Kosovo as a de facto State: Who benefits from a frozen conflict?

Kosovo as a de facto State: Who benefits from a frozen conflict? 
Tirana Times - http://tiranatimes.com/?cat=37 

By Albert Rakipi 

The additional talks on the status of Kosovo are nearing their end, and as many had expected, there is no compromise in sight. The 14 point document presented by the Troika was deemed unacceptable by both Albanians and Serbs, as was the latest idea promoted by Ambassador Ischinger which proposed that Kosovo and Serbia accept an agreement similar to that reached in 1972 in Berlin between the two Germanys. 

Although there will still be another round of talks, by now nobody seems to believe in the miracle of Serbs and Albanians reaching the compromise, that many talk about but no one expects to happen. 

At the end of the talks Albanians, Serbs and the International Community will be forced to choose one of the following scenarios: 

a) Determine the status of Kosovo in accordance with the Ahtisaari Plan; 

b) Postpone the status issue and promote additional talks. 

As far as the first scenario is concerned, the only possibility that there exists of the status of Kosovo being determined in accordance with the Ahtisaari Plan, would consist in an unilateral declaration of independence by the institutions of Kosovo followed by a request for international recognition. The chances of the Ahtisaari Plan being approved by the Security Council however were and still are nil, because of the lonely, but nevertheless sufficient Russian veto. It remains to be seen whether the political elite of Kosovo will go down the road of a unilateral declaration of independence. 

The second scenario, which envisages the postponement of the status issue, regardless of the duration of the postponement, will result in the preservation of the status quo or in a “frozen” conflict between Albanians and Serbs in the Balkans. 

Both these scenarios entail a number of positive and negative consequences for the security and stability of the region. Although this comment deals with the second scenario, the implications resulting from a frozen conflict go beyond its scope. Instead this analysis argues that the preservation of the status quo, i.e. the prolongation of the status issue, has been and continues to be beneficial to the political elites of Balkan countries. 

At this moment Kosovo is a de facto state. According to a broadly accepted definition a de facto state is an independent entity that does not enjoy international recognition, but has nonetheless a well organized political leadership, enjoys the support of its population, and is capable through institutions such as the parliament, government and other agencies to guarantee its citizens more or less the same public goods and services as any internationally recognized state. The international recognition thereof constitutes the last, indispensable element that transforms a de facto state into a proper independent country. This process however has implications first of all for the state to which the de facto state belongs in a juridical sense, as well as for neighboring states. With that in mind let us see why the political elites in a number of Balkan countries have an interest in the preservation of the status quo and the postponement of the final status of Kosovo. 

In Serbia first of all, the status quo in Kosovo has served and continues to serve the short term interests of the Serbian political leadership that took over after the fall of Milosevic. These elites have benefited from it politically and of course economically. One can safely claim that the status quo in Kosovo has served to maintain the same political elite in power ever since the fall of Milosevic. The only Serbian political party that tried to make inroads into the Serbian political life by opposing the official policy of prolonging the status quo in Kosovo – the Liberal Democratic Party of Cedomir Jovanovic – although it managed to gain 6% of the vote, does not yet constitute a threat for the Serbian political establishment, be they in power or in the opposition. Within the political elite of that country those who have benefited the most from the situation are those forces that are classified by the West as moderate and democratic. And naturally the main political gain – which is always translated into economic gains – has been their stay in power. Because as we have often seen Kosovo is the number one issue that dominates not just the electoral campaigns of various parties, but also the day to day political debate. The moderate forces in Serbia realize that a significant portion of the Serb society does not attach as much importance to good governance, employment opportunities, economic standards and so forth, as they do to the government’s policy on Kosovo (are they selling out or giving up territory and so forth). According to the latest surveys this portion of Serb society constitutes something more than 50% of the population. The so-called radicals on the other hand, watch over every single step of the government in order to score points, focusing not so much on the performance of the government and on domestic politics, as on the way the government handles the Kosovo issue. In yet another level ever since the fall of Milosevic the moderate forces in the government threaten the West with the eventuality of the “radicals gaining power” if the moderate Serb government recognizes de jure that which is already a fact: the independence of Kosovo. In other words besides preserving its domestic support – regardless of the quality of governance – by prolonging the status quo in Kosovo the Serb government also manages to purchase Western support on the cheap. After all we all remember Solana publicly fretting on the eve of election in Serbia: “What if the Radicals win?” 

