kosovo was the first priority, "a confederation with Albania is an option for the future."[606]

245.  An option sometimes proposed is that Kosovo should be partitioned. Those who would become minorities after such a division could apply for international assistance to relocate to territories where they would be in a majority. One possible division would create a small Serb part comprising the six Serb-dominated municipalities in north-western Kosovo: Gora, Leposaviq, Novo Brdo, Potok, Zubin, and Zvecan. Serbia's three most important religious sites, the monasteries of Visoki Decani, Gracanica and the Patriarchate of Pec, could become Serbian protectorates as well, administered by Belgrade under UN guarantee. The Albanians, however, would only be likely to agree to this division if the three predominantly Albanian-inhabited regions of Southern Serbia—Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja—were incorporated into an independent Kosovo. Belgrade, for its part, would only agree to the division if the important town of Mitrovica and the nearby mining complex of Trepca were also included in the Serbian protectorates. Dr Oleg Levitin also argued convincingly that none of the main parties would welcome partition, even if he advanced some cogent arguments in favour of it as a solution.[607] We encountered little support for partition inside Kosovo. We believe that the re-drawing of boundaries which partition of Kosovo would involve would be destabilising for the region and a barrier to any idea of multi-ethnic states in the region.

246.  Jonathan Steele is undoubtedly correct to argue that it is "quite unrealistic to pretend that the Albanians are going to go back under Serbian administration or Yugoslav administration,"[608] but this does not necessarily mean that the international community should favour immediate independence or even independence in the medium term. As we were told by moderate Kosovo Albanians, the majority community have a great deal to do to demonstrate that it can run a plural society where human rights are respected before independence can be contemplated. It is also the case that, in view of Kosovo's economic problems and long-term dependence on external financial support, reconstruction, not independence, should be the priority. Moreover, although we do not see the historical Serb fear of Greater Albania being realised as a consequence of independence for Kosovo, we do agree with Dame Pauline Neville-Jones that the emergence of an independent Kosovo would not be a neutral act for the states in the region.[609] We do not therefore believe that Dr Woodward was right to argue that "we are delaying any decision about Kosovo's future because we cannot agree," or indeed with her view that "ambiguity in this case is not a virtue."[610] The current ambiguity about the future may well be the best course of action to follow. We believe that the international community is prudent in deferring any decision on its preferences for Kosovo's long term future.

247.  Deferral of a final decision does not mean inactivity. As Professor Roberts argued, we need "to move forward the political process to which UNSCR 1244 refers."[611] Following his address to the Security Council on 6 March, Dr Kouchner proposed the creation of an interim constitution for Kosovo, followed by an interim government which would guarantee the protection of all of Kosovo's ethnic groups. As Kofi Annan said at the time, "if the future political settlement is not clear, it is going to be very difficult for us to get the two communities to deal with each other and with us."[612] The proposals presented by Commissioner Patten and High Representative Solana to the Lisbon European Council also suggest movement in this area. Somewhat opaquely, they call for the development of a "roadmap for political consolidation of Kosovo" and express the view that "launching reflection on a status of autonomy in the framework of the Transitional Council" will be an important step in this process.[613] Certainly clarity in the definition of autonomy would relieve the pressure for independence. Just as Kosovo's economy cannot be reconstructed overnight, so it will take time to construct this new constitutional settlement. But the process must now begin. We strongly support UNMIK's intention to move forward with an interim constitution and interim government for Kosovo.

248.  Debate on the long term future of Kosovo will also continue. Dr Woodward mentioned a study written in 1995 which had set out fifteen different ways in which Kosovo could have independence within Yugoslavia.[614] The Foreign Secretary told us that there were "creative and imaginative ways" of resolving the independence questions, and that many models had been devised where de facto self-government had been given to a territory while legal sovereignty rested elsewhere.[615] He was, however, sceptical about the chances of reaching such a pragmatic agreement while Milosevic remained in power in Belgrade.[616] The FCO has itself described the developments in Western Europe since World War II as a possible model for the Western Balkans.[617] For the political community of 1945, the concepts of sovereignty current in the EU in 2000, and the relaxation of border regimes in present day Europe, would seem very innovative. There may be a similarly innovative future status for Kosovo. In an ideal world, with the civil institutions and economy of Kosovo rebuilt and the traumas of the past healed, the international community would agree with a new democratic Serbian government and the people of Kosovo a future status for Kosovo which guarantees both the autonomy of Kosovo and the rights of all its citizens. For the time being, that ideal will remain pie in the sky. We conclude that the present interim status for Kosovo is likely to remain in place for an indeterminate period.

584   See paras 59ff. Back

585   QC469. Back

586   UNSCR 1244, paras 11(a) and 11(e). Back

587   Ev. p. 180. Back

588   QC455. Back

589   Ev. p. 251. Back

590   QC26. Back

591   QC112. Back

592   QC469. Back

593   QC220. Back

594   QC191. Back

595   QC214. Back

596   QC114. Back

597   QC263. Back

598   QC215. Back

599   QC263. Back

600   QC455. Back

601   See para 262. Back

602   QC363. Back

603   QC193. Back

604   QC217. Back

605   QC116. Back

606   Der Spiegel, 17 April 2000. Back

607   Ev. pp. 362-363. Back

608   QC191. Back

609   QC263. Back

610   QC271; Ev. p. 118. Back

611   QC192. Back

612 Back

613   Report on the Western Balkans presented to the Lisbon European Council by the Secretary General/High Representative together with the Commission. Ref: SN 2032/2/00 REV 2. From here on "Lisbon Report." Back

614   QC250. Back

615   QC455. Back

616   QC469. Back

617   Ev. p. 52. Back

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