The abrupt rise of tensions in Kosovo in July, coming to loss of lives, confirmed our earlier prognosis that the former Serb province remained the riskiest part of Western Balkans. Moreover, this is not because Kosovo is a comparatively young state declared its independence in February 2008 but mainly due to the severe confrontation between the Serbian and Albanian communities. It is precisely this mutual stubbornness as well as the division of the international factor on the subject of the future of Kosovo, did not permit the reaching of an agreement acceptable to the parties involved in the crisis. Such an agreement similar to the Dayton peace accords for Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995) or to the Ohrid peace agreement in the R. Of Macedonia (2001), which sometimes also severely criticized manage to secure a comparative ethnical peace in the respective countries.
In the Kosovo case, however each one of the countries is using the decisions of the international community or the internationally recognized norms in its own interest. Thus, for example Belgrade bases its arguments on UN Security Council Resolution 1244/1999 treating Kosovo as an autonomous region forming an inseparable part of Serbia. In this way, every attempt to detach the region is considered as a violation of the decisions of the World organization.
On its part Pristina alludes to the anxiety of the majority of the Kosovo population for independence and considers that no one may take away the internationally recognized right to self-determination. The government makes systematic efforts for the establishment and strengthening of the state organization.
It is precisely the drive of the Kosovo state government towards strengthening of its administrative influence over the whole territory of the country that caused the summer crisis this year. The cause for this is the practical division of the country in Albanian and in Serbian part depending on the prevailing ethnos in the respective region. As a result of this there are almost no Kosovo government administration structures in four communities populated mainly by Serbs and situated to the North of Ibar river on a territory bordering on Serbia in the West, in the North and in the East. Belgrade considers this border only an administrative one and applies the Serbian laws in all spheres of the state administration in North Kosovo. Thus Pristina has no reliable register of the conditions in this region like the population number, its ethnic composition and movement, civil buildings number and condition, data about the vehicles still using the Serbian licence plates, etc. The goods supplies as well as the main portion of the administrative services are provided by Serbia.
Obviously the first determined step of Pristina to enforce its jurisdiction on the region was the decision to deploy its customs and police personnel at the border points in North Kosovo. The aim being by guarding its borders to close the main channels for the importation of Serbian goods including smuggled commodities and to terminate the economic and administrative influence of Belgrade on North Kosovo. The deployment of representatives of the Kosovo administration on the border points provoked attacks by groups of Serbs on the Kosovo border officers combined with blockades of the roads in North Kosovo. An immediate response by KFOR followed which checked the incidents, accompanied the Kosovo officers safely to the interior of the country and undertook the border service. For this purpose KFOR was beefed up with a battalion of ca. 700 military staff.
With the crisis development the action of the international factor was also activated. A number of meetings with representatives of Belgrade and Pristina were held at which each one of the sides was insisting on its rights. The Serbia representatives – were defending their cause for observing the status of Kosovo as an autonomous region in Serbia and the Kosovo negotiators – for the enforcing of the state functions in the northern part of the country too.
For the solving of the crisis Pristina tabled through the KFOR chief in command ten conditions to Belgrade. The mains ones – the removal of barricades in North Kosovo and free movement along all roads, preserving the status of the border points but under the control of KFOR and declaring the adjacent areas as military; discontinuing all transportation of goods across the border with the exception of humanitarian aid from Serbia but by 3,5 ton capacity trucks only on the confirmation by independent international organizations that there is need for such aid; restoration of the movement of goods across the border to the full only after introduction of the respective customs seals and forms filled in by Kosovo officers; control and identification of all persons entering and exiting Kosovo incl. by the railroad Belgrade-Pristina, closing of all illegal roads for trafficking of goods and people.
Serbia did not accept the proposal to use the Kosovo customs seals but agreed to the customs forms designed by KFOR with the explanation that this would facilitate the overcoming of humanitarian crisis in North Kosovo. Most of the barricades on the roads were removed but the return of the representatives of the Kosovo administration to North Kosovo was not allowed. KFOR retained full control over the border points which NATO declared as military perimeters with limited access.
