Comment: Too Soon for Dialogue

The emergence of a new Serbian leadership is unlikely to bring about dialogue with Kosovo Albanians.

Comment: Too Soon for Dialogue

The emergence of a new Serbian leadership is unlikely to bring about dialogue with Kosovo Albanians.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Not a day goes by without United Nations mission chief Bernard Kouchner being asked when dialogue between Kosovo Albanians and Belgrade can get underway. It's not a question he likes to answer.

"Find me an Albanian who is for integration and dialogue with [Yugoslav President Vojislav] Kostunica and I will be ready to initiate the process. For the moment I do not know such a one," Kouchner said.

"Any Albanian, be they moderate or not, wants independence. If we try now to solve Kosovo's final status it could lead to open conflict."

On October 12 Zoran Djindjic, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia campaign manager, said, "We insist that a small section of the Yugoslav army and Serbian police should be stationed in Kosovo in areas populated by Serbs."

Djindjic's statement has important implications for the region. A return of Serbian troops to Kosovo would require the approval of the United Nations and NATO. It is very probable that overnight Albanians would turn against the UN mission and any Serbian forces based here. NATO would need to commit to a permanent presence to keep the peace.

This is why the international community - and especially those European governments who claim to have learned from the Bosnian and Kosovo wars - should be more cautious in their euphoria over the "radical changes" in Belgrade.

It is precisely these enthusiastic statements regarding Kostunica which are complicating and radicalising the political process in Kosovo - just when the situation was beginning to stabilise.

How can dialogue start with Belgrade when there has been no real change at the top, only a replacement? Substantial obstacles remain in the way.

Kostunica has inherited a wrecked federal system. Serbians first need to have their own inner dialogue. They need to hold their own presidential and parliamentary elections - a first step towards the constitutional dialogue needed between the federation's constituent parts - Serbia and Montenegro - over their future relationship.

This whole process is closely linked to Kostunica's position on The Hague tribunal and those indicted for war crimes. Any Kosovo Albanian contact with Belgrade will remain impossible until there is a clear acknowledgement from Serbia and the Serbian people of the genocide in Kosovo.

People in Kosovo are deeply concerned about this. Slobodan Milosevic was not the only Serbian to commit crimes and burn houses in Kosovo. Albanians are convinced the killings were carried out on behalf of Serbia and the Serbian people.

Without Serbia asking for a pardon there can be no dialogue. What's more, there needs to be a new definition of what is currently called Yugoslavia. The name is the personification of killing and genocide.

There is the additional problem of missing persons. Families of around 4,000 disappeared are hoping their relatives could still be alive in Serbian prisons. Information from Serbia puts the number of detainees at only 700.

The minute Kostunica admits most of the missing 4,000 are in fact dead, executed during the war, Kosovo will once again be radicalised. No one will be able to initiate anything. The gulf between Albanian and Serb will once widen. Bridging it will take a long time.

Certain preconditions to dialogue also need to be met in Kosovo. Local elections need to be completed to establish a communal legitimacy. In the juridical context, Kosovo needs a constitution. And without some form of Kosovo parliament - elections are meant to take place next September - there is no one mandated to represent Kosovo in any dialogue with Belgrade.

Could there be talks at the level of civic society? If Ibrahim Rugova, one of Kosovo's "softer" personalities, to quote diplomats in Luxembourg, were to be asked it is likely he would refuse due to the political baggage he already carries from his meeting with Milosevic during the war. To agree would be political death for him.

Nevertheless hope for Kosovo's future is based on prospects for dialogue. Its up to Serbia whether it goes ahead.

Baton Haxhiu is editor-in-chief of Koha Ditore newspaper in Kosovo.

Serbia, Kosovo
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