KOSOVO: Roadmap for Kosovo Fraught with Uncertainty
Vladimir Beron «View Bio

December 22, 2003

The U.N. Security Council endorsed on December 13 a "Standards for Kosovo" program, presented on December 10 by Harri Hollkeri, the head of the U.N. civilian administration (UNMIK), effectively approving a roadmap preparing the grounds for talks on the final status of the embattled Serbian province. The roadmap sets targets that ought to be met in the areas of the economy, democracy and the rule of law, in order for the final status negotiations to be initiated, which is generally expected to take place sometime in 2005.

The leadership of the province"s Albanian majority, which forms approximately 90 percent of the local population and has long demanded from the international community a clear path leading to the resolution of the Kosovo status, uniformly backed the program. However, representatives of the Serb minority boycotted Hokerri"s presentation of the program in the provincial capital Pristina, because it ostensibly does not guarantee the return of the refugees that fled Kosovo following the 1999 NATO military intervention.

The discord over the UNMIK program is indicative of the pitfalls lying in the way of any process leading to an eventual solution of the so-called Kosovo question. The local Serb leadership rejected the roadmap generally out of concern that the process presented by Hollkeri is likely to result in Kosovo"s formal separation from Serbia. On the other hand, the Albanians embraced it precisely for the same reasons, since all of the ethnic Albanian political formations openly proclaim that independence from Serbia is their ultimate goal.

Although the province has been under U.N. administration for more than four years, there has been little progress in narrowing the rift between local ethnic Albanians and Serbs, for which the two sides blame not only each other but also various interested parties, ranging from the authorities in Belgrade to those with aspirations of creating a Greater Albania. Ever since Yugoslav troops were driven out of the province, governments in Belgrade have remained firm in demanding that formal links between Serbia and Kosovo should be preserved, as stipulated in the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999.

Albanian concerns are more complex, reflecting fears that a prolonged uncertainty over the final status would inevitably breed more insecurity and instability, and also certain uneasiness with the current system of international oversight of the province. The local Albanian leadership has been pointedly critical of the European component of the international presence, and have not hidden that its loyalties fall almost entirely with the American contingent. Europeans are widely blamed for sitting on the sidelines until the Americans got involved in the Kosovo conflict during the rule of former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who sent troops into the province to forcibly put down ethnic unrest that resulted in violence on a mass scale and prompted the NATO action.

Another major concern Kosovo Albanians have with the Europeans is the management of rebuilding efforts, particularly the utilities infrastructure, which sustained significant damage during the 1999 conflict. Albanian leaders have accused the European administrators of inefficiencies and even corruption in implementing reconstruction projects, especially those concerning the province"s battered electricity grid. Despite major monetary infusions to improve the power system, Kosovo remains plagued by electricity outages.

The Albanians fear that America"s preoccupation with the war on terror and its large commitment of military and financial resources to its operations in the Middle East will eventually prompt Washington to drastically reduce its Kosovo presence, or end it altogether, leaving the mission to the Europeans who are seen as more sympathetic to the Serbs. Such developments could result in renewed hostilities with the Serbs and lead to a renewal of the large-scale fighting that ravaged the province in the late 1990s.

An additional concern for local Albanians is that a diminished American presence could encourage the Kosovo Serbs to seek a partition of the province, by claiming the northern areas with their large mining operations. In fact, there is evidence of this in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica, where the local Serbs have established a separate government based in the northern section. Such a partition could be an acceptable alternative for the government in Belgrade, in light of the very real possibility of losing the entire province.

The latter scenario will mean a redrawing of borders for the first time in Europe since the end of the Second World War, and could encourage Albanian nationalists throughout the region to pursue what they envision as Greater Albania, encompassing areas with large Albanian populations in Serbia"s Presevo Valley and northern Macedonia. This, in turn, will certainly immerse much of the Southern Balkan region into an open-ended conflict, with dire consequences as the European powers and the U.S. will inevitably be drawn into it.

Vladimir Beron is Senior Risk Analyst with the international risk management group, Sentigence.