01/07/2002 - Trepça.net

SERB PROPOSALS FOR DECENTRALISATION


Monday, July 01 2002
 
By Rogelj Peter
 
As it was expected, Serbs officially condition their participation in the local elections on “decentralisation” of Kosova. They mean under this term the establishment of new municipalities – in Mitrovica (north), Pristina (Ulpiana) as well as in Gjilan and Peja as well as transfer of powers of Kosova’s government to local level. The issue of territorial-administrative organisation and self-governance could have long-term effect on the future of Kosova, therefore it’s necessary that Albanian political factors prepare strategy how to deal with this issue.
  
  
Mitrovica
 
The stance of the internationals in not clear. According to Koha Ditore, one unnamed international in UNMIK said that Serbs would establish new municipality in the northern Mitrovica one way or another creating fait accompli. That could sound as preparing ground for the major UNMIK concession – recognition of separate Serb municipality in the north. Albanians should take all necessary measures to prevent that.
 
In the first place, the statement of this international doesn’t hold true. Serb won’t create new municipality in northern Mitrovica since this municipality already exists. There is a non-recognised municipality in northern Mitrovica operating since 1999. The question is, whether UNMIK will recognise this municipality or not. What Serbs are asking for is not establishment of the new municipality by UNMIK but recognition and legalisation of the present unofficial and parallel municipality in northern Mitrovica.
 
Serbs claim that the new municipality doesn’t mean division of the city. Proposed two-tiered administration (one city and more municipalities) is only smoke screen for covering-up division. Such solution in Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina has produced permanent division.
 
Ratification of status quo in Mitrovica by UNMIK would make a mockery from the proclaimed UNMIK’s goal of promotion of multi-ethnic society and integration. The existing situation in northern Mitrovica is a result of ethnic cleansing performed by local Serb minority against Albanian majority. In northern Mitrovica, Albanians are victims of ethnic cleansing and expulsion while Serbs are perpetrators who are occupying foreign properties. In normal situation (that is, when owners are also users of property) there would be no Serb majority in northern Mitrovica therefore also no possibility for separate municipality. By granting separate municipality, UNMIK would reward Serbs for committed crime of ethnic cleansing.
  
What is then a solution for Mitrovica? For the time being, the things should remain as they are. That means, parallel structures, unrecognised by UNMIK could stay in place. These parallel structures would be gradually dismantled and replaced by the authority of legitimate institutions, of course with Serb participation in them. This process would run parallel to the process of normalisation (rule of law, return of refugees and their integration etc) in other parts of Kosova.
 
It should be pointed out that Steiner’s benchmarks cannot be accomplished in “Albanian part” of Kosova without being at the same time implemented also in northern Mitrovica. Albanians can make the first step in that direction, however the whole process will stall in case of Serb obstruction. Albanians don’t demand from UNMIK to immediately dismantle these parallel structures, however they have every right to demand from UNMIK not to grant legal status to these structures especially if they are created as a result of ethnic cleansing as it is the case in northern Mitrovica.
 
  
Other areas
 
As opposed to northern Mitrovica, establishment of new municipalities would not oppose to moral principles. In Ulpiana and some nearby villages, Serbs majority has also title to properties it possesses. However, granting these areas municipal status is also unacceptable.
  
Albanians should not allow themselves to be dragged into debate of “decentralisation.”  The whole debate of “decentralisation” is completely out of place. This term is used by Belgrade for manipulative purposes to mask partitionist agenda. Since the terms “partition” or “cantonisation” (appropriate designations for Serb proposals) are not popular with the international community, Serbs are using the attractive term “decentralisation” to deceive the internationals.
 
In the first place, Kosova is already decentralised too much. The existing situation is in clear contradiction to international documents like Constitutional Framework and 1244 Resolution. Under the terms of these documents, Kosova’s central institutions (domestic and the international ones) should have authority in the whole Kosova. In reality, however, these institutions have no authority in the northern Kosova and little authority in Serb enclaves. These areas are still governed from Belgrade. This situation flatly contradicts article 1.2 of Constitutional Framework that “Kosova is undivided territory where provisional institutions of self-government … exercise their powers.”
  
