With the release of UN special envoy Martti Ahtissari's plan, Kosovo Albanian leaders have been given a clear perspective regarding statehood. At the same time, the international community has again demonstrated its commitment to a multiethnic future for the province.
By Robert C Austin for Southeast European Times – 05/02/07
UN Envoy Martti Ahtisaari a (right) and his deputy, Albert Rohan, presented the plan for the province on Friday (February 2nd) in Pristina. [Getty Images]
UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan for Kosovo, the subject of much speculation over the last several weeks, has finally been made public. He presented the document during visits to Belgrade and Pristina on Friday (February 2nd). Reactions were as expected. Serb President Boris Tadic rejected the plan, while the Albanian leaders in Pristina welcomed it. After almost eight years in limbo, they finally have a roadmap that leads directly to statehood. However, some tough work lies ahead as Ahtisaari needs to bring the members of the UN Security Council on board.
The contents of the proposal were not a surprise. Many of its elements had already been reported on in the international media. Although the package stops short of mentioning the word "independence", it gives the Kosovo Albanian side most of what it was looking for. So far, there has been little opposition in Pristina, except for youth leader Albin Kurti. He objects to the provision calling for an International Civilian Representative with fairly significant powers -- an idea which he terms "colonial".
The Kosovo Serbs also received most of what they were arguing for when it comes to decentralisation and the protection of cultural heritage. However, the Serbian government has reacted with shock. Although Belgrade would be allowed to provide transparent funding to the Serb community in Kosovo, its demands for some form of continued sovereignty have gone unheeded. Kosovo would be given "the right to negotiate and conclude international agreements, including the right to seek membership in international organisations". Media in both Kosovo and Serbia were quick to note the implications.
Ahtisaari's proposal sets out what he calls the basis for a viable, sustainable and stable Kosovo. If implemented, it can do just that -- but only if the Albanians work with renewed intensity on building the type of Kosovo they have supported rhetorically over the past eight years. Essentially, the blueprint provides for "monitored independence". That means two things: it is not full independence, and whatever is granted could, in theory, be taken away.
A key emphasis in the document is the urgent need to rebuild Kosovo's multiethnic character in the weeks and months ahead. Concretely, this means disbanding the Kosovo Protection Corps and replacing it with a new Kosovo Security Force. Kosovo will also need new symbols. Neither the black-double headed eagle of neighboring Albania nor the flag designed by the late President Ibrahim Rugova will suffice, as the new flag is supposed to represent everyone in Kosovo. Elements of the Ohrid Framework Agreement that ended the conflict in Macedonia are evident throughout, as is the determination to ensure that Kosovo is not simply another Albanian state at its core. Every aspect of public life in Kosovo must reflect multiethnicity and the Serb communities in Kosovo are given wide powers. The new Kosovo will be decentralised and minorities will be given extra weight in the parliament.
Under the plan, the Kosovo Protection Corps would be disbanded and replaced by a security force. [Afrim Hajrullahu]
There are busy times ahead for Kosovo leaders. If Ahtisaari's plan is accepted, the leadership in Kosovo must ready themselves for a new and leaner EU-led mission there. There will be severe financial implications that accompany the end of the UN mission. The parliament must also develop a new constitution that enshrines what Ahtisaari proposed.
One problem with the deal is its timing. With nationalism enjoying a political resurgence in Serbia, it has become more difficult to win Belgrade's co-operation in a settlement. Despite their intense differences on other issues, the major parties united behind a constitution which terms Kosovo an integral part of Serbia. Only the Liberal Democrats and their allies advocate independence for the province.
The political climate might have been more favourable half a decade ago, when Milosevic was freshly out of power and the momentum in Serbia was decisively reformist. But two factors delayed the process. One was the nature of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Another was the slowness of the Albanian leadership in Kosovo to live up to expectations -- particularly when it came to meeting the UN-set standards and implementing reforms.
Serbian President Boris Tadic rejected the proposal. [Getty Images]
For many years, the official mantra from the international community was "standards before status", while many in Kosovo argued that lack of a political settlement was holding back reform. With Ahtisaari's plan, the ball is in Pristina's court. It will be up to them to show they can deliver. Specifically, the world wants to see not only a commitment to multiethnicity but a maturing political climate. Neighboring Albania lost ten years in a fraught transition, plagued by internal polarisation. Kosovo's internal political life has already exhibited some similarities.
Political polarisation and the placing of personal agendas ahead of national ones will only hamper the transition to statehood. Moreover, statehood itself is not the end of the story. To survive, Kosovo will need to rebuild its economy and attract investment. That cannot happen in an atmosphere of turmoil. It would be short-sighted to think of international expectations simply as a checklist of tasks that must be completed to win a desired political arrangement. In the long run, meeting these expectations will be vital to Kosovo and its people.
Robert C. Austin teaches the history and politics of Southeastern Europe at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.