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Senior representatives of the governments in Belgrade and Pristina have accepted that a substantial level of political and administrative decentralisation is crucial to settle the issue of Kosovo's future status. The two sides, however, are not working together to implement this process and still disagree on its times and modalities, as well as on the role of the international community in it. These were the general conclusions of a special seminar co-organised in Rome by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Italian parliament, where legislators and government officials from the Balkan region as well as representatives of the civil society of Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo gathered together.

Coming just four days after the UN Security Council decision to open the negotiations on the future status of Kosovo and to appoint a Special Envoy to lead the process, the event was welcomed by all actors as a good opportunity for discussion. An important contribution to the debates was offered by a "White Paper" recommending possible models of decentralisation drafted by a group of independent Belgrade experts, including analysts from the Center for Non Violent Resistance and from other organisations.

NATO PA Vice President Giovanni Lorenzo Forcieri welcomed all participants and reminded them that the Assembly had decided to organise the Rome meeting following the conclusions the Rose-Roth seminar in Sveti Stefan, during which discussants from Belgrade and Pristina agreed that a substantial level of political and administrative decentralisation was the only way to reassure Kosovo Serbs that they had a place in a future Kosovo and that there was any purpose to engaging in negotiations.

In his opening presentation, Petr Ivantsov, Director of the Office of Political Affairs of the UNSG Special Representative in Kosovo, indicated that a comprehensive reform of local government was among the key priorities on which the international community in Kosovo will concentrate in the coming months. The Working Group on Local Government Reform, created in 2004, created structures to work on five areas related to reform: legislation, transfer of competences, local finance, capacity building and pilot projects.  "The most visible result at this stage", according to Ivantsov, "is the implementation of the pilot projects, of which three with provisional assemblies have been established". However, due to a boycott of the process by Kosovo Serbs, the two pilot municipal units of Gracanica and Partes (where Serbs are the majority) failed to materialize. The UNMIK representative asked Kosovo Serbs to rejoin the working groups and return to the Provisional Institutions.

The reform of local government, Ivantsov stated, was based on a "firm commitment to a multiethnic Kosovo" by the international community and therefore "firmly embedded" in the process of implementation of standards. Ivantsov indicated that there was an agreement with the Kosovo government that standards will be implemented at the same time as status, but admitted that the Status Envoy will have to strike a balance "between the current process of local government reform and the status-related aspects of decentralisation".

Lufti Haziri, Minister of Local Government Administration of Kosovo, declared that decentralisation was in "everybody's interest" and that there had been progress in this area since the NATO PA seminar in Sveti Stefan last June, notably the success of three out of five municipal pilot projects and the opening of direct talks with the Serbian government in Vienna in September. He confirmed his government's commitment to a decentralisation process that would be part of the standards implementation process and which would take into account "the specific interests of minority communities, especially the Serb one". This would also lead to the "creation of a number of additional Serb-majority municipalities". Mr Haziri also stressed that Kosovars will not allow Belgrade to control parts of their territory through decentralisation. In other words, Pristina would not accept "any form of continued authority of Belgrade over any part of Kosovo or any citizens of Kosovo (…)" nor the creation of "parallel institutions".  Rainer Stinner, member of the German delegation to the NATO PA, agreed that the creation of parallel institutions was not desirable and added that the objective of a decentralised Kosovo should not be sought at the expense of efficiency and good governance.

Fatmir Sedju, a member of the Kosovo Assembly, replied that only the implementation of standards and the parallel concession of independence could enable Kosovars to efficiently transfer more authority to the local level.  Aleksandar Simic, Legal advisor to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, strongly objected this statement, arguing that in fact the opposite was true, and that granting Kosovo independence, apart from violating international law, would undermine decentralisation.

Alexander Anderson of the International Crisis Group was sceptical about "putting a lot of political energy into decentralisation". He regretted that the recommendation Kai Eide made in his 2004 report to the UN Secretary General to "embed" the rights of Kosovo Serbs into their participation in central institutions was not maintained in the 2005 report. He also stressed that the creation of a multiethnic Kosovo Police Force, rather than the fragmentation of local police forces, would help guarantee the security of the Serb minority.

Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, Head of the Serbia and Montenegro Coordination Center for Kosovo, recognised that the present status of Kosovo "and Metohija" was "unacceptable" because it prevented stability and functionality. The position of the Serbian government regarding the future status of Kosovo could be summarised by the formula "more than autonomy less than independence". With regard to decentralisation, Ms Raskovic-Ivic declared that it was "necessary to create 15 new municipalities", which should be "multiethnic by nature, but with a stable Serbian majority". She also declared herself convinced that the decentralisation process should be negotiated between Belgrade and Pristina, with the assistance of the international community, but kept separate from the talks on Kosovo's future status. She also believed that the report by Kai Eide made this separation clear.

