The situation in Kosovo and Metohija in light of the most recent session of the UN Security Council
Without signs of fundamental progress
By Father Sava (Janjic)
The session of the UN Security Council held on 24 April 2002 at the United Nations headquarters in New York once again demonstrated that, despite some encouraging signs, the situation in Kosovo and Metohija* after three years of presence by a UN peacekeeping mission remains extremely difficult and without signs of fundamental progress. The speeches of Michael Steiner; the head of UNMIK, and Nebojsa Covic, the Serbian deputy prime minister and president of the Yugoslav Coordinating Centre for Kosovo and Metohija, differ in many respects, despite dealing with the same reality on the ground. Similar differences and disagreements also emerged in the ensuing discussion among the members of the Security Council. The text of the presidential statement does not deal with the fundamental issues, demonstrating the prevalence of a compromise solution among the substantially opposing views of the individual participants of the session.
The real situation on the ground is best illustrated by the words of the Mexican ambassador in the Security Council, Adolf Aguilar Zinser, who, after listening to the speeches of Michael Steiner and Nebojsa Covic, honestly stated that it seemed to him that there were two Kosovos, one which was progressing toward civil society, democracy and tolerance and "another Kosovo" characterized by the continuation of interethnic conflicts, intolerance and violence against ethnic minorities. Thus we can rightfully repeat his conclusion that the situation in Kosovo is fluctuating between optimism and pessimism. While some signs of progress can be observed on the one hand, on the other the continuation of interethnic tensions is obstructing the integration of ethnic minorities and the creation of necessary conditions for the resolution of the question of the final political status of the Province in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1244.
(*Metohija (pronounced as Metohya) is a traditional medieval Serb name for the western part of today's Kosovo province. It is derived from the Greek word metochion (plural metochia) which signifies a monastery estate. For the Serbs Kosovo in its historical meaning refers only to the eastern plain between Mitrovica and FYROM border)
Generally speaking, at this session of the UN Security Council it was once again obvious that after three years, the international community still lacks a clear vision and comprehensive solution for the building of a multiethnic society in Kosovo and Metohija. There still exists a serious discrepancy between a few encouraging solutions, especially in the area of forming institutions and economic development, which have basically affected almost exclusively the Albanian community (where the majority of foreign investments are being made) and the deplorable situation in which the non-Albanian communities still live, on the other hand.
Since they do not have normal and free access to the majority of public institutions and services, Kosovo Serbs are not experiencing any substantial economic improvement in their communities, especially under conditions where more than two-thirds of the Serb population is still unable to return to its homes and begin the repair and restoration of destroyed homes and churches. It is a fact, for example, that regional hospitals have been restored; however, it is also a fact that Serbs cannot get medical services in them normally and safely (with the exception of the hospital in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica), and depend on the very poorly equipped, improvised village clinics and, in the majority of cases, are compelled to go to the hospitals of central and southern Serbia for extended treatment.
As long as Pristina University, like all other public institutions in this city, remains the exclusive domain of the Albanian community, the Serbs are simply forced to seek alternative solutions. In comparison with the pre-war period when the Albanians had several printed media, the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija today do not have a single magazine or newspaper. The distribution of newspapers from Belgrade is yet another kind of problem.
The reduction in the number of crimes against Serbs is not a result of an improvement in the security situation but, first and foremost, the isolation of the Serb community, which in most cases lives completely hermetically separated from the Albanians, thus significantly reducing the possibility of physical attacks. Without a system of enclaves protected by military forces and escorted convoys, the number of crimes would increase dramatically. Besides this, under conditions where almost all Kosovo and Metohija towns have been left without their Serb populations, it is rather unlikely to see violence against Serbs as there are simply hardly any of them left. International representatives' excessively laudatory statements about the stabilization of the security situation in Pristina, Pec or Prizren border on crude cynicism.
In short, the isolation in which Kosovo Serbs live today is not a matter of their choice and xenophobia but a result of the failure of both international community and Kosovo Albanians to grant them the minimum of security which would encourage their integration.
