By David L. Phillips/
Partition would herald the demise of Kosovo as a multi-ethnic society, and mark the failure of the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia aimed at mutual recognition within Kosovo’s current frontiers.
Partition is not a new idea. It was first raised in the mid-1990s by writer and politician Dobrica Cosic, the so-called ‘Godfather of Serbian nationalism’, and others at the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Germany’s ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger discussed partition in the summer of 2007, when UN-tasked negotiators from the US, EU and Russia, known as the ‘Troika’, tried unsuccessfully to broker a deal between Serbia and Kosovo.
Last year, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic argued that “everyone needs a lasting solution of the Serbian-Albanian conflict, which can be reached only through an agreement… where everyone will win something and lose something”.
Dacic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic recently discussed partition with US presidential adviser Jared Kushner. After the meeting, Dacic pronounced: “All cards are on the table.”
Evaluating partition starts with a clear understanding of what Serbia wants.
Dacic proposes that Serbia would give up its claim to all of Kosovo in exchange for lands north of the Ibar River. Serbian enclaves in other parts of Kosovo would have autonomy and exercise executive powers. The Serbian Orthodox monastery of Visoki Decani and other Orthodox monasteries in Kosovo would gain special protected status.
Serbia wants financial compensation for properties it claims in Kosovo, including industrial and energy facilities. Serbia would resettle Serbia refugees currently residing in Serbia proper to lands it gains through partition.
The proposal for partition gives rise to many questions.
Is the ruling Serbian Progressive Party prepared to amend Serbia’s constitution to recognise Kosovo? Will Serbia abandon its efforts to obstruct countries from recognising Kosovo, as well as Kosovo’s membership in multilateral institutions? Is the European Commission prepared to start negotiations with Kosovo over its EU membership?
What actions are foreseen from EU non-recognisers – Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia? Would a deal on partition automatically trigger their recognition of Kosovo?
Membership in the UN must also be part of the package. However, acquiescence from Russia or China is far from guaranteed.
Demarcation is a stumbling block. Exchanging lands north of the Ibar River for ethnically Albanian lands in Serbia such as Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac is a complicated procedure. Would the swap be symmetrical or based on estimated value of the territories concerned?
Population transfers would be messy. What would happen to ethnic Albanians currently residing north of the Ibar River? Would they remain or would there be a managed process for their migration and compensation?
Would Kosovo Serbs in the south have the option of immigrating to lands north of the Ibar River? What mechanism would be established to manage population flows?
What would happen to the existing agreement for an Association of Serb Municipalities, one of the agreements between Belgrade and Pristina, intended to provide some enhanced powers to Kosovo’s Serbs? Would Belgrade still seek an Association of Serb Municipalities for Serb communities in south Kosovo?
Compensation is also tricky. A Property Compensation Commission would be required to review titles, determine ownership, determine the value of properties, and arrange compensation.
Ownership of the Trepca Mines, an important mining and metallurgical complex in northern Kosovo which both Belgrade and Pristina claim, is another issue. The mines are currently split along ethnic lines, with Serbs running parts that lie in the Serb-controlled north of Kosovo and Pristina running parts in the south.
Are the Trepca Mines rich in gold or largely depleted? Who would own the Trepca Mines? Would Trepca be placed into a trust for Kosovo? Who would be responsible for developing Trepca’s mineral resources, managing the trust, and distributing funds going forward?
Other natural resource issues would have to be addressed, such as the Gazivoda Lake, a large reservoir that supplies water and electricity to central Kosovo.
Partition would open wounds from the war. There are still thousands of missing persons. Victims demand accountability. How would a deal on partition address accountability?
Other ethnic partitions have led to violence and mass migration, for example the division of India into India and Pakistan. Partition could spark a new phase of ethnic conflict in Kosovo and the region, destabilising fragile multi-ethnic states.
Would the Republika Srpska in Bosnia seek to join Serbia? Would ethnic Albanians in Macedonia be next in line to unify Albanian territories?
Many people died to preserve the ideal of democratic, ethnically diverse states in the Western Balkans. Slobodan Milosevic’s goal was always to unify the Serbian nation and establish ‘Greater Serbia’. Partition of Kosovo would achieve at the negotiating table what Milosevic failed to achieve through ethnic cleansing.
Partition requires major symbolic and substantive concessions with political, economic and security ramifications. Transparency is critical. Partition cannot be negotiated behind closed doors.
Partition would be the defining event in Kosovo’s history. It requires debate in political circles and with civil society, as well as guarantees from the international community.
*David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser to the US Department of State under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. Author of ‘Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and US Intervention’, Phillips worked closely with Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke on Bosnia and Kosovo.