by Srdja Trifkovic
The Contact Group “troika”—Aleksandar Botsan-Harchenko representing Russia, Frank Wiesner representing the United States, and Wolfgang Ischinger representing the European Union—visited Belgrade and Pristina on August 10-11, marking a new start in the search for a solution to the vexed problem of Kosovo. The three diplomats are now preparing a report for the Contact Group on their visit to the region. Srdja Trifkovic discussed the background of the troika’s mission on CKCU 93.1 FM in Ottawa.
ST: In late July we witnessed the collapse of Western efforts, led by the US, to present a Security Council resolution that would be essentially in line with the Ahtisaari’s proposal—which is to say, that would grant Kosovo-Metohija independent statehood, under whatever name and through whatever procedure. The decision by the US and the EU to give up on further efforts at the UNSC and to return to the auspices of the Contact Group may be seen as a victory for the Russian diplomacy. Indirectly it was a victory for Serbia, too, except that all Serbian efforts in and of themselves would not have been sufficient, were it not for the strategic decision that the government in Moscow had made that this was an issue on which they would make a stand.
Within the Contact Group, and now within the Troika, there is disagreement between the participants on what should be the final objective and also how it should be obtained. The Russians are particularly insistent that the whole process needs to remain under the control, guidance and auspices of the UNSC. The US, and some countries of the EU, would like to transform the Contact Group into a decision-making body in its own right, subjected to majority vote, which would not only mediate between the parties but also initiate particular models for the solution, and then actively encourage the parties to embrace them.
The key issue is whether the US will follow the path of unilateral recognition if there is no agreed solution at the end of the four moths’ period—and in my view it is obvious that there is not going to be one. For as long as the Albanian side believes that the US will embark on unilateral recognition, we are not going to see any progress. Hard-line terms in which Agim Ceku outlined the Albanian position when the Troika arrived in Pristina over the weekend is indicative both of the domestic political pressures which the Albanian leaders feel, and the fact that the US regards the issue of Kosovo independence as a test of strength, as a test of its ability to impose its will in spite of Russian objections. To the Bush administration this is important in the light of a string of failures of US foreign policy in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, etc.
Within the Troika we have a tenuous balance, with three parties with widely different objectives pretending to be acting unanimously:
—The Americans want to recognize an independent Kosovo broadly in line with Ahtisaari plan, for reasons that are either bad or unfathomable, and appear to be determined to do so at the end of the current 120-day negotiating period.
—The EU does not have an agreed policy—or, rather, it has the pretence of a consensus on the acceptance of the Ahtisaari plan provided it is adopted through the UN. In another words, if it doesn’t happen and if the U.S. press the Europeans to follow the unilateral path, I am confident that there will be divisions within the EU. The fabled common foreign policy will prove to be a mirage.
—Finally we have the Russians, very firm in their insistence that there cannot be no solution that would bypass the Security Council, and who are opposed to any solution that would be imposed against the will of the parties concerned, including of course the Republic of Serbia.
Q: You met with the Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in July. What does he expect, in your opinion, from the forthcoming negotiations?
ST: I am not sure what he expects, but I am sure that Kostunica is rock-solid on the assumptions and principles on which those negotiations are to be conducted, and on the outcome that would be acceptable to the Serbian side. That outcome can be a model of self-rule that would include all of the most advanced features of autonomous status enjoyed by other minorities around the world. Independence is completely unacceptable to Kostunica, however. Right now he may be contemplating the reaction that Serbia would be forced to adopt in case the US and other countries extend independence unilaterally. Obviously, Serbia has to take stock of its options very seriously.
Serbia’s reaction would depend to some extend on the balance of forces within the ruling coalition in Belgrade. Within the ruling coalition we still have an ongoing tension between the “pro-Western reformists”—i.e., the Democratic Party of Boris Tadic, which keeps talking of Euro-Atlantic integrations (in other words not only EU but also NATO)—and Prime minister Kostunica and his party, the Democratic Party of Serbia, which is very careful to avoid the “Atlantic” part of this equation; they call only for “European” integrations. They are aware that it is inconsistent to expect Russia’s support in keeping Kosovo on the one hand, and at the same time talking about the integration into a military structure that is geopolitically by nature and of necessity anti-Russian. NATO does not have any other purpose in life any more, except to act as the geopolitical Cordon Sanitaire that seeks to surround Russia and reduce her to the level of the Grand Duchy of Moscow of 500 years ago.
Q: Some Albanians in Kosovo threaten violence if they do not get independence. Such blackmail should not be tolerated, yet the USA, Canada and others take this as a valid argument to grant Kosovo independence. Does the US have different yardsticks by which it judges different situations?
ST: We have seen this “situational morality” in the Yugoslav crisis time and over again. The threat of secession by the Krajina Serbs from Croatia, or the Bosnian Serbs from Bosnia-Herzegovina, was met with extreme hostility in Washington, and it was countered with the assertion that territorial integrity of all recognized states had to be upheld at any price. This went so far as to prompt the US to aid and abet Franjo Tudjman’s massive ethnic cleansing of the Serbs from the Krajina in August 1995. On the other hand, territorial integrity is disregarded vis-à-vis Serbia itself, when it comes to severing one seventh of her sovereign territory. The Albanians’ threat of violence is, as you say, treated as a valid argument to grant them independence, whereas invented or exaggerated stories of violence by the Serbs in 1998-99 are invoked as grounds for taking Kosovo away from Serbia. We are looking at pseudo-reality—like Alice in Wonderland, where, once you go through the looking glass, even lies loose all pretence to credibility.
Q: Canadian foreign minister Peter MacKey still maintains that “the Government of Canada believes that the comprehensive recommendations by Mr. Ahtisaari meet the goal [of] extending decentralized powers to municipalities as well as giving the Serb minority extensive rights and security under the supervision of the international community [which] corresponds to the European Union’s multi-ethnic vision for the Western Balkans . . . ” Is this a viable vision?
ST: He does not realize that the notion of multi-ethnic harmony in the context of Kosovo is as valid, and as likely to come into being, as is the notion of inter-religious and inter-ethnic harmony between Israelis and the Palestinians in a joint state, in which each community would grant the other full rights, and they will all joint hands and sing Kumbaya . . . If the Ahtisaari plan is so wonderful for the Serbs, than it should be equally applicable to the Albanians if you change the names of the parties. The difference is that it would not require changing international borders and it would not require violating 300 years of the Westphalian system of state sovereignty—not to mention the Helsinki final Act and the UN Charter.
The fundamental issue on which the proponents of multilateralism in international relations such as Canada fail to respond to the Russian and Serbian argument is how do you envisage the survival of an international system in which a sovereign nation state, a bona fide member of the international community, can have a part of its sovereign territory take away from it by fiat, by an imposed decision of the rest of the world. What a precedent it would set to the rest of the world! When US bureaucrats Nicolas Burns or Daniel Fried say that “no precedent would be set,” they are deluded. A bureaucrat cannot control reality by the force of his public statement. If Kosovo is recognized it would give a signal to each and every dissatisfied ethnic minority in the world that: 1) it should use violence in pursuit of its separatist objectives and 2) if it is ruthless enough and persistent enough, it will get what it wants. It will have consequences not only for the Tamils in Shri Lanka, or the Russians in Crimea, or Hungarians in Transylvania, or the Muslims in Kashmir, but potentially one day for the Mexicans in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Southern California.