Republika Srpska for Kosovo?

A few days ago the platform of the Serbian government for talks with leaked in the Belgrade press and Daniel Serwer made the non-paper of the Serbian government available on his blog. Serwer called the proposal Fantasyland and Hashim Thaci rejected it as a 19th century plan. Of course in negotations there is no reason for the other side to respond positively to a proposal that presumably outlines the starting position for talks. So what does the platform actually propose?

Press in RS is drawing maps of the “new RS in Kosovo” according to the government plan

Observers have likend the structures that would be set up in it to Republika Srpska in Bosnia (mostly positive in Serbia and negatively outside). The platform itself explictly only refers to Katalonia as a model rather then to the RS, but some feature seem to evoke the RS.

In brief ,the platform proposes establishing an “Autonomous Community of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo and Metohija,” with the nice-sounding abbrevision ZSO KiM  This would constitute a territorial autonomy of Serb majority municipalities in the North and in the South (including Štrpce, Gračanica) and would have competences in education, health care, sports, culture, public Information, environmental protection, urban planning, agriculture, as well as their own police and judiciary under formal authority of Kosovo and the ability to maintain direct ties to Serbia including funding and finally the use of own symbols.

In terms of institutions, this autonomous unit would have an assembly and government, liking it to an autonomous region. Although the plan calls this autonomous region “community” the plan does not contain any non-territorial forms of autonomy or feature of cultural autonomy (except for some semi-autonomous status of sub-municipal Serb settlements, but even they are understood territorially).

When looking back at the Ahtisaari plan, the differences between the decentralisation proposed therin and the competences requested by the Serbian government do not differ fundamentally. The plan forsees that municipal competences include “education at the pre-primary, primary and secondary levels; public primary health care; local economic development; urban and rural planning; public housing; naming of roads, streets and other public places; and the provision of public services and utilities, among others.” In addition some Serb municipalities received the right to organise higher education, hospital and secondary health care, cultural and religions affairs and an “enhanced role in the appointment of police station comanders. Furthermore, the plan does forsee the formation of “associations and partnerships with other municipalities in Kosovo to carry out functions of mutual interest” and the possiblity of “to cooperate with municipalities and institutions in Serbia, including the right to receive financial and technical assistance from Serbia, within certain clear parameters set by the Settlement.”

The main differences between the competences outlined in the Serbian government non-paper and the Ahtisaari Plan are the control over the police and judiciary and the establishment of seperate institutions, both of course substantial.

More significant are the differences in terms of the overall proposed structures of Kosovo in the non-paper. It suggests a bi-cameral parliament with an upper house called the “House of Regions and Religious Communities” and a lower house with guaranteed seats for Serbs. The idea of a “House of Regions and Religious Communities” does seem rather odd for a number of reasons: First, religion is a not a relevant category in the politicial divisions of Kosovo, ethnicity is. Thus, such a house, if at all, should represent national communities, not religions. The term might be a way to bring the Serbian Orthodox Church into the institutions, which in itself would be very problematic. Second, it might be a term to avoid the obvious parallels with the House of Peoples in Bosnia.

When it comes to voting the platform suggests that Serbs should not be outvoted “in matters that directly impact the competencies of the autonomous region and the rights of Serbs and other minorities. This is considerably less than voting rights of the RS in Bosnia where MPs from either entity can block any decision by a 2/3 majority, a power the RS has made extensive use of.

It would thus be misleading to equate the autonomy for Serb municipalities with the RS in Bosnia. First, the competences are large but less than those of the RS, secondly and more importantly, the ability of the Serb municipalities to block decision-making in Kosovo would be extremely limited in comparsion to the blockages the RS can and has been causing in Bosnia. This difference is of course not surprising considering that Serbs make up less than 10% of Kosovos population and the municipalities make up not much more of the territory of Kosovo.

The proposal could thus be considered to ask for an autonomy between a full entity-like structure in Bosnia and the propose Ahtisaari plan. This is not to say that there are some problems with the platform. First, the idea of a tw0-chamber parliament and the representation of religious communities seems unreasonble considering the size of minorities and the limited competences such an upper chamber would have. Considering cases like South Tyrol or the Aaland islands, both enjoy territorial autonomy, but no specific parliamentary representation in Italy or Finland respecitvely. Instead there are other mechanisms in the relationship between the autonomous region and the central government to protect the autonomy of the region.