But although the Serbian political elite profits from the status quo, at the same time the option of Kosovo returning to Serb rule – if it were even possible – is probably something that the majority of the political elite would never want to happen. 

When it comes to Kosovo proper, it may sound absurd to suggest that the political leadership has an interest in the preservation of the status quo, which after all has seriously harmed and deformed the internal political process, the establishment of a proper democratic system, and the development of the economy. Ever since the end of the conflict, power in Kosovo has been in the hands of the same political leadership that draws its legitimacy not so much from its performance or good governance, but from “what the leadership is doing to secure the independence of Kosovo”. There is also a political movement, Vetëvendosja (Albanian for Self-determination), which is perceived as radical, which is trying to broaden its support base by criticizing the political parties in power not because of their governance, but because they are failing to secure the independence of Kosovo. In other words the quality of governance and opposition in Kosovo has been defined by and limited to the status issue. According to independent surveys organized in Kosovo the economy, poverty, unemployment, and lack of basic services constitute the main problems for Kosovo’s citizens. But the status quo on the status issue does not allow the society to mobilize and promote the crucial economic issues mentioned above and as a result the political elite does not have to draw its legitimacy from its economic and democratic achievements. As is often the case in de facto states the economy and wellbeing of the population have a secondary importance. The priority is international recognition. 

Furthermore keeping in mind that the Kosovo government has to govern with UNMIK, the status quo has provided and continues to provide the Kosovo government with the perfect excuse for justifying its failures or poor performance in providing the basic services to its citizens. In other words the Kosovo Albanian government can blame the UNMIK administration in the same way the UNMIK administration can lay the blame for its own failures on the Kosovo Albanian government. 

In Albania proper on the other hand, although it may sound cynical and hard to believe that the political elite has an interest in the status quo, the prolongation of the status issue does not favor the consolidation of democracy in the country. The political establishment in Tirana has always portrayed itself as an important source of influence on Prishtina. In exchange for playing a moderating role in Kosovo and Macedonia however, the Albanian political elite has long claimed political support from the West, i.e. support for the government and especially individuals. The West on the other hand has now and again closed an eye to the deformations of the democratic process in Albania for the sake of the positive contributions of the country vis-à-vis Kosovo and Macedonia. And when it so happens that the political elite or individuals in Tirana find that their domestic support is on shaky ground they attempt to restore it through the assistance of outside help, by reminding the International Community of the power and influence that Tirana has or claims to have on Kosovo and Macedonia. 

Then there are the neighboring countries of Kosovo, i.e. Montenegro and Macedonia. Although it is clear for all to see that a stable solution to the status of Kosovo would bring to an end the ethnic and territorial disputes in these countries thus improving the stability of the whole region, when it comes to short term political interests the prolongation of the status quo does offer the political elites of these two countries certain benefits. In Macedonia this situation allows them to buy international support on the cheap. For instance it often happens that the failure of the political elites of these two countries to solve issues relating to security, organized crime and so forth, is reasoned away as caused by the situation in Kosovo, porous borders, and no respect for the rule of law. 

In other words the “threat coming from Kosovo” has long been used in the internal politics of these two neighboring countries in the disputes between government and opposition and in their relations with the West. 

Last but not least the elites in the de facto state of Kosovo just as the elites in the neighboring countries have profited economically from the status quo. This frozen conflict generates many opportunities for illegal or semi-illegal activities and it would be hard to believe that the groups that engage in such activities have no links to the political elites and that the later have not profited. 

To conclude one can say that the second scenario, i.e. the prolongation of the status quo in Kosovo is the worse and most dangerous of the two, first of all because it has the potential to harm the stability and security of the whole region. 

At the same time one can also claim that this scenario is the worse of the two for the reasons mentioned in this analysis.