Reintegration requires a plan

Pristina is a lot cooler than I had anticipated–barely a cloud in the sky too.  It looks a lot better under these weather conditions than raining or foggy, that’s for sure!

The weather may be clear and cool, but the security situation is not.  Pristina’s move late last month to seize control of the two border posts with Serbia has inspired widespread support among Albanians in Kosovo, without triggering the inter-ethnic strife south of the Ibar River that some might have feared.  But it did trigger Serb roadblocks and violence in the north that killed a Kosovo police officer and destroyed one of the border posts.

KFOR, the NATO force that deployed in Kosovo after the war with Serbia in 1999, has now taken charge of the border.  Most imports from Serbia are blocked (humanitarian assistance and goods for the Serbiann Orthodox Church can pass).  Belgrade and Pristina are to meet September 5 to try to find a way forward by September 15, when the agreement for KFOR control of the border gates expires.

What might be the solution?  It really all depends on what is decided about the status of northern Kosovo, which has remained under Belgrade’s control since the war.  Belgrade wants to keep it that way.  Pristina wants to take control of what it regards as its sovereign border, with the Serb communities of the north enjoy the wide measure of autonomy allowed to them in the Ahtisaari plan, an international community product that Belgrade never accepted.

The three dimensions on which this game will be played include a) the situation on the ground in the north, b) Belgrade’s efforts to gain candidacy status for the EU as well as a date for the beginning of negotiations, and c) Pristina’s efforts to make its governance acceptable to the Serbs of the north.

The situation in the north

Belgrade will try to get back to the status quo ante, in which it controlled the border posts and refused to allow collection of Kosovo customs duties on the products crossing there.  It woud also prevent Kosovo products from entering Serbia with a stamp and documentation reading “Kosovo customs.”  This practice in the past deprived Pristina not only of an important export market but also of what it figures as $30-40 million euros per year of customs duties.  It also fed a substantial operation smuggling untaxed products to the area south of the Ibar.

Pristina will try to prevent return to the previous situation and to ensure that its police and customs officers control the northern border, with the eventual goal of retintegrating the north with the rest of Kosovo under the Ahtisaari plan.

Belgrade’s EU ambitions

With elections likely early next year, Belgrade is looking this fall for the European Union to grant it status as a candidate for membership and a date for the beginning of negotiations.  The issue is what it will have to do to achieve these substantial goals.  It has already met the EU requirement to arrest the remaining war criminals.  Now several European states appear to be insisting that it also agree to give up its territorial ambitions in northern Kosovo and agree to reintegration in accordance with the Ahtisaari plan, perhaps elaborated further.

German Foreign Minister Westerwelle appears to have said this in a visit to Pristina this week.  The question is whether Chancellor Merkel will repeat the hard line in Belgrade when she visits August 24.

Pristina’s efforts

It is not going to be possible to force Pristina’s governance on the Serbs, who believe they have good reason to fear retaliation.  The Ahtisaari plan would provide the northern municipalities with wide autonomy, but that is not in itself going to compensate for the loss of tens of millions of euros as well as a general lack of confidence, amounting to fear and loathing.

The Pristina authorities have tried to signal their willingness to provide substantial resources to the north and claim that Serb communities in the rest of Kosovo get far more per person from the government purse than Albanian majority communities do.  They are going to have to make more efforts in this direction than they have made so far if they hope to convince anyone who lives in northern Kosovo.

What the situation requires is a goal and a plan.  In my view, the goal should be reintegration of the north with the rest of Kosovo.  With that kind of clarity, the international community successfully reintegrated Eastern Slavonia (a Serb-majority area) in Croatia and Brcko (a town contested by Muslims and Serbs in Bosnia).  The plan needs to be worked out jointly between Pristina and Belgrade, with help from their European friends (and the occasional push from the Americans).  Such a reintegration plan does not require Serbia to accept Kosovo’s independence–only its territorial integrity, which in any event is implicit in UN Security Council 1244, to which Belgrade appeals regularly.

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4 thoughts on “Reintegration requires a plan”

  1. Problems in the north are as much or more law and order as political. The new NATO intelligence reports says this much. Until the strong incentive of maintaining a lawless situation for criminal profiteering is removed, Serbs there will remain hardcore “patriotic”. You have a situation of crime co-habiting with political leadership and the only way to untangle that is to close off the northern border to smuggling which will hopefully weaken the politicians cum criminals and have a new generation of politicians come to the scene.

    1. Absolutely! And what is more, those crime gangs in the north are operating under protection of a faction inside the Serbian intelligence-security apparatus with close ties to the Democratic party of Serbia (DSS) of the previous prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, as well as to some pro-Russian ultranationalistic circles, including several high-level clerics from Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC).

  2. “With that kind of clarity, the international community successfully reintegrated Eastern Slavonia (a Serb-majority area) in Croatia and Brcko (a town contested by Muslims and Serbs in Bosnia)”.

    It is true, but bear in mind that, in contrast to Kosovo, neither of the foregoing has never been a part of Serbia in any way, shape or form. Nevertheless, the idea Mr. Serwer proposes here is good in general and could well serve as a basis on which to build further potential solutions.

  3. The article talks about a “fear of retaliation”. I think that is a bad description. When Milosevic rose to power in the late 1980s it was already on the fear of Albanian excesses. It is fear of a climate in which – in the name of inter-Albanian solidarity – crimes of Albanians against Serbs are covered up. Of course every ethnic group has some chauvinism but in the Kosovo-Albanian clan culture it is extra strong. The lack of judicial follow-up after march 2004 has only increased this fear

    I think the comparisons with Bosnia and Croatia are not very helpful. In addition to what Milan mentions there is also the problem of the very different languages that seriously hampers communication.

    This brings also the problem of urban services. As Kosovo’s cities have become virtually mono-ethnic (except Northern Mitrovica) I expect that even without any discrimination many Southern enclaves would be doomed as they have to travel too far for many language-bound urban services (higher education, medicine, culture). Even shopping is sometimes easier when you can speak your own language. An Albanian takeover of Northern Mitrovica would in my opinion have consequences much beyond the place itself as it make urban services still more unaccessible for many villages.

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