Commenting on the achieved the leader of the Serbian negotiation team declared, that neither Belgrade would not allow Pristina to establish its own institutions in the North nor the state of Serbia would be ousted from Kosovo. In his opinion the concessions made are the red line which may not be crossed any further and the concessions have been made only for the purpose to avoid attacks on Serbs, eventual casualties, escalation of tensions and to prevent the attempt of Pristina to establishing its institutions in North Kosovo.
The next round of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo through the mediation of the EU will be held in the beginning of September in Brussels.
The indirect negotiations for North Kosovo conducted through intermediaries did not go smoothly and were interrupted a number of times. As a result, the tension continued to rise cyclically almost until the end of August, especially after information that Serbian sharpshooters and other armed groups were acting in North Kosovo. In response representatives of the former Kosovo Liberation Army threatened to take armed action in North Kosovo and demanded the establishment of Army of the Republic of Kosovo by the end of September 2011 which to defend the national interests when such crises arised.
On its part, a foreign policy adviser in the Kosovo government openly declared that the forceful detachment of a part of Kosovo territory would lead to a war. His response is probably a reply to the repeatedly quoted statement of the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Iviza Dacia of Mat this year that considering the existing obstacles and the situation the only real solution is the division of Kosovo. Again, according to Dacia Serbia is highly interested to preserve the peace in Kosovo but the country will not bargain its national interests in return for Euro-integration.
The tension in North Kosovo affects the states in the region too. So for example Ali Amati, the leader of the Democratic Union for Integration, which is the co-ruling party in the new government of Macedonia stated that no one could guarantee the peace in Macedonia should the territorial integrity of Kosovo be threatened. Similar warnings for the danger of the crisis spreading in case of tension escalation in Kosovo came also from Tirana.
Considering the situation in Kosovo with the due concern the UN Secretary General set down a date for a Security Council meeting. Still in the process of the meeting preparation, it became known that Russia is drafting a document in which Pristina is condemned for its decision to apply force and the return to the pre-crisis status quo is demanded. Moscow insists that all international factors in Kosovo incl. KFOR and EULEX strictly observe the mandate they have based on Resolution 1244.
The Security Council meeting scheduled for the end of August was postponed due to the damages caused in New York by the hurricane “Irene”.
Commenting on the crisis the rapporteur for Kosovo in the European Parliament stated that Serbia would have to forget about its status of EU member candidate should there be lack of results from the dialogue, good relations and recognition of the state of Kosovo. It was reminded that EU was extremely anxious on the recognition of the Kosovo customs seals by Belgrade because the rejection of the seals places the economic subjects in the trade with Kosovo incl. States in the schemes of the organized crime.
USA pointed out that Kosovo was a sovereign and independent state and as such, it had the right to extend its administrative power over its whole territory. They confirmed its support for the application of the plan prepared by the former UN delegate Martti Ahtisaari in whose opinion Kosovo should receive a broad autonomy. They reiterated that there could not be any return to the pre-crisis situation but return to the dialogue.
During her visit to Belgrade Angela Merkel indicated three conditions for Serbia to receive the statute of EU candidate member: closer co-operation with the EU police and EULEX, rejection of parallel power structures in Kosovo and direct negotiations with Pristina.
The analysis of the situation in Kosovo and the factors affecting it indicate that a solution of the ethnic tension amassed for tens of years should not be expected too soon. The international factor will continue to play the major role for the settling of the problems. The international community however remains greatly divided on its attitude towards the future of Kosovo- big group of countries persistently support each one of the opposing parties.
The ethnic specifics of the tension in Kosovo contains the potential the crisis to spread over also in the neighbouring states in the region (the Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania) and thus to destabilize the situation in the Western Balkans.
The R. Of Bulgaria continues to lead a moderate and balanced foreign policy an expression of which was the military exercise of Bulgarian and Serbian conducted on Bulgarian territory and attended by the Serbian President Boris Tadic, the visit of a big Bulgarian business delegation led by the Minister of agriculture and food for discussing the possibilities for the importation of Bulgarian food in Kosovo to cover the shortage caused by the stopping the import from Serbia etc. It can be expected that in future Sofia will continue its efforts to act as a stabilizing factor on the Balkans.