At long last, serious status talks on the future of Kosovo have begun. Many Kosovars have grown impatient with the uncertain status of their homeland since the UN turned the province into a protectorate in 1999. The Albanian majority have felt that they have more than proven their ability to govern themselves in the last six years and have begun to view the international community, once their saviors, as a meddlesome hindrance. After their treatment at the hands of the Serbs, they have vowed never to be put in that position again. As a result, nothing less than independence?not even partition?has been their consistent mantra over the last few years.
The Serb minority remaining in Kosovo and most Serbs throughout Serbia & Montenegro , which Kosovo is still part of, have resented the international community for interfering in Kosovo in the first place and for reversing their control and fortunes in it. The minority Serbs feel discriminated against and believe that, ironically, it is only the international community that is protecting them. Should Kosovar independence go to the ethnic Albanian majority, Serbs feel that with the international community gone, they would be left unprotected. Serbs, in general, feel that Kosovo is too ingrained in their national and religious identity to turn over to the Albanian population and that it should forever remain part of Serbia. Yet, there has also been the grudging realization that unless they are willing to incite a new conflict, it is probably inevitable that Kosovo will move toward independence. Working with the international community may be their best opportunity to set some palatable conditions for the changeover of Kosovo?s status.
The Kosovo problem must be solved conclusively. UN officials have commented that while there were disagreements during the February meeting, the meetings generally went well and were constructive. But, in no way does any of this mean that the fine points on Kosovo?s status have been solved, and negotiations are likely to continue throughout the year. Still, that no one walked out of the meetings is a positive first step. This first meeting was likely focused on the practical issues of dealing with the concerns of the Serb minority. It is important that this issue be worked out before larger issues can be resolved. Kosovar Serbs need to be reassured that an independent Kosovo will not come at their expense. And, as the UN mediators have pointed out, any eventual deal will probably reflect the wishes of the majority: the Albanians seeking independence. If mediators and negotiators went straight to independence issues, it is likely that the Serb participants would walk out of the talks, as they would see no benefit in participation. The reason the talks are so difficult and have taken so long to take place is that even though a particular outcome may be inevitable, there can be no negotiation if one side feels there is no hope.
Kosovar Serbs would like some sort of self-government for the Serb enclaves with ties to a wider Serb entity. Kosovar Albanians see this as a means of partitioning Kosovo along ethnic lines but have also come up with other ideas on decentralization activities that would make the Serbs feel more secure. If these issues are worked out early on, then it is far more likely, that further negotiations will progress. If not, then the process could stagnate.