Kosova-o - Part 19
[ Kosova-o ]
Of course [an agreement] was not to be expected and it was not the purpose to achieve concrete agreements in a specific field. This meeting served to present the various approaches of the two sides to decentralization and to explore common ground, and in this I think we were quite successful.
(Albert Rohan, deputy of the UN evoy M. Ahtisaari, at the press-conference after the first round of Pristina - Belgrade talks on 20-21.2.2006).
According to Rohan, the talks were held in a "co-operative spirit", and after the two sides had presented their position, devolution of powers to municipalities (decentralisation) was discussed in the fields of heath care, education, social politics, police, justice, and public finances. Both sides agreed that the composition of police forces should reflect the ethnic balance in municipalities.
The next meeting has been set for 17 March 2006.
Most newspaper articles underlined the "co-operative spirit" described by A. Rohan - astonishing news? Somehow yes. Both teams came to the talks. Nobody walked out of the room. Nobody said that the talks are not worth it.
A lot of analysts wonder what the Serb team is looking for and ask: "Have they not realized that the status of Kosovo has already been decided?" Cf. the Balkan Update blog (20.2.2006):
As many people have predicted, talk are being focused on the status of Kosovo Serbs not the actual status of Kosovo. It's looking more and more every day that the status of Kosovo has already been decided and what remains to be resolved is the status of Serb minority. I think the Serb delegation will be brought before a finished act at the end of THE Talks.
Indeed, although the Contact Group does not take sides, several representatives of contact group countries (especially from the US and UK) openly favour independence for Kosovo. Just before the Vienna talks started, UN envoy M. Ahtisaari said in an interview with Der Spiegel (no. 8/2006, 20.2.2006, p. 114) that the Contact Group had agreed on the principle that the population of Kosovo has to decide its future. Then, he asked the following rhetorical question: "90% are Albanians - how do you think they will decide?" Belgrade heavily criticised Ahtisaari for what it considered as a pro-Albanian statement.
Nevertheless, Tadic excluded stepping back from the Kosovo talks - and that means that Belgrade has an interest to participate and sees room for negotiation.
Thus, it does not make sense to ask "How will they react when they realise it [that the talks are not about the actual status of Kosovo, which is already predecided]?" (again a quote from the Balkan Update blog, 20.2.2006). The Belgrade-team will have considered this question beforehand... What is then Belgrade interest to participate in the negotiations?
Of course, Serbia is under huge pressure by the EU which is to draft a report by the end of February on the co-operation of Serbia with the ICTY. The news of Mladic's arrest, announced by TV-channel BN from Bijelina (Eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina) and taken over by Tanjug, were later dismissed as speculation, but were a sign of this pressure. The EU report could be the basis for decision on the suspension of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) talks with Serbia and Montenegro...
But is is cannot be only the EU stick/carrot which created a "co-operative spirit" around the negotiation table. There is more to it. A change of mind? It is too early to say - but through its presence the Belgrade team acknowledged that the Kosovo issue has to be resolved and that a common solution with the Kosovars has to be sought. Little progress - but definitely progress. I just hope that this mood will not change and that nobody will walk off the negotiation table on 17 March and in the following rounds.
Some reading on the Kosovo talks:
general article with some background info on Kosovo: Judy Dempsey: Talks finally begin on Kosovo's future, International Herald Tribune, 20.2.2005
the "insecurity argument" (Kosovo has to become independent in order to stabilize the Balkans): Stefan Wagstyl: Why Kosovo may hold the key to the Balkans’ future, Financial Times, 19.2.2006
the "living-in-peace-of-different-ethnic-groups argument" (the Kosovo status has to be resolved in order to settle the injustices committed on the Serb and/or the Albanian side): in the comments to the The Guardian newsblog on Kosovo (20.2.2006) you can find all the (old) arguments of the Kosovo-Albanian and (Kosovo-)Serb side for and against independence
the (Serb) proposal of a "maximum autonomy" for Kosovo and an autonomy for Kosovo-Serbs, all under EU supervision: Aleksandar Mitic, The 10 Winners of a Kosovo Compromise, New Europe, 19.2.2005 (and for further reading, here an older editorial by Aleksandar Mitic - Many options but independence for Kosovo, EU Observer, 16.11.2005).
Please check back in the following days for some comments on decentralisation in Kosovo, the Russian position, the referendum in/on Montenegro...
Photo: Palais Kinsky, Vienna, where the first round of Kosovo talks was held; source: info.wien.at