All posts by Dominic Baldwin

Dominic is currently undertaking an MA History degree at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. His bachelor's degree was First Class in BSc Government and History at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

I negoziati in Kosovo: quale futuro?

La situazione della sovranità kosovara, che tocca nervi scoperti nel complesso panorama diplomatico degli stati della ex Jugoslavia, rimane ancora centrale.

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Prishtina wake up

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[dropcap]G[/dropcap]li osservatori internazionali saranno sollevati dalla prospettiva di un accordo senza precedenti sulla questione del Kosovo; le misure da adottare, però, rischiano di risolvere alcune questioni (per il momento) e generarne altre. Ci sono state concessioni notevoli da parte dei serbi, che però continuano a non riconoscere ufficialmente l’indipendenza del Kosovo; ma l’accettazione delle autorità kosovare di confine indica la tendenza verso un riconoscimento de facto. Al primo ministro serbo Ivica Dačić va dato atto del tentativo di migliorare le relazioni tra Belgrado e Pristina, probabilmente a fronte dello stallo diplomatico, dell’instabilità politica e delle mancate opportunità economiche tra i due Paesi.

Un eventuale accordo prevedrebbe la presenza di ‘municipalità serbe’, relativamente autonome, nelle regioni a nord del Kosovo dove si concentra la maggioranza serba. In cambio, Dačić cederebbe a Pristina la giurisdizione sui serbi kosovari, smantellando le istituzioni statali parallele supportate da Belgrado. Pur mantenendosi influenti nelle regioni del nord, di fatto i serbi rinuncerebbero al controllo formale sul Kosovo. E se anche le parole usate rimangono forti, la delegazione di Dačić, in modo lento ma inesorabile, sembra voler abbandonare ogni pretesa sul territorio (arrivando a definire ‘una menzogna’ il fatto che il Kosovo fosse mai appartenuto ai serbi).

Un riconoscimento de facto appare il presupposto su cui si baseranno i rapporti tra Belgrado e Pristina. È invece da scartare l’ipotesi che la Serbia (e per estensione la Russia) sia disposta a riconoscere l’indipendenza del Kosovo in maniera ufficiale; almeno, non avverrà nel breve termine, poiché la questione è politicamente molto sensibile a livello sia locale che internazionale. Il riconoscimento de facto potrà costituire un successo relativo, se gli accordi presi riusciranno a stabilizzare la situazione del Kosovo e dell’intera regione balcanica.

Ma le implicazioni a breve e lungo termine sono comunque dietro l’angolo; per prima cosa, c’è da chiedersi per quanto tempo questo status possa risultare sufficiente. Se per il Kosovo un riconoscimento de facto è comunque un passo avanti, non sarebbe in ogni caso equiparabile ai vantaggi di cui godrebbe come stato indipendente: al Kosovo, riconosciuto come tale da appena 98 membri delle Nazioni Unite, alla lunga potrebbe non essere sufficiente l’ombrello di sicurezza garantito dalla NATO e dall’ONU. Nemmeno l’Unione Europea ha un approccio unanime sulla questione: per una serie di ragioni politiche, a negare al Kosovo il riconoscimento formale sono Spagna, Grecia, Romania, Slovacchia e Cipro. Sebbene sembri azzardato affermare che l’adesione all’Unione Europea rappresenti oggi, per i Paesi balcanici, un’irresistibile conquista, il ruolo ricoperto recentemente dalla stessa nella regione è stato dirimente. Poiché è probabile che nel giro di una decina d’anni la maggior parte di questi Paesi diventerà membro dell’Unione Europea, il Kosovo, non ancora formalmente indipendente, potrebbe rimanerne escluso e risultare ulteriormente svantaggiato.

Per di più, il sistema delle municipalità ha immediatamente attirato l’attenzione di varie minoranze all’interno di altri stati: richieste simili a quelle serbe sono state avanzate dai gruppi di etnia albanese nel sud della stessa Serbia. Per alcuni, la soluzione sarebbe addirittura lo scambio di territori e popolazioni, sebbene quest’opzione non sia stata presa seriamente in discussione. Inoltre, un accordo sul Kosovo arriverebbe in un momento particolarmente problematico per la Bosnia-Erzegovina, composta dalla Repubblica Serba (da non confondere con la Repubblica di Serbia) e dalla Federazione Croato-Musulmana di Bosnia: Milorad Dodik, presidente della Repubblica Serba, ha richiesto che, all’interno dell’altra entità territoriale del Paese, le municipalità a maggioranza serba potessero essere autonome. Tali pretese sono state respinte dalle autorità; ma non sarà facile tenere a bada i gruppi minoritari se le politiche adottate in casi simili saranno tanto diverse.

