The Dangerous Road Ahead

Martin Vulaj

MARTIN VULAJ

Kosova is facing a perfect political storm on the immediate horizon. It is the biggest threat since the time when Serbian forces were marching through burning homes, raping women and killing children like a band of merciless medieval marauders and boxcars reemerged on the face of a Europe who had once sworn “never again!” While that threat was physical, this one, while political, is hardly less existential.

 

1. The Frustration of the United States

The cancellation of the dialogue meeting scheduled on June 27th due to the announcement of the Special Prosecutor which was, admittedly, designed to target the talks, and therefore can only be characterized as political in nature, has left the dialogue process on life support. A frustrated White House has given the green light to Ambassador Grenell for a last effort to put the talks back on track with the goal of mutual recognition that would result in Kosova’s membership in NATO, the UN and in regional European integration.

The constant attacks on the process, the White House and the demonization of Ambassador Grenell by some circles had already taken a toll but the cancellation of the meeting is a direct threat. In fairness, the lack of full transparency of the process left an opening for speculation by some that Kosova’s interests were being compromised and also created the ability for the process to be targeted for political gain. The end result is that, if Kosova does not act quickly and decisively, the United States could likely walk away leaving the process in the incapable hands of the Europeans. The approaching vortex of US elections which will suck all the oxygen out of the room makes that possibility more likely and the maneuvering room and timing window extremely narrow.

 

2. Albanians on Trial

The pending indictments against President Thaci, Mr. Veseli and nine others along with the two other indictment documents that are expected after this one, present a particularly insidious threat. One can argue all one wants about “individual responsibility” and “the KLA is not on trial” but in the eyes of the world that is exactly who will be on trial and so will Kosova and so will Albanians in general. This is an inevitable fact. Despite the acquittal of Ramush Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj, these pending indictments will likely mean that Kosova will have more people charged by the international community for war crimes then Serbia, who perpetrated genocide, will!!

In putting the KLA on trial, the enemies of Kosova and Albanians in general could succeed in their 20 yearlong attempt at relativizing the crimes committed by Serbia in her campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide. In other words, they will have equalized the nature of the crimes. The numbers, they will coldly argue, to paraphrase Stalin’s infamous quote, “are just statistics.”

In so doing, this will provide the thin moral cover and opportunity that an Albanophobic Europe has been looking for as a way out for themselves and their Kosova dilemma.

 

3. The Unfavorable Terrain of Europe

There are 5 nations in Europe that do not recognize Kosova. There are other nations who do but are not particularly friendly towards Kosova. There are friendly nations as well who have been strong supporters. There are combinations of supporters and detractors in virtually everyone of these nations as well. However, the structural makeup of the EU and their cumbersome decision making process has made the EU practically impotent when it comes to any meaningful progress on Kosova. The monument of shame of this impotence will always be Srebrenica.

A strong historical Serbian bias by some EU members and the cumbersome EU decision making process has made it impossible for any meaningful breakthroughs by the EU on Kosova. We know how the U.S. stepped in to declare independence for Kosova after 8 years of futility by the EU. The same happened with the Transformation of Kosova’s army and the same is happening now with the dialogue. After ten years of effort which only produced a series of toothless agreements, most of which have not been implemented, the EU, once again has been forced to cede the leadership role to the United States. Because of this decision making process, they have even been unable to honor agreements when it comes to the liberalization of visas for Kosova despite all conditions being met. Clearly they do not have the collective will nor capacity to solve the Kosova-Serbia dilemma without strong US leadership.

 

4. The Perfect Storm

The above circumstances could line up like rare meteorological events to produce a perfect political storm where Serbia is set free towards Europe and Kosova is left in her current political ghetto.

Should the United States walk away from the dialogue process, a Serbian biased Europe, who has been wringing its hands in doubt and inaction, could use the occasion of the KLA trials as moral cover to equate the two sides and create a pathway for Serbia to unshackle Kosova from around her political neck and move into Europe.

The visa issue may seem small but it is a bell weather of Europe’s feelings towards Albanians in general and Kosova in particular. Albanophobia, as Dr. Berisha warned us nearly 20 years ago, exists and Europe may very well use the absence of the U.S. and the excuse of the KLA trials as an opportunity to justify it.

 

5. The conversation with Ambassador Grenell

In the conversation I had with Ambassador Grenell the day prior to the call with other community members and during that call with the members, in addition to telling us that partition was never on the table, considered or discussed and that they were not looking to push a fast deal through, he also expressed real frustration with the process and the real possibility that the administration may become frustrated and fatigued, determine that the two sides are not ready for an Agreement, and move on from the process. The elections are around the corner and reassignment to something more productive is very feasible. From a firsthand account, I can state without hesitation that the frustration is real and the threat is immediate.

 

6. The way forward

The most critical thing for Kosova to realize her goals of completing her statehood and joining NATO, the UN and, eventually the EU is to make sure that the United States remains fully engaged. In order to do this, it is imperative that the political class form a consensus regarding the willingness and need to continue the dialogue process and express such willingness to Washington. This must be done immediately. It simply cannot wait.

a. Unity Negotiating Team

The current government is too fragile to handle the new challenges with which it is being confronted. Therefore broad political consensus is necessary. However, the expansion of government for stabilization purposes implies repeating the process that we recently went through. Time does now afford us that luxury. There is, however, another way to reach a much needed consensus and political stability. A Unity Negotiating team should be formed. This team must include all major Albanian Parliamentary parties, especially both opposition parties who must have substantial decision making power in the team. Such an undertaking would bring full transparency to the process and full confidence to the people. It would enable the tensions to ease and proper focus to return. The makeup and roles should be negotiated in good faith and should leave no doubt regarding the nature and content of the process. At the conclusion of the process new elections should be had and a new parliament created reflecting the electorate.

If this is followed then, whatever agreement is potentially reached between Kosova and Serbia, the people will be assured that it was the best that could be reached. What is most important in the process is that Kosova finally be able to break from the bonds that have held her back from her potential and be able to move forward and finally prosper. This means a fully recognized Kosova as a member of NATO and the UN with a clear path into the EU fully engaged in regional and international trade and commerce.

In 1999 modern Kosova was a baby born in blood. In 2008 she was freed to make her own decisions and set her own course. In 2020, after years of mistakes and progress, Kosova is faced with the reality that decisions have consequences. The decisions we make now will reverberate for generations. It is time to come together and move forward or pay the heaviest of prices for failing to do so.

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