New Questions Raised Over Kosovo's Future

Kosovars are divided over the impact the new union between Serbia and Montenegro could have on their efforts to achieve independence.

New Questions Raised Over Kosovo's Future

Kosovars are divided over the impact the new union between Serbia and Montenegro could have on their efforts to achieve independence.

Wednesday, 20 March, 2002

The creation of a new union between its neighbours, Serbia and Montenegro, has left Kosovo uncertain about its own future. Will it now become independent in its own right or fall under the yoke of Serbia?

Politicians are scanning the fine print of last Thursday's union agreement and of United Nations resolution 1244 which, in effect, made Kosovo an international protectorate following the NATO-led conflict of 1999.

The new joint state, under which Montenegro gave up its own claims to outright independence, replaces the old rump Yugoslav federation of Serbia and Montenegro.

The immediate Kosovar reaction was that if Yugoslavia no longer existed then the region must be independent. But a closer look at Resolution 1244 aroused some doubts, as it stipulates that Yugoslavia retains sovereignty over the region while the international community decides its final status.

What made Kosovars nervous was the section of last week's union agreement which states that in the event of the new joint state collapsing, Serbia should inherit the rights of the old Yugoslav federation in all international treaties, such as UN Security Council Resolution 1244 - in effect this means that Kosovo would become formally part of Serbia.

After studying the documents, some Kosovan leaders felt their country's future remained uncertain. "Any agreement that would produce negative effects for Kosovo will be unacceptable," warned the Pristina government headed by Bajram Rexhepi.

Rexhepi and others are also worried about the signature on the union agreement of the EU's foreign and security policy chief Xavier Solana. Although Solana signed only in his capacity as a witness, Kosovan analysts believed it signified Brussels support for Belgrade on the question of Kosovo's final status.

Enver Hasani, lecturer in international law at the University of Pristina, commented, "It should be clearly understood that EU pressure on Montenegro to renounce independence is aimed at decreasing Kosovo's own chances of independence. And as the successor to Yugoslavia, Serbia will inherit everything - including Kosovo."

Blerim Shala editor of the Pristina daily Zeri said that by inheriting Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo, Belgrade clearly wanted to change the character of UN resolution 1244 and prejudge the final status of Kosovo. That was why, he said, EU participation in the agreement was "worrying".

But not everyone is worried. Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova and head of the assembly Nexhat Daci are fairly optimistic about the implications of the new joint state for the protectorate. "Democratic agreements like this one are a sign that the age of war in the region has passed. This will have no (negative) impact on the future of Kosovo," he said.

Daci recalled the referendum for the independence of the region in September 1991, which was endorsed by over 99 per cent of Kosovar Albanians. "Kosovo has entered a one way highway from which there is no turning back," he said.

Indeed, Radio Television of Kosovo, RTK, broadcast news about the agreement under the headline, "Yugoslavia doesn't exist anymore". It quoted citizens in the streets of Pristina saying the region's independence was now a fait accompli.

A conclusion on the final status of Kosovo could take many years to achieve. The international community says human rights and respect for minorities are the main conditions which Kosovars must fulfil before any debate on final status begins. However, there seems little doubt that the union of Serbia and Montenegro will intensify Kosovan pressure for independence.

Arben Qirezi is a regular IWPR contributor.

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