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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 29:143–149.


Kosovo and the European Security Policy


Kosovo has developed into a significant problem of world politics not the least as a result of mistakes that had emerged during the management of the conflict around it. The problem of Kosovo is also an important issue for Hungary shaded by our European Union membership, by neighbourhood policy as well as the situation of the Hungarian minority in Serbia. This is a very important issue for the Hungarian public opinion as well as for the government.

I intend to shed light on two problems. On the one hand the question of democracy in Kosovo may deserve attention, which is quite a difficult task, for one may only speak about an evolving democracy. The other issue I wish to refer to is the way the international community has managed or ‘mismanaged’, if I may say so, the Kosovo crisis during the past ten years.

The Kosovo crisis has a very positive outcome, namely that the Croat-Serb conflict, determining the problems of the Balkans for a long time and leading to several clashes, has apparently been cooling down. It is the Albanian-Serb conflict that has become the conflict number one instead. This conflict has been mostly generated by the acceleration of the process of Kosovo Albanians becoming a nation, because what is involved here is an ethnic group that has still been significantly lagging behind its environment in the process of developing into a nation. Naturally, it does not mean that the development of nationhood of other nationalities has been completed in the Balkans, but the Kosovo Albanian community has been more backward and currently it tries to find its place, which would determine the framework of development and the future character of the Kosovo Albanian nation or nation-state.

It is well-known that the process has always been highly problematic in Europe and elsewhere, too. Practically it has always been accompanied by wars and it is hardly surprising if this process is taking place under these circumstances in the Balkans as well. The problem, however, is extended by the issues of the ‘Kosovo democracy’ since in the process of becoming a nation Albania and the Albanian community are faced with the task, mostly because of external expectations, of simultaneously going through the process of becoming a nation and of democratisation. It is rarely successful elsewhere too: the process of achieving nationhood usually does not take place within a democratic framework. Simply because when the classic processes of nation-building took place, democracy in its present form did not even exist in Europe, consequently there were no expectations for it to take place in the current democratic forms.

Albania and the Albanian community is a very interesting formation here, in Europe. Not only because it is the only major Muslim community, apart from Turkey and the Muslim communities that have settled down in Germany or in France, but also because it is a community basically still living in the system of clans, strongly bearing on itself the influence of the Ottoman Empire, as a result of which vendetta, corruption, etc. constitute part of customary law. (And here corruption is not necessarily imported by criminal groups.) Hence there are several problems that Europe expects to be solved but the Albanians do not consider these problems so urgently pressing. Let me mention a personal example. A couple of months ago I went to Kosovo. I had the opportunity to talk to the international Police Commissioner there who said that they would wind up the programme of protecting witnesses in Kosovo. It sounded rather strange, since the witness protection programme in a small country, where people know each other, may be rather difficult to implement. The Commissioner explained that the US insisted on having a witness protection programme at the establishment of the Kosovo judicial system. The coup de grace, i.e. the point at which the Americans themselves realised that their concept was inoperative was when they tried to involve the first Albanian in the witness protection programme. He appeared in the police to receive his new identity and place of residence and he brought along 31 family members to the surprise of policemen (naturally not the Albanian but the international ones). He explained that he had brought with him those 31 male members of his family who would be killed according to the rules of vendetta if he disappeared. Therefore, if he was placed under the witness protection programme, it is logical that the other 31 people should also be involved in it. On that occasion even the Americans admitted that their concept would not work. One has to face such problems when we try to accomplish the emergence of nationhood and democratisation in Kosovo.

The international community has a tremendous responsibility in managing this crisis. Not only because it has quasi volunteered for the task, but also because it has made a vast array of mistakes in its implementation during the past ten years. The international community as such is hard to define but basically it means the European Union and the United States of America. In this context Russia should also be included which has recently been playing a significant role in the management of the crisis, or rather, to be exact, in not managing the problem and enhancing the deterioration of the situation.

In 1999 Serbia was forced to pull out of Kosovo. The respective UN resolution was also passed and everybody understood that Kosovo could not be part of Serbia, as it is also stated by the UN Security Council resolution, but the international community pretended to believe that this was only a transitory condition and Kosovo would reintegrate into Serbia sometime in the future. This was a consensus, because the Serbs pretended to believe that this was truly the intention of the international community. The Albanians did not believe in it, to some extent neither the Americans, and events did not progress in that direction either. The Serbs were perfectly aware, not Milošević but rather the democratic opposition, that the problem of Kosovo cannot be settled by making the province again a part of Serbia. Yet the international community froze the problem from 1999 to 2004, and invented all sorts of silly things to gain time. Among others they said that Kosovo should become democratic at first and only then may one speak about its status. An even bigger mistake was that standards were set in this respect, about which Karl Bildt, at that time not yet Foreign Minister, said that Sweden would need about fifty years to reach the standards set for Kosovo to achieve within one or two years.