The second problem which Dan Serwer in his comment mostly focused on is the idea in the platform that the entirety of Kosovo would remain part of Serbia and the constant references to the “Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija” seems rather anachronistic and is definetly detached from reality. The platform does not outline what Serbia would be willing to offer Kosovo in exchange for agreeing to establishment of the autonomy arrangement. The platform suggests that the Kosovo authorities could receive the official authorisation by the Serbian government, but within the framework of the Serbian constitution, i.e. without recognition of independence. There are two ways of looking at this. If this reflects the substance of the Serbian position, this platform offers little for Kosovo to agree to any of it: The proposal largely formalised the status-quo and thus Kosovo would have no incentive to accept any part of the propsal without a clear Serbian accepetance of Kosovo’s independence, if not outright recognition. However, if the platform is also made for domestic consumption and about the symbolic assertation of sovereignty over Kosovo, then it has better prospects.

The suggestion that the Serbian government could formally transfer the competences of the autonomous province to the institutions of Kosovo might sound absurd, but they would constitute a way for the Serbian government to argue that the current Kosovo institutions are authorised by the Serbian constitution  and thus provide for a manner to official and formally cooperate with Kosovo institutions while maintaining the legal fiction that Kosovo is part of Serbia. Although it would be preferable for the Serbian government to fully acknowledge the reality of Kosovo’s independence, this opening might provide for the tool to live with Kosovo’s independence. A second positive feature of the agreement is the apparant abandonment of partition as a goal. By linking the municipalities in the North and in the South into one unit, partition would be less likely and presumably the more numerous Serbs in the South would dominate such an institution.

The platform of the Serbian government is, as I have argued above, far from ideal and as any negotiating position per definition not a compromise, but the goal of one party. Still, I would take it is a reflection of the more pragmatic line of the Serbian government, rather than as just an effort to create a new Republika Srpska in Kosovo.

Oxford also in Kosovo, Bossi in Albania

Thanks to a colleague, I just found out that not only the Paneuropean University Apeiron, Slobomir University, Euro College and Megatrend, as I  noted  in my previous post, have been honored with an award from Oxford, i.e. the European Business Assembly, but also the Iliria Royal University in Kosovo received a recognition in “a solemn ceremony organized in the European Summit of Leaders in the Oxford University, nominated by the European Club of Rectors, University Iliria won the European Prize for Quality.” This means that of the ten universities I commented on last year, four received this honor.

Another university of list, Crystal University, got some attention in Italy (and here) recently for granting the son of Umberto Bossi, former head of the Lega Nord,  Renzo Bossi a university degree in just one year.

The Significance of the Belgrade-Prishtina Agreement

As most compromises, the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo concluded a few days ago contains its share of absurdity. Kosovo can now participate in regional meetings with a footnote referring to the UN SC resolution 1244 and the ICJ opinion the declaration of independence, but these two references are meaningless. 1244 refers to the interim status of Kosovo that has clearly passed, even within a new UN SC resolution and the ICJ opinion is clear on the declaration of independence, but does not tackle the independence of Kosovo itself. It is similar to attaching a footnote to an apple pie saying that apples can be prepared in many different ways and a second note that an apple pie can call itself what ever it wants.

However, the meaninglessness of these disclaimers aside, the agreement has greater significance: It is the first time that Serbia has accepted the Kosovo government to represent Kosovo at the international level directly, rather than being formally represented by the UN mission or being able to participate, but without a mandate. As a result, this solution could be path-breaking for Kosovo in the future. The solution could outline the direction in which Kosovo could eventually co-exist with Serbia in the international arena. Since the declaration of independence in 2008, the challenge has been to find a way in which Serbia can live with Kosovo without extending full recognition and this agreement outlines the mode through which this could be achieved. Serbia recognizes Kosovo as a separate entity with a government, while stopping short of international recognition. Such a solution could open the door for membership in other international organizations and also eventual EU membership. The step from extending this solution from regional meetings to international organizations is small and has now become conceivable. If the agreement holds and proves to be a acceptable solution for both Kosovo and Serbia, the ball is in the court of the EU to outline a credible EU integration perspective for Kosovo and for the five EU member that have not recognized Kosovo to reconsider their stance. Of course, relations between Serbia and Kosovo will remain on the agenda and the agreement does not resolve the many remaining questions, but it might turn out to be a bigger step than the mediators and the parties have anticipated.