La situazione della sovranità kosovara, che tocca nervi scoperti nel complesso panorama diplomatico degli stati della ex Jugoslavia, rimane ancora centrale. Così, se ogni progresso diplomatico ed economico è auspicabile (il Kosovo ha ancora il PIL e il PPA più bassi tra i Paesi della regione balcanica), non sarà di certo un semplice accordo a risolvere, una volta per tutte, l’intricato groviglio di questioni irrisolte.

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Articolo tradotto da Antonella di Marzio

Articolo originale: Kosovo Talks: Progress Now, Problems Tomorrow?

Photo Credit: Agroni

Kosovo Talks: Progress Now, Problems Tomorrow?

Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations.

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Prishtina wake up

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As an unprecedented agreement on the status of Kosovo seems within reach, to the relief of many observers, the details of the settlement seem likely to close some chapters (at least for now) and open a series of others. Belgrade’s continued and dogmatic refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence has not stopped considerable concessions being made on the Serbs’ part. Indeed, the acceptance of Kosovar border authorities exemplifies a gradual move towards de facto recognition of the state. Perhaps tired by diplomatic stalemate, instability, and lost political and economic opportunities, the Serbian Prime Minister, Ivica Dačić, has made distinct headway in negotiating an agreement for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina.

One of the most notable features of a likely agreement is the proposal for Serb “municipalities” with considerable degrees of autonomy in northern parts of Kosovo, where Serbs constitute a concentrated majority. In exchange for this, Dačić has conceded political control over Kosovar Serbs to Pristina, and the dismantling of Belgrade-sponsored “parallel state institutions”. This marks an important trend in reaffirming Serbia’s effective withdrawal of formal power in any part of Kosovo, even if its influence in the north shall remain pronounced. Despite the usual, strong rhetoric continuing, Dačić’s delegation seems to be softly moving Serbia firmly away from a territorially based stance on Kosovo (even going so far as to suggest that it was a “lie” that Kosovo had ever belonged to Serbs).

Thus it is quite possible that this pattern of de facto recognition shall become the basis for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina for the foreseeable future. As long as the question of Kosovo retains such sensitive and provocative political capital, both electorally and internationally, it seems implausible that official recognition of Kosovo’s independence shall come from Belgrade (and, by extension, from Moscow) any time soon. Yet if an agreement on the status of Serbs and the recognition of state authorities can provide a positive working environment for Kosovo and the region, this de facto status could enjoy relative success.

However, questions must be asked regarding medium-term and long-term implications of such an agreement, as well as the immediate ramifications for the region more generally. Firstly, for how long would Kosovars be satisfied with the status of informal recognition? As much of an improvement as it could offer, Kosovo would still be without the benefits of formal recognition from the United Nations, with only 98 member states recognising full independence. The European Union cannot unanimously give Kosovo its support, either; Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus have withheld full recognition for a variety of political reasons. Although the history of NATO action and sustained United Nations oversight gives a valuable level of security, it may not be sufficient to satiate Kosovars indefinitely. Although it is problematic to portray the EU membership as an irresistible attraction, it has proven to have considerable political impetus in the Balkans (not least in keeping dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina alive in previous years). Kosovo would surely be disadvantaged further if the majority of its neighbours were to ascend to membership (a foreseeable eventuality in the next decade), while Kosovo’s accession was hampered by lack of formal recognition.

Furthermore, following the probability of adopting the Serb municipalities model, minority groups in other states almost instantly raised demands for similar solutions in their own cases. Perhaps most problematically for Belgrade, ethnic Albanians in parts of southern Serbia have called for autonomous municipalities mirroring those in northern Kosovo. Some have even mooted the possibility of outright territory and population exchanges as a solution, although this does not seem to have been seriously considered at talks. It also comes at a time of unease in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the President of Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb entity), Milorad Dodik, recently called for autonomous status for the municipalities where Serbs constitute a majority within the Bosnian Croat and Bosniak Federation. Although the corresponding authorities have rebuffed such claims, it would likely become increasingly difficult to mollify minority groups were such disparities in policy to be realised.

Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations. Thus, while any progress in mediating tensions and easing Kosovo’s political and economic worries should be welcomed (Kosovo still has amongst the lowest GDP-PPP in the region), any agreement that may be soon forthcoming is unlikely to settle the web of issues once and for all.

N.B. Since last update of the page relating to number of states recognising Kosovo, Dominica and Pakistan have added their recognition, bringing the total to 98.

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Photo Credit: Agroni

Bosnia & Herzegovina’s EU Dilemmas

As its neighbours move towards the European Union, Bosnia & Herzegovina still has a host of complex obstacles to overcome.

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With a recent history starkly streaked with ethnic violence, political upheaval and economic uncertainty, Bosnia and Herzegovina desperately needs a sign that the future shall be better. For its neighbours, as for many eastern European states, the golden goose has long been accession into the European Union. Bosnia officially shares this ambition, but while others have made substantial progress in meeting the necessary criteria for membership, Bosnia remains hamstrung by its constitutional and political composition.

Croatia, whose membership shall be affirmed next year, has satisfactorily addressed outstanding issues on minority and human rights; Serbia has set itself well on the way with the high-profile arrests of Karadžić, Mladić and other suspected war criminals (a noted condition for Serbia’s candidacy); and Montenegro has been applauded as the state with greatest press freedoms in the region. In contrast to this, Bosnia’s politics remain characterised by strong hostilities, mistrust and ethno-national alignment, and its constitutional structure perpetuates division and decentralisation.

While the European Commission recognises that some progress has been made towards minority rights, the rigidity of the constitution framed at the Dayton Agreement is hindering further success. An example is the legacy of the prominent Sejdić-Finci case in 2009, which led to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the electoral provision – only allowing the election of “Constituent Peoples” (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) to the tri-member Presidency and House of Peoples violated the rights of minorities – must be amended. However, there followed a period of virtual inactivity for almost two years. After this, deadlines set by the Council of Europe came and went with no firm agreement on how to accommodate changes.

Although such constitutional issues are a major hurdle, the socio-political problems obstructing Bosnia’s progress run much deeper. A solution on Sejdić-Finci is not impossible, but nationally-mandated politicians frequently seem reluctant to cede or dilute their stake in federal power to any degree. This is perhaps not surprising when the national identities developed amongst Bosnia’s populace in the preface to and during the 1992-1995 war have become no less entrenched over time. From a national to a local level, politicians are almost universally elected on the basis of nationality, with tension still flaring around raw nerves relating to the conflict, as Reuters recently reported in Srebrenica’s mayoral election. The division between the two entities of the Federation and Republika Srpska is especially pronounced and often proves disruptive to effective national government and commerce, not to mention furthering “us and them” mentalities within the single state.

With such tortuous internal divisions, it might be assumed that membership in the European Union is of secondary importance to Bosnians. On the contrary, however, opinion polls have repeatedly shown overwhelming support (as high as eighty-six percent) for Bosnia moving towards accession. Bosnia’s economy could certainly use the relative security provided by the EU, even as the union weathers an unprecedented crisis of its own. Unemployment in Bosnia and Herzegovina is officially estimated at above twenty-five percent, but may actually be well over forty percent. Growth is sluggish after its notable pre-2009 rates. Foreign capital from loans, aid and investment has supported Bosnia since 1995 and while this may encourage over-reliance, the potential for greater investment as an EU member state is profound.

Furthermore, very real economic and social dangers shall arise for Bosnia as neighbours ascend to membership. Croatia, which has hitherto operated in common with Bosnia under the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), is in the process of adopting more stringent EU regulations. This shall come as a blow to Bosnia’s exports– over fifteen percent of which go to Croatia – particularly in the agricultural sector, where production standards are not expected to meet the raised bar. An additional strain shall be the status of Bosnian Croat citizens, most of whom have Croatian passports and thus will have the right to work in the EU while other Bosnians will not. The socio-economic rift that could develop between these groups shall only be exacerbated by Bosnia’s other neighbours gaining membership in the future.

If Bosnia is to avoid divisions and disadvantages, it must decisively address these overdue political and commercial issues in the coming months and years. Yet it is difficult to see how these problems can be finally overcome without an eventual confrontation with and restructuring of its constitutional and political systems.

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Photo credit: dimnikolov