Kosovo: Time for partition

The partition of Kosovo is not a perfect solution but it is a practical one that ensures safety, stability and the prospect of future cooperation

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Is now the time for Kosovo to part?
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Daniel Hamilton
On 7 June 2012 11:49

During the course of the past week, four civilians and two NATO soldiers have been injured in clashes in the isolated majority-Serb province of Northern Kosovo. Reports from those on the ground suggest that tear gas, live ammunition and rubber bullets were deployed on Serbs protesting against NATO troops attempting to dismantle roadblocks in the town of Zvecan.

After months of calm and a potentially-contentious Serbian Presidential election that came and went without a single shot being fired, violence has once again flared up in this habitually-blighted corner of the Balkans. The contentious issue of Kosovo’s status has returned forefront of Serbian politics.

With the exception of Cedomir Jovanovic’s Liberal Democratic Party, each of the main political parties in Serbia are committed to regaining control of what they refer to as the ‘Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija’. President Nikolic, like his predecessor Boris Tadic, is publicly steadfast on the issue. But, in many ways, their public position is a politically expedient one designed to appeal to the well of nationalist feeling that still exists in Serbia today.

On the ground, there is a growing sense of acceptance amongst Serbs in both Kosovo and Serbia itself, that Kosovo’s declaration of independence is permanent and irreversible – with the exception of the majority Serb areas of Northern Kosovo.

While areas south of the River Ibar have governed themselves since 1999 – firstly under the auspices of the United Nations and, since 2008, as an independent state – the people of Northern Kosovo have resisted any move towards rule from Pristina.

At the behest of the overwhelming majority of residents of the region, the government of Serbia continues to retain control over Northern Kosovo – from power supply to education. Policing is nominally carried out under the auspices of a Kosovo-wide police service, yet local officers refuse to accept orders from Pristina and function autonomously.

The latest intervention of NATO soldiers in Zvecan was part of a broader attempt by the organisation to bring areas of North Kosovo under the control of the Kosovo government in Pristina. It follows a disastrous operation in July last year in which the Kosovo Police sought to forcibly gain control of check-points along the administrative border between Serbia and North Kosovo.  In the violent clashes that followed, 1 Albanian and 3 Serbs lost their lives, with 162 Serb and 63 NATO officers suffering injuries.

The tragic loss of four lives, plus the multiple casualties that have amassed as a result of futile on-going attempts to forcibly cajole the Serbian citizens of North Kosovo into a country they have no wish to be any part of, are a tragic foreign policy failure that continues to blight the lives of both Serbs and Albanians and endanger NATO troops.

Rather than continue to pursue this failed policy of attempting to force integration with Pristina upon Northern Kosovo, it is now time for a final and comprehensive cure for this running sore: a partition of the country that returns the North to Serbia in exchange for Serbia surrendering its claims on areas south of the Ibar.

Partition is an imperfect solution that is opposed by many in both Pristina and Belgrade but is one that would improve the stability and security of the region and allow both Serbs and Albanians to live with a degree of normality.

There are many reasons why North and South Kosovo cannot viably exist inside the same state – but the chief one is the issue of trust. Both the governments of Kosovo and Serbia bitterly deny that they preside over anything other than pluralist and multi-cultural societies but it is a painful reality that the areas south of the Ibar offer neither comfort nor security to Serbs, while Northern Kosovo is similarly unappealing to Albanians.

The majority Albanian community to the south of the Ibar understandably continue to harbour grievances about the despicable treatment they were subjected throughout the Milosevic years, while Serbs point to the destruction of nearly 1000 homes and 35 Orthodox churches during a spate of anti-Serb pogroms in 2004 as evidence they are unsafe in Kosovo.

Some, such as Petrit Selimi, a young, impressive minister in Kosovo’s Foreign Office have sought to enter into meaningful dialogue with the Serbian community, yet politics in Kosovo remains characterised by politicians with a history of bitterly anti-Serb rhetoric such as former Kosovo Liberation Army leader and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and National Assembly Speaker Jakup Krasniqi.  The same is true for Serbia, with many of its senior politicians still openly referring to Kosovo Albanians as “Siptars” - a derogatory term that widely despised by Albanians. How, some Albanians ask, can they be expected to trust a Serbian government that includes Ivica Dacic, Slobodan Milosevic's former spokesman?

Both the international community and Kosovan Government in Pristina have a disastrous record of winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of Serbs in the North.  Moderate local Serb leaders such as Oliver Ivanovic have been dismissed as “radicals”, with all Serbs willing to question rule by Pristina written off as “extremists”.

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