Since 1999 Mitrovica has been the flashpoint of ethnic tensions in Kosovo. Mass demonstrations, violent clashes, shootings and teargas, but also manipulation of media for propaganda interests came familiar also to me while working there 2000-2002. Mitrovica bridge came as symbol of confrontation between Serbs and Albanians and in spite of many multiethnic projects and experiments it still is, especially after March 2004 events. Some week ago I read last plan to solve this deadlock.
Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED) is local Kosovo Albanian lead think tank which published its proposal – “Looking beyond Mitrovica bridge: an ‘Ahtisaari plus’ package proposal” – October 2008. Interesting with this paper is that it is made by local researchers not by international consultants like before. The Aim of proposal is to create three step phased solution, which will provide the ground for state functionality and sustainable development for both the Albanians and Serbs in northern Kosovo. (More about KIPRED here.)
As framework the Albanian dominated Mitrovica South and Serb dominated Mitrovica North and Zvecan municipality are handled like a single economic area. KIPRED proposes a phased political and economic development solution which main points are following:
- Establishing the rule of law by full deployment EULEX in northern Kosovo; by re-establishing custom services at boundary crossings to Serbia and by disbanding parallel security structures supported by Serbia.
- Implementation of decentralization by creating a “trust fund” for infrastructural development; by organizing municipal elections, by transferring power of UNMIK Police to Kosovo Police Service and by implementing privatization of socially owned enterprises throughout the north.
- Implementation of “special investment area”, “free customs zone” and conducting “special economic study”
Plan of aggrandizement
The main weakness of KIPRED proposal is that under cover of decentralization and economical development smoke screen it is a simple plan of conquer northern Kosovo under Pristina government. The idea is to replace administrative, rule & law and security structures by Albanian dominated government lead structures without any participation of local population. To reach this aim the plan proposes active support from UNMIK and KFOR.
In theory it is possible to put KFOR/Nato tanks and brigades all over northern Kosovo, establish a local puppet administration in Mitrovica North and Zvecan – like has been done in Pristina – and so create an artificial quasi-region. After occupation it is easy to implement privatization of local social companies to hands of near government interest groups. This kind of imposed solutions however are not sustainable, they are more creating problems than solving them.
An alternative Approach
The basic fact is that Mitrovica bridge for Serbs symbolizes a front line of Serbia against Albanian occupation. The northern part of Kosovo wants continue live integrated to its home country. It is also possible to keep “frozen conflict” decades and formally act under UNMIK umbrella as international protectorate but what is the idea with that?
A pragmatic approach is partition: to draw border on Ibar river – northern Kosovo would continue as part of Serbia, southern part could be independent Kosovo and the role of international community would change from administrator to facilitator. This solution would help to focus resources where they are needed i.e. socio-economical development. Creating jobs and increasing standard of living is the best guarantee for peaceful progress, not artificial security under foreign army.
KIPRED has represented some valuable ideas to boost economical development like “special investment area” and “free customs zone”. This kind of ideas have already implemented in different border areas elsewhere and normally they are increasing economical activity on both sides of border. These phase II and III activities can be implemented also decentralized way without military occupation. Indeed the outcome of development projects is allways better if local stakeholders have commitment to aims and implementation. Therefore drawing border middle of Mitrovica bridge can create real cooperation through economical interests. If agreed by Belgrade and Pristina this simple act can shift the whole conflict to history books.