Today was the official start of the talks in Vienna on the future status of Kosovo. I don’t know anything of what happened, but it is likely to be a very careful start, dominated by positioning on both sides.
And the talks will take time. In my opinion, they should.
If you listen to what’s said by the two sides, there is virtually no common ground whatsoever. And neither sides sees any room for compromise.
But some sort of compromise there will have to be. If not all of the way, then at the least most of the way. Anything else would mean that the conflict will continue in the one form or the other.
The Albanians of Kosovo claim that they have a right of self-determination and the setting up of an independent state.
This is nothing new.
There was fairly heavy fighting in Kosovo in 1945-46 when the Yugoslav Communist insisted on Kosovo continuing as part of their Yugoslavia. During the German/Italian brief time, there was established a Greater Albanian that included most of present Kosovo.
When Socialist Yugoslavia started to fall apart, the Albanians of Kosovo again asked for independence, and the demand was given overwhelming support in an informal referendum. But the international community, based on the report of the so called Badinter Commission, did not acknowledge that the area of Kosovo had a right of self-determination. That right was only with the constituent republics of Yugoslavia.
The war in 1999 changed everything.
Its origins was in an armed rebellion by more nationalist elements in Kosovo. This started very limited in late 1997, gathered pace in 1998 and threathen to develop into large-scale fighting in early 1999. It took the form of attacks against Serb officials as well as Albanians deemed to be cooperating with them – as well as severe Serb counterattacks and reprisals of different sorts.
It was an ugly thing. The US administration in the beginning of the conflict did not hesitate to describe UCK – the Kosovo Albanian armed organisation – as a terrorist organisation. But soon the Serb armed forces of different sorts outperformed them in atrocities.
The attenmpt to broker a peace at Rambouillet outside Paris in early 1999 failed. In retrospect one can ask whether primarily the US side was ever interested in a deal. Madeleine Albright believed that it would be enough to threathen Milosevic with bombing for him to give in to everything. She had profoundly misread the lessons of Bosnia.