Comment: UN Misses the Point

UN fails to grasp importance of last week's move be the Kosovo assembly to advance Albanian reconciliation.

Comment: UN Misses the Point

UN fails to grasp importance of last week's move be the Kosovo assembly to advance Albanian reconciliation.

Kosovo's assembly passed a resolution last week that may well go down in history as the most important step that ethnic Albanians here have yet taken towards reconciling their divisions.

The "Resolution on the Liberation War of the People of Kosovo for Freedom and Independence" produced agreement on a range of issues that had previously divided Albanians, in particular the role of both the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, and the passive resistance movement of the Nineties, in freeing the region from oppressive Serbian rule.

A year ago, responding to international pressure, the three main political parties agreed to form a coalition. The resolution passed on May 15 was proof that these parties had reached an important agreement on the province's past and future. Moreover, it was supported by all the other non-Serbian parties in the assembly.

However, the response of Michael Steiner, head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, has been hostile.

He said the resolution's reference to independence and its calls for the government to grant Albanians who fought in the Kosovo conflict social benefits, such as pensions and disability allowances, was divisive - an apparent reference to the fact that the motion provoked a walk out by Serb assembly members who felt, amongst other things, that it legitimised the liberation war, which they saw as an act of terrorism.

He also said it ran counter to the reconciliatory spirit enshrined in UN resolution 1244 and the constitutional framework.

Steiner has refused to see the importance of the agreement for Albanians. It is proof of a lack of understanding, which may have a major impact on Kosovo's future. It is a stance that carries the risk of fomenting new divisions in Kosovo, pitting UNMIK against the region's fledgling institutions.

After the traumas of the past years, it was important for all the Albanian parties to agree on their view of past events, especially the contribution of the passive resistance, led by Ibrahim Rugova's Kosovo Democratic League, LDK, in the liberation struggle. The refusal of Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, to admit that anyone but the KLA freed Kosovo caused great division following the conflict. The resolution is significant in that finally all contributions have been acknowledged.

But Steiner failed to recognise the significance of this. Instead, he sent a threatening message to the Kosovo assembly, saying that on account of the resolution, the region's institutions would not be invited to take part in the next three international meetings concerning its future.

These are the NATO Council meeting on May 21 and the Stability Pact Parliamentary Conference from May 21 to 22 - both of which are being held in Brussels - together with the Stability Pact Regional Conference and OSCE meeting in Ohrid, Macedonia, from May 22 to 23.

The reason he gave was firstly that the resolution focused too much on the past and then also that it did not respect the interests of all ethnic communities. But the UN special representative may have misunderstood some basic issues concerning Kosovo and its people.

Firstly the assembly decision did not overtly contradict UN resolution 1244 and the constitutional framework Steiner referred to, as it personified the process of reconciliation between Albanians, which is a precondition for any meaningful dialogue with the Serbs. So it could be seen as forward-looking, and contributing towards a process of leaving the past behind.

A lack of agreement on the past among Albanians has been a major stumbling block towards solving many issues in Kosovo, including the integration of ethnic minorities.

Political parties have used the past to discredit each other, bandying around the word "traitor". This lack of consensus has held the democratic transformation process in check, as no one wished to be seen as a traitor. As a result, inter-ethnic relations suffered.

Apart from the Serbs, the other ethnic communities in Kosovo have realised this, which is why they all voted for the assembly resolution.

The UN representative was probably right to call the resolution "divisive", but not in the sense he meant. It is no secret that relations between UNMIK and Kosovo's fledgling institutions have become strained in recent months.

The lack of progress in transferring competencies to local institutions, and the way that Steiner organised the first meeting between representatives of Pristina and Belgrade, was only the tip of the iceberg. There is a gulf in understanding between the two power centres in Kosovo.

The hope is that this relationship will improve, if there are signs of real partnership between UNMIK and Kosovo's institutions in solving issues of mutual interest - the most important being the fulfillment of the mandate in resolution 1244.

A bridge towards establishing better relations was the promise that Kosovar institutions would be represented at the meetings that are to take place outside Kosovo this week.

The UNMIK chief's declaration seems to break that promise. Such a decision may have grave repercussions. It suggests international officials here have not realised the importance of the resolution, and how it might in fact benefit non-Albanians and Kosovo in general.

Jehona Gjurgjeala is an IWPR contributor from Kosovo.

Macedonia, Kosovo
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