Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci; Photo: European Forum Alpbach/Andrei Pungovschi.

Finding the right solution

Only a deal in which Serbia recognises Kosovo and agrees to implement all 33 agreements from the Brussels dialogue can resolve the conflict.

The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia will visit the White House on June 27, and US mediation could lead to a historic deal on mutual recognition and normalization of relations between embittered Balkan adversaries. Diplomacy is critical. In Kosovo, the absence of violent conflict does not mean that conflict is over. 

NATO intervened to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians by Serbia’s armed forces and paramilitary thugs in 1999. Ever since, Kosovo has been in limbo. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and was recognized by 111 countries. The legality of its declaration was affirmed by the International Court of Justice. However, Serbia refuses to accept it lost Kosovo. It has waged an insidious campaign to undermine Kosovo’s government and thwart its efforts to gain greater global recognition. 

It is time to bury Balkan ghosts. After more than 20 years of hostilities, sustainable peace can be achieved by taking the following steps:   

Serbia should recognize the Republic of Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state within its current borders. It would abandon efforts to block Kosovo’s recognition by other countries, as well as international organizations. Regional economic cooperation through trade, travel and infrastructure would consolidate progress. 

Serbia would fully and verifiably implement 33 agreements brokered by the European Commission as confidence building measures. It would provide a full accounting of persons who were killed or apprehended during the War. In addition, Serbia would provide compensation for assets destroyed or removed during the conflict.

Kosovo’s international relations would be normalized. Five EU Member States that refuse to recognize Kosovo would lift their objections, putting Kosovo – a candidate country for EU membership – on track for integration into European structures. Russia would lift its veto, enabling Kosovo to become a UN member. 

Both countries would prioritize minority rights. Serbia would implement minority rights for ethnic Albanians living in the Preshevo Valley, which today is a part of Serbia. In parallel, Kosovo would enforce local self-government benefitting its Serbian minority in accordance with Kosovo’s constitution and the Ahtisaari principles that enshrine minority rights.

Benefits would flow to both countries. Serbia’s EU membership would move forward. Investments would enable economic connectivity between Kosovo and Serbia, benefitting both countries.

Importantly, Serbia would shed its pariah status. The stigma of Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and slaughter of Kosovo Albanians would be removed when Serbia implements the deal. 

These arrangements are difficult, but viable. The big question: Will the Trump administration do the hard work of diplomacy to achieve sustainable peace or push for a quick-fix in the form partition. 

Trump is desperate for success on the world stage, given devastating domestic problems. His envoy Richard Grenell seems to have found a pliant partner in Kosovo President Hashim Thaci who promotes territorial exchange as pivotal to peace. 

Grenell says the delegations are coming to Washington to discuss economic issues. Why would so many travel to the US for talks on highways and railroads? Something else is in the works. Many suspect the real agenda is territorial exchange.

Partition is a bad idea. Rather than a panacea, adjusting borders would unleash a Pandora’s Box of problems. Partition represents the fulfillment of Milosevic’s project to create ethnically pure states in the Balkans, enabling Serbia to achieve at the negotiating table what Milosevic could not achieve in the battlefield. Keeping borders intact would obviate the potential for population flows catalyzing renewed violent conflict. 

The Trump administration has sent mixed signals about partition. US officials say they would support whatever agreement is reached by Kosovo and Serbian negotiators. A deal involving the exchange of territories might burnish Trump’s credentials in the short term. It would, however, lead to renewed hostilities between Kosovo and Serbia. It also risks destabilizing other fragile multi-ethnic states in the Western Balkans. 

Moreover, partition is strongly opposed by both Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs. Albanian-Americans, who are numerous in US swing states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Texas – also strongly oppose redrawing borders. 

Many people died in the 1990s to preserve multi-ethnic states. Sovereignty, pluralism, and human rights remain bedrock principles of conflict resolution.  

Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser to the State Department under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. He is author of Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and US Intervention.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

17/06/2020 - 14:45

17 June 2020 - 14:45

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.