Kosovo’s future still uncertain

Sunday, December 16, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:30 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Loory: A deadline came and went for a settlement in Kosovo, leaving the former Yugoslavia still in a state of concern over whether ethnic violence can again come to the Balkans. Although that is always a possibility in a region that was the scene of ethnic cleansing in the 1990s, there seems to be a move on both sides for the almost 2-million-strong ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo and the Serbs to reach an agreement or at least avoid a return to bloodshed. There are sticking points however. The Serbs don’t want to give Kosovo complete independence, and they’re backed by Russia on that. They say the United Nations must make a decision, which the U.N. has been reluctant to do. The Kosovars say if they cannot negotiate an agreement with Serbia, they will make a unilateral declaration of independence. The United States and the European Union apparently will support the Kosovar declaration. What happens in Kosovo could have an impact on how separatist movements are treated in other countries of Europe. The U.N. Security Council is expected to discuss the Kosovo situation, but there isn’t much hope it will reach a binding decision. What are the chances of reaching a U.N.-backed settlement in time to prevent serious disruption in Kosovo?

Alex Ivanko, director of information for U.N. Mission in Kosovo, in Pristina, Kosovo: The likelihood is difficult to assess until after the Security Council meets. The U.N. Mission in Kosovo is planning for any eventuality, and it can deal with potential security problems, bearing in mind the amount of troops and police in Kosovo.

Loory: What are the concerns if there is no U.N. resolution and Kosovo goes its own way?

Artan Mustafa, journalist, Gazeta Express, Pristina, Kosovo: Whether or not there is a resolution, Kosovo is prepared to move to its independence. People have been waiting for a while to create a state, and Serbia has lost every chance to regain the credibility of the people of Kosovo for its governance.

Loory: Why can’t Serbia negotiate a settlement with the Kosovars on its own?

Dejan Anastasijevic, journalist, Verme newspaper, Belgrade, Serbia: Most Serbs feel they haven’t been offered a fair deal. Serbia doesn’t want to rule Kosovo, but Serbia has indicated clearly that it wants to keep a token sovereignty. If Kosovo declares independence unilaterally, that sovereignty will be deprived, so Serbia is frustrated.

Loory: Would Kosovo be happy with a U.N. Resolution that gave Serbia token sovereignty over Kosovo?

Mustafa: There is no chance of that. Kosovo will become an independent state because the population needs a government that will create conditions for pure education and economic possibilities. Kosovo is ready to sacrifice everything for its freedom.

Loory: Germany has been involved through the EU in trying to fashion a settlement in Kosovo. How will Germany feel about a declaration of independence by Kosovo?

Erich Rathfelder, journalist, Die Tageszeitung of Berlin, in Sarajevo, Bosnia: Germany will finally underline the position of the Albanians to independence, but it’s a limited independence. It will be controlled by the EU. Also, the Serbian side has through the Ahtisaari Plan (named after its author, President Martii Ahtisaari of Finland) a lot of possibilities to rule into Kosovo to protect its own minority. The Ahtisaari Plan was a fair compromise, and Berlin is frustrated that Serbia didn’t understand that it was an offer to Serbian society. Serbia’s future lies in Europe, not in a combination or in a relationship with Russia. It has to understand that this is a European problem that has to be resolved from a European perspective.

Loory: Why is Russia siding closely with Serbia and against complete independence for Kosovo?

Rathfelder: Russia was seen as an ally. It has the same religion, Orthodox. Also, for Vladimir Putin, it’s a good chance to stir up international politics and to show Americans that deployment of missiles in Eastern Europe and American activities in Central Asia over oil are disturbing to Moscow.

Loory: So there is an anti-American element in the Balkans and elsewhere in Eastern Europe?

Anastasijevic: It’s also anti-Russian. One of the problems in the Balkans is on a local side; the Serbs and Albanians see the sovereignty here as the zero sum gain, either have it or not. On the other side, the big powers — America and the EU on one side and Russia on another — are pushing both sides into confrontation without having to lose much themselves.

Ivanko: The bottom line is this is a European problem. It’s time for the EU to step up and think decisively about how to deal with the problem. On the ground in Kosovo, we cannot continue talking and talking. It’s time for status to be resolved and for decisive action. That’s why we’ve been pushing that it’s time for the U.N. to transfer authority to the EU.

Rathfelder: The EU isn’t comparable with the U.S. It’s still in the process of becoming a common state. European policy now is forming a common foreign policy so that all countries can decide as the EU. That’s why the European policy seems to be slow and indecisive. One has to find, with 27 countries, solutions everyone can support. Kosovo’s status is challenging the European community, and diplomats have to find a solution.

Loory: What impact will a Kosovo settlement have on Bosnia?

Rathfelder: Bosnia is still divided into two entities. It was a mistake from the beginning to have that definition, but now we have a Bosnian federation and the Serbian entity. Strong forces in the Serbska Republika are threatening if there is a Kosovo decision for independence, they want to split away. But that’s not realistic because Bosnia-Herzegovina is an internally recognized state. We have strong forces in the international communities present, the Office of the High Representative and international troops present.

Loory: In January, the presidency of the EU goes to Slovenia, a former Yugoslavian republic. Is Slovenia likely to have more impact in fashioning a settlement in Kosovo?

Ivanko: Slovenia is very keen on having this problem solved soon. The minister of foreign affairs in Slovenia knows this region like no other foreign minister and has been active in finding a way forward for the EU. It’s good news for the region and for Kosovo.

Mustafa: I would like to interject that Serbia must learn a lesson. The territorial expansion intentions were a source of problems, and now we have the case of Kosovo declaring independence. The Troika was the result of a failure by the U.N. Security Council to agree on a proposal that recommended a supervised independence for Kosovo. This was the second try for agreement, but it failed.

Loory: The Troika is composed of the EU, the U.S. and Russia. How has the Troika been operating?

Ivanko: The Troika has been facilitating direct negotiations by Pristina and Belgrade. There were several rounds of talks. After the negotiations, a narrative report was presented to the secretary general. The report doesn’t offer any conclusions. It just describes how the process went.

Loory: There may not be a settlement, but we can say both sides appear to feel that even if Kosovo does go it alone, each side will stop short of renewing violence.

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Cliff Ainsworth, Yue Li, Heather Perne and Catherine Wolf.

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