Crimes and misdemeanours
From The Economist print edition
Serbia tries to please the European Union—but Kosovo still waits
FOR months, diplomats said that this would be the week when Russia's Vladimir Putin and America's George Bush struck a deal: not about Kyoto, but about Kosovo. The hope was that Mr Putin would assent to Kosovo's independence in exchange for a concession elsewhere. Yet this is clearly not now going to happen.
Kosovo is still technically part of Serbia, though it has been run by the United Nations since 1999. Some 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians who want independence. A plan drawn up for theUN by a former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, proposes this with minor constraints, but also gives concessions to Kosovo's Serbian minority. The problem is that, without Serbian agreement, Russia will remain opposed to the Ahtisaari plan—and seems ready to veto it at the UN Security Council.
American diplomats have hinted that, if this happens, they might encourage the Kosovo Albanians to declare independence anyway, and then recognise their new state unilaterally. This may still be the plan, but it will meet resistance from the European Union. The Ahtisaari plan proposes to replace the UN structure in Kosovo with an EU one and an international governor, as in Bosnia. But without a UN resolution, such a change may not be legal.That is why some diplomats now reason that it would be better to postpone the whole issue until September. But since September is even closer to Russia's parliamentary election (in December) and presidential one (next March), there seems no good reason to expect the Russians to change their minds. At least the talk of postponement is not yet stirring trouble in Kosovo. Far from reaching for their guns, says Visar Reka, erstwhile spokesman of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army, those who might be tempted to return to war are, for now, happy to wait.
This will obviously come as a relief not only to Western diplomats, but to the Serbs. If fighting broke out again in Kosovo, its Serbs would surely be among the first victims. Besides, Serbia's new government has its own EU ambitions to attend to. On these, it has played a shrewd game. In May 2006 the EU suspended talks with Serbia on a stabilisation and association agreement, widely seen as a first step towards membership, because of its failure to co-operate with the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. But now talks with the EU are about to resume, boosted not just by the new government but also by its arrest on May 31st of Zdravko Tolimir, one of six Serb war-crimes suspects who were still at large. Mr Tolimir, who is charged with genocide, was living in a flat in Belgrade. After the decision to arrest him, police piled into his flat and bundled him out in a body-bag, according to some reports, and then spirited him to the Serb part of Bosnia, where he was officially arrested. This way Serbia's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, who dislikes the tribunal, appears not to have betrayed his principles.
EU officials insist that talks with Serbia cannot be completed without the arrest of General Ratko Mladic, Mr Tolimir's wartime superior. Whether that happens remains to be seen—Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the Hague tribunal, now speaks of its being done within weeks. If Mr Kostunica wanted to weaken EU resolve over Kosovo, he would do well to arrest the general. Those against Kosovo's independence might then argue that even a co-operative Serbia was being punished. The trouble is that if Kosovo loses any prospect of independence, war and instability could return. Politics in the Balkans, as elsewhere, is about hard choices.