The Risks and Benefits of Ethnic Citizenship

Millions of people in Southeastern Europe are citizens of more than one state. Many acquired this status when they were gastarbajteri [guestworkers] in Germany, Austria and elsewhere in Western Europe; others received a second passport as they fled the wars that accompanied the disintegration of Yugoslavia. For some people, dual citizenship seems due to a quirk of fate: for example, their father may have been born in a different Yugoslav republic than they and held that republican citizenship when Yugoslavia was still a single country and when republican citizenship had no practical significance. Due to some long abandoned vestiges of patriarchal rules, today they have the right to a second citizenship of a republic they never lived in. Among the many ‘multi-citizens’ of Southeastern Europe there are probably a million who have received passports from countries they have never lived in. Hundreds of thousands of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina hold Croatian citizenship as a result of their ethnic Croat identity. Over 50,000 Macedonians also became citizens of Bulgaria after declaring themselves to be ethnically Bulgarian. Recently, Serbs from Bosnia (and elsewhere) have been able to become Serbian citizens by declaring their loyalty to Serbia—most prominently, President of the Serb Republic, one of the two Bosnian entities, and Milorad Dodik, who publicly submitted his request for citizenship to the Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić in 2007. Nearly a million Moldovan citizens have applied for Romanian passports and over 100,000 have been granted EU citizenship, on the grounds that they are descendents of former Romanian citizens who lost their Romanian citizenship when Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944.

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Kosovo: Of Talks and Violence

Just three weeks ago, relations between Serbia and Kosovo seemed to have been the best in many years. A first agreement between the two governments paved the way for increased freedom of movement in regard to travel with ID cards, license plates and other technical issues. The atmosphere between the key negotiators Edita Tahiri and Borko Stefanovic seems professional.

The nationalist opposition in Serbia and Kosovo opposed the agreement, with Vetevendosje suggesting that it further undermines Kosovo’s sovereignty and DSS and the Radicals in Serbia arguing that the agreement leads to Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo. In brief, it was exactly what the EU had hoped to accomplish, a practical first step which paves the way to further negotiations and building confidence between the parties which had mostly talked at each other. This outcome was more encouraging that most observers (including myself) had predicted due to the upcoming Serbian elections early in 2012 and the rather weak Kosovo government. The reason it became possible was combination of the Serbian government banking on the EU candidate status prior to elections and an agreement with Kosovo can only improve the odds. The Kosovo government on the other hand appears to have trying to regain its international legitimacy through serious talks, after Thaci was tainted through the Marty report and the flawed parliamentary elections.

How did this success in talks so quickly descend into the latest round of violence? The talks did not resolve the issue of Kosovo products being able to enter the Serbian market, which has been impossible to date and hurt the fledgeling Kosovo economy. In an apparent move to improve Kosovo’s bargaining position and in response to Serbia apparently stepping away from a deal of customs (talks scheduled for mid-July were postponed for September as parties were unable to come to an agreement), Kosovo banned the import of Serbian goods. As Tim Judah convincingly argues, this was an unpleasant surprise for the Serbian government, as it suddenly and unexpectedly upped Kosovo bargaining power in talks where the pressure on Serbia traditionally came from Brussels (or Washington), not Prishtina. Of course, the implementation of such a ban is impossible as long as the borders as permeable and the government has few options of preventing the import of Serbian goods. If it would stop such goods on the border between north and south Kosovo around Mitrovica, it would only help consolidate the partition. Thus, it dispatched the special police unit ROSU to take over the two main border posts between Kosovo and Serbia in the North. It reached one and was blocked by Serbs barricades at the other. However, it was not to stay for long and was forced to withdraw soon thereafter under international pressure. During operation, a ROSU member was shot and killed by a sniper, presumably linked to local Serb nationalist structures. The barricades erected in the North and the subsequent burning down of the Jarinje border post by hooligans (according to Tadic) or a local smuggler (according to Blic) mobilized the Serbian parallel power structures in the North and further raised the stakes.

