The diplomatic battle over Martti Ahtissaari's plan for Kosovo has overshadowed the actual specifics, writes the University of Toronto's Robert Austin. By looking at the details, Kosovo Albanians would see they have serious obligations to undertake, while Kosovo Serbs would see potential gains for their community.
By Robert C. Austin for Southeast European Times – 21/05/07
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari's plan for Kosovo is designed to make the province a multiethnic society. [Getty Images]
As the diplomatic tug-of-war over former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari's blueprint for Kosovo continues, relatively little attention has been paid to the actual contents of the document. In Kosovo and elsewhere, the focus tends to be on the front-end of the proposal -- the part where Kosovo is granted the right to a flag, anthem and, most importantly, the right to conclude international agreements and the right to seek membership in international institutions.
Less is said about the truly monumental tasks involved in making the Ahtisaari package a reality on-the-ground. It is doubtful that most people on the street, whether in Pristina or North Mitrovica, have a clear idea of what would come after "independence day".
Ahtisaari's proposal is first and foremost a document designed to make Kosovo a multiethnic society. This means that the non-Albanian communities have been granted substantial powers. With more than 90% of Kosovo made up of Albanians, the minority Serb, Roma, Ashkali, Gorani, Egyptian, Turk and Bosniak communities are given tremendous influence in all sectors. In brief, Ahtisaari has designed an asymmetric state.
One can certainly imagine that in the new Kosovo minority parties will be able to play critical roles in the formation of both governments and government policy. It is also worth noting that Ahtisaari's proposals for community rights did not come out of the blue. They were already in the Kosovo Albanian side's negotiation package for the direct talks in Vienna.
As a first step, Kosovo will have to adopt a constitution that will include many aspects of the Ahtisaari package. A constitutional commission must be formed that includes 21 members, three of whom will come from the Serb community and three from other non-majority communities. Upon approval of the constitution by the existing Assembly in Kosovo, new elections must be held within nine months.
Kosovo Albanians have committed themselves to significant obligations under the proposed plan. [Getty Images]
The new electoral system borrows much of what was already there, but there are some important changes. There are still 120 seats based on proportional representation. The big difference here is that the party lists will be open -- until now they have been closed, much to the dissatisfaction of many citizens. Twenty seats have been set aside for non-Albanian communities -- ten for the Serb community and ten for other communities. For the first two electoral mandates these are required minimums. Any seats gained in the elections are in addition to the reserved seats.
The new assembly rules also include various qualified majority voting rules. Certain legal changes would require not only a majority in the Assembly but also a majority of Assembly members who represent non-majority communities. In essence, any major alterations require everyone's assent. The new cabinet must include a Serb minister and a minister from another non-majority community. The same rule applies for deputy ministers as well. If the cabinet has more than 12 members, than the non-majority communities get an additional minister and deputy minister.
Any future changes to the constitution require approval from two-thirds of assembly members as well as two-thirds of the members who represent non-majority communities. The same rules apply to the justice system. Kosovo's Supreme Court must have at least 15% of judges representing non-majority communities.
Outside of national level institutions, the communities are again granted wide powers at the local level. Full access to schooling in any official language of Kosovo (Albanian and Serbian), and free use of national symbols, language and alphabet are guaranteed. Where non-majority communities form at least 10% of the population, the post of vice-president of the Municipal Assembly goes to a representative of non-majority communities. As is the case with the Ohrid Framework Agreement, Kosovo's public service at all levels must reflect the multiethnic nature of Kosovo society.
The most crucial area, however, is decentralisation. This is potentially the biggest hurdle for the Albanian majority, as the Ahtisaari package creates a fairly decentralised state with a number of new municipalities designed to accommodate Serb demands. For example, North Mitrovica gets control over higher education and health care. The same holds true for other Serb-dominated municipalities. Schools that teach in the Serbian language are free to use books developed by appropriate ministries in Serbia.
A strong international community presence is envisaged, although many aspects of this have yet to be worked out. As in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the plan grants sweeping powers to the International Civilian Representative (ICR) who also acts as the EU's special representative. The ICR's powers are easy to interpret: he/she is the final authority on the implementation of the package. It is the ICR that makes the difference between independence and supervised independence.
A strong international presence in Kosovo is expected for the near future. [UNMIK]
Ahtisaari's proposal does more than create a quasi-independent Kosovo. He offered a framework for another stage in Kosovo's evolution. This stage seems set to last for a protracted period, in the hope that by the time true independence does come, things in the region might make this type of solution more palatable.
Under renewed and potentially more stringent supervision, Kosovo's communities must now prove that they can sustain a multiethnic state. Much depends on the Albanian majority's political will and enthusiasm for remaining committed to Ahtisaari's vision. But it is also up to the non-Albanian communities to make the most of the powers granted them. Should they fail to do so, the blame could not be placed on the Albanians.
Reactions to the plan so far suggest that both sides should spend more energy looking at the specifics -- as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Kosovo's media is now focused entirely on the endgame and the diplomatic showdown with Serbia and Russia. There is little talk on how to move forward afterwards. At the same time, the Serb community in Kosovo has the opportunity to consider how the Ahtisaari proposal can be used to their advantage. Anyone who suggests that Kosovo is set to become simply another Albanian state in the Balkans has not read the fine print.
A public outreach campaign, especially by the Albanian authorities in Kosovo, would help the public understand just what is expected when it comes to the implementation phase. By accepting the package, the Albanian majority has undertaken a sweeping set of obligations that will be expensive, challenging and not altogether pleasing. Political will and an informed population will be critical if Kosovo is to move ahead.
Robert C. Austin teaches the history and politics of Southeastern Europe at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.