Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Covic's Limited Vision

Albanians say that the Covic plan for Kosovo is flawed and backward looking.
By Shkëlzen Maliqi

Nebojsa Covic's plan for the creation of Serbian and Albanian 'entities' in Kosovo is unacceptable for the Albanians. His proposal is full of inconsistencies and prejudices and will be impossible to implement.


But it has to be acknowledged that Covic's new approach to Kosovo reflects a new political philosophy in Belgrade. During the talk Covic gave in front of Yugoslav army, VJ, generals on June 28, he called for a substantial change in Serbian policy towards Albanians and other neighbours. That offers some new hope.


Covic's vision of good neighbourly relations is based upon a specific stream of Serbian liberal policy that dates from the beginning of the 20th century. This intellectual tradition advocates respect for the historical, national and territorial interests of Albanians and Serbs and the need for occasional fine-tuning.


This vision, and the even more tolerant version of it offered by Social Democrats, failed to win much support in Serbia throughout the past century. Ever since the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, Serbia conducted an anti-Albanian policy of assimilation that culminated in Milosevic's genocide project.


The profound division this created between Albanians and Serbs grew into a wider animosity between Albanian and Slav populations, as is now evident in Macedonia. The roots of the current crises in Kosovo and Macedonia lie in Serbia's nationalist policy. Macedonian policy, built upon a Serbian model, equally ignores the reality of the Albanian question.


During his speech, Covic suggested a departure from the nationalist tradition and a new start in Serbian-Albanian relations. But the means of getting to that point seems flawed and unacceptable to most Albanians.


Covic realistically predicts that the chances of Serbia regaining control over Kosovo, following the establishment of a UN administration in the province, are very slim. But he sees a tiny gateway for Serbia through the retention of limited control over certain areas in Kosovo.


He believes that the VJ and police can go back into northern Kosovo and the divided city of Mitrovica, as well as two municipalities where Serbs are in the majority. He suggests the division of Kosovo into two "entities" following the model in Bosnia. He also suggests making cantons of the smaller Serbian enclaves within Kosovo under the protection of the Serbian security forces.


From the point of view of Kosovo Albanians, however, the return of Serbia, even through "small doors" such as these, is totally unacceptable. Covic's "solution" would not only split Kosovo in half, but lead to a lasting connection between Kosovo and Serbia. This would mean that Serbia could continue to meddle in the internal affairs of Kosovo. Tensions would continue.


Covic claims that Kosovo would still preserve its territorial integrity, but this is sheer fiction since the "entities" would create parallel institutions as happened in Bosnia after Dayton.


The second far-reaching consequence of Covic's proposal would impact on Serbia itself. The assertion that the creation of separate entities in Kosovo would preserve the interests of Serbs fails to take into account the fact that it would also strengthen the aspirations of the Albanians in southern Serbia, the Muslims in Sandzak and Hungarians in northern Vojvodina. Why should they not have their own "entities" or cantons as well?


When Covic was resolving the crisis in Presevo last year, there was no talk of cantons or autonomy, though the number of Albanians living there is the same as the number of Serbs living in the enclave in northern Kosovo.


Though Covic told the VJ generals that Serbia should conduct an open and honest policy towards the Albanians, his proposal proves that he is not consistent. A truly democratic Serbia would acknowledge the Albanians' desire to create a united and democratic Kosovo.


This would help to forge better protection for Kosovo Serbs willing to live in the same community as Albanians. Besides, whose army and the police will protect the Albanians living in Presevo? Serbia's?


Covic's 'liberal and pragmatic' proposal is based upon the misconception that Serbia can become democratic, with a responsible police and army, but that Kosovo cannot. Does this not smack of the usual Serbian racism towards Albanians?


Among the generals who invited Covic to speak about the new political philosophy in Serbia, there were undoubtedly some who actively engaged in implementing Milosevic's policies in Kosovo. Some are suspected of having participated in war crimes. The exhumation of war graves in Serbia, some within the military compound at Batajnica, is a further reason why Albanians mistrust the Serbian security forces that Covic wants to bring back to provide responsible policing in Kosovo.


The revenge that Albanians took out on Serbs after NATO's intervention was fuelled by the fact that the war crimes perpetrated by Serbian forces had been insufficiently acknowledged and condemned by both Serbian public opinion and politicians. Milosevic's extradition represented a turning point of sorts. But, before Covic's proposals for a 'historic reconciliation' between Albanians and Serbs can be put into practice, Serbia must also bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes, and not just those who gave the orders.


Before historical reconciliation can begin, the truth has to be revealed about the past.


Shkelzen Maliqi is Radio Free Europe's bureau chief in Pristina.