Deadlock in Kosovo on eve of elections

With the few remaining Serbs trapped in ghetto enclaves, afraid to venture out except when accompanied by armed members of the international peace force, and the Albanians, plagued by unemployment and uncertainty, hoping for independence, Kosovo’s elections for a new Parliament are to be held on October 23. The elections will not resolve the province’s political problem, since, irrespective of which group wins, the main powers will remain with UNMIK (the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) and the KFOR peacekeeping forces, the political and military representatives of the international community. So the situation will remain unchanged. The Albanians will go to the polls – the Serbs have not yet decided if they will participate – hoping for full independence for Kosovo. Nevertheless, they also feel politically vulnerable, as the violence against the Serbs last March had a negative effect on perceptions of Kosovo’s Albanian population among the international community. The explosion of hate that resulted in the murders of Serbs, the looting of their property, the desecration of and arson attacks on churches and monuments, showed that the peaceful coexistence of Albanians and Serbs, one of the main conditions set by the international community in establishing the final status of the protectorate, remains problematic, leading to grave doubts in the West as to whether a multiethnic Kosovo can exist independently in the present circumstances. The international community, whose concern was heightened by the events in spring, has realized that matters cannot remain as they are; a strategic way out of what is a dangerously static situation is now being sought. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has begun talks in New York with countries that have had a say in developments in the western Balkans – the USA, Britain, France and Russia – and has appointed as mediator the Norwegian permanent representative to NATO, Kai Eide, who has been closely monitoring developments and recently submitted to the UN secretary-general a package of ideas on a way out of the crisis. The main ideas in the Eide report include the development by the end of next year of a «new and comprehensive strategy» along the lines of the one used in Bosnia, the development of the region’s economy, and greater involvement on the part of the European Union. However, both these ideas and Belgrade’s proposal for cantonization or decentralization have not impressed the Albanians, who want nothing less than independence here and now. The Albanian population and their leaders see the continuing presence of UNMIK as the root of all evil in Kosovo and they are convinced that if all powers are handed over to the Kosovars’ government and institutions, then calm will be restored to the broader region and the way will open for economic prosperity and reconstruction. The international community’s objections to independence could have been overcome if it were not for the events of March, which showed that the Albanians not only want an independent Kosovo, but one ethnically cleansed of Serbs. Yet if the West backs down on this issue, it would jeopardize its entire strategy in the western Balkans, which is based on the creation of multiethnic states as a way of bringing about peace and stability. The deadlock will continue after the elections, for the fact remains that as long as the situation remains unresolved, Kosovo will still be a place where everything is calm on the surface but boiling underneath. Interest is shifting to next spring, when, according to the plans of the international community, debate will begin on final status. There will be an examination of whether the eight conditions set have been fulfilled, including economic growth, the creation and strengthening of government and local government institutions, the protection of minorities and other issues so that dialogue can begin on final status. Protection of minorities and economic growth are questionable when Serbs remained trapped in enclaves. Surveys show that the overwhelming majority of Albanians feel no tolerance, and over 50 percent of Albanians are unemployed, sustained by money sent from abroad or distributed by the 40,000 soldiers and members of humanitarian organizations. So Kosovo is entering an election campaign that is not likely to be characterized by tension, although the international community has boosted KFOR with over 1,000 troops out of fear of attacks on Serbs. Yet there is no cause for political tension, since all the Albanian parties are calling for independence, and no one dares verge from this demand in the slightest. The Serbs, on the other hand, state they will abstain in protest at the lack of security, although it is believed that in the end Belgrade will instruct them to vote. As for the forecasts, Ibrahim Rugova and his party, the LDK, which won the 2001 elections, appear to have a slight lead over Hashim Thaci, the former leader of the KLA, and his PDK party. International diplomats in Pristina are focusing on the participation of the new party «Political Initiative Hour,» led by the moderate publisher and journalist Veton Surroi, considered the voice of reason in Kosovo.

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