Next came March 2004, when the Albanians thought that they should do something that would shake up the international community. The latter one only reacted, in keeping with the old bad reflexes, when someone took up arms. In addition it was generally agreed that no decision should be made under those circumstances but negotiations should be initiated between Serbs and Albanians. It was once again incredibly hypocritical because everyone knew that it was totally in vain to start talks because it was absolutely impossible to reach any compromise whatsoever. Everybody was waiting for a decision without any further procrastination and not only the Albanian politicians said at that time, under the late President Rugova, that we should at last decide what we wanted, but even the leading Serb politicians as private individuals urged the enforcement of a solution, even at the cost of Kosovo becoming autonomous. “Give us a week, they said, to satisfy Serbian nationalism, and then we would walk on towards Europe.” The community, however, did not understand anything of this. It started to conduct ‘negotiations’. It provoked a particularly negative reaction when the Special Representative declared that the Serbs are quilty as a nation, which Serbia condemned by stating that not even the Tribunal of Nuremberg went so far in relation to the German nation.

Unfortunately the imitation of talks had a number of negative consequences. One was President Putin’s intervention. Three years earlier Russia stated in the contact group that naturally they would vote for the Security Council resolution on the independence of Kosovo. It is quite obvious now (2007) that they are not going to do so. Formerly politicians of Serbia asked the international community to help them to get beyond the crisis. At that time Serbian polls showed that Kosovo was the seventh most important issue for public opinion is Serbia. By 2007 it became the first. Further on, the result of those slowly proceeding talks was a far tougher Serb stand, driving themselves increasingly into their own nationalist rhetoric. The international community on its side presented artificial compromises after much cudgelling of their brains, which were unacceptable to the Serbian party, and made them confident about achieving some of their objectives. Several people started to speak about the limitations of independence emerging not only in case of international supervision but also in a confederation-like state – instead of making it clear to the Serbs and to the people of Kosovo that Kosovo would become independent but it had to create democratic order, primarily in respect of the Serb and other minorities, and also instead of offering several advantages and support to Serbia and the Serbs of Kosovo.

Naturally the Albanians, with the Americans in the background, did not accept those compromises. The Serbs also began to believe that their rhetoric was effective as they felt the obvious support of Russians behind themselves. Studying the motivation of Russia it can be seen that they wanted to take revenge for the humiliation they suffered in 1999, since it was extremely important for Putin as well as to the psychological recovery of the Russian people. It is worth observing Koštunica’s rhetoric after becoming aware of Russian support: the already weak commitment to Europe was greatly reduced.

The economic relations between Russia and Serbia are further strengthened as Moscow shows interest in the Serbian strategic areas and other branches that are to be privatised (see the Serbian national oil company, the gas storage to be built, the Serbian airlines company, etc.).

The Serbian nationalists have also mustered up courage and gained strength under the influence of developments. Koštunica succeeded in overriding Tadić within the democratic coalition. He was assisted in this process by the tactical mistakes made by the international community, in addition, Tadić also miscalculated by thinking that the integration of a set of extremist views into his own would also enable him to pacify it, but this is usually the other way round. The Weimar Republic of Germany is a good example of that. Today Tadić says exactly the same about Kosovo what Koštunica says and the greatest problem is that even if one talks to him in private one cannot hear what he used to say three years ago.

What can be expected in Kosovo in this situation? I think that the independence of Kosovo is inevitable. The Serbs will hinder everything they can, so presumably it is not going to be a member of the UN or of OSCE, etc. But the independence of Kosovo is inevitable.

It is another question whether this state is going to fail or not. It would be difficult to forecast, but many people think the answer for this question is yes. I see a greater chance of not failing. Two years ago everyone thought that Montenegro would fail. It did not fail at all. It is not sure that Kosovo would be a success story, but it is not sure either whether it would be a failure as a state. It also depends on the way we treat it. All this reflects the double-dealing of Serbian as well as of Russian politics leading to a hostile attitude towards the OSCE mission in Kosovo, and to the fact that the Ahtissari plan is not obligatory for the Albanians for the time being. They actually have a contrary effect from the angle of the protection of the Serb minority. They are not really interested in the Serb minority of Kosovo and it is not their primary problem.

