Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Time for the US to take the bull by the hand in Kosovo

Today I posted on TransConflict a piece on the detention of Kosovo Serb political activist Oliver Ivanovic.  I know and respect Oliver through the three 1/2 years I served with the UN in north Kosovo.  It appears that the European Union prosecuted him with the agreement -- if not encouragement -- of the Serbian government in Belgrade.  Seems no one wants a strong, independent leader for the Kosovo Serbs no matter how moderate and pragmatic he may be.  Or maybe I might say, almost no one.  The United States, long the motive force behind carving out of Serbia a majority Albanian state, might see the utility in helping the Serb community in the country become a positive element in a truly democratic, multi-ethnic state. 

For a long time, I was critical of the unilateral move to Kosovo independence outside the ambit of the UN Security Council resolution (1244) which entered into force after the NATO bombing of Milosevic' Serbia.  But the fact is there is nothing wrong with Kosovo independence and given the treatment of Kosovo Albanians by Milosevic, it certainly is understandable why they would not want to risk that again.  Perhaps more to the point, there is nothing about current day Serbia that suggests it would be better for Kosovo to have remained part of it.  Both Kosovo and Serbia have problems -- corruption, low growth, tardy economic reform and dysfunctional politics.  Nothing could possibly be gained by bringing the two together in one failed state.   Indeed, much would be gained for both if Serbia recognized Kosovo independence.  Serbia could move ahead on EU membership before the door is nailed shut and Kosova could start to face its real problems.

The US had hoped that the Europeans would handle Kosovo, move it steadily to something the internationals could declare a success and leave behind.  That hasn't happened.  The US Embassy in Pristina must still play an out-sized role in keeping the lid on political conflict among the Albanians and the US still has troops in Kosovo.  Bringing a unified, pragmatic Serb community into the mix would not change things fundamentally in Kosovo.  But it could be an important step in bringing some light into a smoke-filled room.

The US should do whatever is necessary to end the political persecution of Oliver Ivanovic.  And along the way, end its affair with Hashim Thaci and bow to reality by finding a way to bring Ramush Haradinaj into the mix.  The future of Kosovo should not be left in the hands of EU mandarins or ghosts of the past.

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