Instead of get involved in fruitless debate about “decentralisation”, UNMIK should redress this situation by making central Kosova’s institutions operative in the whole Kosova as envisaged by legal acts adopted by UN. Until that happens, there can be no talk about decentralisation. In the situation when parallel structures are operating in Kosova, “decentralisation” would mean only giving these parallel structures legal status, thus legalising dualism of power in Kosova. And this is certainly not in accordance with the proclaimed UNMIK’s goal of integration. Serbs want to enlist support for their proposal by saying that there would be no need for parallel structures if “decentralisation” is applied. There’s no guarantee that they are going to deliver on their promises. And there’s indeed no need for parallel structures if “decentralisation” makes them legal.
 
 
“Decentralisation” as a first step to partition
  
Belgrade says that decentralisation doesn’t mean the same as partition. It is true that formal partition of Kosova  (that means secession of northern Kosova) in this moment is not in Belgrade’s interest. By formal secession of northern Kosova, Belgrade would give up the main leverage for its interference in Kosova. For whatever it does in northern Kosova, UNMIK needs Belgrade’s approval. And this gives Belgrade the possibility to blackmail  concessions from UNMIK. Without northern Kosova, neither UNMIK nor Pristina would not depend on Belgrade’s goodwill in any issue.
  
Covic said last year that the mood in the international community is against the idea of two entities in Kosova, therefore approach in this direction should be gradual and step by step. Because of this stand of the international community, Belgrade emphasises that decentralisation doesn’t mean partition.
  
However, “decentralisation” as envisaged by Belgrade would be a huge step in direction of formal partition. Such “decentralisation” would formally establish the boundaries of “Serb areas” in Kosova. Next step would be formation of police stations in these areas consisted of Serb servicemen and courts staffed by Serb judges. According to last year’s UNMIK-FRY Common Document ethnic composition of KPS (Kosova Police Service) and Judiciary is to reflect ethnic composition of population of respective area. Establishment of Serb municipalities or sub-municipal administrative units would create these areas where this Serb police and judiciary would be situated.
  
The next step would be unification of Serb majority administrative units (be they called municipalities or special administrative areas is not important) into Serb entity. Rada Trajkovic has already proposed Ulpiana as a centre of this Serb entity.
 
When this is achieved, Serbs will ask for deployment of Serb (“Yugoslav”) Army and Police in this entity. In demanding that, Serbs can refer to provision of 1244 Resolution. Covic said last year that in this interim period till final solution, Kosova should be divided into two entities: Serb entity would be under control of Serbian Army and Police while in Albanian entity international forces (KFOR) would be deployed. Given the trend of downsizing international forces in Kosova and the region, it’s very possible that Serbs would at some point enlist international support for such an idea.
 
Endeavour of Belgrade’s regime for “decentralisation” and colonisation partly explains why Belgrade wants to postpone deciding on the final status of Kosova. Belgrade wants first to create facts on the ground to easier achieve final solution according to its wishes. Creation of Serb-administered areas would crate legal ground for partition, while subsequent colonisation of these areas would create demographic ground for such a solution.
 
 
“Decentralisation” as a pre-requisite for Serb colonisation (“return”)
 
In practical terms, this “decentralisation” should be regarded in the context of Serb efforts for colonisation of Kosova. In his interview for Reporter magazine of 3 June this year, Mr Covic said the “aim of decentralisation of power in Kosovo-Metohija is … to get(!) areas where individual ethnic community will be able to normally live”. Belgrade’s plan for colonisation/ “return” (available at http://www.serbia.sr.gov.yu/coordination_centre/index.html) talks about “decentralisation” as a pre-requisite for “return”.
  
