February 2013 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2013
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EUROPE

Kosovo

Expected Council Action

Farid Zarif, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), is scheduled to brief the Council in February during a quarterly debate.

The Special Representative will update the Council on the Secretary-General’s report, covering the period from 16 October 2012 to 15 January, as well as on the most recent developments.

No Council action is expected.

Key Recent Developments

On 17 January, Prime Minister Ivica Dačić of Serbia and Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo met in Brussels, where they held the fourth meeting of an EU-sponsored dialogue. This “Belgrade-Pristina dialogue” involving the two prime ministers began in October 2012 and is mediated by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. (The previous meeting was held on 4 December 2012.) The unusually lengthy 17 January meeting was constructive, and the two leaders reached a “provisional understanding” on the collection of customs duties at their border.

Following the meeting, Thaçi said that customs duties collected along the border with Serbia would go into a special fund for the northern part of Kosovo, which is predominantly inhabited by Serbs. Thaçi added that he was “more optimistic” than previously that “there will be progress in the building of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.” He also said Kosovo would “respect the will of the citizens in the north to elect their representatives.” Meanwhile, Dačić said that although Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence, it would “temporarily respect its territory.” The two sides agreed to meet again in February.

Dačić’s remarks about respecting Kosovo’s territory came on the back of other significant developments, including the adoption of a resolution by Serbia’s parliament on 13 January stating that all solutions to the Kosovo issue must be in line with Serbia’s constitution and Council resolution 1244 (1999). However, the resolution was interpreted as an implicit offer by Serbia to recognise Pristina’s authority over northern Kosovo, in exchange for broad autonomy for Serbs living in the north.

Dačić—formerly a spokesperson for former President Slobodan Milošević—addressed the parliament on 13 January, saying that Belgrade could no longer afford to “keep its head in the sand” as its sovereignty over Kosovo was “practically non-existent.” On 15 January, Dačić called for a “comprehensive” settlement of issues with Kosovo. He remarked that Kosovo was pressuring Serbia through the EU and that Serbia was preventing Kosovo from joining the UN. “Are we supposed to go on sparring like that for years?” he asked rhetorically.

While Dačić has a reputation for espousing views that do not necessarily represent those of Serbia, his evaluation of the situation was notable. Some inferred from his comments that Serbia may be willing to accept UN membership for Kosovo (de facto recognition), while not formally accepting its independence (de jure recognition). Notably, there was little public backlash against Dačić in Serbia, perhaps suggesting that ultra-nationalistic sentiments in the country are giving way to concerns over improving the economy and standard of living, which EU membership is seen as aiding. (The EU has indicated that in order for Serbia to make progress in its bid, it must establish functional relations with Kosovo, even if formal recognition is not forthcoming.)

Approximately half of UN member states have recognised Kosovo. At press time, Pakistan—currently serving a two-year term on the Council—was the most recent member state to do so (on 24 December 2012). 

In other developments, following weeks of tension, on 20 January the Serbian police—backed by armoured personnel carriers—removed a memorial to fighters in a town in the Preševo Valley in southern Serbia. (The region is predominantly ethnic Albanian.) The monument bore the names of ethnic Albanian fighters who were killed in 2000 during a spillover from the 1999 conflict in the region.

The removal resulted in demonstrations in Preševo Valley and retaliatory acts against Serb interests in Kosovo, with President Atifete Jahjaga stating that it showed a lack of readiness on the part of Belgrade to find a solution through dialogue. Responding to the retaliatory actions, UNMIK issued a statement on 21 January condemning the desecration of cemeteries and vandalism of historical monuments throughout Kosovo, saying that more needed to be done to identify the perpetrators of “these despicable acts”. (Serbia complained about the incidents in a 24 January letter to the Council.) UNMIK’s statement followed its 15 January press release, which condemned the desecration of an Orthodox cemetery in Kosovo.

In New York, a 14 January concert in the General Assembly hall resulted in controversy when an unlisted Serb military song—which some said had associations with atrocities committed in the 1990s—was played with Ban Ki-moon in attendance. A spokesperson for the Secretary-General expressed regret at the incident while the President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić (Serbia), said through his spokesman that it was regrettable that some were trying to twist the meaning of Serbia’s “musical gift”.

In other developments, a Serbian letter was circulated among Council members on 21 January concerning Kosovo’s refusal to allow Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić to enter Kosovo to attend a Christmas liturgy on 7 January. The letter described the act as a “stark indication of the lack of good intentions and readiness to cooperate.”

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council is stability in the region and ensuring that tensions, particularly in northern Kosovo, do not flare up and result in violent confrontations as they did in mid-2011.

In practice, the issue of Kosovo is largely addressed outside the Council and the principal issue that members will be focusing on is the productivity of the ongoing EU-facilitated dialogue.

Options

The Council has numerous options at its disposal, but has seldom utilised these tools in relation to the divisive issue of Kosovo. (It usually takes no action following the regular UNMIK briefings.)

One potential—though unlikely—option would be to issue a press statement either urging calm and restraint if further provocative and retaliatory acts continue in the region or encouraging the positive signs emerging out of the recent talks in Brussels, or both.

Council Dynamics

One of the primary reasons why Kosovo attracts relatively little attention in the Council, and why the EU plays an increasingly prominent role, is the clear divide—particularly among the permanent members—on the issue. February’s briefing will be notable in that the issue will be addressed for the first time by the new 2013 Council configuration. Three of the five new Council members recognise Kosovo (Australia, Luxembourg and the Republic of Korea), while Argentina and Rwanda do not.

Russia has traditionally been supportive of Belgrade and denounced Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence as illegal. It is likely to vocally protest the recent desecration of Orthodox cemeteries and attacks against Serbian interests in Kosovo. It has been starkly at odds with NATO countries on the Council.

Following indications that Serbia may be willing to take a more pragmatic approach towards acknowledging Kosovo’s authorities, there may be signs from some Council members that do not recognise Kosovo that they cautiously welcome recent progress.

UN Documents on Kosovo

Security Council Resolution  
10 June 1999 S/RES/1244 This resolution authorised NATO to secure and enforce the withdrawal of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) forces from Kosovo, and established UNMIK.
Security Council Meeting Record  
27 November 2012 S/PV.6872 Special Representative and head of UNMIK, Farid Zarif, briefed the Council.