Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Biljana Radonjic, Assistant Director, Civilitas Research

  The implications of continuing instability in the Western Balkans for the wider region and Europe as a whole.


  As the latest surge of ethic violence against Kosovo's non-Albanian minorities in March 2004 showed, Kosovo retains the potential to destabilize the Western Balkans. However, following the inter-ethnic clashes, the international community has now started to shift its attention away from the current "standards before status" policy, based on achieving basic democratic standards before deciding Kosovo's future, and is now focused on final status negotiations. This is premature, self-defeating and potentially damaging. The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) should continue to maintain the "standards before status" policy. In the meantime, an attempt should be made to create a special status for the Serb and other non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo. This would be best achieved through decentralization. A model for such a process is the Ohrid Peace Agreement, which ended inter-ethnic fighting in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.


  There are eight benchmarks of the "standards before status" policy set in April 2002 by Michael Steiner, the UNMIK Head at the time, and which cover all the major problem areas in Kosovo:

    —  Functioning democratic institutions

    —  Rule of law

    —  Freedom of movement

    —  Return and re-integrations of refugees

    —  Economic progress

    —  Respect for property rights

    —  Dialogue with Belgrade

    —  Police reform


  Since the policy was first put in place there has been only limited movement towards achieving the desired outcomes in any of these areas. The main reasons for this lies with the lack of political will of both Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs to cooperate with the international community and with each other. Uncertainty over the future of province also complicates matters. On this issue, the two main communities remain as far apart as ever. The Albanians want unfettered independence. The Serbs wish to see the province remain an integral part of Serbia. The failure to resolve the province's status is certainly a major contributing factor to continued instability in the province. Indeed, it may be seen as one of the key underlying reasons behind the upsurge in ethnic violence that erupted in March 2004, when ethnically motivated violence against the Serbs and other non-Albanian minorities left 19 people dead and thousands homeless.

  In the aftermath of the clashes UNMIK and the Kosovo Force (KFOR) came in for heavy criticism by various international and non-governmental organisations. The incident also revealed to the international public that, five years since NATO military intervention ended the Kosovo conflict; the province is still unstable and marred by ethnic hatred. Naturally, there are fears that they may be further similar incidents in the future, which may not be controlled. Indeed, such were the fears that further ethnic violence may occur that it appears as if the UN has altered its whole approach towards the province. The latest Head of the UNMIK, Soren Jessen-Petersen, has announced that a full evaluation of Kosovo's democratic standards would take place within the next seven to eight months to determine the readiness of Kosovo for status talks starting in mid-2005.

  This would appear to be an unrealistically optimistic timetable. Thus far the democratic standards in the province have been appallingly low. The economy is in the doldrums, organized crime is flourishing, witness intimidation ruins criminal court cases and the dialogue with Belgrade is stalemate. Moreover, many improvements made over the past five years were set back by the ethnic violence in March. No matter how much time and effort the UNMIK devotes to promoting democracy and human rights in the coming months, Kosovo will not be able to meet even most basic standards in less than a year.


  If the UN strategy is to buy time—start the talks and then string them out while progress is made to improve the situation on the ground—this is not the way to achieve that. The approach is both unrealistic and potentially dangerous. For a start, opening talks will be read as a sign that independence is inevitable, even if Kosovo fails to reach democratic standards. This could inflame those in the region who seek violent solutions and lead to further hostility in Kosovo, and to renewed combating in Southern Serbia and Macedonia. Also, there will be little room to draw the discussions out indefinitely. Unless rapid progress is made, the frustrations will grow again among the Kosovo Albanians. This raises the prospect of further ethnic violence and regional instability. The respite of opening talks will be short-lived.

  Additionally, most political analysts and many diplomats believe that resolving the status question is a prerequisite to peace and stability in Kosovo and wider region. This is true as long as "peace and stability" do not include respect for minority rights and other democratic standards in a multiethnic society in Kosovo. It should be recognised that unless it happens now, when Kosovo is under international control, it will be substantially more difficult to encourage democratisation in the future. At the moment, the international community continues to control if, when and how independence—the Kosovo Albanians' foremost aspiration—will come about. If UNMIK is not capable of persuading Kosovo Albanian leadership to work at achieving democratic standards at this stage, it is hard to conceive how it will bring about such improvements once the main incentive for cooperation vanishes.


  The current "standards before status" policy is based on inherently good democratic principles. The fact that they are difficult to achieve is not a reason good enough to abandon the policy. Irrespective of the final status it is beneficial for the Kosovo society to strive towards achieving these democratic standards. Also, although regional stability is extremely valuable and it cannot happen without on-the-ground security on Kosovo, it is ill-advised for the UNMIK to shift its concentration away from long-term democratisation and towards the maintenance of short-term security through pushing for immediate status talks. This especially should not happen due to the blackmail of further ethnic violence.

  However, supporting the policy in principle is not the same as arguing for the policy to remain unchanged. Due to obvious problems with its implementation it is clear that the policy has to be reassessed and modified. But it should not be abandoned. A recent report by Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggests further transfer of governing competences to the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG), which would increase their responsibility and accountability. Also, the UNMIK should embark on the prioritisation of the democratic standards, namely the concentration on minority rights protection and economic development. Genuine commitment beyond rhetoric by the international community, including the financial pledge, would be extremely beneficial as well. However, it is not feasible to discuss any complex modifications in the scope of this memorandum.


