In my last post, I cited the complexity of the ethnic map of north Mitrovica as the main reason to tread carefully in allowing anyone to upset the fragile balance there. Preserving the status quo on the ground – the ethnically mixed urban area that north Mitrovica alone remains in Kosovo – would be a good thing in itself and also would preserve the possibility of an eventual political settlement acceptable to all parties. But there is a concomitant danger in this approach that the Albanians might grow impatient and seek a more direct way to impose themselves on the north perhaps by provoking a confrontation to justify or cause the international forces to use force to establish control in favor of the Kosovo government. This is one variant of the scenario reportedly raised by the Serbian nationalist Milovan Drecun in the newspaper Nedeljni Telegraf. He reportedly claimed that “Albanians openly talk about a possible military variant for the north” in case the EU strategy fails. He warned of a possible attempt to create an incident that would then be blamed on the Serbs. “The incident would take place in the Bosniak Mahala or Brdjani.” Afterwards, the Albanians would launch a “pogrom” and by the time international forces intervened “everything would be over.” He suggested that “armed formations” already exist in south Mitrovica for this operation.
Normally, it would hardly be worth noting such an outlandish scenario. The Kosovo government and the EU have both recently been assuring that they do not contemplate using force to impose their strategy on the northern Serbs. But the same government also keeps on stressing the need to bring “rule of law” into the north. As reported in the UNMIK Daily Press Update, Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Kuçi has called for “the establishment of public order, and the dissolution of criminal and anarchist groups” in the north. By this of course, it is meant Pristina’s rule of law imposed on those “anarchists” that reject Kosovo state authority.
Also, the pressures from the EU on Belgrade to acquiesce on the north are clearly growing. The EU Quint countries are all in their own way increasingly drawing a link between EU membership for Serbia and Belgrade reaching an accommodation with Pristina. Meanwhile, a common refrain from the Kosovo government, EU and KFOR concerns the need to bring corruption, criminals and parallel structures to heel. NATO has suggested that it is ready to react to “violence” from the “parallel structures” in the north. There is also last’s year’s example of EULEX using force to impose “returns” in Brdjani. We have also seen minor but worrisome security incidents in north Mitrovica in recent days. In north Mitrovica, almost nothing is ever as it seems on the surface. It is easy to imagine provocations of various sorts from various quarters, including the Serb-Albanian mafia that is the truly inter-ethnic activity in Kosovo. Who gains from such provocations and with what aim is always difficult to pin down. But, all in all, it would not be surprising if the northern Serbs were concerned about scenarios such as that of Mr. Drecun.
Any effort to use force to quell violence that might follow an incident should be very carefully considered. Jumping to “seize control” of the northern municipalities, or to arrest “criminals” or “anarchists” to impose “the rule of law,” would run the risk of real violence and perhaps another wave of ethnic cleansing throughout Kosovo. And surely, KFOR must be prepared to ensure security in the face of any armed incursions from any side before they might do permanent damage. It would be as foolhardy to reduce the KFOR presence along the Ibar as it would be to use them for political objectives in the north.
Italian Ambassador to Pristina Michael Giffoni – also designated as the EU envoy to northern Kosovo – says his focus remains on “issues related primarily to the daily life of people” and that they should be dealt with “without politicization and in agreement with Serb representatives.” This is a positive approach. But the exact circumstances of the north – where a majority of people reject the reality that the EU in Kosovo is seeking to assert – makes it actually impossible to avoid seeing as “political” any initiative that departs from strict status neutrality. And it doesn’t help that neither the EU nor UNMIK appear ready to address the real “rule of law” issue in the north which is the opening of status neutral courts under UNSC 1244. Pristina – as the party that broke with the Security Council – should have no role in such matters. This requires only discussions with Belgrade and the local Serbs and would be the most efficacious way to help bring law and order to the north.