Ms Raskovic-Ivic stressed that decentralisation would not only ensure the survival of Serb and other non-Albanian communities in Kosovo, amounting to 142,000 people, but would also provide an opportunity for the "sustainable" return of 230,000 internally displaced persons currently residing in Serbia and Montenegro.

Oliver Ivanovic, Serb member of the Kosovo Assembly, pointed out that Kosovo Serbs did not see themselves as an "independent entity" and wanted to be part of Kosovo. He stated that although security and economic stability were crucial for the return of Serbs to Kosovo, he was worried that standards would be "easily swept away" during the negotiations by the overarching (for Albanians) question of status.

Lieutenant General Giuseppe Valotto, KFOR Commander, confirmed that long term security in Kosovo could not be achieved without economic development. He declared that, according to the World Bank, 52% of the population in Kosovo lived on less than 1.42 euro a day. The role of the international community was to help the functioning of a "cycle of security and economy", which was based on four essential elements: (1) security (KFOR's main task); (2) the perception of security (linked to the image of the institutions and the society, as they are perceived by the population); (3) foreign investments (which will only flow in if the perception of security is positive); and (4) economic revitalisation (which can generate a reduction in tension, corruption and crime).

The authors of the "White Paper", Dusan Janjic, Srdjan Cvijic, Nenad Djurdjevic and Danijela Nenadic, declared that they accepted the "standards and status approach" supported by the international community and fully espoused the claim that decentralisation must be linked to the status talks. In addition, they did not see the question of decentralisation as being purely in the interest of the Serbs, but of crucial importance for all ethnic communities, for overall democratisation of Kosovo and for efficient institutional minority protection.

According to the authors of the "White Paper", for the future of Serb-Albanian relations and the stability of the region of South East Europe it is of fundamental importance that the problem of decentralisation of Kosovo, i.e. the institutional protection of minorities, is being solved through a dialogue between Belgrade, local Serbs, Pristina and with the assistance of the international community.

Among the recommendations that the "White Paper" proposed:
?To find a modus vivendi between the different decentralisation plans, including the one that the Serbian Government presented in 2002 and then put aside by the international community.
?To encourage Kosovo Serbs to gather a team that would join the institutional framework for the reform of local self-government. This team would have the mandate to participate in the construction of the plan for the reform of local self-government of Kosovo. Belgrade's role would be providing diplomatic expertise and technical as well as advisory assistance;
?To create new municipalities, which is especially important for effective institutional protection of the minority communities;
?To design a new set of prerogatives for local level including: local police, justice (municipal courts), education (primary and secondary schools), healthcare, media, economy, social warfare, local economy;
?To provide an institutional basis for transferring all powers - not explicitly given to the central level - to the local governments, which constitutes one of the fundaments of the European Charter of Local Self Government;
?To ensure that laws that are passed at the Provincial level and that infringe on the functioning of the local level, will be adopted through consultation and with consent of the representatives of minority communities;
?To allow municipalities to create horizontal links on the basis of recognised interests and needs; this instrument should be especially provided to the municipalities with clear Serbian majority;
?To provide a number of guaranteed seats in the Kosovo Assembly for members of the Kosovo Serb community and give them veto rights for important legislative decisions that directly affect their community, while establishing at the same time precise rules of procedure in order to avoid paralyzing of the work of the Assembly;
?To assure complete demilitarisation of Kosovo in which NATO should play a crucial role;

The international community, according to the authors of the "White Paper", needs to support both sides in their endeavor to achieve a common agreement on a long-lasting and sustainable solution for Kosovo, at both the local and provincial levels.

Despite the fact that little agreement was reached on how to tackle the decentralisation process in Kosovo (and even less on the future status) among the delegates from Pristina, from the government in Belgrade and from the Kosovo Serb community, all participants recognised that the meeting in Rome offered a useful opportunity for discussion and the "White Paper" will certainly provide fuel for enlarged discussions and exchanges in the region. In the next few months, the various actors will face an important test in their search for common ground with regard to the future status of Kosovo. And if finding common ground proves difficult, as Dusan Janjic said, we should look at ways to share responsibilities, because first and foremost "decentralisation is a way to place more responsibilities into the hands of the people". Otherwise, we would all run the risk of going back to those Balkans that journalist Ennio Remondino, in his remarks summing up the lessons of 15 years he spent in the region reporting for the Italian TV, lucidly described as "mired in a distorted perception of the present" because of "refusing to come to terms with the errors of the past".



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WHITE PAPER by Dusan Janjic PhD, Srdjan Cvijic PhD, Nenad Djurdjevic MA, Danijela Nenadic MA. from the CENTER FOR NON-VIOLENT RESISTANCE