ROUNDTABLE ON KOSOVO, April 7-9, 1997
Memo for Members of ETHNIC-L
by Fred W. Riggs
This is a digest of a report from PER (Project on Ethnic Relations) on the Kosovo Roundtable that may be viewed, in full, at this site. The text has been published as "The New York Roundtable," PER, 1 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ 08542. To get a copy write Livia Plaks and explain why you want it. A digest of the report for participants in the panel on "Enclave Nations" is reproduced below.
THE NEW YORK ROUND TABLE:
TOWARD PEACEFUL ACCOMMODATION IN KOSOVO
New York City, April 7-9, 1997
Serbs and Albanians are locked in a dangerous interethnic struggle over the future of Kosovo (or Kosova, as Albanians prefer to call it, or Kosovo and Metohija, as Serbs refer to it). Both claim the region, which is currently a part of Serbia, as their birthright. Serbs insist that Kosovo is the cradle of their nation, inseparable from Serbia. Albanians, who now constitute more than 90 per cent of the population in Kosovo, demand territorial independence. The dispute not only threatens to erupt in open hostilities between Serbs and Albanians but may yet involve other countries in the Balkans as well.
The depth of the differences over Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians is reflected in the almost total absence of any face-to-face discussions or negotiations between their leaders during the many years since the dispute began. The meeting reported here, which took place in New York City in April 1997, was arranged only after several years of efforts by the Project on Ethnic Relations (PER) to bring the disputants to the table. Even this accomplishment was tempered by the fact that representatives of the ruling Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) declined at the last minute to join the discussions, although its junior coalition partner, the New Democracy Party, was represented by its president. (SPS conditioned its participation on the willingness of U.S.Secretary of State Madeline Albright to personally receive an SPS leader for an official visit on he eve of the PER meeting, as she had met the leaders of the opposition coalition Zajedno. SPS was offered other high-level appointments, but not with the secretary, and it thus declined to send representatives to the PER meeting.)
The New York meeting was a major topic in the Serb and Kosovar Albanian media for several weeks before and after the event, and it was the subject of intense speculation, including a rumor that, because of the presence of high U.S.officials, an American formula or "diktat" was to be revealed to the participants at the meeting. U.S. officials did indeed take part, but only as observers and as supporters of the effort to open a dialogue in which the sides could begin the difficult process of finding their own, mutually agreeable, answers.
It is a measure of the long road ahead that the initial impulse of the Serb and Albanian publics was to suppose that only an outside power could resolve their difficulties. PER's insistence that the actual purpose of the meeting was to give the principals a chance to devise their own solutions and to deal with one another directly was met with skepticism.
The question of Kosovo is of course greatly complicated by the political context in which it is being played out: the breakup of Yugoslavia, the war in Bosnia, instability in neighboring Albania and Macedonia, and the collapse of the democratic opposition in Serbia (confirmed by the conduct and results of the September 1997 elections). However, even under less gloomy circumstances, the head-on collision of two contradictory principles--the preservation of international borders and the concept of self-determination--guarantees that there will be no easy way out. Indeed, as the reader of this report will see, a good deal of the discussion and debate that took place in New York revolved around arguments about which of these principles should prevail in the case of Kosovo.
To be sure, the international community, including the United States, has for the time being taken the position that the Ksovo problem ought to be resolved by means of some formula (various forms of autonomy have been suggested)that would not lead to changes in the external borders of Yugoslavia. However, the Albanians have repeatedly rejected this position, and did so again in the New York meeting, appealing rather to the principle of self-determination, which they claim had been applied to others when the former Yugoslavia disintegrated.
The seeming impasse grows out of the entrenched attitudes of both sides, but it is
exacerbated by genuine confusion in the international community and the inconsistency of
past practice in the application of these principles. All of this is reflected in the tersely
written summary of the discussions that took place at the New York meeting, which is the
subject matter of this report. For all that, the discussions did show that even when the
most bitter opponents finally come to the table, the results can be salutary--as we see from
their joint declarations at the conclusion of the meeting. We are now in a race with time
to see whether the mounting tensions in Kosovo will erupt into full-scale violence before
the tiny and fragile seeds of compromise, the kind planted at the New York discussions,
[Acknowledgements of support and cooperation, followed by an introduction
explaining the background of the roundtable and identifying the participants are deleted
here, but may be found in the full text]
(NOTE: The spelling "Kosovo" is used in English and Serbian and will be generally
used in this report; however, the spelling "Kosova" is used in Albanian and, in deference
to the wish of speakers of Albanian at the meeting, will be employed here when the
reference is to such a speaker. The term"Kosovar" is used as an adjective for both Kosovo
and Kosova and also as a noun to denote the Albanian inhabitants of the region. Several
Americans with academic and professional interests in the former Yugoslavia or in the
resolution of ethnic conflicts also participated, and representatives of the United States
Department of State attended as observers. These observers pointed out that the U.S.
