Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Kosovo: The dice are rolling

/ kosovo / mess /
The International Crisis Group has published a report (the full report can be found here [pdf document]) describing the situation in Kosovo and proposing some recommendations as to the developments that should follow. Given the reputation and the board members of the ICG, it wouldn't be too much speculation to consider this as something that is being seriously considered and rather likely to be implemented (or attempted to be implemented anyway).
The proposal suggests that the push to reach "final status" in Kosovo (meaning independence) should start ASAP - and actually offers a timeline for its materialization. This, the report recommends, should proceed even if some won't play along:

It has to be contemplated that Serbia -- and perhaps Russia as well ­-- will refuse to cooperate with part or all of this. But the proposed process should not be held hostage to that eventuality: the situation on the ground in Kosovo is too fragile, and the status quo too unsustainable in too many ways, for the international community to allow its future status to be put on indefinite hold. While legitimate Serbian concerns should be taken fully into account, particularly about the status of Kosovo's Serb minority, Belgrade should be cautioned from the outset that "the train is leaving, with or without you", and encouraged to participate fully in achieving the best possible terms of settlement.

(I would hasten to note that this would create serious problems in Greece too and even if the Greek government went along with this plan, the consequences could be politically damaging for the Conservatives.)

Yet this proposal is, IMHO, dangerous and would, if implemented, create an even more unstable Western Balkans (and beyond?)... It would potentially spread further the destabilization that NATO's bombing disaster has inflicted in an already unstable area. This because it would legitimize nationalist violence and make it attractive to all sorts of secessionist movements, since the successful example of the Kosovo's violent secessionists, would be a guiding light to a variety of extreme nationalist elements in the broader region - with (part of) the Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia surely next in line.

The substantial arguments in support of Kosovo's independence are related to the containment of an already existing problem. However, should Kosovo be granted independence based on its majority's desires, it's hard to see on what grounds one can deny the will of , say, a majority (apparently - I'd be happy to stand corrected) of Bosnia's population and artificially keep a federation that these majorities do not desire... Bear in mind that I'm not talking about problems that will appear today or next year. This precedent will haunt the area for years to come and could contribute to conflagrations at any time - and you really never know when that time might come, as the example of the FRY shows clearly. The future is inherently uncertain - but creating extra sources of volatility, in an area that has a history of violently erupting tensions, is IMHO criminally idiotic - and I say this as someone who lives in the likely to be affected area and has no intention of fighting, or sending my children to fight, wars over anyone's nationalist autism.

The other problem for Kosovo, not addressed in the proposed "solution" is economic - and it concerns the fact that Kosovo has never been economically self-supporting and is not likely to become so anytime soon. Thus (given the fact that unification with Albania is explicitly rejected in the report) it appears that Kosovo will have to be sustained by the "international community" (whatever that means). Is this the sort of statelet/protectorate that the area needs?

OK, I'll try to avoid dwelling on the huge mess the NATO bombardments created (and my opinion, as has been stated here many times, is that, besides being criminal and illegal, the bombings made a bad situation worse at the time when realistic options existed that could have significantly improved it)... and try to be (uncharacteristically) constructive: What now then? Is there a solution that does not perpetuate and export the problem?

I never expected to be proposing this, but a possible way that, in my admittedly limited understanding, the Kosovo question can be now resolved is through a Regional Conference that will discuss the issue of borders, states and minorities in the region as a whole, and will arrive at an general solution for all of ex-Yugoslavia and conceivably beyond. This should be convened under the auspices of the UN and the EU, and should involve all affected and/or interested parties. The whole process will involve national trade-offs, but should conclude with an across the table deal, accepted and signed by all (major) parties. This comprehensive charter for the Balkan peninsula, would, in all probability include, for example, the eventual accession of (all or most of) Kosovo to Albania, in exchange for extensive autonomy / secession rights for Kosovar Serbs (and a possible redrawing of the map in Bosnia?)

P.S. I'd like to point out two things about the International Crisis Group:

- First, that having a group that includes Wesley Clark in its board, propose a solution for Kosovo, should be as attractive an idea for Serbs as having the hitman that shot at you among the medical team that will undertake the surgery.
- This is a very *ideological* outfit, really, as evidenced from their reports about Iraq, most glaringly in reporting the events leading to the war on Iraq. This report on whether there is an alternative to war in Iraq [pdf file], written a little before the invasion, provides for amusing reading today, especially in regard to Iraq's containment and weapons threat. Interestingly and characteristically when listing the possible rationales for going to war they name the following:

International consensus on whether there is a case for waging war against Iraq is hindered by disagreement about what such a war would be for, i.e. for which one or more of the three objectives outlined at the outset a war is to be fought:
  • External threat: Is it a war to remove a threat to international peace and security?

