20 June 2005 - Decentralisation critical to Kosovo’s future [Press Communiqué]
Rapid and comprehensive decentralisation is a crucial precondition to securing Belgrade’s participation in future talks on the status of Kosovo. This was one of the key conclusions to emerge from the Rose-Roth seminar on “Serbia and Montenegro: Reconciling Integration and Fragmentation”, held in Sveti Stefan, Serbia and Montenegro, 16-18 June, which brought together legislators, officials and experts from within and outside the region. The seminar focused on two predominant themes: the future of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro and the future status of Kosovo at a moment when the international community has decided that 2005 will be the year of progress towards a solution and has appointed Kai Eide, Norwegian ambassador to NATO, as Kofi Annan’s envoy to the region to assess the state of the democratic standards in Kosovo.
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. However, that was as far as agreement went. On every other aspect the gap in perception, interpretation and understanding of the fundamental issues concerning Kosovo's current and future status was vast.
According to Veton Surroi, through its genocidal actions under Milosevic Serbia had lost the moral right to have any say in the future of Kosovo. For him and other Kosovar Albanian participants talks on final status could only have one outcome: independence - however with guarantees for the Serb minority who wished to remain. For most of the Serb participants Kosovo remained "the southern province of Kosovo and Metohia"; in their view, talk of independence was contrary to international law and to the spirit of the Helsinki Final Act. Granting independence to Kosovo would, moreover, set a bad precedent and have serious consequences for the reform movement in Belgrade and for regional stability. "Less than independence, more than autonomy" remained their bottom line, with an insistence that those standards relevant to Kosovar Serbs should be fully implemented.
As a result of these diametrically opposed positions, the International community is faced with two equally unpalatable alternatives: proceed with final status discussions with the apparently inevitable outcome of independence and the negative consequences for Serbia and Kosovar Serbs; or further prolong the status quo and risk the wrath of an already frustrated Kosovar Albanian population. Is there a middle way to bridge these apparently irreconcilable positions? Are there measures that might permit compromise and concession? To what degree can the inexorable move to independence be squared with previous understandings on the inviolability of borders?
From both Kosovar Albanians and Serbs came plenty of indications on what not to do, but little on what should be done. Both sides seem to generally agree with the "three no's" policy (no to the pre-1999 status; no to any partition, no to the union of Kosovo with any other state), but see their application rather differently. For Belgrade there is nothing on the table at present that counters the unacceptable fate of Kosovo independence. More immediate measures are needed.
Various options were discussed, including the proposal of the Balkan Commission -presented by Istvan Gyarmati? that would see the process to independence firmly linked to European Union integration. However, the absence of a responsible political leadership in Kosovo suggests a lengthy transition process and puts the goal of EU integration far in the future. All agreed that the region was part of Europe and that the EU commitment, despite other equally compelling trouble spots, remained firm, as indicated by Stefan Lehne of the EU Council. But regardless of these reassurances, the shadow of Europe's constitutional crisis hung over the proceedings raising considerable nervousness on the part of would be aspirants and a question mark over the political and practical relevance of the lure of EU membership.
The role of the international community in Kosovo was discussed at length. Despite limited progress in terms of security and institution building, as described by UNMIK Deputy Special Representative Francesco Bastagli, Kosovo's economic and social situation remains abysmal. This would certainly oblige the international community to rethink the form of its engagement in Kosovo, most likely by phasing out UNMIK, which is seen by many as part of the problem, and increasing the role of the EU.
The maturity of the Kosovar political leadership was also questioned. They will be able to respond, it was said, when given more responsibility by the international community. Yet the unspoken question was: what if they do not? What then? How can the international community prevent Kosovo from becoming the black hole of Europe it has expended so much energy and resources to prevent?
Compared with the lack of agreement and the acrimony of the discussions on Kosovo, the opening days' debates on relations between Serbia and Montenegro were almost harmonious. Almost, because there remain differences over the desirability and potential functionality of separation into two states. Yet there was optimism that whatever the path chosen after the 2006 referendum, it would be done responsibly and calmly. Despite one or two siren voices of alarm, it was generally agreed that there was no inherent reason for instability. NATO officials noted that it was the process rather than the final outcome that was of most relevance to the Alliance. Whether one state or two, NATO officials stressed that moving closer to the Alliance meant getting serious about defence reform and the planning of future force structures. Alliance advice and assistance was on hand but should be heeded if progress to eventual integration was to be made. Good governance, transparency and accountability were also principles where the Alliance would want to see substantial improvements.