does not recognize the independence of Kosovo and encourages all parties to find a
mutually satisfactory solution within the existing borders of Serbia-Montenegro, but they
did not otherwise take an active part in the discussions. Most of the discussion took place
in the Serbian language, though some participants spoke in English; simultaneous
Serbian-English and English-Serbian translation was available to all participants. Some
participants spoke in Albanian, which was translated into English. ...)
This meeting took place in the wake of several political developments that were important to the region. One of these, perhaps the most important, was the signing of the Dayton agreements in December 1995, followed by the deployment of NATO troops in the region. Another was the conclusion, in September 1996, of an agreement between the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, and the president of the Democratic League of Kosova, Ibrahim Rugova, aimed at resolving the dispute over schools that had led to a boycott by Albanians of the state-run schools in Kosovo. (When Albanians developed an independent curriculum and established a separate educational system, the Serbs insisted on the reintegration of Albanian students into the national educational program as defined by the Serbian Ministry of Education and barred the Albanians from school buildings unless they had agreed to the official curriculum.) This agreement raised hopes for further negotiations between the two sides, perhaps culminating in a peaceful resolution of other conflicts over Kosovo. However, the agreement remains to be implemented.
A third development was the mass demonstrations in Belgrade and other cities provoked by the Serbian government's manipulation of the November 1996 local elections. The demonstrations lasted for three months, ending with significant concessions by President Milosevic; they enhanced the role of democratic opposition leaders and increased the potential importance of Kosovar political forces in Serbian politics.
The last of these developments was the collapse of political authority in neighboring
Albania--and the subsequent dispersal of large quantities of weapons to the civilian
population--during the weeks preceding the New York meeting. Albania had been the
strongest external supporter of the Kosovar Albanians. This turn of events, and the
prospect that arms might begin flowing across the border into Kosovo, increased the
urgency of finding a resolution of the disputes over the status of the region.
Summary of Discussions.
The New York meeting was intended to focus on principles that might allow the Kosovar and the Serbs to enter into negotiations, rather than on the substance of the issues dividing them. However, despite serious efforts by all participants to achieve tangible results, it proved difficult to discuss principles without getting into substantive issues. Indeed, the proceedings were punctuated by the insistence of some on recounting historical grievances or claims, by disagreements over various matters, and by arguments over the desired outcomes of any negotiations. There were also occasional outbursts by participants that reflected the emotional depth of the issues and the frankness with which they were discussed.
Both Serbian and Kosovar participants criticized the governing Socialist Party of Serbia for refusing to participate in the meeting. Albanian participants challenged the participants from the Serbian opposition to declare their opposition to the government's actions in Kosovo. The Serbian participants expressed views that were clearly at odds with those of the government and they refused to accept responsibility for the government's actions, but they insisted that they could not negotiate with Kosovar leaders. As one opposition member said in his opening statement, "We are not here to negotiate. That is not our responsibility, and we are not authorized. We are here as opposition."
The opening statements of some of the Serbian participants did articulate a number of principles for discussion. One stressed human rights, self-determination, the role of the international community, and the need to resolve constitutional questions. He spoke of the need for"compromise-oriented dialogues" that would produce "a solution more or less acceptable to everyone."Another Serb stated that a resolution of the disputes was possible only on a democratic basis and that this required a democratic Serbia. But he also argued for a particular substantive result by insisting that, while Kosovo should be granted "complete territorial autonomy," it must remain part of Serbia.
An ethnic basis for sovereignty, he declared, was a contradiction of democratic principles. He pointed to the United States as "a model for us--all different peoples accepting the same state." This participant called upon the Kosovar Albanians to "participate in elections--local, republic, and especially federal--in order to help create a democratic Serbia/Yugoslavia."