Apparently, the Kosovo government sent the police without consent of either the EU or the US government and the operation seem to have been planned by the government rather than being a regular police operation. Altogether this would mean that the operation was effort by the government to create a fait accompli (on a side: Milos Vasic reminds us that seizing customs posts is also how the war in Slovenia began in June 1991).

The incidents have fueled suspicions on both sides and encouraged both extremists  and spoilers. While the Kosovo government and media appear to be convinced that the Serbian government was behind the burning down of the border post in Jarinje, the Serbian media had a hard time imagining that the police operation could take place without international support.

The Kosovo government now threatend that it would arrest the Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic and the chief negotiator Borko Stefanovic if they entered Kosovo. While this is a symbolic gesture as the ability of the Kosovo authorities to arrest them in the North is limited, it undermines future talks and links the incidents back to the negotiations.

Although the official goal of the police operation failed, Prime Minister Thaci claims that there is no return to the status quo ante. He might be saying this to save face after the failure of the operation. Alternatively, one can consider the operation a success. He gained credibility domestically and for the first time the Kosovo government took the initiative without seeming to be remote controlled by the US embassy or others. The operation certainly put the status of the north on the agenda. The price the government might have been too high, though. First, the operation, which seems clearly reckless (it reminds of Saakashvili ill-fated intervention in S. Ossetia in August 2008) and without much promise to lead to a real rather than symbolic change, suggests that the Kosovo authorities have become more unpredictable and willing to use unilateral force to change the situation in their favor. Second, it would also seem to strengthen hardliners in Serbia who have warned about armed intervention of the Kosovo authorities in the North. Finally, the operation is unlikely to have earned the government international sympathies, even from close allies.

As the violence seems to have ended and Kosovo’s North returns to the “tense, but calm” status, where does this leave talks and the parties? Both sides come out looking more vulnerable: Serbia for the first time felt pressure from the Kosovo government through the boycott and the police action, even if brief and ultimately unsuccessful. Kosovo has noticed that it cannot established its authority in the North without international consent. The international presence is reminded that the situation can escalate very quickly and limited the escalation of violence requires a strong KFOR presence. One good side effect of the violence might be that it shed a light on the continued criminal security structures in the North. No matter how one thinks about the ROSU police operation, the killing by sniper of a police officer and the burning of border post suggest that these networks remain ready to use force quickly to protect their interests. While Tadic has been seeking to reduce the influence of the political representatives of these structures, the incidents might encourage the Serbian authorities to clean up the North of Kosovo more vigorously.

Despite all the posturing at the moment, it seems unlikely that talks will not continue, both governments have too much to gain, yet the violence is a reminder that negotiations are determined not just on the negotiation table, but also on the streets of the North of Kosovo.

P.S. As reader pointed out, the Kosovo government was successful in as far as KFOR upon taking control of border posts at least temporarily blocked all further trucks coming from Serbia.

Is Libya like Serbia 1999?

The Serbian football trainer Branko Smiljanić said in an interview that Tripoli today reminds of Belgrade in 1999. He went on to say that the similarities lies in the fact that life goes on largely as normal despite the bombing. A number of facebook groups have sprung up, such as the “Support for Muammar al Gaddafi from the people of Serbia” with over 32,000 ‘likes’ as of 21 March. The group also features photos from a protest in favor of Gaddafi in front of the 25 May museum and Tito’s mausoleum. The supporters of Gaddafi thus blend Yugonostalgia and the close Libyan-Yugoslav ties during the socialist period with the more recent past.

So does the 1999/2011 comparison hold? Neil Clark in the Guardian argued that March is a time of lies which lead to the UK involvement in Kosovo 1999, Iraq 2003, and Libya 2011. His argument that all three interventions are based on (potential) lies is of course simplistic and the assertion that Kosovo and Iraq were “classic imperialist ventures whose real aim was to extend western economic and military hegemony” suggest a simplistic argument based on some supposed “anti-imperial” reflex. I am not sure how and why the “West” has spread its hegemony in Kosovo or Serbia through military intervention. Just like protesters for Gaddafi, it ignores the target of the intervention amidst obsession with supposed imperialism.