Belgrade’s plans about “decentralisation” can be fully understood only if we look at the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. As it is known, a Serb entity called Republika Srpska (RS) exists there. The main goal of this entity was not to provide autonomy for the Serbs living in that entity but to create an exclusive Serb area where all Bosnian Serbs would live. The authorities of this entity not only discourage return of displaced Non-Serbs there, but also return of displaced Serbs to Federation (other Bosnian entity where about a third of all Bosnian Serbs lived before the war). The final aim is that all Bosnian Serbs and as less Non-Serbs as possible will ultimately live in RS to prepare ground for partition of Bosnia.
  
Belgrade’s goal, as far as Kosova is concerned, is the same. “Decentralised” areas of newly created municipalities are imagined not only as a framework for self-administration for Serbs currently living there but also as a living space for all Kosova’s Serbs. Belgrade wants to relocate all Kosova’s Serbs in these areas and at the same time prevent return of Albanians in northern Mitrovica. In this way, these “decentralised” areas  would serve as areas for Serb colonisation of Kosova.
 
In terms of colonisation, it’s necessary to establish new municipalities (or self-administered areas within existing municipalities) in Kosova for providing Serb colonists with land (of course, free of charge, by simply transferring publicly owned land holdings to private persons) and construction permits. In Republika Srpska, authorities were distributed 25.000 plots of land for construction free of charge to displaced Serbs from another Bosnian entity in strategic points to ensure Serb permanent control over territory. In light of presented “Programme for the return of refugees and displaced persons to Kosovo-Metohija” there’s no doubt that Serbs are preparing the same scenario also in Kosova. And to perform this scenario, Serbs need to extend their power on the local level. 
 
 
ALBANIAN STRATEGY WITH RESPECT TO LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT
 
International response to Serb demands
 
There’s a danger that UNMIK will invent so-called compromise solution to enlist Serb participation in the local elections. Instead of fully-fledged municipalities, sub-municipal self-administered units would be formed, allegedly within the framework of respective municipalities. In the hearing before the U.S. Congress it was said that OSCE and UNMIK officials were currently in the process of exploring how to provide some sort of autonomy for North Mitrovica within the framework of a unified municipality. It is possible that such solution would be applied also in some other areas of Kosova. These efforts (combining unified municipality with Serb autonomy in the same area) are similar to efforts to create a wooden iron.
  
Bosnian experiences in this regard are significant. The key of success in reintegration of divided Brcko Area was single internationally recognised administration in that area. The key of failure in reintegration of divided city of Mostar was existence of more ethnically based municipalities (=autonomy) “within a framework of a unified city.”
There are two reasons why Kosova’s Serbs don’t deserve any autonomy. As it was said in Mitrovica this would mean a reward for ethnic cleansing. The internationals stress too much, that Mitrovica’s Serbs fear to be expelled and they need to be protected. However, they forget that Albanians from northern Mitrovica are already expelled and they don’t care about their protection. The result of Serbs’ fear in northern Mitrovica lies in the fact, that these Serbs are illegally occupying Albanian property there. The assignment of bridge watchers is to guard Serb usurpation of Albanian property. In other Serb-inhabited areas in Kosova, there’s no need for bridge watchers, since there’s no Serb usurpation of Albanian property.
  
The second reason why Serb autonomy in Kosova is unacceptable lies in position of Albanians in Eastern Kosova. In the interview for Belgrade’s magazine Nin of 9 May this year, Nebojsa Covic said: “Albanians in southern Serbia have to understand that this is Republic of Serbia, that there can be no autonomies and that we don’t talk about that any longer. They had enough time to keep in mind our messages and the messages of the international community as well. Serbs in Kosovo-Metohija demand only rights that Albanians have got in Macedonia or the better example, in southern Serbia.” So, there can be no autonomy for Albanian majority in Presheva Valley (they may not even wave their flags in public there) while pre-war minority of Mitrovica’s Serbs is entitled to “decentralisation” (according to Belgrade) or “autonomy within unified municipalities” (according to UNMIK)! Internationals should be warned that this blatant example of outright racism if applied would produce new troubles in the region.
  