  • Disarmament: Is it a war to enforce Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and previous resolutions demanding that Iraq disarm itself of all remaining weapons of mass destruction?

  • Internal Threat: Is it a war to overthrow an Iraqi regime that has behaved monstrously toward its own people?

  • The possibilty that the war might not be waged at all for these (rather ludicrous in realistic terms) benign motives, but rather it might involve (ah, the horror!) more mundane and materialistic strategies and benefits, is not at all considered. This is either an impressive show of Stalinesque indoctrination, or a statement about the honesty and the agenda of the group. You decide.

    link via balkan-scissors


    talos said...

    A clarification: looking at the post again I saw that it might be misinterpreted as being supportive of this Balkan-scale "redrawing of borders". I am no such thing. It just seems to me that of all the bad options left (after the civil wars, the resurgence of idiotic nationalism in the area and the NATO bombings) this is potentially the least risky - as far as potential bloodiness is concerned.

    zdenka pregelj said...

    I agree we you:
    a) Kosovo issue is the most dangerous one for whole Balkan, maybe even wider,
    b) The solution proposed by ICG is too simple, and since I live in Bosnia, I can not but wonder - what happens here.
    c) What about Macedonia (FYR)?
    But then, looking what is happening in Iraq, listening to the treats re Iran...who knows what may happen???

    talos said...

    Seesaw, thanks for the comment.

    I wonder: do you agree that developments in Kosovo are not unlikely to affect Bosnia as well? And do you see any indication of a will to preserve the Bosnian federation in Bosnia? - given the election results it doesn't seem to be something popular, despite all the efforts.

    Anonymous said...

    H'm. Would Kosovar independence really be so inspiring to, say, the Bosnian Serbs or the Macedonian Albanians? Data insufficient, but I'm not inclined to take this on faith. There are examples of successful political integration of minorities in SE Europe in the last 15 years -- Romania's Hungarians, Moldova's Gagauz. Even Bulgaria's Turks, if your main metric is stability. Heck, even the Serbs of Croatia were willing to settle for autonomy.

    Can't comment on the ICG report until I've read it.

    Council of Berlin II is an interesting notion, but let's be clear -- basically you're proposing to hand a big Serb-inhabited chunk of Bosnia over to Serbia, thereby screwing over the Bosniaks, in order to compensate Serbia for the loss of Kosovo.

    This isn't necessarily a bad idea, but it does have its gnarly bits.

    Cut Bosnia in half, and what do you have left? Well... a mostly Muslim statelet of a bit over two million people, landlocked, without any indigenous industry to speak of, in a not very attractive chunk of SE Europe. Sound familiar? It would basically be Kosovo North. (Well, except that Bosniaks are, on average, much better educated than Kosovars, and much more "European" in their thinking. But I don't think that would help much.) So, I'm not seeing a net gain in regional stability here.

    Oh, and of course the Croats would (quite reasonably) ask why they shouldn't have a cut. Imminent EU membership might shut them up, but one doubts the issue would die there.

    ...you couldn't give the Serbs the Dayton line; that's 49% of the country by area, and includes most of its industry. (The Muslims got the pretty bit with the mountains, some mines, and a couple of nice agricultural valleys. The Croats got Herzegovina -- "snakes, stones, and Ustashe"). You'd have to chop their piece way back. And you'd still end up with plenty of Bosniaks inside Bigger Serbia, and vice versa.

    Crap, let's not even talk about Macedonia. Macedonia is probably too small to be economically viable as it is. Cutting it in two will not improve matters.

    Further. This is pretty explicitly giving up on the notion of hostile ethnic groups learning to live together. For ten years Europe has been telling Bosnians "you can do it... really... you can." Carve up Bosnia and you're conceding, "Ah, screw it, no you can't." ISTM that this is just as potentially destabilizing as an independent Kosovo.

