Day: July 1, 2011

Still running out of time?

This is from Idlib, in northwestern Syria, today. Al Jazeera says:

The first large sign in Arabic reads: “Yes for a national salvation conference, no to dialogue with killers.” Afterwards a large sign in English declares: “Bashar is a vampire. Don’t you see world?”

This is a far more eloquent response to Bashar al Assad’s latest maneuvers to stay in power than the Secretary of State offered, but I’ll include what she said too:

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Christophe, it doesn’t appear that there is a coherent and consistent message coming from Syria. We know what they have to do. They must begin a genuine transition to democracy. And allowing one meeting of the opposition in Damascus is not sufficient action toward achieving that goal. So I am disheartened by the recent reports of continued violence on the borders and in Aleppo, where demonstrators have been beaten, attacked with knives by government-organized groups and security forces.

It is absolutely clear that the Syrian Government is running out of time. There isn’t any question about that. They are either going to allow a serious political process that will include peaceful protest to take place throughout Syria and engage in a productive dialogue with members of the opposition and civil society, or they are going to continue to see increasingly organized resistance. We regret the loss of life, and we regret the violence. But this choice is up to the Syrian Government. And right now we are looking for action, not words, and we haven’t seen enough of that.

Still running out of time?

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Small beans, big potatoes and one more thing

Usually I don’t comment on an agreement or the like until it is published, or at least reliably leaked.  But while the few remaining Balkan-watchers are holding their collective breath for the results of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogues, word is circulating widely on what the results might be.  So I’m tempted to comment, in a conditional and hypothetical way.  I reserve the right to change my mind on any of these points once we’ve got a text.  I readily admit that my judgments may change once I see the details, and that I am biased  because I am not “status-neutral.”  I accept Kosovo’s sovereignty.

Here is what I am hearing:

1.  Telecomms:  Serbian and Kosovar mobile providers will be allowed reciprocal roaming rights in both Kosovo and Serbia at low rates.  Serbia will maintain and provide service over landlines in Kosovo’s Serbian enclaves.

Comment:  Reciprocity is always nice, though I suspect it will be hard for Kosovar providers to offer service in any but nearby parts of Serbia.  Who cares about landlines?  Few people will be using them, but might Belgrade be interested because they can be made more secure than mobiles?

2.  Trade:  “Republic” of Kosova, which is what the Pristina authorities call themselves, will not be allowed on trade documents or products, but Serbia will accept imports from Kosovo without the “R” word.

Comment:  I imagine the trade is worth more than the symbolism.

3.  Documents:  Serbia will accept Pristina-issued identification cards as valid for entry into Serbia (as Kosovo already does for Serbian ID cards).

Comment:  sounds good to me.

4.  License plates and car insurance:   Serbia will not accept the usual Pristina-issued plates, which are marked “RKS” (as in Republic of Kosovo) but will require that cars entering Serbia use new “KS” plates, issued by Pristina (or cover the offending “R”).  Verification of insurance for Kosovo-plated cars that have an accident in Serbia will be handled through EULEX, not directly between the two police forces.

Comment:  This is bizarre, and stupid since it will continue to make Serbs readily identifiable by their license plates, putting them at risk inside Kosovo.  And inserting EULEX into the insurance verification process is even sillier. But I imagine someone in Belgrade thinks the display of that offending “R” would suggest in Serbia that Belgrade had given something away, and you wouldn’t want any serious cooperation to develop with that Kosovo Police Service, would you?

5.  Electricity:  Serbia would continue to provide electricity in northern Kosovo, but the company would have to register in Pristina and make payments to the Kosovo electric company.

Comment:  Sounds OK to me.  I’m told there is a lot of money involved.

6.  Official documents:  Kosovo will only get copies of the cadastral (real estate property) records and civil registries that Belgrade took in 1999, at the end of the NATO/Serbia war.  EULEX, the EU’s rule of law contingent, will verify the copies (but will have no way of being certain that the originals have not been altered).

Comment:  I put this in the “yech” category:  the original records should be returned to the Kosovo authorities.  You don’t have to recognize Kosovo’s independence to appreciate that those authorities are the legitimate ones, democratically validated.

None of this is great, but it should not trouble anyone–Serb or Albanian–too much.  These are, as promised, practical issues that are finding–according to my informants–more or less practical solutions, with the occasional impractical prohibition of an “R.”  Serbia is still thoroughly hung up on the sovereignty question, to the point of embarassing itself through trivia.

But there are three other things happening at the same time.

1.  There seems to be no movement on the EU giving Kosovo what everyone refers to as a “contractual” relationship, that is the possibility of signing agreements with the EU.  This is important–without it Kosovo cannot even begin to proceed with a process that could end in EU membership.  I know this is hard for an EU where five members have not recognized Kosovo, but they are going to have to get over it.  Better sooner than later.  How do they expect Serbia to deal with Kosovo in a practical way if they can’t?

2.  Nor is Kosovo being given a “roadmap” to obtain a visa waiver program, allowing Kosovars to enter the Schengen area without a visa.  Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia already have the visa waiver.  Shutting the door on Kosovo encourages pan-Albanian political sentiments (as in “I’d do better if I were an Albanian citizen”) that are not healthy.

3.  To add insult to injury from the Kosovar perspective, Serbia is seeking a UN Security Council statement endorsing a EULEX task force to investigate allegations of organ trafficking, including against Kosovo’s sitting prime minister.  I am all for the investigation, which I understand has already begun.  But this Security Council statement is a dreadful idea, as Belgrade will use it worldwide to prevent countries from recognizing Kosovo until the investigation has been completed, a pitch they are already making.  I hear the Americans are saying a loud “no” at the Security Council.  I hope they stick with it.

Belgrade on the other hand is rumored to be getting out of this process exactly what it wanted:  EU candidacy status and a date to begin membership negotiations.  This will put it leagues ahead of Kosovo in the membership “regatta.”  No real harm in that, but I do think Kosovo should get a contractual relationship with the EU and the visa waiver roadmap, which are small beans by comparison with Serbia’s big potatoes.  And Serbia should be told it will have to settle its problems with Kosovo before entering the EU.

One more thing:  Pristina should ask for an office in Belgrade.  Serbia has one in northern Kosovo (it was previously in Pristina).  It is occasionally necessary, but I would never want to negotiate with a country in whose capital my country was not represented.  For both public information and reporting purposes, Kosovo should have a capable Serbian-speaking representative in Belgrade.  No need for diplomatic status.


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