So if this is not convincing, what are the similarities and difference? First, Libyan intervention in 2011 has been based on a UN Sec. Council Resolution, whereas in Kosovo such as mandate was elusive due to Russian and Chinese opposition. Intervention in Kosovo followed a conflict which began  to take a violent turn already a year earlier, in March 1998. A key difference between the two intervention is the group protected. Albanians were targeted by the Milosevic regime in 1998/9 as it considered Albanians potential supporters for the KLA and for supporting secession from Serbia. In Libya the opposition is by all indications not interested in seceding from Libya, but overthrowing Gaddafi and establishing a  democracy and a protection of human rights (even if we know very little about the actual composition of the opposition itself).

One argument put forth in 1999 was the ‘moral hazard’ argument: By supporting the KLA, the intervention rewarded the use of force for a secessionist movement. While over the past decade there is little evidence the de facto support for the KLA has emboldened secessionist groups around the world to take up arms, there is a problem associated with supporting the use of force (the main problem has been the lack of support for its non-violent alternatives). In Libya, there is no such moral hazard. It potential democrats are emboldened to overthrow dictators by the intervention, this cannot be considered problematic per se (although military intervention is likely to remain rare and it might encourage rebellion when odds of  success and intervention are both slim). The hazard would have been greater if there had been no intervention, the message would be clear to other dictators: be soft and you end up as Ben Ali and Mubarak, be brutal and you can stay in power.

Both interventions are imperfect in their own way. It is very difficult to predict the outcome and length of the conflict ensuing. Once intervention begins, it is impossible to ascertain whether the alternative of non-intervention would have resulted in fewer victims or less repression. There has been little time for planning for this intervention and besides the  UN Sec. Council resolution which talks about what needs to end (repression of human rights), and a change which reflects the will of the people, but it is unclear how to get there. In Kosovo there was little and poor post-conflict planning, leading for mass violence at the end of the war and anarchy which helped undermine legitimacy of the post-conflict peace building. At this point, the conflict in Libya is not yet a long standing civil war where a serious post-conflict intervention would be justified (and it is explicitly excluded by the resolution). As imperfect as interventions are, the ability of dictators to militarily repression opposition deserves to be curtailed, especially when they are as violent and heavy handed as Gaddafi.


Interview for Infoglobi on Regional Developments

Here is the text of an interview I gave for InfoGlobi in English
How do you see overall situation in Western Balkan countries? Are you surprised that they are again causing headache to international community?

There are of course serious problems in the region, from polarized politics in Albania and Macedonia, no government in Bosnia, but these are political problems and it is hard to attract international attention at the moment. Especially with events in the Middle East, in particular in Egypt, the focus of the US and Europe is largely elsewhere and it is hard for the Balkans to be catching international attention. I also think that the problems of the region are serious, but one has to be careful not to exaggerate.

Kosovo and Macedonia are facing sort of institutional crisis. Albania and Serbia are involved in protests, is there a risk of spillover effect for other W.Balkan countries? Why?
I think there is no spill-over effect in the regions, the dynamics are different. What they share is three key causes: The economic crisis and thus lack of economic prospects, second the legitimacy crisis of governments in the region for not tackling corruption and third, the lack of sufficient and clear progress in terms of EU integration. This creates frustration in the region, but are not directly linked. In Serbia, the protests do not suggest that the government will fall, but rather that the Progressive Party might win the elections scheduled for next year. In Albania, it seems like the Berisha government is increasingly cornered like it was already 14 years ago and in Macedonia the opposition remains weak and the government firmly in control, although weakening lately.

Kosovo image has been damaged significantly. Having in mind that Kosovo remained a black hole in the Balkan, when it comes to visa liberalisation, or to the cut of preferential status of the goods from EU. Who is failing here and why? Isn’t this leading towards the isolation of Kosovo?
The problem is both with the government and the EU. The EU has been unable to formulate a clear perspective for EU integration, including visa liberalisation and a process towards accession. On the other hand, the government has lost a lot of credibility with being unable to really deal with allegations of corruption and moving Kosovo significantly forwards since independence.

KFOR will downsize its troops soon, while there are indications to end in a fast manner, the status of ‘supervised independence’. Is this a progress, or withdrawal of international community due to the decrease of the interest for Kosovo?