  The treatment of national minorities is one of the most pressing issues facing the international community in Kosovo. The Kosovo Constitutional Framework Document for Provisional Self-Government, adopted in May 2001, contains a number of internationally accepted provisions for minority rights protection. These include fair and appropriate representation of minorities in state institutions; the use of languages of minorities in parliament, courts and in communication between citizens and government; state-funded education in the languages of minorities on all levels, etc

  However, despite these legislations the level of minority rights protection in Kosovo remains extremely unsatisfactory, according to all recent reports. The minorities still do not enjoy the freedom of movement and continue to be underrepresented, property rights are unresolved and refugee return is negligible. After the war in 1999, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 200,000 people, including Serbs and other minorities, were forced out of their homes. Of these, the UNHCR says roughly 7,000 people—including 4,000 Serbs—have subsequently returned home. After violence in mid-March this year, up to 4,000 Serbs were forced to leave their properties. Therefore, it is obvious that the rights of Serbs and other non-Albanians cannot be adequately protected merely by means of passing various, albeit progressive, legislations.

  This memorandum is suggesting a model of decentralisation on the lines of the one reached in the Ohrid Peace Agreement which ensures the high level of local self-governance. Adopted in August 2001, the Ohrid Agreement is aimed at enhancing legal and political status of ethnic Albanians in FYROM while maintaining territorial integrity of the unitary state at the insistence of Macedonian Slavs. Given that a similar situation, and similar concerns, exist in Kosovo, it seems logical that Kosovo minorities should be treated in the analogous way as ethnic Albanians in FYROM. The memorandum does not endorse Belgrade's proposal on cantonisation of Kosovo, which is antagonistic towards Kosovo's territorial integrity and unacceptable for the Kosovo Albanians.

  Decentralisation—drawing up new municipal boundaries and the financing of local authorities to strengthen local self-government—is the main pillar of Ohrid Peace Agreement. Local authorities are expected to have enhanced competencies in the areas of public services, urban and rural planning, environmental protection, local economic development, culture, local finances, education, social welfare and health care. If this is applied in Kosovo, municipal authorities would be in charge of citizens' most pressing concerns and everyday affairs. Decentralisation would be based on the principle of subsidiary which is intended to ensure that decisions are taken as effectively as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen. The reform of local self-government and public administration should draw extensively on the recommendations made by the Council of Europe ("the Civiletti report") from November 2003. Also, in order to acknowledge the genuine concerns of Kosovo Serbs for their safety as well as avoid any resistance, Belgrade-sponsored parallel administrative structures that presently exist in Northern Kosovo, should not be dismantled but only modified and used as a basis for a decentralised local government. PISG and/or UNMIK should take responsibility for financing Serb local administration as a replacement for the money currently coming from Belgrade.

  Police forces in Macedonia are not in the direct jurisdiction of local but central authorities according to the Ohrid Agreement. However, local government officials have a say in appointing police chiefs in their municipalities. Minority representation in police forces is directly proportional with the percentage of Albanians in Macedonia which is 22%. Kosovo, on the other hand, requires an element of positive discrimination for minority representation in Kosovo Police Services (KPS) to be fair. The participation of non-Albanian minorities in KPS should be about 20% which is twice their current share of population, but also slightly larger that 15%—a representation target established by the UNMIK. Similarly, minority participation in Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), a civilian emergency organisation, should be larger that 10%.

  Kosovo Serbs should be relatively easily persuaded to accept this policy. The key to this strategy is to remind them that the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia have managed to secure extremely high standards of minority rights protection as a result of the agreement. On a similar note, the policy should also strike a chord with the leaders of the Kosovo Albanians by the logic of equal minority rights in the region. Also, this pattern could be potentially utilised in future with regards to Muslim minority, including the Albanians, in South Serbia. Moreover, as part of some future minority rights protection blueprint in the Western Balkans, led by the international community, it would seem advisable openly and actively to associate these different cases of ethnic minority status with each other. Apart from showing an integrated and consistent international policy, this attempt to unify positions will help to stave off claims that the international is adopting "double standards". These claims tend to aggravate the local population and feed resentment and hostility.

  Additionally, it may appear that recent strong opposition among Macedonian Slav majority regarding the redrawing of municipal borders casts a shadow on the proposed model for minority rights protection in Kosovo or any other standardised minority protection model in the Western Balkans. It is partly true. Borders are certainly an extremely sensitive issue in the region. However, while ethic Albanians in Macedonia are concentrated in the Western part of the country, which could serve as a basis for future separatism, Kosovo Serbs are mainly scattered around the province with a strong presence only in Northern Kosovo. For that reason, Serbian government proposal for cantonisation, which includes the resettlement of the Serbs in order to form a clearly defined territory, is undoubtedly out of question. However, because it is proving extremely difficult and expensive to protect small and isolated minority settlements some European officials suggest "more consolidated" enclaves. This approach would make a lot of sense.


  Obviously, this, or any other minority protection model, will only succeed if a number of other factors are satisfied. First of all, Belgrade should be persuaded to pressure Kosovo Serbs to cooperate with the UNMIK and the Kosovo authorities. Secondly, Kosovo Albanians should be convinced that there can be no alternative to the minority rights protection. Their hopes that the province can be turned into an exclusively Albanian region should be rejected in exactly the same way that the international community has rejected ethnic cleansing in other areas of the Balkans. Also, the international community should provide some guarantees that current borders cannot be violated. This is vital if moves to make Kosovo independent are not to lead to further fracturing and conflict in the Balkans. Neither Kosovo Serbs nor Albanians from Macedonia or South Serbia should have a right to self-determination and succession. Finally, the international community should continue to show a genuine commitment to improve substantially the situation in Kosovo based on democratisation, the rule of law and the protection of minority rights.

Biljana Radonjic

Civilitas Research

15 September 2004

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