Friday, July 29, 2005

Cold Water over Kosovo

There seems to be increasing convulsions concerning how to deal with the future status of Kosovo in the months and years to come.

Up until last year, the international community pursued a policy of “standards before status”. The idea was that first Kosovo would develop into a decent and well-ordered place, not the least in terms of respect for minorities, and than one could address the issue of some sort of independence.

How realistic it was to try to kick the can of final status down the road is highly debatable. I wrote myself in International Herald Tribune that it was an illusion to think that the issue could be delayed for long.

Then came the explosion of anti-Serb and anti-minority violence in March of last year. The NATO forces failed to protect the minorities attacked, and the UN administration itself come under violent attack. There was sudden fear in the international community that the entire place was going to literally blow up.

Discreetly, this lead to the “standards before status policy” being abandoned, and replaced with something that said that one should first to a quick assessment of standards and then be prepared to move quickly to talks on status, finishing them towards the end of this year or, at the latest, by mid-year 2006. It become something like "status and standards".

Norwegian NATO Ambassador Kai Eide was recently asked to do the report on how standards have been fulfilled in Kosovo, and he’s obviously spending his summer on the issue. An old Balkan hand, he’s undoubtedly highly qualified for the task.

But now signs are multiplying that there is an emerging international consensus that the politicians and institutions of Kosovo have made far less progress than one had hoped for.

Media leaks talks about Kai Eide being disappointed with what he has seen, EU High Representative Javier Solana was very critical on his recent visit and on July 26 the so called Contact Group countries delivered a strongly worded letter to Kosovo Prime Minister Kosumi expressing its disappointment.

And now the head of the US Office in Pristina Phil Goldberg has given an interview to the Kosovo newspaper Express in which he strongly criticises the institutions and political leadership in Kosovo. According to Goldberg, the Kosovo Government and political leaders lack the willingness to address issues related to minorities, and he also says that there is insufficient organisation and preparations for the upcoming talks on final status.

There is obviously a concerted international effort to throw cold water at the politicians and institutions of Kosovo. They have simply not lived up to expectations, and they are not being told that they must either do more, and so quickly, or face an uncertain delay in the status talks.

The problem is only that none of the issues that are now seen as critical is open to any quick fixes in some weeks or months. If the Kosovo leadership lacks the will to address issues related to minorities we are talking about something that goes to the very core of the international efforts to create a reasonably multi-ethnic Kosovo.

After all, most nations did not go to war in 1999 to replace Serb repression of Albanians within Serbia with Albanian repression of Serbs and others in Kosovo. If that is what is achieved, then it's little more than turning the tables in a century-old conflict.

We'll see what consequences the new signals will have. Kai Eide will deliver his report to the UN Secretary-General some time in September, and it’s then up to the leading nations to decide how to proceed.

In all probability, there will be some sort of status talks, but in all probability they will be more lengthy and more complicated, and result in a less clear-cut solution, than most have so far been believing.

There are fears, particularly among Europeans, that too fast a process towards some sort of gradual independence involves the risk of setting up a “failed state” in the middle of a very sensitive area. While the US is keen to press ahead, it knows that at the end of the day Kosovo is a place in Europe rather than anywhere else. Russia remains deeply sceptical, but seems to think that the NATO governments can just as well stew in their own juice.

However the final decision will be phrased, it will be of momenteous decision for the whole region. The present showers of cold water over Kosovo is just the beginning of a true drama during the year to come.