Will there be a massive exodus of Serbs? It also depends on what the international community will do, how the Albanians are made to accept it. There will certainly be a Serb exodus. It cannot be stated that not a single Serb will leave Kosovo when it becomes independent. It cannot be stated either that the Albanians do not wish in secret that all the Serbs should go. The really endangered ones are those living in Serb enclaves, those who live outside Northern Mitrovica. That group of people constitute about half of the Serbs in Kosovo. Presumably Northern Mitrovica will ‘enjoy’ the same status in Kosovo that currently Kosovo has within Serbia, in other words, it will de facto not belong to Kosovo but to Serbia. It will not be widely acknowledged outside Serbia but we would get used to it in a few years and would accept it, as it is usually the case in fait accompli situations. We do not know yet what would happen to the other fifty thousand Serbs. There are several scenarios. One is that of a massive exodus. It is unlikely that great masses of people would arrive to Vojvodina though this possibility cannot be excluded. Nowadays the Serbs of Kosovo orient themselves towards South Serbia, buying houses there, and with their relatives living there, and the refugee camps located in the area, they would presumably settle down there. It cannot, however, be excluded that a large part of them would not move, provided they see proper safeguards. The various scenarios have a more or less equal possibility because it is impossible to tell what the ultimate solution would be.

Finally, it is worth devoting some attention to the policy applied so far and henceforth by the Hungarian side. Hungary has very strong interests in that crisis area and it has drawn a wrong conclusion from these interests for a long time. It was a mistake even from the angle of Hungarian interests to represent the stand for a very long time that the crisis could only be solved by the resolution of the Security Council, which was repeated half-heartedly even by the EU with the passage of time. Moscow could not be persuaded by Hungarian diplomacy (either) though it did not even come in the way of its economic penetration (the sale of MALÉV). Hungary was awakened to the need to change its policy not so much by the recognition of the wrong direction but rather by its allies (Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Slovakia) unwilling in the management of the crisis. The change of the direction was delayed by efforts to protect Hungarians in Vojvodina or fear from the flood of Serbs into Vojvodina once Kosovo became independent. Surely, Hungarians in Vojvodina should be protected but the probability of the immigration of Serbs in Kosovo into the territory is not high. In addition the influence of Hungary is minimal in that respect and it cannot modify the Russian stand either.

By now the course of Hungarian politics has found the right direction. After great difficulties we have realised that we try to force the implementation of the Security Council resolution in vain because it would not work. The question arises whether we should instead represent more vigorously and specifically the sentiment that Serbia should be compensated for Kosovo. That would be wrong because Serbia cannot be compensated for Kosovo. Then what kind of an offer should be made by the international community to Kosovo that would orient Belgrade towards Europe and not towards Russia? Hungary is basically interested in achieving that the entire Balkans and Serbia in particular, should move towards European integration. But then innovative ideas would be needed in this field. Ahtissari said for the first time, some five years ago, that a relaxation of the visa system towards Serbia was indispensable. Naturally it should be made easier even without the Kosovo problem, for the paradox situation has emerged that, although the perspective of EU membership was promised to Serbia in Thessaloniki, Russian citizens get visas to the EU easier than the Serbs. All this shows an irresponsible attitude which is difficult to explain. Targeted relaxations of visa regulations should be provided. One should focus on intellectuals and young people and let them travel without limitations just as the Austrians bring three hundred young people from Serbia annually to Europe. The example of Estonians is also excellent: they annually admit twenty students from Belarus to Estonian universities and grant them scholarships. Such solutions should be further expanded.

Further on, the EU should consider how to strengthen political cooperation with non-EU members and with Serbia in particular. They should examine what EU and PFP (Partnership for Peace) solutions could be found, how Serbia and the other countries (including Turkey) could be involved in a kind of political and military cooperation before they become members? Moreover, it should also be considered how Schengen cooperation could be extended to these countries which would ultimately solve lots of problems. Unfortunately currently the EU is not in a phase of voicing innovative ideas (it is already a major achievement if it can retain the old ones) though the direction to follow would certainly be that one. Hungary should also facilitate the European Union in that direction. Apparently, however, it can expect few allies as from among the directly affected member states Romania and Bulgaria would not necessarily support Hungary in this issue. The Poles and the Czechs are uninterested; the Slovaks seem to be difficult to be won over due to their own problems. Yet bringing together this alliance should be attempted despite the difficulties.

By now it can be stated in relation to Kosovo that there was a conflict but no armed conflict will ensue. There will be incidents, because both parties are ‘trained’ for it. That is an accepted custom over there, a huge quantity of arms is in private hands and they are always kept at reach for various occasions from acquiring money to festivities. Part of the secret services is openly in private hands and the secret services of Kosovo are party-owned services, though three years ago the head of the UN Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo issued an order that they should be eliminated but no one took it seriously, including the UNMIK. Hence there will be incidents. The question is whether KFOR and the police force deployed there would be able to manage them. There is hope because the EU has appointed an eminent chief representative to lead the future mission in Kosovo. Similarly, an eminent expert was chosen to lead the police force, a Hungarian policeman who would be the ‘chief policeman’ in Kosovo. Today the prospects are more favourable than earlier. It is, however, a question whether there would be a political will behind all this on behalf of the European Union, and whether it would give enough money to back it up.


* Ambassador; President and CEO, International Centre for Democratic Transition