However, the continuation of Kosovo as part of Serbia was explicitly rejected by several Albanian participants. One argued that "Albanians are not a national minority, and one cannot apply European standards of 'minority rights' to them. No solution is possible based on autonomy within Serbia; that would be a continuation of slavery, which sooner or later would result in a bigger tragedy than Bosnia." Another seconded this view and said that the right of self-determination required recognition of the will of the Albanian people in Kosova to have an independent republic. But, he added, "it is still possible to begin a process leading to a peaceful solution."Another Albanian participant pointed out that the Kosovar' struggle had been conducted peacefully despite "our clear negative response to the Serbian regime"and that their refusal to engage in violent measures had "made dialogue possible."Still another Albanian participant rejected the U.S. model that had been proposed by a Serbian participant. The United States, he said, was "an immigrant society," whereas "Albanians have always been in their own territory."Albanians, he continued, "sooner or later must have their own state," and it was not their responsibility to democratize Serbia.
A Serbian participant responded by saying that the Albanian participant"shows no concern for the other side, the Serbian side.... He wants Serbs to be concerned about Albanians, but both sides have to be concerned about both sides." This participant insisted that "existing borders must be retained, and we must make the best solutions within them," though, he added, that may have to be done in stages, over a long period of time.
An Albanian participant returned to the subject of what he called the "Wilsonian right to self-determination," and he expressed the belief that "if there would be goodwill on the Serbian side, with support from a third, international party... the settlement of the Kosova issue seems achievable." It was not sufficient, he said, to speak about human rights; "collective national rights must also be addressed." He, too, repudiated the idea that Kosovar should take action toward the democratization of Serbia, though he acknowledged that "a democratic Serbia is in our interest" and indeed that "the correct, just position of Serbia toward Kosova is a test for a democratic Serbia." In his view, the Kosovar leadership had already offered a proper solution: "Kosova joining Albania in a national state with all other Albanian territories."
This brought the response from a Serbian participant that "dialogue and compromise presuppose that both sides abandon their maximalist positions."He proposed that a process of negotiation be begun that would involve additional meetings between the two sides, including representatives of the governing party in Serbia. Another Serb made a plea for "mutual help," arguing that "we have to find a means by which Kosovar Albanians can have their own state and Serbs can have their own state."
Another focus of discussion was the role of Kosovar Albanians in the political life of Serbia. One Serbian participant urged the Albanians to take an active part, because, he said, "if Serbia democratizes through action by the Serbs alone, the position of the Albanians will be weakened" Another declared that "self-determination is the right of people to choose their own government, not necessarily to have their own state." Serbia, he went on, should confer on Kosovo "all human rights and constitutional rights." And another suggested that, in return for Albanian participation in Serbian elections, "all national cultural institutions of the Albanians" should be restored, and that there be"Serb-Albanian cooperation in police and the judiciary in order to guarantee rights." Furthermore, the participant proposed that Serbia be decentralized, meaning that, among other things, there would be "realistic and wider authorization of the provincial [i.e., Kosovar] parliament, authorization that exceeds simple autonomy, although the word 'autonomy' has to be retained in order to retain popular support in Serbia." The participant added that"the international community supports the borders of Yugoslavia and calls for autonomy for Kosovo within it."
An Albanian participant supported this point of view. He said that all could agree on full and immediate respect for human rights and on the return to majority rule in Kosova. The problem now, he added, "is how to enable the majority of the population to rule itself." Other members of the Albanian delegation, however, were less willing to proceed on those premises. "We have tried all forms of autonomy," one declared. "Autonomy is no longer acceptable to the Albanians. The central question is the question of power. If you want trust between people, you cannot offer us what Tito offered us. Mankind has not developed anything better than the state as a means by which to secure self-development. Albanians must be accepted as independent subjects and as equals before entering into discussions of the nature of the state."
Several of these participants firmly rejected any solution in which Kosovo would remain part of Serbia or of the Yugoslav federation. In the words of one, "Kosova as a republic [in a Yugoslav federation] is not a compromise."A Serb participant took a different tack by stating, "We are not against your state, but it is not a realistic option now. An independent republic would lead to destabilization." He seemed to be implying that the Serbian opposition could not be expected to express open sympathy for Kosovo so long as such an expression would not bring electoral support. An Albanian participant then asked, perhaps replying to this implication, "What do the Serbs ask of us?"
