There are some times when I wish Kosovo was not anyone's mission. There are times when I wish that Serbia and Kosovo spoke to each other as equals in practice instead of theory. And there are times that I don't understand the international community at all. This is one of them.
If you haven't been paying attention to the news (and if you're in Kosovo, you have been paying attention), let me give you a rough summary of what's been happening in the north of Kosovo during the past several weeks:
1. Back in July, trade mutuality is established between Kosovo and Serbia. Our minister of trade decides that if Serbia will not import products from Kosovo, Kosovo will not import products from Serbia.
2. Shortly after, police special forces are sent to seize two disputed border points in the Serb-majority part of Kosovo’s north to enforce the decision.
3. A violent stand-off involving Serbs and Kosovar police forces follow. One officer is killed. KFOR intervenes.
4. The EU condemns Kosovo's government for taking “unilateral action.” Newspapers start reporting that the EU is in the midst of drafting a proposal to give Serbs in the north political and economic autonomy from Kosovo.
None of the above should be a surprise. All of the events of the past year were leading up to it, starting with the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue between Edita Tahiri and Borislav Stefanovic. As far as anyone can tell, they were more for show than any sort of genuine negotiating. What else could it be, when one side doesn’t even recognize the existence of the other? Trade minister Mimoza Kusari deserves praise for her decision to discontinue trade with a country hostile to Kosovo’s very existence. There is no way to ensure Serbian products don’t enter Kosovo without customs and law enforcement at the border willing to carry out the ban.
July 25 was not about oppressing Kosovar Serbs, it was about establishing order. Border points exist for a reason. They help prevent things like contraband and human trafficking, and they monitor and control the flow of goods and people. Without them, the perfect conditions exist for all kinds of illegal activity. And most importantly: Kosovo is a sovereign country. Countries have the right to secure their own borders, as any Serbian official will tell you.
Maybe the situation wouldn’t have escalated so dramatically if EULEX cared enough to remember that law and order in the north is still a part of their mandate. Or maybe they thought we’d forgotten. EULEX condemned the violence in the north, but the real question is what did they do to prevent it. If EULEX took itself seriously, it would come to the realization that it is not normal for a country to have “disputed borders.” It would know that the rule of law doesn’t mean tolerating no-man’s lands and legal black holes. It would also know that missions invited to enforce the rule of law don’t run away when things get hard. Or is this beyond the scope of Europe's policing and legal elite? Let's ignore for a moment the fact that EULEX is status neutral. I, along with everyone else, remember when EULEX entered Kosovo. And I, along with everyone else, remember the promises made. So what happened? Did it get too difficult? What's that sinking disappointing feeling in my stomach? Oh right, it’s the same feeling I had near the end of UNMIK’s time. I'd rather take my own government’s corruption any day than see yet another international paper pusher clogging up Prishtina’s streets.
So what's the solution? If the rumors are correct, the EU is planning some kind of special status that will calm Serbs while still showing some sort of respect for Kosovo's sovereignty (and preventing partition). If you ask me, this is a special status that is only necessary because of the complete lack of action to do anything to integrate the north for the past 12 years, and that's as much our fault as it is the EU’s. We ignored the north for more than a decade, and a police officer had to die for a measly border point to operate normally.
This is a new dispute over an old issue, and there will be no outcome that will please both sides. There will be no stability in Kosovo until all of her borders are secured. And if we wait until Serbs in the north to spontaneously realize that Kosovo is independent and Serbia will never return, it will remain a no-man's land forever. The anger of Serbs has nothing do with real injustice – it's the same old story of Albanian persecution and ghettoizing of Serbs, which fails spectacularly at seeing the other side of the coin, the cause and effect of years of Serbian privilege at the expense of Albanian humanity. It’s a game that has no end. If Serbian municipalities in the north are given a special autonomous status because they don’t like living under the authority of Prishtina, it is only fair to offer the same status to Albanian-majority regions of Serbia. If Serbs in the north are allowed to govern themselves and receive a cut of the revenue that comes from customs, it follows that Albanians in Serbia should be provided with the same. I dare anyone to tell me that the life of an Albanian in Preshevo is easier than that of a Serb in Mitrovica.
But this kind of reasoning is not the reasoning of diplomats. So if it must be a special status, it will be a special status. But it let it be made clear that it is a status given because Serbs in northern Kosovo have convinced themselves that they are martyrs under attack. And to be clear again, I say this without trying to diminish the difficulties faced by Serbs living in Kosovo. Are Serbs isolated in Kosovo? Yes. Should more be done to make them feel like a part of this republic? Yes. But it will not happen like this. Not with snipers. Not with barricades. History did not start in 1999.
The article was originally written in English.
Photo Credit: TANG YAU HOONG
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