Special Comment: Ahtisaari, No Serbian Sovereignty No Independence

Special Comment: Ahtisaari, No Serbian Sovereignty No Independence 

Tirana Times - http://tiranatimes.com/?cat=37

By Albert Rakipi, Ph.D 

The Ahtisaari plan that will be unveiled today in Belgrade and Prishtina has been a public secret for a few days now. In its substance, the plan aims to invalidate the 1244 UN resolution which has provided the framework for state building in Kosova since the end of the 1999 intervention. Although the plan was motivated by the need to find a final solution to the Kosova issue, it seems quite possible that it creates a transitory phase to an eventual final solution or an independent and sovereign Kosova. According to the plan, Kosova will be able to enter into bilateral relations with other countries and to apply for membership in international organizations eventually including the United Nations. It precludes Serbian sovereignty over Kosova without explicitly mentioning the term “independence”. Nevertheless, the prerogatives of the young entity from international relations to state symbols and the creation of a protection force that will lead to an eventual NATO-trained army predict the creation of an independent state. The plan will allow Kosova to declare independence and seek international recognition through a bilateral process. 

On the difficult issue of Serbian minority, the plan allows a large autonomy for the Serb enclaves, dual citizenship for its people, extraterritoriality for Serb cultural and religious monuments and the possibility of financial aid from Serbia through Prishtina to the enclaves. 

Finally, the third actor or the international community will retain strong oversight capacities through the creation of a EU office that will be able to veto legislation, remove elected politicians that are deemed an obstacle to the “peace process”, and supervise the judiciary and the police.

These three dimensions of the plan (road to independence, role of internationals and minority rights) show that the plan does not contain a clear design for the final status of Kosova. Instead, it represents a major but transitory effort. The issue is: How long is transitory? The answer to that question will say a great deal about the future of Kosova and the region. 

Although Ahtisaari is scheduled to listen to the remarks of Prishtina and Belgrade, it is quite possible that the plan will be non-negotiable. It is also unlikely that its substance will change much prior to the vote in the UN Security Council. Kosova’s legal framework will be based on the plan’s three dimensions while the workings of the future state machine will exhibit the positive and negative characteristics that the dynamics between these three dimensions create. Here we propose several considerations from a security and development perspective on the likely effects of the plan. 

To what extent the design of new Kosova presented today will allow for further progress in the state building process? Despite some progress under resolution 1244, the resolution and its legal and political arrangements have turned into an obstacle for further progress on this regard. However, the new resolution that may be passed by the UNSC based on the Ahtisaari package is unlikely to create the necessary space for tangible progress. The coming resolution creates the premises of independence without securing the thing in itself. But only international recognition of Kosova’s independence will open the way to further progress by solving a festering political problem, assigning responsibilities, and invigorating the nascent institutions of the fledgling entity. In its potential impotence, the new resolution may risk to resemble 1244 with some cosmetic changes such as dropping the elephant UNMIK for the more agile EU Office. 

Secondly, a particularly large devil seems to hide in the details of how the mission/office of EU with its wide mandate will accommodate Kosova’s institutions in order to secure the inner workings of the state machinery and strengthen Kosova’s institutions. It is here that the springs of the machine may crack or break under the cumbersome deadweight. To what extent can regime legitimacy be strengthened under the conditions of unclear lines of responsibility or governance vs. diffidence? Will Kosova’s elected leaders mind their constituencies or respond to the judgment of the internationals? The mandate of the EU in Kosova seems to replicate the Bosnian case. That is troubling for two reasons. First, it did not work in Bosnia. Second, in Bosnia at least it responded to a multiethnic reality which demanded some kind of arbitrage. That is not the case in Kosova. Kosova may be a weak state but it is a unitary one as well according to the reality on the ground. Imposing failed multiethnic solutions on a unitary entity risks importing all of Bosnia’s post-Dayton troubles with none of the gains. 

The second point regarding the role of the international community in post Ahtisaari Kosova is linked to the legitimacy of the democratic system there. A large or powerful mandate for the next “governor” of Kosova leaves little space for local actors to struggle for legitimacy, share responsibility and wield power in the way their electorates mandate them to. In such a cumbersome power arrangement, it will be all too easy for local elites to shift responsibility or blame or both on the outsiders. In such a situation, it will be difficult for Kosova’s people to judge who is right and the blame may be laid on the wrong doorstep. 

The third dimension of the Ahtisaari plan or, to state it differently, the West’s Balkan project, is linked to the support given to multiethnic states in the region. Although the details will likely be made clear today, it seems certain the Serb minority will be offered a great deal of autonomy, institutional and financial links to Serbia and extraterritoriality for its cultural and religious monuments. While the intentions of Mr. Ahtisaari are noble enough, such an approach may actually undermine the very multiethnicity it wants to uphold. 

The wide autonomy offered to the Serb minority has little to do with the decentralization and devolution of power from central to local governments—a successful process in neighboring Macedonia among others. Instead, the Serbs are being given their own kind of autonomy different from other areas in Kosovo which may discourage their participation in Kosovar institutions and encourage them to look for their future in Serbia as opposed to Kosova. 

Despite claims to the contrary, in today’s Balkans minorities are proving an advantage for new democracies in the region. This is so in Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia. It may prove to be so in Serbia as well. The way in which the ethnic majority behaves towards minorities is a litmus test for its democratic credentials. It is obvious that the international community is fearful of how Albanians will behave towards Serbs in the future. That is why it is taking double measures to avoid any unpleasant surprises on this regard. 

Until now, with a few notable exceptions the representatives of the Serb minority in Kosova have boycotted Kosova’s democratic institutions under the benevolent guidance of Belgrade. Despite efforts by the Government of Kosova to channel aid to the Serbs through its own institutions and control Belgrade’s financial life support to the Serb minority, the aid has continued to flow unregulated and undisturbed. This has inched Kosova closer to a territorial division especially in the northernmost Serb municipalities. 

Moreover, despite prompt action on providing reconstruction aid for damaged Serb monasteries which should serve as a source of viability for the new state, the extraterritoriality element contained in the plan puts state and religious institutions in a competitive plane rather than a harmonious one. 

The minority deal envisaged in the plan may harm future peace and multiethnic co-existence in Kosova. It may make the process of reconciliation more difficult than it ought to be thus endangering rather than promoting peace and stability. While we have to acknowledge that we are speculating for as long as the plan is not yet public, the elements that have already been linked are not encouraging. 

Last but not least, it is important to enquire about the effect of the Ahtisaari plan on the Balkan Order. It seems likely that all countries in the region minus Serbia will support the plan which is very encouraging. The region is starting to speak the common language of Euro-Atlantic integration. But, for as long as the plan and the new UNSC resolution will remain within the formula “no Serbian sovereignty over Kosova bout no sovereign Kosova”, Kosova’s relations with its neighbors may remain at the state that they are now. This means that the region will have to postpone its sigh of relief over a stable Balkans for some time to come. Of course, this will have an impact on the efforts to create a new image for the region, its market and development potentials. 

If the Ahtisaari plan will create a new transitory phase on the way to Kosova’s final status, this phase has to be as short as possible. Secondly, any uncertainties in the plan that subvert clear lines of responsibility and harm Kosova’s state building process need to be cleared up. There is little doubt that the new Kosova state will be weak for some time no matter how perfect the Ahtisaari deal may be. A flag and a seat at the UN General Assembly are not enough to build a proper European state. But the issue is to avoid creating a failed state “with our own hands” before it has even a fair chance to show what it can become.