This may have been an invitation to discuss the specifics of political cooperation between the Kosovar leadership and the Serbian opposition, but such a discussion did not materialize. Instead, the discussion turned back toward the outcomes of negotiations, when a member of the Kosovar delegation insisted that the Serbian opposition had to support independence for Kosova if the Albanians were to have any"confidence"in them. After all, he pointed out, "Serbia rejected a confederal solution when Slovenia and Croatia proposed it."
But a Serbian participant argued in favor of autonomy for Kosovo by arguing that "we have not tried democratic autonomy, which is not the same as Communist 'autonomy,'" and he pointed to SouthTyrol as a possible model for Kosovo. Another Serb supported this point, saying that"no one wants domination or the maintenance of oppression."An Albanian participant objected to any discussion of the specifics of Kosova's status by making this analogy: "Prisoners may be entrusted to improve their own conditions, but they are still in prison." This led another Albanian participant to declare that Kosova was indeed "a prison," and he went on to say that"the Serbs want to oppress. They voted four times for Milosevic. Every Serb believes Kosova is Serbia.. We do not want to deal with cosmetics. We want to deal with the question of whether the Albanian nation is equal to the Serbian nation." He insisted that the Serbian opposition leaders must say this openly; otherwise,"democratization is a path to continued domination."
Seeking to calm the emotions aroused by that declaration, another Albanian participant observed that "under democratic conditions, both nations can decide their own fate.. Is there a need for an interim agreement? If so, what should it look like?" And another Albanian participant seemed to offer a basis for negotiations when he said that they should take place without any assumption that Kosova would either remain part of Serbia or become independent. Nevertheless, a Serb participant, though saying "we are eager to solve problems," reiterated the position that "we cannot accept any change in the territory or sovereignty of Yugoslavia."
On the other hand, one Serb participant who had consistently maintained that Kosovo was a part of Serbia now said that Serbs could not be asked to change the country's borders "in advance of discussions." Another Serb spoke of a "step-by-step formula," consisting of confidence-building measures and resolutions of specific issues, leading eventually to a solution of the dispute over Kosovo's status. Still another suggested that the agreement between Milosevic and Rugova about schools amounted to "de facto recognition of Rugova as leader of Kosova," implying that Kosovo had already achieved equal status. An Albanian participant said that "if supporting Kosovar aspirations is politically impossible for the Serbian opposition, then a coalition government would be impossible and a solution would be impossible. Therefore the whole approach is wrong." Another said that Serbian insistence that Kosovo is part of Serbia "makes negotiations, let alone agreement, impossible." He also emphasized the difficulty for Kosovar leaders of entering into any agreements on specifics in the absence of agreement on the larger issue.
"Respect for human rights is irrelevant to, completely separate from, the question of
whether Kosova will remain part of Serbia or separate from it."Several Albanian
participants expressed their objection to any action that would "legitimate" Serbian rule
over Kosovo. One pointed out that, for example this was the explanation for Kosovar'
refusal to participate in Serbian elections. Serbian participants suggested that restoration
of the constitutional status of Kosovo prior to the changes of the late 1980s and 1990s
might allow some progress. But an Albanian participant replied that the "pre-1990
arrangements depended on the existence of Yugoslavia. Since that state has disappeared,
that constitutional system is no longer valid."
Toward the end of the meeting, an Albanian participant set forth several points that he thought all participants might be able to agree on. These were:
1. Kosova is a problem, and it must be solved.
2. The solution must be reached democratically, peacefully, and on the basis of mutual respect.
3. All possible outcomes should be allowed for.
4. Kosovar institutions should be transformed in the direction of democracy.
5. The principle of territorial integrity should be respected.
6. A dialogue should be commenced looking toward negotiations on a permanent
status for a democratic Kosova and a democratic Serbia, with the help of a third party.
[The report continues with information about the drafting of a consensual statement based on these principles plus the text of this statement, and information about all the participants. For the full text write Mr. Grigor'ev at PER: <email@example.com> or use the "mailto" form available at the top of this page.]
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