Most sensitive Serb issues have not been resolved
After three years of presence by the international community in Kosovo and Metohija, it is difficult to speak of major repair and restoration of the social and economic infrastructure in Serb enclaves. The small number of restored clinics and schools are mostly meagre efforts to create a balance of sorts with the incomparably greater investments made to the Albanian side. An enormous number of Serb and Roma (Gypsy) houses, as well as all destroyed Orthodox Christian churches, still lie in ruins; economic capacities are almost completely unutilized; and the majority of the population is without any form of employment.
The fifty-odd restored houses in the village of Osojane are one of the few exceptions in this respect. The northern part of the Province, as well as other areas where Serbs form the majority of the population, received disproportionably fewer investments in comparison with the other parts of the Province where the majority of the population is Albanian. Despite reports seeking to create a different impression, this is a reality that cannot escape any objective observer of the situation in Kosovo and Metohija.
By far the most sensitive issues for the Serbs remain the return of displaced persons and the discovery of the fate of missing and kidnapped persons. Even though Serb returns are always emphasized as a priority in international circles, on the ground there are almost no concrete preparations for returns, nor has the donor's conference promised long ago been organized on a higher international level. Symbolic returns to Osojane or to other Serb enclaves do not give much hope for realistic optimism. Another problem is that the Serbs have been expelled from the cities, where active efforts are underway to buy up Serb property or simply to continue with the usurpation of Serb houses and apartments. The problem of state ownership and the debts of old companies further encumbers the economic situation. The announced privatization program has created a great degree of concern because it is not quite clear how some outstanding problems, including those of state ownership and property taken from the Serbian Orthodox Church during the rule of Josip Broz (Tito), will be resolved.
Similar doubts exist with respect to Serbs who disappeared or were kidnapped after the war. In the great majority of cases there exists very reliable information that the KLA was directly involved in these activities; however, at the moment it appears that there is a lack of political will to address this problem at either the local Kosovo level or at the level of the International Court in The Hague. The unwillingness of the Albanians to provide any information regarding the missing Serbs and the denial of any sort of negative role by the KLA, which has been elevated to the pedestal of heroism, impedes to a great degree the process of interethnic confidence-building. The increasing willingness of Belgrade to critically examine the behaviour of the previous regime during the war is, unfortunately, not matched by a corresponding readiness in Pristina, where the crimes of the KLA against Serbs and "Albanian collaborators" are still a taboo topic.
Discrepancy between words and actions
Still to be found among some international representatives is the relatively unrealistic conviction that the position of the Serb population will automatically improve by their participation in institutions, especially in the Kosovo Parliament and Government. While the majority of Albanians experience the participation of Serbs in institutions as something unpleasant but necessary for their society and institutions to acquire credibility before international circles, the participation of Serbs in these institutions for now is basically limited to a symbolic presence and manifestation of a fundamentally nonexistent multiethnicity. The ordinary Serb has not experienced any concrete improvement since the parliamentary elections last November, and Serb members of parliament do not dare step out of the parliament building for a cup of coffee without placing their lives in direct danger.
Nevertheless, participation in the Parliament and the Government remains the only realistic option, in order to give a chance to the new institutions, even though the systemic marginalization of Serb requests in the past offers little hope for much optimism. At first glance, it appears encouraging that the political rhetoric of the Albanian leaders has taken on a somewhat more moderate tone; however, on the ground we still have the usual practice of denial and destruction of everything Serb and Orthodox, which demonstrates a serious discrepancy between words and actions. Two possible explanations for this exist: either there is insincerity on the part of the leaders of the Kosovo Albanians who are pulling the wool over the eyes of foreign diplomats or, on the other hand, they fundamentally lack control and influence over their voters.
Whatever the reason, it is a fact that life for the Serbs is not getting any better even only a few hundred meters from the building in which the multiethnic parliament meets. The Serbs live in their "Pristina ghetto" without the freedom to buy a loaf of bread in the nearby Albanian stores. While KFOR and UNMIK continue to issue "special" identity cards bearing exotic foreign names to Serb translators, other international representatives describe with enthusiasm how an occasional Serb can actually walk down Mother Theresa Street now and not be killed...