Generally, international organisations consider the political problems separate from security threats. While the political situation is unclear, both in terms of Serb-Kosovo relations and in regard to an effective government, but for this KFOR is not needed. I would thus not interpret this as an end to supervised independence, but a sign that despite the problems Kosovo is facing they are no longer security issues.

Prishtina and Belgrade are to start dialogue for technical issues. What do you expect from this dialogue and which are possible scenarios?

I am increasingly pessimistic. The longer it takes for the Kosovo government to form the harder it will be as little time is left. The Serbian government is unlikely to make any difficult compromises if it is concluded too close to the parliamentary elections, due by May 2012. Similarly, a Kosovo government is also likely to be weak and might hesitate to make compromises or be able to get sufficient support for such a compromise.

What Serbia has accomplished that Kosovo did not. The perception is that Serbia is closer to EU than Kosovo is?

Currently, Serbia is closer, and there is no doubt that in terms of laws and the institutions, Serbia will be ready much sooner to join the EU. However, the problem lies with Serbia’s relation to Kosovo. It is unlikely that Serbia will be able to join the EU without a clear relationship with Kosovo, which would include recognition of Kosovo.

What Balkan countries can do in order to speed up development process?

The problem is that parts of governing elites in most countries are not committed to EU integration, These elites often talk about being in favor of the EU, but block the process at the same time. There is a need for more serious reforms, not because the EU insists, but because it is benefiting the countries. What are intellectual elites doing? What do you think do they have a say at all in designing the future in the countries they live?

Intellectuals can be important in putting pressure on governments, to force them to take EU integration seriously and and also sending a clear message that reforms and EU integration is not just the only option, but also the most desirable option. Parts of the  intellectual elite in the region still talks about the nation and nationalism and are thus helping those governing parties which talk about national interests as an excuse to delay EU Integration.

Please, may you elaborate your vision regarding the future of Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro? Is there a estimated timeline when transition in these countries will end? When they will become part of EU family?

This is a nearly impossible task. I would imagine that all the countries will be members of the EU in 15 years. It is unclear at this point whether the countries will join together which some in the EU will favor or whether the EU will encourage countries to compete for joining first. The order in which countries join is still unclear, but it seems that Montenegro might be ahead of others as it has no serious problems with its neighbors and is able to change the structure more rapidly than elsewhere. Macedonia could move quickly, but it will depend on whether or not a compromise with Greece will be possible, which will be hard and has been getting more difficult in recent years. What is clear that even if all the countries, including Kosovo, would resolve the outstanding the bilateral issues tomorrow, the challenges remain huge for the region and will take considerable time.

The ICJ Opinion on Kosovo

Reposted from Nationalities Blog.

The ruling has been far more favorable towards Kosovo than most observers have expected. Striking is not only the clear verdict, but also the fact that it was supported by a majority of the judges which give the opinion additional weight. It has been clear since the hearing in late 2009 that supporters of Kosovo’s independence argued on the narrow premise of the legality of the declaration of independence (which is also the scope of the question under consideration), while its opponents sought to widen the opinion to consider the question of secession at large. In its opinion the ICJ has accepted the narrow decision which follows the logic of the court: On one side, it does not want to change international law, especially on the controversial topic of secession, and on the other hand it does not want to offer an opinion out of place with reality, such as declaring the independence illegal when it is clear that it is irreversible. The ruling is far from revolutionary and does not set a precedent in international law: It is clear that declarations of independence are not illegal–their relevance arises from recognition. Whether or not recognition of declarations of independence break international law appears to be a question to be answered another time.

In terms of the implications for Kosovo and Serbia, the opinion strengthens the hand of Kosovo. Probably a number of countries which have been sitting on the fence since the UN General Assembly requested the ICJ opinion just under two years ago are now likely to recognize Kosovo–most importantly they might include one or the other EU member state. However, more significantly neither Russia nor China are likely to recognize Kosovo. As a result Kosovo will be a winner but will have few tangible gains from the decision as UN and EU membership will not be closer. The ICJ opinion does not appear to state that independence of Kosovo is legal thus countries that refrained from recognizing Kosovo due to their own secessionist conflicts are unlikely to change their mind.

