Albin Kurti and Vetevendosje Are Serving Kosovo Well by Saying, “Now!”

Albin Kurti and Vetevendosje are serving Kosova well by demonstrating against the Ahtisaari plan for Kosova. The Ahtisaari plan is a plan neither for independence nor for sovereignty for Kosova. Indeed, it is not even a plan for final status. It is a plan for restructuring the international administration of Kosova, and for increasing the autonomy of Serb areas within Kosova.

That is not to say that it is a bad plan. It says nothing that blocks independence and sovereignty. If it is officially adopted without major change by the UN Security Council, it is a helpful step. But the hard decisions remain in the future, and it's not yet clear that anyone has the political will to make them.

At some point in the next couple of months, the Kosovar Assembly will have to declare independence, whether the international community wants it to or not. Then Kosova and the friends of Kosova will have to engage in hard-nosed, sophisticated diplomacy to persuade the U.S., Britain, France and Germany—and hopefully others-- to recognize Kosova as an independent state, whether Russia wants them to or not.

Without Kurti and Vetevendosje, the Kosovar Albanians have no leverage. Successful negotiations and diplomacy depend on leverage. It is helpful, to be sure, for Kosova's political leaders to cooperate with the internationals demonstrating that Kosova and its government is ready for mature participation in the diplomacy of the international community. All Kosovars can be proud of the face that Thaqi, Sejdui, Ceku, and Surroi have presented to the rest of the world.

But there are huge risks if the only plan is: "Don't rock the boat; the internationals will hand us independence. We don't need to create jobs; we don't need to attract foreign investment; we don't need to do anything about corruption; we don't need to pass any meaningful legislation on other subjects. Wait for independence."

The reality is that independence may be a long time coming, and, without Kurti, there is no Plan B.

Negotiations always tilt toward the more difficult party. The Serbs are unyielding in their opposition even to the Ahtisaari proposal. Meanwhile the Kosovar Albanians are eager to demonstrate their flexibility and cooperation. If you were a political leader of Germany, or Britain, or the United States, you would survey what has happened since final status was postponed past December, and conclude (1) Russian opposition to independence is stiffening and Russia can block UN action with its veto; (2) Serbia insists that Kosova remain part of Serbia; (3) the Kosovar Albanians seem satisfied with the Ahtisarri proposal, which just delays a clear decision; (4) all the leaders of Kosovo are united in their opposition to unrest and violence; (5) the Serbs are likely to become violent. If this were your assessment, you would be likely to modify the Ahtisaari proposal to make the Russians and the Serbs happier, even if it makes the Kosovar Albanians less happy. At least, you would be inclined put off a difficult decision longer. On the other hand, the demonstrations of 10 February insert an element of doubt into diplomatic minds. The demonstrations signal that Kosovar patience is not unlimited. These demonstrations were largely peaceful; it was the international police who used weapons and caused fatalities. But what will the future bring if the promises of the international community and of Kosova’s political leadership are broken? This is a question that should be at the forefront of the minds of all of the international diplomats and policymakers. Kurti and Vetevendosje helps keep that question in their minds.

So far, the U.S. Administration has been united and clear that there should be no more delay and that final status should be resolved clearly. Implicitly, at least, the U.S. supports independence. But U.S. political capital is scarce, because of the huge missteps with respect to Iraq, and the willingness of the Bush Administration to be forceful with the Europeans and the Russians is limited in time. For now, the U.S. is Kosova’s stalwart friend, but the U.S. is not a magician that can deliver independence unilaterally.

The year 2007 should not be a year that gets added to the list of years like 1995, when hopes that Kosovo would be addressed as part of a comprehensive settlement for Yugoslavia were dashed by the Dayton Accords; or like 1999 when at Rambouillet, the implicit promise was, “If you lay down your arms, you can have a referendum on independence in three years.” Or like 2004, after March, when the promise was, “Be calm and cooperative, and you will have independence by the end of 2006.” In December, 2006, it was “be calm a little longer, until after the elections in Serbia; there will be no more delays.” Now, there has been another delay, and the really serious work remains in the indefinite future.

Kosova needs multiple voices, those urging patience and those saying, “Now!”