Steiner's idea regarding the interdependence of multiethnicity and integration has some real basis, but in essence it is not easily achievable under existing conditions precisely because there is no clear definition of what kind of integration is sought or on what basis it will be achieved.
In comparison with Bosnia and Herzegovina, here in Kosovo and Metohija the problem of integration is far more difficult due to the existence of linguistic and cultural barriers. The majority of the Serb population does not speak the Albanian language, while the Serb language is still disparaged as the language of "the occupiers"; consequently, only in rare cases will Albanians agree to use the Croatian or Bosnian languages!?!
If the integration of the Serb population in the new "Kosovar"*, i.e., Albanian, society requires adopting an exclusive role for the KLA as an organization of liberators, support for an independent Kosovo and the breaking off of all contacts with Belgrade, that is, a "Kosovarization of the Serb people", then it is difficult to speak of the integration of the Serbs with real optimism, as the Serbs are expected to repudiate not only their political, but also their national and cultural identity.
New political mythology
This is especially apparent in the efforts to re-tailor the history of this area by declaring Serb holy shrines to be Albanian cultural monuments and negating the contributions of the Serb people to the culture of this area. Only when the issue of integration is placed upon the real foundations of a civil European society that will enable the coexistence of national, political and cultural identities of the citizens of Kosovo and Metohija in accordance with the framework of Resolution 1244 will the necessary conditions be created for the building of a true multiethnic society.
The equal and just integration of ethnic communities and their reconciliation cannot be built on a policy of double standards and separate treatment for the victors and the vanquished, for those who need to adjust to the new reality according to the principle "take it or leave it" and those who dictate the new reality without any limitations and controls. Unfortunately, international representatives very frequently exacerbate this situation with their tactless statements. The comparisons of the war in Kosovo with the U.S. war of independence or Hashim Thaci with Thomas Jefferson are only two examples of the creation of a new political mythology. Many internationals seem to disregard that the mission of UNMIK is not to create a new nation but to implement the UN Resolution which does not necessarily require a change in international FRY borders.
Especially essential is the definition of a new role for Belgrade in the political processes in Kosovo and Metohija. If UNMIK continues to behave towards Belgrade as if no political changes occurred on 5 October 2000, it is difficult to expect that the Kosovo Albanians will be more receptive to constructive dialog with Belgrade. Currently, the readiness of the Albanian leaders for dialog with Belgrade goes no further than the expectation that Belgrade will unilaterally recognize "the new reality" and profer de facto support for the secession of Kosovo and Metohija from Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The rejection of talks about any other option is basically the consequence of an overly tolerant position by some international circles that reject every possible solution involving Serbia and Montenegro a priori as being unrealistic. This international position is further supported by the leaders of the Kosovo Albanians, even those who are publicly recognized as democratically oriented, with threats that every solution except an independent Kosovo will lead to a new armed rebellion by their compatriots. This position rejects right from the start the possibility of equal and constructive dialog between Pristina and Belgrade, especially if one takes into consideration the position of the Serb and other non-Albanian population in the Province. Serious problems should no longer continue to be resolved by a policy of blackmail and threats but by an open and unconditioned dialog.
Strategy of keeping Belgrade at a distance
At the moment, the Kosovo Albanians are ready only to issue demands, without any compromise or concessions. By tolerating such fundamentally politically immature and irresponsible behaviour, the international community will not be able to approach the resolution of the final political status of Kosovo and Metohija for a long time, nor will it be able to achieve significant political progress in this region. Until the Kosovo Albanians realize that Kosovo region cannot exist either politically or economically outside its immediate and regional context, it is futile to expect any constructive proposal from Pristina. A further problem is the increasingly greater orientation of Kosovo in the political and economic sense towards Tirana, which is interpreted in Belgrade and Skopje (not without reason) as a transformed strategy for the creation of a Greater Albania.