Thus, the greatest risk of the ICJ opinion is that as a result there is likely to be little willingness in Kosovo for new talks with Serbia, while hoping that time will play into Kosovo’s hands. And yes, time plays in Kosovo’s hands and Serbia has to clearly define a new policy towards Kosovo, but time without talks with Serbia will not resolve the causes for the deadlock of Kosovo’s state-building project.  However, now there is an opportunity for talks between Kosovo and Serbia: Serbia has exhausted its alternatives and has to come to terms with the reality of Kosovo as an independent country and Kosovo will need to realize that it will not move forward without some kind of settlement with Serbia. Such a settlement would need to include a water-tight promise by Serbia not to impede Kosovo’s UN and EU membership, some face-saving trade-off for Serbia in terms of a role in Northern Kosovo (including border adjustments, although the opinion has weakened Serbia’s argument) and kick-starting Kosovo’s EU integration process. The key challenge will be for Kosovo not to overplay the hand it has been dealt by the ICJ opinion and end up with little more than before.

Moderation in Mitrovica

This post is re-posted from Nationalities Blog

Amidst the anticipation of the opinion of the International Court of Justice on whether the declaration of independence of Kosovo was illegal or not, other developments are easily overlooked. One little reported election was the local election in Northern Mitrovica on 30 May 2010, organized by Serbia for the parallel municipal structure.

2010 2008
Party Votes Seats Percents Votes Seats Percent
SNS 1,104 7 17.55%
DSS 1,085 7 17.25% 1,735 9 27.68%
DS 1,065 6 16.93% 1,122 6 17.90%
SPS/PUPS/JS 664 3 10.55% 534 2 8.49%
S-D-P, Oliver Ivanovic 461 3 7.33%
G17 442 2 7.03% 223 0 3.56%
SDPS, Rasim Ljajic 319 2 5.07%
Serb National Council, Ivanovic 264 0 4.20%
New Hope, Nebojsa Covic 238 0 3.78%
SRS 214 0 3.40% 2,068 11 33%
For a better future of Mitrovica 157 0 2.50%
Movement for K.M. 133 0 2.11% 383 2 6.11%
NS 123 0 1.96%
Turnout 6,291 6,268
Eligible Voters 20,372 20,652

Source:  Republican Election Commission

Although the elections by themselves re-affirm the parallel structures supported by Serbia, the results suggest a more intriguing picture.
Mitrovica is at the front-line of the dispute over Kosovo’s independence and has long been the site for radical politics. Results of the previous elections, held in May 2008, just a few months after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, confirmed this: The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of Prime Minister Kostunica and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) together gained 60.68 percent of the vote.
During earlier votes in Mitrovica for general Serbian parliamentary or presidential elections, usually the Radical Party gained most votes.

Fast forward to 2010: at the recent elections, the parties of the current government gained nearly 47 percent of their vote. The much reduced
SRS did not enter the municipal assembly and the support for the DSS dropped by 10 percent. Even the Serbian Progressive Party, the more moderate wing of the Radicals under the leadership of Tomislav Nikolic, gained only marginally more than than the government Democrats. In addition, both G17 and the new Socialdemocratic Party of Rasim Ljajic managed to gain seats.

While the position of the governing coalition regarding Kosovo do not fundamentally differ from the more radical parties, the government has
not supported the radical confrontation strategy in pursuing this policy as DSS or SRS did and reduced the financial incentives for obstructionism. The double moderation through the split of the SRS and the voters’ shift towards the governing coalition is thus highly significant for both Serbia and for Kosovo:

The significance for Serbia lies in the fact that nationalist policies and an intransigent position does not win a majority even in a ‘frontline’ city such as Mitrovica. It thus seems to underpin a larger shift toward more moderate politics in Serbia. The

importance for Kosovo arises from the bad performance of political elites that derived legitimacy for their radical agenda in the North, such as Milan Ivanovic whose group did not even enter the municipal assembly. Thus, the deputy minister for Kosovo in the Serbian government and head of the list “Serbia, Democracy and Justice” Oliver Ivanovic noted that the results would lead to a reduction of tensions in Mitrovica. This does is unlikely to immediately  allow for shift towards dialogue between Kosovo’s institution and the parallel structures. After the significant participation of Kosovo Serbs in Southern enclaves in Kosovo’s local elections in 2009,  this move towards moderation signals that new opportunities for more constructive relations between Serbs and the Kosovo institutions than just a few months ago.