Every solution which would provide for separate administration, institutions and separate elections in the north or elsewhere in Kosova (whether within the framework of a unified municipality or not) would, in fact, mean political victory for the Serbs. It’s clear that in this case, institutions on the city level would be only a shell without any power in the north while all power would rest with these separate (yet, internationally recognised!) institutions.
 
  
Boycott of the local elections
  
Albanians should prepare counter-measures in case that UNMIK concede to Serb demands. In the political field, Albanians should announce their boycott of local elections. Unlike the boycott of less than 10% Serb population, the boycott of Albanian majority would really make these elections senseless.  And, Albanians  need these elections no more than Serbs do. Last year, Albanians could not afford boycott of general elections since these elections have been necessary for producing Kosova-wide institutions. On the other hand, Serbs had no interest in creation of these institutions being so in position to set conditions to the international community for their participation. As it is known, UNMIK-FRY Common Document was a result of Serb blackmail with their participation in the elections.
  
This year, Serbs are going to try to extract another “Common Document” (this time, it would be focused on “decentralisation”) as a price for their participation in the local elections. However, the position of Albanians as far as this year’s local elections are concerned is much better than it was the case with the last year’s general elections. In the first place, through Kosova’s institutions Albanians are in a better position to make a stand against UNMIK’s activity behind the back of Albanians. And more importantly, there’s no strategic need for Albanian participation in this year’s local election.
  
There was a need for Albanian participations in the local elections of 2000 and general elections in 2001 to form democratic institutions on the local and Kosova-wide level. However, this year’s local elections are not necessary since institutions on the local level are already established and functioning. Albanian boycott of the elections would only extend term of office of the existing municipal assemblies. Perhaps, there are some parties who might prefer holding elections expecting political gain, however from the wider long-term national aspect it’s absolutely necessary that Albanians don’t give their blessing to the process of partition of Kosova by their participation in the elections that would mark a further step in this direction.
  
Serb boycott of the local elections (it’s not likely that Serbs will boycott elections in the whole Kosova, for example in municipalities where they constitute a local majority) would not put the legitimacy of elections at stake. Serbs boycotted last local elections two years ago and nevertheless the whole world recognised these elections as fair. Boycott wouldn’t deprive Serbs of representatives on a local level. In this event, UNMIK will nominate Serb representatives in municipal assemblies, as it was the case two years ago. On the other hand, UNMIK cannot nominate Albanian representatives. Announcement of Albanian boycott would make elections senseless causing cancellation of elections. If this happens, term of office of the current municipal assemblies would be simply extended. And this is much, much better than that the new territorial-administrative organisation of Kosova leading to partition comes into effect.
  
Of course, threat with the boycott makes sense only if it is made by all Albanian political factors. Therefore, political unity of Albanian political forces is of utmost importance. Albanians must be aware that territorial-administrative reorganisation of Kosova according to Serb wishes, if enacted by UNMIK, could have very detrimental consequences for Albanian interests when the issue of final status is going to be raised. And they must be also aware that the internationals don’t care about the interests of Albanians but they pursue their own agenda that is not in accordance with Albanian interests.
  
Therefore, Albanian politicians should not set as a priority to please the internationals at the expense to the long-term interests of their people. In Bosnia, Bosniaks took a very co-operative stance towards the internationals while the Serbs adopted brinkmanship position. As a result, the international community taking the course of least resistance and shying away from confrontation with Serbs has been usually making unprincipled compromises detrimental to Bosniak interests and favourable to Serb interests. Kosova’s Albanians should not repeat mistakes of Bosniaks in dealing with the internationals. While co-operation with the internationals is necessary, the firmness and intransigence in defence of strategic national interests is no less important. Ability of Albanian political factors to form a united front against UNMIK and Serbs in dealing with strategic issues (and territorial-administrative organisation is such issue) in the next weeks will be important test of their maturity and leadership.
 
