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

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

Commenting on reactions to the events of the last few days, Milos Subotic, a community leader based in North Mitrovica – a town frequently described as the “most dangerous place in the Europe” – struck an exasperated tone: “I’m not an extremist, I’m a democrat. I just don’t want Pristina ruling over my home”. When the likes of Subotic, a mild-mannered social democrat who favours Serbian EU membership and closer links with the US, feels such a sense of alienation, it hints at an irrevocable breakdown in trust between the parties that cannot be easily remedied.

Proposals for partition have been rejected out of hand by both western governments and Pristina. Recently, the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle offered a weak reason for his government's opposition to partition; chiefly that the “situation and territorial integrity in the region are decided; that means this is out of discussion for us”.

The same tired argument about nation state boundaries was made at the time of the NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1244, the method which authorised NATO to establish a military presence in the then-Kosovo province of Serbia, explicitly “reaffirmed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”. Writing in his 2011 book ‘Why Kosovo Still Matters’, former British Europe Minister Denis MacShane recounted his own experience of putting the autonomy-within-fixed-borders argument to then-Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova in the late 1990s. Rugova, MacShane concluded, was “uninterested in his sermon”.

Resolution 1244 was quietly – and rightly – dropped when, on 15th June 2008, the provisional government in Pristina declared independence.

It is often argued that allowing changes to the national borders in the Balkans along ethnic lines would inspire separatist movements all across the world to declare independence, sparking off a plethora bloody and acrimonious conflicts. Again, such an argument may carry some weight if it were not for the fact the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 and Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence have had little impact on day-to-day realities of conflicts in other disputed territories.

Despite grave warnings from some quarters about the regional and global implications of Kosovan independence, Republika Srpska remains a constituent part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Caucasus conflicts in Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain frozen.

In an attempt to find an alternative solution to partition, the international community has to date committed itself to the ongoing implementation of a reconciliation plan drafted by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari – the ‘Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement’.

There is much that is commendable about the plan, not least the passages guaranteeing the protection of Serbian religious and cultural heritage, the ability of the Republic of Serbia to continue funding educational and health institutions in Serb areas of Kosovo and the creation of local government units guaranteed to be controlled by Serb councillors.

While there is evidence to suggest that Ahtisaari’s plans are delivering positive benefits for Serbs living in isolated communities south of the Ibar, it is unworkable in respect of Northern Kosovo in that it essentially demands that an area currently under de facto sovereign control by Belgrade cede significant power to an ethnic Albanian dominated government in Pristina. For the area’s residents, this is unacceptable.

It is clear that, without Serbia first achieving accession to the European Union, Kosovo's EU ambitions will be thwarted. As long as the diplomatic war of words between Pristina and Belgrade continues, neither party will see their aspirations advance beyond anything other than a pipe-dream.

Partition need not mean to the two entities isolating themselves from one another - indeed the continuation of the historic links between the North and South Kosovo must be guaranteed. To this end, a meaningful cooperative body modelled on the British-Irish Council should be created, facilitating on-going dialogue on issues such as the sharing of cadastral records, trade, common environmental standards and the sharing of power supplies. The EU and US should make an element of their allocation of financial aid to Kosovo conditional upon the two communities working together to "bid" for funds for projects of mutual benefit to both parties, such as the reopening of Kosovo-wide railway links to Belgrade.

Through such a body, the two governments would be able to indicate to the EU that not only are they able to work with each other but also in the spirit of cooperation necessary for EU membership.

North Kosovo’s small Albanian community may understandably be alarmed by the prospect of partition but, by drawing on the provisions of the Ahtisaari plan applied to Serbs in the south, their minority rights could easily be protected in the north. Crucial to this will be acceptance by the Serbian government of the need for funding for Albanian-language teaching, guaranteed minority representation on local government bodies in Northern Kosovo and an explicit and non-negotiable right of return for those Albanians expelled from their homes in 1999. Serbia’s adherence to such a plan would be supervised by the on-going NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

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. It allows both parties to stand as equals, without fear of favouritism from the international community.

The sooner partition can be implemented, the sooner peace will return to a part of the world whose beauty and rich history has been tainted by the scars of its tragic recent past. Buducnost. Te ardhmen.

Daniel Hamilton is an independent commentator on the Balkans and Caucasus region. He writes in a personal capacity

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