Curb your mens rea

After recently returning from an excellent conference at Indiana University on the Milosevic trial and watching the open statement of Radovan Karadzic at The Hague this morning, a number of issues regarding the work of the ICTY and the writing of history of the 1990s come to mind.

As a scholar, the ICTY court records have become a treasure trove of documents and evidence on the events of the 1990s. Thus, even when working on topics not related to the wars, there is much data available which is of interest, from party documents of 1990 to entire books and memoirs. Just like a real treasure trove, the data is hard to find and has to be searched by defendant (for example in the Boskovski case alone there are 1828 statements, documents, etc. available) and if one is not an avid trial watcher it is not easy to know where to find what.

However, beyond the ICTY as a source, how to approach the court as a researcher? First, the ICTY asks different questions than many of us researchers ask. We are often less interested in direct criminal responsibility than in the larger social processes. However, even if we are, the standards of evidence for historians or social scientists are different than in a court. We hardly ever have our sources cross-examined and we accept that evidence and lines of reasoning are challenged later on by colleagues (even if we might not like it) while the court seeks to render a final judgment which will send somebody to prison for years. Thus, the role of scholarship is less about judging and more about assessing. This does not mean moral ambivalence and there is no doubt that scholarship, especially when dealing with Yugoslavia’s disintegration in the 1990s, has to assess responsibility. Scholarship does not need a guilty verdict against Milosevic at the ICTY to identify him to be responsible for much of the war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. While legitimate questions remain about specific instances, the overall picture is quiet clear.

Here emerges some discomfort: In the Milosevic case, the prosecution paid particular attention to the intention (mens rea), painting a picture of nationalism and commitment to Greater Serbia (a term I don’t find very helpful) to explain the acts perpetrated or ordered by Milosevic, Karadzic et al. Here there is an uneasy relationship between the work of a trial and scholarship. The prosecutor’s role has been to present a clear linear story of ideological commitment and crimes committed in accomplishing this goal. It is a narrative which nicely links motivation to acts. However, as scholar, I feel distinctly uneasy about such a linear narrative. In fact, I am reminded of a very different example from legal practice. Having provided some expert advice on asylum cases, a more experienced colleague told that in verifying the story of a refugees for its veracity key is to look out for inconsistencies and quirks in their story. These are not evidence of problems in their claims, but the opposite. If the narrative of persecution and flight is too straight forward, like it should be, alarm bells should go on. Human life is too complicated and, well, too individual to fit into the large narratives. What applies to refugees is also true for war criminals. It is less their long-hedged master plan which is convincing, but the opportunistic, short-term calculations which motivate crimes. Change and inconsistency rather than a clear strategy.  Furthermore, intention itself is very unsatisfying in a context when ill intent was very wide-spread. The key is who acted on it and who did not. If we take Vuk Draskovic’s statements in 1990 and 1991 (some even earlier), then his intentions appear much more dangerous than those of Milosevic and others. The commitment towards extreme nationalism, the hate speech towards other nations left little doubt about his intentions. Still, following a short engagement of his party’s paramilitaries in Croatia, he stopped supporting the war effort and became one of its main critics (more so than for example the currently governing DS in Serbia).

The current indictment against Karadzic and the opening statement by the prosecutor are largely encouraging in this regard as it does indeed focus on the crimes and not so much on the political pre-history. In court today, Karadzic tried to turn the prosecution’s case around by constructing a narrative of mens rea of the leadership of Slovenia, Croatia, the Bosnian Muslims and Croats and taking points from the prosecutions case and turning them around to replace his name with others. While the result was often a familiar conspiracy theory and distortion of historic events, there are legitimate disputes and conflicting arguments about the motivation to establish nation states and the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The fact that Slovenia and Croatia sought to leave Yugoslavia was understandable in the context at the time and there is certainly nothing to justify the use of force, but there are serious and legitimate political disputes at the heart of the Yugoslav conflict before it turned violent to which there is often no clear cut answer of right and wrong.

Thus, while the ICTY can contribute to the writing of history by disclosing chains of command, I am much more skeptical about the larger, linear narratives of mens rea which seem to run against the subtleties which scholarship has to identify.

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