    Details. You can't say "hold a conference" without thinking about how it would play out. What should its goals be? Regional stability? We've got that, even if it's artificially imposed. Greatest good of greatest number? Most economically rational borderlines? Justice? You'd have to prioritize, because every one of these conflicts with a couple of others. And someone would be left unhappy, so at least part of the solution would have to be imposed by force or the implicit threat thereof.

    I don't want to break you of the habit of proposing solutions, but this one is not easy. Even if it's only a least bad solution.

    Doug M.

    talos said...

    Well, Ok, I never said that it would be easy, eh?

    I was thinking of:

    - establishing a Balkan Charter for minorities, policed by the EU and punishable by EU entry talks delay.

    - have an open agenda about possible priorities. This is something that would have to be detrmined by the interested parties. Stability and economic viability would I imagine be crucial.

    - Although I am not in a position to make any concrete proposals for the actual redrawing of the map, this is one Sci-Fi scenario:
    (All or most of) R.Srpska would be joining Serbia, Herzegovina would be joining Croatia (if Croatia agrees!), and the Bosnian Muslims would get to decide between an independent statelet (with or without the Bosnian Croats) or an extensive autonomy status (granted to all resulting "trapped" minorities) - inside which entity though is a rather difficult problem. Extra bonus points for the Serbs capturing Mladic and Karazic and a formal and official apology by the Serb government for atrocities committed - to be followed by reciprocal apologies for similar atrocities by all relevant entities. Yes it's pipe dreams. But if there's a decent-sized carrot on the other end you never know....

    - I agree that we have an artificial stability now, but I am expecting some heavy fallout from Kosovar independence. Not least of which is that, after Kosovo's seccession, I expect that even you wouldn't bet against the possibility of the Radicals being elected to office very soon...

    - This is pretty explicitly giving up on the notion of hostile ethnic groups learning to live together. For ten years Europe has been telling Bosnians "you can do it... really... you can." Carve up Bosnia and you're conceding, "Ah, screw it, no you can't."Well, it is kind of late for Europe to mourn for the lost multiculturalism, isn't it, after the enthusiastic support for the most hasty dissolution of Yugoslavia on exactly the opposite grounds, or the fact that the standards in Kosovo seem to be the inverse. Actually if you think about it rationally from a purely economic viewpoint, the whole of the former Yugoslavia should not have been broken up among more than two (or maybe three) states.

    - You'd have to prioritize, because every one of these conflicts with a couple of others.I know and I admit it. How would you prioritize? Is there some other idea you'd find preferable?

    Anonymous said...

    I'm away for the weekend, so have to keep this short. More in a bit, maybe.

    Bosniaks as part of either Croatia or Serbia -- forget it. It's as likely (and as reasonable) as asking Kosovars to rejoin Serbia. The Bosniaks don't hate Serbs the way Albanians do, but they've actually suffered more at Serb hands -- ~70,000 civilian dead, half a million refugees.

    Also, the numbers are bad. Very approximately, there are about 2.2 million Bosniacs, about one and a half million Bosnian Serbs, and maybe 700,000 Croats. Join that with Serbia, and you have a country of about 12 million, of which the Bosniaks are less than 20%. Not so good. The Radical Party in Serbia has nearly as many members as the entire Bosniak population.

    Join the Muslim-Croat piece with Croatia, though, and you have a country where just over a third is Bosniak. Throw in the returned Serbs and over 40% of Croatia would be non-Croat. No way are the Croats going for that.

    [Dear God, breaking up Yugoslavia was such a bad bad bad idea. What a colossal, thorough and multilateral screwup.]

    Charter of Minority Rights: it's not a bad idea, but keep in mind that all the relevant governments already subscribe to all relevant treaties and conventions on minority rights and always have. So it would be pretty much entirely symbolic. How to give it teeth is another good question.

    And what happens when/if some minority group starts kicking up a fuss? Slobo used to have this pious screed he'd roll out for the credulous, about how Serbia had like nineteen different minority groups and it didn't have trouble with any of them but one, and it was because this one had some terrorists, plain and simple. Spain recently outlawed a Basque party and sent the cops in to toss Basque nationalists' headquarters; I suspect that, under the proposed Charter, they'd be in violation.

    Ahh, time runs short. But. You very reasonably asked what my alternative would be. I'm not sure. Let me read the report (which may take a few days). Maybe I'll be like, oooh, Wesley Clark, scholarly yet with a manly firmness -- I love it -- and that'll be my starting point. Or maybe not. Will get back to you.


    Doug M.