Byron Scott: Our discussion today is about a crisis that some experts say began 20 years ago this month with a speech in the Field of Blackbirds, where in 1389 a Serbian army lost to an Ottoman army but where 20 years ago a man named Slobodan Milosevic declared the unity, the independence and the pride of Yugoslavia. We’re talking about the last chapter of that, what threatens to become a stalemate in the Balkans, efforts to stabilize the region of Kosovo and perhaps give it independence. Let’s begin with a status report. Where do efforts currently stand to resolve the situation in Kosovo, a region of about 2 million people?
Dukagjin Gorani, director of development, Kosovo Institute of Journalism, Pristina, Kosovo: A stalemate is taking place now. Negotiations took place last year in Vienna, Austria, among the international community, which resulted in a proposal for a form of supervised independence. However, it was hotly rejected by Belgrade at the local level and was strongly rejected by Moscow at the international level. We are about to see a continuation of negotiations and eventually a period in which something acceptable to all parties would be defined.
Scott: When we mention the international community, we mean specifically the United Nations, which has helped govern Kosovo since the 1999 NATO bombings, the European Union, the United States and Russia, which along with Serbia opposes the current plan. Why is there opposition?
Dragan Stavljanin, Balkan service broadcaster, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Prague, Czech Republic: When negotiations about Kosovo started about a year and a half ago, Russia was relatively calm, but about six months ago Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that an independent Kosovo would set a precedent and therefore Russia is strongly opposed. Many see Russian opposition as political leverage in its international approach.
Scott: When you speak of precedent you mean, for example, Chechnya?
Stavljanin: Russia probably sees Kosovo’s independence as a precedent for all countries, not only Chechnya.
Scott: Wasn’t such a precedent set about a year ago with the separation of Montenegro from Serbia? Is a similarly peaceful process possible in Kosovo?
Gorani: Belgrade’s Serb side would remark that the situation in Montenegro wasn’t exactly the same because Montenegro was already a republic, which was already in a union with Serbia under the former Yugoslavia. It did have the same constitutional rights, while Kosovo was an autonomous province deemed undividable from Serbia proper. However, the aggression and the repression since 1989 did change the political topography. Kosovo’s independence is seen as a logical outcome for a future stability. There can’t be any natural discussion about Kosovo returning to Serbia in any way that is also accepted by the Belgrade government when it came up with the option of Kosovo having an independent status within Serbia. In Russia, Kosovo is seen as a lever to be used to call shots in the international scene.
Scott: Another player that we haven’t mentioned yet is Albania. I believe about 90 percent of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians. What is the potential or imagined role of Albania?
Gorani: Historically, there were attempts to identify Kosovo-Albanians as an amputated part of the state Albania, but there is no political program or willingness to see Kosovo united with Albania to create a pure nation-state of Albanians. Kosovo-Albanians were basically pushed to become an independent entity because of the aggression that took place that destroyed Yugoslavia. The question now is how Kosovo can become independent and still retain levels of power in the region. For Belgrade, that means how to reassure the Serbian public that with Kosovo gone there would still be life in Serbia. For Kosovo-Albanians, the most important thing is how to retain power, although independence for Kosovo would not automatically mean a creation of another nation-state but simply an internationally supervised civilian state in which people would be defined as citizens rather than being looked on through ethnic lines. Also, partition of Kosovo would open up very serious territorial issues throughout former Yugoslavia and could very easily become an issue of redefinition of the borders of former Yugoslavia along ethnic lines. If it comes to partition, northern Kosovo, the bulk of which is inhabited by predominately the Serb community, would go back to Serbia. But there are several really serious areas which are inhabited by Albanians in Montenegro, Serbia proper and Macedonia which will seek to unite in one single country and eventually destroy the stability of the region. So, the question is how to create an independent Kosovo that everybody is happy with.
Scott: As the diplomats say, what is “the way forward”? How do we get out of this stalemate?
Stavljanin: If Kosovo is to become independent and be able to maintain control, the only solution is not redoing the Albanian territory along ethnic lines but is for the European Union on the day Kosovo becomes independent, to admit Kosovo as a full member.
Scott: Is the ball in the EU’s court?
Gorani: Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia were always an issue for Europe. The problem was that Europe, at the time of the conflict in Yugoslavia, was incapable of intervening, which made the wars in Yugoslavia a global and international issue. Again, the ball is being brought up into the EU’s yard. The Balkan region, the region of the former Yugoslavia, will have to be systematically ushered into the EU, which could put an end to conflicts based on ethnic intolerance and nationalism. However, the EU process is slower than was predicted a few years ago. There have been setbacks with the EU Constitution with issues of enlargement. That means that there would be a vacuum of some years until the region falls within the EU as an integral part. In the meantime, there has to be some sort of a temporary status and guaranteed stability for Kosovo. Having a status agreement would help all parties, primarily the international community which also has to heal some of the wounds caused by military intervention and overlooking of international law. But it doesn’t take more than a few years of instability and intolerance to have yet another volatile and hostile situation.
Scott: What should we expect to be the status of this situation a year from now?
Stavljanin: Probably a solution will be brought about, but it will not be a clear solution. It will be a temporal solution in which Kosovars will have a right to govern themselves, but legally it will not mean exactly that. There won’t be a sustained or enforceable solution.
Gorani: By next year, Kosovars will live in the belief that they have gained an independent state, but it will be a matter of interpretation. For Kosovo-Albanians, that will mean having an independent state of their own while waiting to become part of the EU. To Serbs, that could be a very fluid and very unacceptable form of some autonomy, which would be internationally supervised. To Belgrade, Kosovo would still be perceived as an area that was hijacked through military intervention of the West. Kosovo’s status will become a matter of interpretation until this whole region finally starts the accession process.
Scott Afterword: Every time the West forgets the Balkans, the age-old tensions seem to erupt. The Kosovo stalemate is a real test for the EU but not something for the U.S. to forget. “Kosovo Polye” otherwise known as “The Field of Blackbirds” is where we all, to some extent, live.
Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of journalism graduate students John Amick,
Devin Benton and Catherine Wolf.