Kosovo Issue After Vienna

It was hardly expected – and not even planned – that the talks in Vienna on the future of Kosovo would produce anything even resembling an agreement.

The big question is what happens now.

There are, in my judgment, some possibilities of patiently manoeuvring the issue slowly forward.

It will certainly be time-consuming and difficult, but it might produce part results that could then pave the way for further steps forward.

But the big question is whether the policy that the UN mediator Marti Ahtisaari follows will allow this or not.

In certain quarters all these talks are seen just as necessary preliminaries for a dramatic imposition of a pre-determined outcome: the full and immediate independence of Kosovo.

In those quarters, there isn’t really much interest in investing in the possibilities for even partial results.

A milder version of this approach has already resulted in the U-turn in policies on Kosovo from the previously sacrosanct “standards-before-status” to the now de facto-policy of “status before standards”.

Although not openly admitted, large parts of the international community have given up on achieving progress in Kosovo towards the stated goal of a multi-ethnic society. And everyone agrees that Kosovo is very far from that goal.

I fear that a hasty continuation of an approach that seeks a speedy imposition of a pre-determined outcome could spell tragedy for the region.

These are not the days of Milosevic, in which some high-level arms-twisting would do the trick and one could reply on authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes to use all their instruments to just “impose” things.

Dealing with democracies isn’t always as easy as dealing with dictatorships, and they do have a tendency to resent being dictated to.

An idea advocated is to offer Serbia the big bargain of losing Kosovo but gaining membership of the European Union and NATO. But that offer is often made by those who could possible dictate some sort of unilateral recognition of an independence of Kosovo, but have little influence over the enlargement strategy of the European Union.

And give the state of the enlargement debate in the European Union at the moment, it’s not hard to understand those in Serbia who question whether such an offer is really on the table.

To “impose” a solution of new states being created and international borders being changed on a region is hardly possible without a decision of the UN Security Council. That will then require an agreement between its five permanent members.

Whether that is a possibility or not remains to be seen.

Russia is signalling that it will demand a policy of parallelism between the Kosovo issue and the different secessionist issues in Georgia. It’s a position utterly unacceptable to the West – but it’s a position they so far are adhering to.

And then there is the question what it would actually mean. Even a Security Council resolution can’t alter sentiments and facts on the ground.

If Serbia refuses to recognize such a dictate and its election within the next year hands power to the nationalists again, it will be a very major setback for the region as a whole.

Massive new refuges waves will be a high probability, borders will be sealed again as hostility becomes the name of the game, Bosnia will become unpredictable and the entire European strategy of the past decade will be in tatters.

Whether there will be a stable and prosperous Kosovo in the middle of the ensuing mess is anybody’s guess – although I would not personally put too much money on it.

So there is much at stake –much more than many realize – in what happens after the talks in Vienna.

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