Despite renewed diplomatic efforts, the province of Kosovo remains in political limbo. Demands for independence are heating up, even as the international community is divided on whether it's good for the region.
Time is running out for an agreement on Kosovo. The troika of the European Union, the United States and Russia overseeing current talks on Kosovo has made no progress and is up against a Dec. 10 deadline set by the United Nations to issue its final report. The US has continued to advocate independence while Russia opposes it and Europe remains divided on the issue.
The EU has promised that the troika will take a "more proactive attitude" in negotiating with Serbia and Kosovo, a spokeswoman for the bloc's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Monday, Nov. 12. Not only that, but the troika will present concrete proposals next week to bridge the impasse, the spokeswoman said.
But experts wonder if it will be enough after many rounds of negotiations have failed to find a compromise and both the Serbian and Kosovar fronts look hardened.
"Preserving Kosovo and the Serb Republic [the eastern half of Bosnia-Herzegovina] are now the most important goals of our state and national policy," Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told Reuters news agency last week.
There are some signs that Kosovo's Albanian politicians, increasingly calling for independence in recent weeks, are running out of patience after years of negotiations.
Prime Minister Agim Ceku said Kosovo was willing to wait until December before unilaterally declaring independence, but not much longer.
"It is better to ask for an apology than for permission," Ceku said in an interview last week with The New York Times. "The time for a decision has come."
Veton Surroi, a member of the Kosovo Albanian's negotiating team and leader of the opposition ORA party, also said he's unwilling to wait on Washington much longer.
"Kosovo's assembly should set the independence date before Christmas," Surroi told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network recently.
Campaign rhetoric heats up
Some of the recent calls for independence can be attributed to the country's upcoming elections, which will take place Saturday.
"It's mainly campaign rhetoric," said Ilir Dugolli, a senior researcher at the Pristina-based Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED), of the calls for independence. "But there's anxiety as well."
Judging from the broad public support for independence, politicians are wise to reiterate their demand for it, he said. Independence is a plank in all of Kosovo's major political parties' platforms and is consistently supported by well over 90 percent of the Kosovo Albanian population, polls have shown.
Any compromise short of independence would be a "very bitter pill to swallow" for most politicians, Dugolli said, adding that the longer it takes, the more politicians will feel under pressure to give up on the negotiating process.
Russia has been the main international opponent of allowing the mainly Muslim Kosovo independence from Orthodox Serbia. Moscow is afraid it would encourage separatist movements in Georgia, Chechnya or even the Basque region of Spain.
But a "domino theory" is a little bit too simplistic for such a complex region, said Christophe Solioz, an expert on Kosovo at the Center for European Integration Strategies (CEIS).
A complex history
Kosovo came under UN administration in 1999, a result of the fighting and ethnic cleansing that marked the breakup of Yugoslavia. Russia supports Serbia's claim to the region of 2 million, which contains ethnic Serbian enclaves. Europe is divided on the issue with several countries, including Greece, Cyprus, and Romania, refusing to recognize Kosovo without a UN Security Council agreement.
EU diplomats are currently working to get consensus within the bloc on how to react if Kosovo were to declare independence, said Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) analyst Gergana Noutcheva.
In the European Union, which recently reported on rampant corruption and organized crime in Kosovo, the official line remains support for a negotiated settlement. But some countries are trying to move the bloc towards acknowledging that Kosovo independence is the only thing that will bring security and stability to the region, Noutcheva said.
While Kosovo Albanian politicians have said they won't accept anything less than full independence, "this could also be a bargaining position," Noutcheva said. "Of course they will insist on full independence until the very end. That is not to say that this is what will happen."
Hong Kong, Germany possible examples
While no proposals have officially been announced, insiders say several compromises are under discussion. One possible scenario -- a variation of which was proposed by Serbia -- uses Hong Kong as a model. Kosovo would be under Serbian rule, but would have extensive self-government rights. In 2020, Kosovo would then be allowed to vote in a referendum on whether to gain full independence.
Another idea the troika has discussed, according to diplomats, is a variation of the agreement reached between the two Germanys in 1972, known as the Grundlagenvertrag, or Basic Treaty. In this treaty, West Germany recognized the existence of the German Democratic Republic in everything but law.
EU envoy Wolfgang Ischinger "is looking for models on which to draw inspiration," one diplomat told the AFP news agency, on condition of anonymity. "He has found a certain inspiration in this very particular case of the two Germanys."
Whatever the inspiration, Solioz of CEIS said a compromise is essential in Kosovo. He said Kosovo should be given special status as an EU region with a referendum date set for 2020.
"Sooner or later you can't play any games anymore," Solioz said. "You have to play the diplomatic card and you must have a strategy."
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