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Balkan Report: June 13, 2008

Kosovo: 'State Of Confusion' Looms Ahead of Transition Period

The future role of international missions in Kosovo remains unclear

Kosovo is just days away from putting its new constitution into force, but the details of who will provide for the region's administration and security remain deeply unclear.

The United Nations, European Union, and NATO are all grappling with how to divide authority in the transition period ahead, and have been reluctant to discuss how the divisions may amount to Kosovo's de facto partition between the Serb-controlled north and the ethnic-Albanian south. Arbana Vidishiqi, RFE/RL's Pristina bureau chief, discussed the issue with Balkans expert James Hooper, a longtime U.S. diplomat and current managing director of the U.S.-based Public International Law and Policy Group.

RFE/RL: What are the main challenges you see as we near June 15?

James Hooper: The most important thing I found in my most recent trip to Kosovo was that a big psychological hurdle had been overcome by the declaration of independence by the Pristina government, and the recognition by a large number of international states. That really has helped to clarify things, and I think it gives the Kosovars a sense of confidence in their future.

But now the internationals have left them in a state of confusion and uncertainty about the future. That is, UNMIK [UN Mission in Kosovo] has been unwilling to fully pull out; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been trying to decide on what to do, what the role of the United Nations should be in the future. The EU is planning to go in. What will the relationship between the various components of the internationals be?

RFE/RL: Some have warned that a mixture of UN and EU functions may produce a crisis, especially if their missions are divided along an ethnic basis. Would you agree?

Hooper: This confusion and uncertainty that the internationals are leaving for Kosovo is actually an opportunity for the Kosovars. Frankly, the internationals don't know what to do. They're confused themselves, they're uncertain, and of course, they're under a lot of pressure from Russia and Serbia on one side, and from the United States and Europe and other countries on the other side, and they don't really know exactly what to do.

If the Kosovar people, and the Kosovar leaders in particular -- the prime minister [Hashim Thaci] and the president [Fatmir Sejdiu] and their cabinet -- understand that in such confusion and uncertainty, [they should] produce sensible initiatives, and seize the opportunity to move forward in full consultation with the internationals, and not just ask the internationals for permission for everything, but begin to take on themselves more and more responsibility for their own power.

RFE/RL: Did you visit the north during your recent visit to Kosovo?

Hooper: Yes. It's very clear that Serbia intends to keep the north, and it's very clear that the internationals are not going to do anything to challenge that. And I think that is the biggest problem that the Kosovars face -- the uncertainty about how to deal with that.

Everyone I have met praises the maturity and the responsibility of the Kosovars, who have, despite serious provocations -- primarily from Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade -- maintained their dignity, maintained their restraint, and have reached out to the Serbs in the north and in the enclaves to try to establish understanding if possible.

Frankly, I think the Serbs are shocked. They figured their provocations would lead to incidents, and that the incidents would lead the internationals to say, "Oh well, we'll just give it to Serbia." It's going to be very difficult for Pristina to establish authority in the north. Serbia will do everything possible to stop that. And frankly, the internationals are not going to help the Kosovars to do that, and I think that's a big failure on the part of the internationals.

RFE/RL: Do you see any risk of partition?

Hooper: I think the internationals accepted de facto partition in principle in 1999, when the war ended, when they didn't do anything to prevent Belgrade from establishing its authority over the north. The internationals have no plan to overcome that. It puts the Kosovar government in a very, very awkward situation.

I know some people in Kosovo, some politicians, are calling for preventing [Serbian minister for Kosovo Slobodan] Samardzic and others from Belgrade from driving down south of the Ibar River [dividing the city of Mitrovica] while the Kosovo government officials themselves cannot go to Leposavic or other parts in the north.

I think it would not be unwise for the Kosovo government to work out with the internationals some [measures preventing] Serbian officials coming down south of the Ibar to create problems. That should be stopped.

RFE/RL: So far, 42 countries have recognized Kosovo, including the United States and 20 European Union member states. The question of international recognition remains a source of debate. Some say it's quality that matters, but others argue that quantity shouldn't be ignored. What's your view?

Hooper: Kosovo needs both quality and quantity. Serbia and Russia are trying to roll recognition back. They're not just trying to prevent further recognitions -- they're trying to roll it back. And this will have a very negative effect.

[Seeking recognition from other nations] should be the primary focus of the Kosovo government. They need at least 60, 70, 80 -- the higher the numbers, and the quicker they achieve this, the better off they're going to be. That will undermine the effort by Moscow and Belgrade to roll this back, and I think it will lay to rest the issue of Kosovo's legitimacy. But if it plateaus out, and increases only gradually, this is not a good sign. It should be well above the 40s. I think numbers count. This should be a national mission.

