Late one evening in March 2004, as 18-year-old Jovica Ivic walked through the village of Caglavica near Pristina, he was shot from a passing car. After surviving the attack, Ivic, a Serb, claimed his assailants spoke with Albanian accents. According to a Human Rights Watch report, his account of the shooting exacerbated the already seething tensions in the region and prompted Serb villagers to block the busy Pristina-Skopje road and attack passing Albanians. NATO troops who had been sent to restore peace in the area were also targeted. The next day, three organizations associated with the ethnic-Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) protested the arrest of former leaders on war crimes charges. On the same afternoon, dubious reports surfaced claiming that Serbs had chased and drowned Albanian children. As Kosovars from both ethnic groups took to the streets, the situation spiralled into chaos. By the time it had calmed down, 19 people were dead, nearly 1,000 were injured and more than 700 homes had been torched, according to the International Crisis Group. This time, Serbs were the principal targets of the violence, and once again, Kosovo appeared on the verge of collapse. Since the NATO intervention in 1999 ended the Albanian-targeted ethnic cleansing and forced the Serb president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, out of power and into custody, economic and social interaction has been slow to return, and stability remains elusive. Much of this unease is tied to Kosovo’s ambiguous political status. Kosovo has been governed for the past six years as a United Nations protectorate, somewhere between a state and a province, with local ethnic Albanians and Serbs vying for control of its destiny. The ethnic Albanians want independence, while the Serb minority advocates main- taining ties with greater Serbia. The 2004 riots were merely one manifestation of the resulting power struggle.

The 1999 NATO intervention was one of the most signifi- cant events of the first post-Cold War decade, heralding a series of revolutionary changes in foreign policy. Over the course of a few months in 1999, NATO intervened outside its members’ bor- ders for the first time, the United States overcame its post-Somalia reluctance to act and Western nations circumvented the United Nations (knowing Russia and China would have vetoed the cam- paign at the Security Council). By chart- ing a new course in a strategically unfamiliar world, Canada and other Western powers conducted a successful humanitarian and military operation. For many years thereafter, Kosovo was absent from the media radar due to waning political interest. Many of the original allied governments, including Canada, pulled their troops out.

This is not to say that there is a lack of resources in Kosovo. A study by the RAND Corporation showed that it enjoyed 25 times the aid per capita as Afghanistan received. Kosovo has also made genuine progress in many fields. Its worst security problems have been solved, and it has held a series of suc- cessful elections. Yet the status question hinders the consolidation of these gains. The very success of the interven- tion has obscured Kosovo’s remaining issues. Its institutions are typical of those of a weak state. Ultimate control remains with the United Nations Mis- sion in Kosovo (UNMIK), which dele- gates some of its responsibilities to the Organization for Security and Co-Oper- ation in Europe (OSCE) and the Euro- pean Union (EU). Kosovo’s political infrastructure, centred in the Provision- al Institutions for Self-Government (PISG), which include an assembly, a president and courts, has grown, but its range obscures a capability gap based on a lack of resources and identification with the citizenry.

This has slowed the transfer of responsibilities over to the PISG. UNMIK retains power over key fields, making all important military, political and security decisions. In May 2001, in an attempt to launch the development of a democratic Kosovo, UNMIK drew up a Constitutional Framework that outlined the laws and institutions to be put in the hands of Kosovo’s leaders and civil ser- vants after the November 2001 election. Much like the government’s structure, the legal framework provided by this document is necessarily weak, as it must account for Kosovo’s lack of capacity and for the fact that it is neither a state nor a sub-national entity. The situation at the local level can be even more complex. Municipalities are focal points of tension. The town of Mitrovica, for instance, is caught in an uneasy balance between Albanian and Serb sections on either side of the Ibar River. Local Serbs have resisted attempts to re-open the bridge between the two areas. Another problem is that Serb enclaves host parallel structures for public service delivery supported by Belgrade. These organizations have taken over government buildings and poached Serb officers from UNMIK by offering higher salaries, thus reducing the diversi- ty of Kosovo’s government and under- mining its legitimacy. Also, Serb travel between enclaves often requires a NATO escort, reducing social interaction and trust. The looming status issue means that local policies are interpreted from the standpoint of independence, so iso- lated incidents take on regional importance. Kosovo’s indeterminate status also contributes to economic hardship. It is unable to take part in the international bank transfer system, is ineligible for development loans and suffers from a dearth of investment. This sustains unemployment close to 50 percent and, according to a United Nations Human Development report, as of 2004 GDP per capita had not yet reached its 1985 level. One positive sign is that extreme poverty has decreased by nearly half to 10 percent. Yet it is apparent that the status issue seriously hinders the economy. As an organization focused prima- rily on furthering Kosovo’s political stability, UNMIK may be ill-equipped for development. While interna- tional tutelage did not make Kosovo poor, UNMIK must take more responsibility for ensuring a rise in the standard of living.

This climate of discontent drives minorities away from the central government and leaves them vulnerable to outside influence. In the aftermath of the 2004 violence, then-Serbian President Vojislav Kostunica called on the Serb population in Kosovo to boycott the election. His rationale for doing so did include relevant concerns about secu- rity in communities. However, his plea was also rooted in a fear of legitimizing a process regarded as an Albanian ploy for independence. Kostunica’s appeal worked. According to the BBC, less than 1 percent of Kosovo’s Serb population voted. Because of a mandated minimum of Serb seats in the 120-member assem- bly, some seats went to Serbs nonethe- less, none of them elected in a conventional manner. Rather, they were largely assigned based on unrepresenta- tive electoral numbers. By comparison, the outgoing assembly had 22 seats for Coalition Return, a Serb group. Serbs had actively participated in the previous elec- tion, hoping to have a say in the region’s future. Even if they were always opposed to the premise of a Kosovo government, they were once willing to participate. In all, political tension persists. A series of three bombings aimed at the United Nations, OSCE and Kosovo Assembly in early July 2005 underscored the contin- ued danger. There is no greater sign of general frustration that the simultaneous targeting of Kosovo’s ruling institutions, which, despite their restricted parame- ters, are improving. Still, much remains to be done and it must begin with re- defining Kosovo.

Under international law, Kosovo is a province of Serbia, while neighbouring Albania, the ethnic homeland of a major- ity of Kosovo’s population, recognizes it as an independent state. The constitu- tional framework does little to clarify things, describing Kosovo as an ”œundivid- ed territory” and as an ”œentity with unique attributes,” leaving considerable ambiguity. The reality is somewhere in between: Kosovo is the protectorate of a coalition of international organizations. Serbs, of whom there are 100,000 in Kosovo, want to rejoin with Serbia, where they are in the majority, while the nearly 2 million Kosovar Albanians want an independent country, which they would presumably rule as a majority. Other minorities, such as the Roma, are caught in the middle of the conflict, too often ignored and left out. The less Kosovo’s diverse groups participate in the interim government, the less effective and legiti- mate that government becomes. In turn, this delays the resolution of the status issue. Partitioning, or even implementing a federal state, would be contentious. This renders the international presence con- tinually necessary. Were the region left to its own devices, it is unlikely a resolution of status would come without more bloodshed. For the time being, Kosovo languishes in a “standards before status” policy limbo, which stipulates that cer- tain conditions, such as openness and inclusiveness, must be met before status can be resolved. A recent report by the International Commission on the Balkans, a panel of experts studying the region, concluded: ”œThe status quo has outlived its usefulness” in Kosovo.

The latest phase of Kosovo’s progress toward a redefined status began in November with talks mediated by the UN-appointed Martti Ahtisaari, the for- mer Finnish president, who has earned a reputation as a master mediator in Northern Ireland and Indonesia, among other conflicts. There will also be an imminent review of progress by the UN. The American position ”” always key to progress in such files ”” is one of seeking majority consensus, which implies sup- port for independence.

The determination of status will not solve all of Kosovo’s problems. Policy- makers have a range of options for mov- ing forward and tempering the collateral consequences of independence, in the likely scenario that it is conditionally granted. For once, a lack of resources is not the key issue. Kosovo already has a significant number of troops on its terri- tory. There is no immediate need for more, although Canadian Forces should stand ready to intervene should there be fallout. Given the unproven efficiency of the PISG and the considerable amounts of aid flowing into the region, Canada must be selective in its assistance. A focus on building an open economy, privatiza- tion and allowing Kosovo more flexibili- ty in world markets would help the region most. While the police gap will have to be resolved, domestic units are far more important than international ones. As a member of the OSCE, the organization responsible for the Kosovo Police School, Canada should further support the development of home- grown capabilities. It will have to moni- tor very closely the balance of the Kosovo Police Service and its neutrality. The most important initiative for Canada to back is the further integration of Kosovo in the international community,  assuming it is allowed eventual independence.  Status, of course, is crucial for full membership in any international organization, but these issues should be addressed simultaneously. Given the proven benefits of engagement on the European continent, EU and NATO ”œcarrots” are essential to reform. As a NATO member, Canada could advocate guarantees for Kosovo based on a status resolution. The NATO Partnership for Peace, a program focused on interoperability and defence cooperation, and its political equivalent, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, would be ideal starting places, offering the possibility of eventual membership. Stability is not a determining factor. Trou- bled countries such as Belarus, Moldova and Uzbekistan are members of both organizations. Integrating Kosovo will mean offering similar incentives to Serbia, so that the move is not perceived as threatening. For NATO, successfully inte- grating the former belligerents of a key operation would be a considerable accomplishment.