Unfortunately, the creation of this mentality among the Kosovo Albanians, who think they can become a part of Europe overnight without cooperating with Belgrade and by relying exclusively on Tirana, is to a great extent supported by a policy of unconditional economic support by the international community, which hopes in this way to amortize the catastrophic security situation on which it is unable to get a handle in the three years since the end of the war. However, many have already realized that Kosovo is a bottomless hole and that "pacifying the situation" by unconditionally sending money ultimately most benefits local narco-bosses who have direct ties with the political structures.
The former Yugoslavia under Josip Broz similarly attempted to temper the appetites of Kosovo Albanians with economic assistance from all Yugoslav republics only to have these appetites ultimately increase nonetheless while the money for the most part poured into private pockets.
The past strategy of keeping Belgrade at a distance and the attempt to convince the Kosovo Serbs to silently support the increased political self-reliance (read: independence) of Kosovo without concrete concessions is unlikely to yield results. Without improvements on the ground, Serb delegates will not be able to continue to sit in the Kosovo Parliament and Government indefinitely, especially if a more serious campaign for the return of displaced persons, one of the key priorities of the Serb Return (Povratak) coalition, does not occur soon.
The Haekkerup-Covic agreement, which created hopes for the more effective implementation of Resolution 1244, has practically found itself on the political margins after a change in leadership at UNMIK. On the other hand, the indirect fostering of internal Serb divisions on which some international circles are working, especially by using the volatile situation in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, to a large degree threatens to slow down or perhaps completely bring to a stop the political process of integration of ethnic communities into one multiethnic and civil society.
Case of Northern Mitrovica
Emphasising the problem of divided Mitrovica as the chief and only regional problem in essence seeks to create an unrealistic portrait to hide the fact that under an international protectorate, Kosovo and Metohija has become an exporter of instability and crime for the entire region. This one-sided view also obscures the truth that the ethnic cleansing of the non-Albanian population was carried out in the presence of international forces after the war. Threats that Serb Mitrovica will be disciplined at any price without concrete efforts to restrain Albanian extremism and mafia, on the other hand, in fact represents a false argument and concealment of the true picture of Kosovo and Metohija in international circles. The problem of Mitrovica certainly cannot be resolved in a piecemeal fashion and outside the context of the general situation in the Province; the recent violence in the streets of northern Mitrovica, which deserves every condemnation, is only a tragic consequence of unresolved fundamental problems on both sides.
The situation in Mitrovica, first and foremost, must be clearly defined. In this part of the Province, there exist legitimate demands by the Serb people who managed to escape the tragic fate of the Serbs in all other parts of Kosovo and Metohija and who wish to live and work in freedom and dignity. One cannot demand the full integration of these people into a society dominated by an Albanian majority until conditions are created for the normal return and life of Serbs in other parts of Kosovo and Metohija and the process of integration is defined on the tenets of civil society. Multiethnicity cannot be built only in the Serb inhabited areas and to the detriment of the Serb people, but everywhere and equally.
Unfortunately, these legitimate and understandable demands by the Mitrovica Serbs have been politically manipulated for three years by a group of individuals who are using illegitimate and even criminal means to achieve their political and economic interests, not infrequently against the Serbs themselves (rackets, blackmail and smuggling). Both the international community and Belgrade must draw a clear distinction between these two factors and help the Serbs in the north of Kosovo to survive on their own land, at the same time neutralizing criminal elements on both sides. By collectively labelling all Serbs in the north as "extremists", the international representatives are basically further inciting the radicalization of the Serb people and forcing a division among them.
On the other hand, Belgrade could significantly contribute to the normalization of the situation in the north of the Province by showing support for those who are ready for constructive cooperation and politically isolating those who are working on destabilizing the situation in the area.
Against double standards
If the behaviour of the Albanian majority population towards Serbs as a whole does not change in the near future, it will be difficult to deter the Serbs in the north of Kosovo, and perhaps in other enclaves as well, from protecting their rights and identity within the framework of a separate entity (group of communities) within the framework of a broader process of decentralization of Kosovo. In fact, this idea of decentralization was one of the first proposals of the Serb National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, not for the purpose of dividing the Province but for the purpose of enabling the physical, spiritual and cultural survival of the Serb people in an atmosphere of extreme intolerance and ethnic violence.