Commentary: Bosnian Serb Leader Can Make Waves, But Not War

By Gordana Knezevic

Milorad Dodik

It may have been a tempest in a teacup, but when Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, appeared at a Zagreb gathering and offered "protection" to Croatian Serbs, he resurrected some unwelcome memories.

His remarks were a discomforting reminder of a 1987 speech delivered by former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic at the site of the Battle of Kosovo, the 14th-century clash that forms the crux of contemporary Serbian claims to the territory.

Vowing protection to Kosovo's Serbs, Milosevic declared, "No one will ever dare to beat you again!" His words -- which heralded "armed struggles" to come, despite the fact that no one was "beating" Kosovo Serbs at the time -- signaled the first drumbeats of the war to come. An anxious, unreformed communist was looking for an easy way to win the hearts and minds of an apprehensive population.

The Milosevic address is widely viewed as the political prologue to the subsequent wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and later, Kosovo. In the Balkans, a pledge to "protect" one group invariably implies aggression against others.

So this time around, it was a different time and place, and a different man speaking the words. But when Dodik made his remarks before the Serbian National Council meeting in Zagreb on June 1, he appeared to be reading straight from Milosevic's script. The Republika Srpska prime minister went so far as to invite Croatian Serbs to his not-(yet)-fully-fledged state, the reluctant partner of the Muslim-Croat Federation.

It came as no surprise that Croatia's president, Stjepan Mesic, reacted with swift fury, reminding Dodik that Republika Srpska was the product of a campaign of ethnic cleansing, and that most of its Croatian and Muslim former residents still have yet to return to their prewar homes. (The precise number of non-Serbs who were either killed or expelled during the 1992-95 war has yet to be established.)

Such charges are often heard, and regularly dismissed, by Dodik, a former entrepreneur turned politician who earned popularity among Bosnian Serbs for his seeming indifference to the "pain of others" and his blinkered fixation on the suffering of Serbian victims alone.

The current culture of impunity that dominates in the Balkans clearly suits him well. The Republika Srpska, however, does not appear to be sufficiently large for his ego. Thus, having taken note of the fact that Serbs in Belgrade are still preoccupied with infighting and unable to form a government even weeks after the May 11 parliamentary elections, Dodik may have concluded that the position of "leader of all Serbs" is temporarily vacant -- and that he's the right man for the job.

As soon as he left Croatian soil, Dodik responded to Mesic's critique in language better suited to street hooligans -- language not heard between Balkan leaders even during the war years. Mesic, Dodik suggested, would do well to keep his mouth shut and his hands off the Republika Srpska. Referring to the 1995 expulsion of Croatian Serbs from Croatia, Dodik implied it was Mesic's land, not his, that was founded on ethnic cleansing.

In 2007, Dodik attended the Guca Trumpet Festival in Serbia. The annual gathering, a kind of Serbian-folk Woodstock, provided Dodik with an ideal opportunity to announce that Serbs are "now also winning peacetime battles" -- a statement implying wartime struggles had been won as well. In a region that is still in the process of digesting its recent past, it is apparently possible to swap defeat for victory.

Unlike Milosevic, Dodik is not a threat to peace. Nonetheless, he's doing his best to reverse the outcome of the last war, and rubbing salt into the wounds of its victims with his tendency to conclude any discussion of the conflict with his trademark response that "Serbs were killed as well." He reminds me of a German writer whom I once interviewed about the Holocaust. After expressing his sorrow for the Jewish victims, he said, with no apparent shame: "But we Germans lost something as well. We lost our sense of humor!"

A few years ago, Dodik declared that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic should be captured and handed over to The Hague tribunal. In actions, however, Dodik has done everything possible to further the strategic and political goals first laid out by Karadzic in 1992.

His ultimate objective is the same -- to carve out an ethnically pure, self-governed Serbian state from the internationally recognized territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Once that is accomplished on the ground, Dodik can bide his time, waiting for an opportunity to formally sever all ties with the Croat-Muslim Federation.

As far as Dodik is concerned, this is a fully legitimate political goal. His calls for Karadzic to be detained may even be in earnest; the erstwhile leader is no longer needed. Dodik has assumed control of Karadzic's war, only under peacetime conditions, and he is right to claim he is winning battles for the Serb cause. No one is willing to stand in his way -- not even when he supports the construction of an Orthodox church at the precise spot from which thousands of shells rained down on the city of Sarajevo, killing 11,000 of its inhabitants.

By insisting that a wartime artillery position is now an ideal site for a church, Dodik is not considering its merits as a place for prayer. Rather, his recommendation is intended as an insult to the faith of many of the site's victims. If, as the cynical writer told me, Germans have lost their sense of humor, then Serbs have lost their common sense.

Gordana Knezevic is the director of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. The views presented in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL