The Kosovo Deadlock

Hundreds of supporters of the Kosovo Albanian "Self-Determination" movement march in central Pristina on March 3 in protest of a United Nations plan to award Kosovo internationally supervised self-rule. Self-Determination campaigns for full immediate independence. (Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP-Getty Images)

The recent negotiations in Vienna between Serbs and Albanians over Kosovo once more ended in a deadlock with neither side willing to compromise. The Serbs are willing to provide wide autonomy and self-rule for the province without relinquishing its status as an integral part of the Serbian state. The Albanians won't accept anything less than independence as soon as possible. Therefore, the whole disagreement has been rushed to the United Nations Security Council where the "big five" will once more dictate the fate of another corner in the planet.

Each side in this conflict has its share of arguments, which they have been battling over for the past 8 years—since the end of NATO bombings in June 1999. The Serbian state insists on two basic points. Firstly, on international law that strictly forbids the secession of a part of any country without the consent of its government. Actually, the Serbs have recently proceeded to amend their Constitution by adding a clause that makes it legally impossible—without further constitutional amendment—for Serbia to recognize Kosovo's independence.

Secondly, the Serbs view Kosovo as the epicenter of their historical path since the Middle Ages an area where thousands of Byzantine churches, monasteries, and other historical monuments flourished. It is important to note that a large number of the above have been destroyed by Albanian nationalists and extremists of Islamic descent; a development that raised doubts as to whether an independent Kosovo would be able to preserve Serbian-Orthodox culture and a unique European historical hinterland.

The Albanian side feverishly point to their 90 percent majority in the province and the plight of all Albanian leaders to pursue independence with all means possible. The recent violent incidents against the United Nations and O.S.C.E. (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) missions reflect an increased Albanian sentiment toward reacting violently in case their aim is not fulfilled.

The Role of Russia

Russia has already stated that it will not recognize the independence of Kosovo and it will veto such a resolution in the Security Council. It is well understood that such a stance from Moscow enhances its role as the patron of Serbia and creates a rift in the Balkans not seen since the years of the cold war. Moreover, Russia supports independence for the provinces of North Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. Therefore, Moscow aims to win either way. Should Kosovo become independent it would claim a precedent for its claims in Georgia. It would always be able to exert its influence in Belgrade and possibly seek a more energetic role in southeastern Europe.

Current information and analysis point to a Russian veto after all and to a compromise being sought in the United Nations chambers that would not fully recognize independence for Kosovo—at least typically.

The Role of the Other States

Already the United States and Britain are being seen as the states that will recognize an independent Kosovo, even though the United States has raised some doubts through public comments by statesmen like John Bolton. Furthermore, over the past few years, a very dynamic Serbian-American lobby has emerged in the United States that has gained wider acceptance and which campaigns against Kosovo independence.

France, another member of the Security Council, has kept a very low profile. It is estimated that it will follow suit with the United States and Britain, gaining in exchange a "sphere of influence" in the new Balkan scenery. The last of the big five, China, is not really interested in meddling with the Balkan affairs. The days when the Milosevic administration was eager to cajole Beijing are long gone, even though it is not improbable to assume a Russian-Chinese alliance when the resolution is brought to the limelight.

Germany now seems to be lukewarm on Kosovo independence since it is interested in expanding its industrial and commercial presence in the Balkans and views Belgrade as a more suitable partner than the "Albanian factor." Therefore, Berlin uses its influence in order to seek a compromise; thus, safeguarding its interests on both sides.

Other countries such as Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece, Indonesia, and others are opposed to Kosovo independence either for reasons relating to the existence of minorities on their soil or for geopolitical balance considerations. Israel as well seems to oppose Kosovo independence, especially after a visit by a Serbian delegacy there last autumn. The main reason would probably be attributed to fears of a Wahhabi expansion in Kosovo. In numerous cases, the province has proved to be a hideout for suspected terrorists and interrelated organized crime figures.

Possible Developments

There are numerous scenarios unfolding throughout the Balkans over the case of Kosovo. A reliable and independent source revealed a few weeks ago that Serbian paramilitary forces have already been stationed inside Kosovo in order to safeguard the local Serbian population and to take action if needed. Moreover, veteran Albanian fighters of the now-defunct K.L.A. (Kosovo Liberation Army), according to local sources, are assembling and coordinating their plans. The mixture of heavily armed personnel from all sides and the existence of a well-organized network of weapons smuggling does not provide reassurance of  a bright future in the province.

The Serbian side has indirectly mentioned the precedent of any Kosovo independence in relation to the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thus, a "bargaining chip" for Belgrade would be to request—and activate—a secession of that republic and its integration into Serbia. One could comprehend that such a development would disintegrate Bosnia Serbian Republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina as the Croatian part would be absorbed by Croatia and a new Balkan war would be imminent. On their part, the Albanians might seek to pressure the international community by inflaming local passion in Tetovo, northwest Macedonia, as it was the case in 2001 when the state was almost on the brink of disintegration after an unsuccessful Albanian bid to speed up the process of Kosovo independence.

It is also fair to speculate that the ongoing negotiations over the fate of Kosovo are constantly monitored by the rest of the Balkan countries, which assess the situation in relation to their conflicting strategic interests. Any change in the overall geopolitical balance will result in policy shifts that are hard to predict at this stage. Overall, a sense of insecurity has already begun to get a hold of policy makers, media analysts, and public figures who still expect another act in the "Balkan tragedy" started almost 20 years ago.

The main concern of the international community over Kosovo's future is mainly the preservation of the minorities—Serbs and Roma nowadays—and the curbing of organized crime activities. The first task has not been accomplished, on the contrary, 75 percent of the Serbs and Roma have been forced out by the Albanians and their livelihoods and cultural heritage either destroyed or confiscated against international law and humanitarian belief.

Organized crime exerts a large influence in the province—and in its capital, Pristina—through the use of a network of corrupted public heads, brutal force, and a tremendous flow of capital that ensures human resources recruitment on a grand scale due to unemployment and industrial decay. All international security and intelligence agencies regularly portray a dismaying image of the province, a sort of "European Medellin or Cali."

In general, the Kosovo affair remains a powder keg for the whole of the region, a geopolitical entity that confuses the interests and ambitions of a multitude of global players and informal local power units. The latter would almost certainly include the all-pervading organized crime syndicates that control the flow of heroin from Asia to Europe via the infamous "Balkan narcotics route" and they have grown considerably in strength over the past decade. Coupled with pockets of Islamic fundamentalists and widespread corruption, Kosovo will most certainly make world headlines well into the future, regardless of its final status. The Kosovo province nowadays is mostly dependent on three income sources: remittances from the Albanian diaspora, the proceeds of organized crime, and the salaries of international community members residing in the province. Whatever the resolution is in the Security Council, the fundamental economics will most certainly remain fairly stable well into the future.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Ioannis Michaletos.