Of course, this solution was never seen as final and permanent because the long-term future, not only of this area but also of the entire Balkan peninsula and of Europe, can only be built on the foundations of civil and civilized society, without ethnic monopoly and outvoting by the majority. However, in order for endangered groups to survive this transitional period until a more stable civil society is built, it is necessary to enable their physical survival and some semblance of normal life. Democracy is the rule of the majority but definitely not the tyranny of the majority over a minority.
At this time there are two possible options open. If the international community enables the process of integration of ethnic communities in the Province on the foundations of civil society, without special privileges for any of them, conditions will be created for the building of a modern multiethnic society in which these ethnic communities will not have to be subjugated to each other but will instead adapt to a joint European model. On the other hand, in the event that the past practice is continued whereby the Albanian community as the "victorious side" dictates the conditions for integration, the only manner for the survival of the Serb community would be the redefining of municipal borders and the creation of entities (groups of communities) on a linguistic basis which will slow down the process of true integration but will at least enable the coexistence of the ethnic communities.
Viewed globally, the strategy of the international community in Kosovo and Metohija should undergo a process of complete transformation and become more politically balanced and realistic. In order to achieve concrete results for the creation of a stable and democratic society, the international community needs to finally put an end to the policy of double standards and to rely on a more constructive role of the democratic government in Belgrade, as well as on democratically oriented forces among the Kosovo Serbs. It is also necessary to favourize those forces among the Kosovo Albanians that are more open toward regional cooperation and dialog. It is completely illogical to send a message to Montenegro and Serbia, on the one hand, that their separation will obstruct their integration into Europe while, on the other hand, the Kosovo Albanians are being directly and indirectly encouraged in the idea of an independent Kosovo.
It is also absurd to emphasize that a multiethnic Kosovo is the goal of the international community while at the same time tolerating the transformation of the Province into a mono-ethnic society.
Kosovo problem should be settled down from the regional perspective
An independent Kosovo, on the basis of everything we have seen so far, can only become an even purer mono-ethnic community completely isolated from the region, like the former Albania. It is absolutely clear that every further political and territorial partitioning of the Balkans would slow down European integration processes and lead to the creation of even more compact ethnic territories on all sides, which would slow down the process of economic reconstruction for the whole of south-eastern Europe. Such a solution would encourage those who believe that even in the Europe of 21st century modern countries can exist only as nation-states in which minority ethnic communities can survive only by the mercy of the majority. This is why the future of Europe as a whole is largely dependent on future political and territorial solutions in the Balkans. The recent statement by Dr. Covic that the Kosovo issue should be resolved from the regional perspective and that the regional problems should not be settled down from the Kosovo perspective is one of the clues for the modern, European, integrated Balkans.
With the creation of a Kosovo government, conditions have finally been created for the beginning of political dialog between Belgrade and Pristina on the implementation of responsibilities foreseen by Resolution 1244. This means, first and foremost, the functioning of Kosovo and Metohija as a "substantial autonomy" within the framework of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, i.e., the union of Serbia and Montenegro. Only with the advancement of dialog and the improvement of the position of vulnerable ethnic groups on the ground would conditions be created for the beginning of the process of resolution of the final status of the Province in accordance with the foreseen international standards. It is absolutely illogical to consider the resolution of the status of Kosovo and Metohija without first addressing other issues foreseen by Resolution 1244 in mutual, unconditional dialog.
In this process both Belgrade and Pristina would have concrete responsibilities, while the support of the international community of either side would not be based, as in the past, on partial political interests of the great powers or some kind of political inertia from the past, but on direct contributions by each of the sides and their readiness for constructive cooperation. Some symbolic gestures of reconciliation and condemnation of violence and war would make a great contribution to the building of interethnic confidence.
In this democratic contest, victory should go to those forces that are more ready to offer a faster and better quality path to European integration, as well as the political and economic stabilization of the entire region. In any case, the real victors of this competition would be those citizens of Kosovo and Metohija who, regardless of their ethnic background, want to live and work in peace.