 
Disruption of return process and destabilisation of region
 
As it is known, Serb proposals for “decentralisation” can be understood only in the context of the plans for colonisation of Kosova and subsequent partition. It is also known, that the international community is interested for the return of refugees, while Belgrade wants to abuse returns for colonialist purposes. The international administration has also made clear that preserving calm is its first priority in Kosova. This is the reason for inactivity of the international community in overcoming division of Mitrovica. The internationals simply don’t push for integration of Mitrovica since they want to avoid conflict with Serbs
  
Albanians should adopt the similar tactics like Serbs in Mitrovica. They warn internationals against “decentralisation” on the grounds that it will lead to violence in Kosova. Since the “decentralisation” is a code for colonisation it should be told internationals that every attempt of colonisation will be met by force. Albanians are committed to enable return of refugees to their original homes, but they won’t allow any relocation of these refugees to areas of strategic interest for Belgrade. Attempts of building the new settlements would create an atmosphere of violence and fear thus reversing the advance in the field of security achieved in the last three years in Kosova. In such an atmosphere, return of refugees to their homes will be indeed impossible. If UNMIK wants peace in Kosova and if the international community wants stability in the region, demands of Belgrade for “decentralisation” for Serbs must be rejected.
  
Mr Steiner said on many occasions that multi-ethnicity (that is return and equality of Serbs) and integration (that is non-partition of Kosova) are two closely inter-twinned processes. Like Albanians will not be able to defend integrity of Kosova (“integration”) by opposition to return of displaced Serbs (“multi-ethnicity”), equally Serbs and the international community cannot count on Albanian co-operation with respect of return of Serbs (“multi-ethnicity) in case of adopting measures contradicting to integration, like establishment of ethnically based administrative units. Mr Steiner said recently that Kosova doesn’t belong only to Albanians but to all inhabitants of Kosova. He was right. However, that holds true only for united Kosova. In the event of partitioned Kosova, Albanians have exclusive right to their part of Kosova.
   
On the military field, Albanians should prepare for defence of Albanian-inhabited areas north of Ibar (Bosnian quarter, three towers, Suhodoll e Poshtem and other villages) in case that these places fall under Serb administration. If Albanians take so resolute stand (brinkmanship) regarding this issue then the international community certainly won’t be able to ignore their interests.
 
  
Draft of Albanian strategy with regard to local self-governance/ “decentralisation”
 
The main points of (united!) Albanian strategy towards this issue should be as follows:
  • Existing territorial-administrative organisation (that means the same municipalities with the same borders) of Kosova have to remain unchanged until the final status of Kosova is resolved.
  • The local elections should be held only for those bodies (municipal assemblies) than two years ago. Therefore, there can be no sub-municipal administrative units and elections for their bodies.
  • The competencies of municipalities have to be the same for all municipalities in Kosova. Any change of their competencies should be made in agreement with the Kosova’s government.
  • For the time being, the existing parallel structures in Serb areas can remain intact and they will be gradually dismantled concurrently with the process of normalisation in Kosova (integrity and multiethnicity). Serbs cannot count on any political reward or concession in exchange for dismantling these institutions that are illegal in itself.
These should be the main conditions for Albanian participation in the local elections. If we sum up, Albanians should demand that rules for these local elections remain unchanged as compared to the rules for the local elections two years ago. Security and overall situation has advanced significantly in the last two years and it doesn’t justify steps contrary to integration of Kosova. If the international community thinks that time is not ripe yet for dismantling parallel structures it should at least not give them legality.
  
In the event that one or more above-mentioned points are violated by UNMIK, Albanians should respond with counter-measures. Kosova’s assembly should adopt resolution calling the people of Kosova to boycott elections while all ethnic-Albanian staff taking part in electoral process should resign. It should be also pointed out that the existing municipal authorities will continue to operate in the same territory and that any new sub-municipal or other organs in their territory won’t be recognised.

 

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