Reality cannot wait forever in Kosovo

PRISTINA – Late at night at the General Jovanovic checkpoint, fully-equipped KFOR soldiers stop and check every vehicle that crosses the border into Kosovo. The province has been under UN and NATO control since a brief aerial bombardment in 1999 drove Serb forces out of the region. German soldiers and the local KPC police officers take people out of their cars and scan them from top to toe. A guard standing in the middle of the narrow street signals where cars are to wait. He is from a village outside Munich. He won’t mention his name; he is prohibited from sharing any information. Yet he shares, without suspicion, the difficulties of the night. «Painfully cold; imagine we need to stay here for five hours.» The road leading into the fields of Kosovo is a mere strip of tarmac snaking around the mountains. Old Zastavas, secondhand Volkswagens bringing diaspora Kosovars home from Germany and Switzerland, ancient tractors carrying groups of youths, trucks and the luxurious Mercedes of up-and-coming Kosovars struggle along the narrow road. Rising tension On the highway to Pristina, the only light is from cars’ headlights. Electricity is a rarity and streets have not been lit for years now, making the trip a real challenge. A stop at a gas station is the only opportunity for some rest. Ismet explains in broken Greek that he receives his salary in euros, the region’s official currency since 2001. «Most of the oil comes from Skopje, from the OKTA refinery which is owned by Greek interests. More than 80 percent of the petroleum market in Kosovo is covered by the refinery, which was taken over by Hellenic Petroleum in 1999. Still, the issue of the day is not gas prices but the rising tension caused by the postponement of the Security Council resolution on Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal about the future status of the region. People seem calm, but there’s a whiff of gunpowder in the atmosphere. Solid proof is the five explosions during the last few weeks. Most of the incidents took place near areas with high concentrations of Serbs, the most significant of them being the one against the Monastery of Decan, which led UNMIK mission director Joachim Rucker to repeat the commitment to its mandate of protecting Kosovo’s ethnic minorities. The ethnic Albanian Kosovar elite denies that the rising tension of the few months satisfies any of their political aims. «The tension, especially in northern Kosovo, is artificial. There isn’t any real security issue in the region,» says Dardan Veliga, political advisor to Prime Minister Agim Ceku. Still, like everyone else, he won’t risk a prediction for the immediate future. «We hope that the process will end successfully and that stability will be maintained.» In a similar tone, former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) general Daut Haradinaj, while visiting the monastery in Decan, said the elements «who committed this act of aggression were trying to destabilize Kosovo.» Whether the product of a pattern or not, that tension is overflowing faster than before into the large urban centers of Kosovo. Years of anticipation, Serbian and Albanian, have built up an immense weariness. Daki Mripa hasn’t had a real job in the last two years: «I have stopped counting time.» He transits between Mitrovica where he lives and Pristina, looking for something to do. «Only after independence will things become better,» he believes. «As long as this reality remains relevant and uncertain, we won’t be able to build anything stable on it.» How can anyone predict the conclusion when everything depends on the unpredictable turns of international diplomacy? The future of Daki, and many others, is being pondered in New York, Brussels and Vienna, places that they have never visited. «If patience is exhausted, then things will deteriorate rapidly. It is up to the internal contradictions and the manipulations of international diplomacy not to provoke this,» John Galouchi, managing director of UNMIK for the city of Mitrovica, said last November. Since the calm suggestions of that period, enough has altered to give NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reason to issue a general warning during his last visit that his 16,000 soldiers would not allow any violence in the area. Regardless of the internal contradictions of international diplomacy, reality can’t wait for long. Kosovar politicians might be curbed to some extent by foreign centers, but they still depend on public opinion. Nobody will destroy their political life for an outcome that does not meet the expectations of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. This is why talk of a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo keeps surfacing. Florian Bieber, a Freedom House analyst who spent many years in the area, does not rule out the option of partition for Kosovo. «It seems possible that such a scenario might be the most plausible scenario. Kosovo declaring independence would allow some countries to recognize it, while others would probably oppose recognition.» The causes seem again to depend on the actions of the international community. «If such a scenario is dangerous, it depends on whether the Security Council is unable to take a decision at all or whether the decision is merely less than independence.» He thinks this will provoke complications that might cause an unpredictable swing. «It will be important to consider whether the declaration of independence will also result in the attempt by authorities to end the international presence. If this is the case, an open confrontation between the international community (or parts of it) and Kosovo’s authorities seems conceivable. This extreme scenario seems improbable, however. Most probable is a declaration of independence with indirect support from some international actors and expansion of the international presence which will effectively be conditional independence.» It is common knowledge that such a development would trigger a reaction by the Serbian element in Kosovo. «If the Albanians [in Kosovo] declare independence, northern Kosovo will do the same,» Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate political representative of Kosovo Serbs, said this week. James Lyon, Balkans analyst for the International Crisis Group, went further, calling partition plans «a big dirty secret that everyone in Belgrade knows about but no one is willing to speak about it publicly.« Journalists, analysts and politicians frequently consider the idea of partition, admitting a division that informally has already advanced more than the international protectorate’s administration wants to admit. Aleksandar Vasovic’s article «Serbia Plays Kosovo Partition Card,» published in Balkan Insight five days ago, argues persuasively that partition is emerging as a political solution. Late at night outside Mitrovica, the old electricity factory of Electrokosova struggles to produce enough energy to supply the entire region. Electricity is one of the few things that people share regardless of their ethnic background. In this case, the solution evolved naturally out of daily neccessity. The same may happen with the Kosovo region in general if international diplomacy fails to produce anything substantial soon. The UN delegation now visiting Kosovo on a fact-finding mission may well be eyewitnesses to it.

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