By Gerard Gallucci
The day after the EU set Serbia the condition of surrendering Kosovo in order to move forward on membership, EULEX, KFOR and the Kosovo Albanians are stepping up their efforts to pressure the northern Serbs. The aim seems to be to weaken their resolve to continue resisting the imposition of Kosovo customs and other institutions. With support within Serbia for EU membership dropping, and no sign that the northern Kosovo Serbs are ready to surrender to Pristina, one wonders what the Quint’s Plan B may be.
On October 13, EULEX took over the Sisyphean task of trying to prevent the local Serbs from bypassing the “official” checkpoints in the north. With KFOR – despite COMKFOR’s stated preference for “political” solutions – reportedly doing the actual work, EULEX said it was acting in Leposavic “to support the rule of law and restore authorized routes.” According to EULEX, its mandate is to “implement the rule of law, which includes conducting police and customs operations at Gates 1 and 31.” The British acting chief of EULEX said that “unauthorized routes evade legitimate controls and road blocks are illegal and help no one. It is important that the situation in the north of Kosovo is brought back to normal as soon as possible, for the benefit of everyone.” EULEX declared it would “continue our actions to support freedom of movement and establish the rule of law, carefully and impartially.” KFOR reportedly describes the action as directed against smuggling.
Apparently unobjectionable words about law and order; but whose rule of law is being “restored?” Whose police and customs operations are being imposed? Under which law is it found that any particular goods might be “smuggled?” The simple fact is that these remain unresolved issues of status – EULEX and KFOR continue to abuse their UN mandates by trying to force the northern Serbs to submit to Kosovo customs and “laws.” This is not impartial.
The Kosovo Albanians reportedly mean to increase their pressure on the ground too by launching yet again a unilateral effort to “return” to north Mitrovica. Pristina is also continuing to refuse to discuss the north as part of its dialogue and now is proposing a “peace treaty” between the two “countries.” This would be the vehicle for Serbia to recognize Kosovo de facto.
Meanwhile, the EU is making it clear that it is in no hurry on Serbian candidacy. EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fule, told the press that “in the months ahead of us we will make an effort to work on achieving the goal with Serbia.” However, “the dialogue with Pristina remains the open issue” and solutions “for all open and difficult issues” must be found and implemented.
The Tadic government is seeking to find a way to squeeze through the noose the Quint has set for Serbia. The head of its negotiations team said Belgrade will be ready to resume negotiations once a “framework” is found for solution of the north. He accused Pristina of being unwilling to compromise. State Secretary, Oliver Ivanovic, suggested that the EU might have to convince the US to press Pristina to take a more positive approach. Good luck with that.
So, the Quint remains bent on seeking to force a Serbian surrender. Brussels says, accept these terms or dangle outside the EU forever. The Quint agents in Kosovo – EULEX and KFOR – act under orders to somehow bring the northern Serbs to heel. The Albanians will continue to resist compromise while making whatever trouble they can under cover of “returns” and bringing “rule of law” into the “criminal” north. A sadder display of policy bankruptcy it would be hard to find. So what is Plan B? Are those Europeans ready to look at some enhanced autonomy model for the north ready to step up? Or will the frozen Kosovo conflict continue to be allowed to anchor everyone in the grim present?
Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. Gerard is also a member of Trans Conflict’s Advisory Board.