The International Herald Tribune is reporting today that Kosovo’s final status talks have been delayed…again. Recently Serbia approved a draft constitution through popular referendum. This approval has triggered parliamentary elections, which were scheduled for November but have now been moved back to January. The Contact Group fears that a final status decision on Kosovo would propel Serbian radicals into power, jeopardize Serbian entry into the European community (in the immediate social sense, rather than the formal sense) and increase instability in the Balkans.
I can only imagine how Kosovar society at large is responding to this news. Each time they are promised impending decisions they are delayed for various reasons.. While today’s local papers don’t seem to yet reflect widespread discontent, the people I know must surely be disappointed. In the local media the International Crisis Group is quoted as saying:
The more the Albanians are forced to wait, the more the likelihood that they will take unilateral steps for independence, or civil unrest [my translation].
Unfortunately, this is all too likely. Kosovars have waited for six years for final status. Final status means far more than a treaty, a flag and a seat at the UN. It also means that Kosovar society can finally move forward. Until that happens Kosovo will not have postal codes, telephone codes and international banking codes. In short, much of the international machinery for international trade and commerce are lacking in Kosovo precisely because status is still uncertain. But it is the very frustrations of Albanian society that Serbia may be counting on to limit international goodwill towards Kosovo. According to a written ICG report:
Serbia’s government still wishes to delay a Kosovo final status decision until mid-2007, although its capacity to do so is becoming increasingly improbable. In order to persuade the international community, it is playing several familiar cards in a game of high-stakes bluff. Belgrade feels that the longer it can delay, the more impatient Kosovo’s Albanians will become. It hopes this impatience will translate into violence that will weaken the Albanians’ position at the bargaining table.
This ploys themselves have a destabilizing influence in the Balkans.The same report is very critical of the new Serbian constitution:
It opens the door to increased centralisation of the state, curtailment of human and minority rights, destruction of judicial independence and potentially even a parliamentary dictatorship. The process used to pass the constitution illustrates how Kostunica continues to transform Serbia into something closer to illiberal authoritarianism than liberal democracy; yet, the referendum was welcomed by the Council of Europe, the European Union and the United States.
This delay doesn’t really come as a surprise to anyone; the writing has been on the wall. Last week Kosovar Prime Minister Agin Çeku announced that he is prepared to unilaterally declare Kosovo’s independence should international negotiators fail to find a way through the current impasse. Such a decision would really be risk-filled; it would depend on sympathetic governments announcing their recognition of a unilaterally declared independent Kosovo.
We need to be praying for peace and justice in Kosovo, for the continued patience of the people and for wisdom for both the contact group, and the respective governments of Kosovo and Serbia.