For the last eight years, the international community has stalled on its decision to determine the status of Kosovo. Because this issue is so contentious, progress towards creating functioning markets and democracy in Kosovo and in Serbia has also been stalled. In the next few weeks, the United Nations Security Council is due to review the proposal for resolving the status of Kosovo, drafted by Martti Ahtisaari, the Special Envoy for the Future Status Process for Kosovo. The so-called "Ahtisaari Proposal," which is currently available in draft form, is meant to represent a compromise between two essentially irreconcilable positions: the Serbs (who believe that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia) and the Kosovar Albanians (who want to gain independence from Serbia). EES invited two experts to discuss this proposal and what effects it might have on Kosovo and the wider Balkan region.
The process of drafting the proposal entailed bringing the two sides together at talks, which were held over the last year in Vienna. Although these talks were generally seen as fruitless, given the resolute positions of both sides on status, Former Head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Soren Jessen-Petersen, asserted that Ahtisaari did manage to make useful progress with the Kosovar Albanians on "technical" issues, such as how to ensure minority rights in Kosovo. However, because it represents a compromise, the Ahtisaari proposal never mentions "independence" or "sovereignty," and therefore does not provide the needed clarity to help end the impasse, according to Jessen-Petersen. Moreover, the proposal would consolidate the separation between Kosovar Serbs and Kosovar Albanians by focusing on the creation of local, ethnic-based institutions. Jessen-Petersen warned that consolidating ethnic separation in this way could eventually lead to partition, which would be disastrous because: 1) it could isolate Serbs living in the southern parts of Kosovo; 2) it could prompt an exodus of Serbs from Kosovo; and 3) could destabilize ethnic cooperation in the region, especially in the Sandjak, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia.
At the same time Jessen-Petersen warned that the talks in the UN Security Council should aim to avoid what he called "the four Ds." Above all, he urged the Security Council not to further delay a decision on Kosovo's status, since Kosovo has already been in limbo for eight years and can make no further progress without a clear decision on its status. A delay, he argued, would further divide the international community, which has already shown signs of cleaving to individual state interests and destabilize Kosovo and the wider region. Finally, a delay in the decision would help those in Belgrade who have attempted to discredit Ahtisaari in an effort to undermine the process and prolong instability, which ultimately serves no one's interests, least of all Serbia's.
In terms of the continued international presence in Kosovo, Jessen-Petersen warned that delaying the decision would make UNMIK not only a lame duck, but a sitting duck, as it would become the target of growing frustration in Kosovo. Ahtisaari's proposal envisions replacing UNMIK with a representative of the international community (called the International Civilian Representation [ICR] and formed by the EU) in Pristina. While Jessen-Petersen concurred that this office would be necessary, especially in terms of assuaging concerns by the Kosovo Serbs, he underlined that the international community must not replicate the OHR in Bosnia—which continues to be partly responsible for the country's lack of progress, while Bosnian leaders are free to play ethnic politics with impunity. In order to avoid these pitfalls, Jessen-Petersen urged the Security Council to create a strong and clear mandate for the ICR representative in Kosovo, so that the incumbent plays a minimal role in the day-to-day governance of Kosovo.
The day after Kosovo's status is decided, the government in Pristina will be forced to tackle a huge set of problems—including a defunct economy and a more than 50 percent unemployment rate—on top of the challenge of creating a functioning democracy with minimal local political or legal expertise. Jessen-Petersen urged the European Union to find ways to offer Pristina "Smart Assistance," which would target development assistance to multi-cultural areas that would oblige Serbs and Albanians to work together. He also recommended that the EU move forward on visa liberalization so that the young people of the Kosovo and Serbia (who are most frustrated with and alienated by the current status quo) can feel that they are a part of Europe and so that then entire region can progress towards democracy.
Steven Meyer contended that there is crystal-clear clarity on the issue of Kosovo's status: namely that the process currently in place will ultimately lead to independence for Kosovo. This is the underlying reason why the international community has had such a difficult time reconciling the two positions, since it puts Serbia in a no-win position, and Kosovar Albanians have everything to gain from waiting out the process.
In terms of Ahtisaari's draft proposal, Meyer echoed some of Jessen-Petersen's concerns that the municipality-based system it aims to create in Kosovo, the cross-boundary connections it promotes between Kosovo Serbs and Belgrade, and the ethnic guarantees and quotas that are inherent in such a system would only serve to reinforce ethnic divisions. He is equally pessimistic about the joint military proposal, which is remarkably like the Dayton Accord in that it institutionalizes ethnic divisions.
Meyer criticized the propensity of the "great powers" to focus on building states, rather than making the needs of societies the priority. Efforts of the international community to force-feed ethnically distinct societies into a single state while simultaneously creating ethnically distinct institutions within those states is untenable. By putting external interests before those of the local people, the international community strongly resembles the imperial tactics that sowed the seeds of the current ethnic conflict in the Balkans.