Measured Expectations in Kosovo

Pristina hopes for a settlement. But scepticism over the West’s inconsistency and fear of the Serbs’ arrogant behaviour ensure that no one in Kosovo will be surprised if the talks end in failure.

Measured Expectations in Kosovo

Pristina hopes for a settlement. But scepticism over the West’s inconsistency and fear of the Serbs’ arrogant behaviour ensure that no one in Kosovo will be surprised if the talks end in failure.

Friday, 19 February, 1999

Albanians see the Rambouillet conference as a historic opportunity for achieving a peaceful solution for Kosovo. The commitment of the Contact Group in calling the conference is welcomed as a firm stand finally to resolve the crisis.

Yet such hopes are tempered by the past disappointments over delayed or inadequate responses by the West, fuelling scepticism over the extent of the international community’s resolve. The prominent role of the Europeans in the initiative—rather than the Americans—has raised particular concern, remembering the confusion Europe demonstrated over Bosnia. Russia’s involvement is clearly seen as an obstacle to a positive settlement.

Regarding the specific proposals in the Contact Group package, public opinion in Kosovo—as far as it can be gauged—seems to accept the idea of a solution with a three-year transitional period. Albanians insist that it must include a guarantee for a democratic referendum by the citizens in Kosovo at the end of that period on its future status. Even in the meantime, it is essential to Albanians that the agreement should secure a substantial autonomy which would take Kosovo out of Serbian jurisdiction. After the many tragedies they have endured under the Belgrade regime, Albanians feel that any other solution, which would in any other way leave Kosovo under Serbian control—even symbolically—would be unacceptable.

This view is based not only on the passions of the moment but also on the practical conviction that Albanians in Kosovo cannot expect even elementary human rights under Serbian control. The bloody events of the past year have only underscored the impression from a long period of systematic repression that Albanians can envisage no real future within Yugoslavia. As a result, Kosovo Albanians believe the proposals included in the Contact Group documents to leave some important responsibilities with the Yugoslav authorities, such as fiscal and monetary policy and customs control, are unrealistic. The implication is therefore that the transition period, in the Albanian view, must be a form of an international protectorate, including the presence of a strong international military (ie, NATO) force in the field to guarantee implementation. Anything less is seen as not worth even mentioning.

Another key issue is the future status of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Of course, within Kosovo there are different political strains, and different views on strategy and on the KLA in particular. Yet Kosovo Albanians in general regard the KLA as a liberation army, and find absurd proposals to disarm and disband the KLA and leave a Serb police and Yugoslav Army presence in place. Meantime, Albanians have widely welcomed news that the Albanian delegation in Rambouillet—which includes representatives of all the main political strands within Kosovo, including the Democratic League of Kosova of Ibrahim Rugova and the KLA—have found common ground and appear to be maintaining a unified stance.

Nevertheless, particularly among political and intellectual circles in Kosovo, Albanians have no illusions that the framework of the Contact Group proposals can be fundamentally improved. Scepticism over the inconsistent role of the West and fear over the arrogant behaviour of the Serbs leave no one here willing to predict the outcome from Rambouillet. Albanians are hopeful for a reasonable agreement, but no one will be surprised if the talks end in failure.

Isuf Berisha is a writer in Pristina.

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