It was as long ago as 1999 that NATO launched air attacks on Serbia, ostensibly to end the ‘ethnic cleansing' of Kosovan Albanians, and the UN Security Council turned Kosova into a protectorate of the UN, with six countries – America, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia – acting as the ‘contact group'. Yet the UN is still administering the province, and NATO troops (about 17,000 of them) remain in place to preserve a grudging peace between the Albanian Kosovars and the remaining Serb minority. The latest plan – the Ahtissari proposal – falls short of calling for the full independence to which the 90 percent Muslim majority are entitled. Although held by some to be capable of leading to eventual independence, the Ahtissari plan does not even mention the word and clearly reflects the UN's decision to heed the demands of Serbia, Serbian Kosovars and Russia, which fully and openly backs the Serbs.
Serbia's utter rejection of any proposals capable of leading to independence for Kosova was demonstrated on February 16, when its new parliament overwhelmingly rejected the Ahtissari plan. The parliament adopted a resolution saying that Ahtissari's draft "breaches fundamental principles of international law" and "illegally lays the foundation for the creation of a new independent state on the territory of Serbia." Last year's elections, which led to the formation of a new parliament, were in fact dominated by the issue of Kosova, and it came as no surprise when the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party emerged as the biggest group in the new parliament. Nor was it surprising that Tomislav Nikolic, its leader, should hail the legislature's resolution and claim that only Serbia could resolve the Kosova issue. "No one can create a new state on Serbia's territory without Serbia's consent," he said.
Leading Serb politicians addressing the new parliament also set out their opposition to the plan. Boris Tadic, Serbia's pro-Western president, told it that the Ahtissari plan "essentially opens the way for an independent Kosovo, which is a violation of the essential principles of the UN charter, which guarantees inviolability of internationally recognised states". Vojislav Kostunica, acting prime minister, described the plan as seeking "to dismember Serbia and grab 15 percent of its territory."
There is little doubt that the vast majority of Serbian politicians – like the rest of the population – are opposed to any proposals that might lead to Kosova's independence. Only a few Serb politicians are not opposed to Ahtissari's plan. One of those few is Cedomir Jovanovic of the Liberal Democrats, who urged parliament to "accept the reality that Kosovo has not been under our control since 1999." It is reasonable to assume that the number of Serbian Kosovars willing to seek a more reasonable resolution of the issue would have been greater, and the number of more aggressive ultra-nationalists smaller, had the Serbs not known that the UN and the contact group are determined to work for a solution more favourable to them than to the Muslim majority of the province. Their opposition to the Ahtissari plan, which they know is already more than favourable to them, is merely political bargaining and due to their conviction that the UN and the contact group are in no hurry to establish an independent Muslim Kosova.
The estimated population of Kosova is 2 million, with Muslim ethnic Albanians constituting 90 percent and ethnic Serbs (Orthodox Christians) only 8 percent of this total. The remaining 2 percent consist of Roma, Turks and others. How privileged that tiny minority is has been shown by the manner in which the hands of Martti Ahtissari – a former president of Finland and current UN envoy for Kosova – have been tied from the beginning. When he was appointed in 2005 to carry out his mission, he was instructed to avoid the issue of independence and to concentrate on working out an arrangement based on "mutual concessions". Not surprisingly, the plan he submitted to the contact group on February 2 not only falls short of recommending independence but favours the Serbs living in Kosova in many ways.
However, Ahtissari has tried very hard to give the impression that the plan sets Kosova on the road to independence. Under it the province would have its own flag, anthem, constitution, parliament and citizenship, and would be entitled to negotiate agreements and join international organisations. But this would be offset by the fact that the province would be supervised by a so-called International Civilian Representative, backed up by an international military presence. This means that although the UN protectorate would come to an end, a UN-appointed supervisor and the NATO force would remain, making nonsense of the concept of independence. Moreover, the extraordinarily high degree of autonomy given to the Serbian enclaves and the special privileges they would enjoy under the plan shows how the whole project is in their favour.
For example, the Serb enclaves would maintain their financial ties with Serbia and retain their own educational curricula, while their religious buildings and centres would be surrounded by special protection zones. This brings to mind immediately the question of why religious centres and mosques in East Jerusalem, such as the al-Aqsa mosque, are not considered to need protection against the clear threat to them from Israel. Obviously, the UN and the international community are not exercised about the threat to Palestinians and Islamic centres as they are about the presumed threat to monasteries in Serbian enclaves by the Albanian Kosovars.
Ahtissari will continue his attempt to force his plan on the Kosovars by further ‘negotiations', and then submit it to the Security Council in late March. Both Russia and China are on record as saying that they will vote against any plan that is likely to lead to eventual independence for Kosova. Both are anxious that such independence might eventually lead to the liberation of their own oppressed Muslim communities. Moscow does not want any international developments that would encourage Chechnyan Muslims to seek independence more forcefully; Beijingwants the Muslim regions in Xinjiang and Tibet to be sealed from international influence.
But one of the saddest aspects of the whole affair is that Muslim countries show no interest in coming to the aid of the Muslim Kosovars, or in helping them to assert their claim to independence and autonomy.