It will not be easy. NATO is feeling pressure from expansion and may be slow to move forward. Russia may raise even more objections to Kosovo’s inclu- sion in NATO than it did for the acces- sion of former Soviet states, although a partnership with Serbia would help ease its doubts. Full admission for such an unstable region in anything but a long- term horizon would have security implications too serious to consider, but assurances based on good behaviour would make a difference.

The European Union case is com- plex and growing ever more so. In its current incarnation, the EU can only absorb viable states, and there is little possibility of a concrete ”œpartnership in training.” With an increasing focus on frontier security, officials will be wary of the accession of a weak state. Kosovo is already said to foster illegal migra- tion and crime, especially human traf- ficking. Improving Kosovo’s justice and security infrastructure to conform with EU guidelines, in addition to obtaining the required economic standards, will be crucial. It is clearly below par on both sets of criteria at the moment.

Less concrete factors may be even more of a barrier to entry. The disastrous results of the Dutch and French referen- da mean that officials may be less open to expansion than in the past. The sym- bolism of a primarily Muslim proto-state with a history of conflict joining the EU will trouble the same voices that rail against Turkey’s accession.

If Kosovo is to be brought into the European fold, the EU must make exceptions to its accession process. The most effective ”œKosovo exception” might combine rapid incremental tradeoffs between standards and status, allowing Kosovo to build and integrate at the same time, and slowing accession down to a series of small steps with a clear direction and goal. The first step in this process, as suggested by the International Commission’s report, would be for the EU to begin taking over responsibility in Kosovo and coop- erating with KFOR troops on the ground, as it already has in Bosnia through EUFOR.

While Canada cannot do much more than urge action, it can offer its support to an EU operation. The significant cost and risk means the rest of the world should be involved. Moreover, Kosovo’s status is the single most impor- tant factor keeping the region from inte- grating with the rest of Europe, thus slowing the expansion of the EU peace dividend. Far from the prospect of an independent Kosovo destabilizing the Balkans, the benefits of its independence when combined with these incentives would foster long-term peace in the region. The International Commission report proposed a phased plan, starting with a measure of sovereignty, leaving human rights under the scrutiny of the international community, followed by guided sovereignty in partnership with the EU, and ending with full integration in the EU. Canada can focus its support through NATO, the World Trade Organization and the OSCE. Serbia’s international status must necessarily be taken into account at the same time, as its integration through international structures is only marginally more advanced. While this is a difficult, long- term plan, it is nevertheless one of the most promising paths to a resolution.

All parties must participate. The degeneration of the situation into a Palestinian-style deadlock, where the Serbs are isolated and hostage to foreign whims, must be avoided. EU member- ship makes the concept of being ”œtrapped” inside national boundaries irrelevant. Large incentives for refugee returns should be offered. Serbian paral- lel structures, despite their illegality, should be made legitimate partners in the region. Serbia has shown some good will in the process. For instance, it has begun collaborating with the war crimes tribunal. However, a clear signal from Belgrade to the Kosovar Serbs is essential. Railing against independence may be a political necessity in Serbia, but this does not necessarily mean that it is more than lip service. Albanians will also have to compromise on their demands. Political factionalism, stirred up by the indict- ment of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in March 2005, must give way to a focus on the bigger picture. The granting of status must not remove any of the current pressure to ensure minori- ty rights and participation. Neither group can claim the moral high ground: whereas Albanians were subjected to horrors under Milosevic, Serbs have suf- fered most recently, so both sides have an interest in reaching a resolution.

Kosovo’s independence is a near certainty, but compared with other conflicts, what may be most frustrat- ing about its situation is that the groundwork for a solution is within reach but has only now been approached. A plan backed by the UN and the Contact Group (United States, Russia, France, Germany, Italy and Britain) for status resolution would magnify efforts to improve the economy, strengthen the provisional government and curb tension. Such a plan would work best if combined with incentives for integration into NATO and the EU, even if only on a distant timeline. Intensifying the training of security forces at the same time as monitoring their ethnic bal- ance would allow for an eventual pullout of KFOR troops, a possible transition to an EU-led force and more responsibilities for the government. At each of these stages, Canada could lend its share of support.

Overall, whereas the opposing sides once waged war on each other, they are now fighting a largely politi- cal battle over status. This is already an accomplishment. The outlook is not as bleak as some may believe, but moving forward will take diplomatic effort, leadership and innovation from inter- national institutions at a difficult time. The greatest challenge may be to keep Kosovo in the eyes of the world over the course of the coming talks, so that it never again becomes a ”œblack hole” on the edge of Europe. 

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