Many plans, none for integrating communities

In Kosova, Politikat etnike, Shtetndërtimi ndërkombëtar on 24 November, 2008 at 08:37

Gëzim Selaci

In the course of uneasy deployment and takeover of the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (Eulex), UN made public a six-point plan which Belgrade agreed upon, whereas Prishtina’s position was not taken into consideration. Together with the major states which recognised Kosovo’s independence, UN is insisting on the plan. Nonetheless, Prishtina proposed an alternative four-point plan. What is the common denominator of these total ten points? They all indicate lack of strategy for integrating the Serb community in Kosovo, nearly a decade after the war. How so and why is the integration relevant to this?

Deployment of Eulex becomes problematic only because the Serb community in Kosovo does not welcome it due to the prevailed scepticism about it. Should they not oppose deployment of Eulex in accordance with ‘Ahttisari’s plan’, there would be no difficulty in this respect, regardless of Belgrade’s stance. Of course, a UN Security Council resolution would make things easier, however, Eulex does not necessarily need UN permission to deploy and operate in Kosovo. Therefore, a different level of international assistance is needed, one that does not copy arrangements in Bosnia (which has divided the state into two dysfunctional entities) but one that addresses the problem by finding a solution to deploy Eulex even without the UN Security Council permission.

What we need with regard to developments of this kind is not only anticipating the outcomes of it, but also, and most crucially, analysing its root causes. Hopefully, this would prevent us falling again and again into the trap of going after consequences, thus enabling us to focus on taking statebuilding processes further.

Why integration?

The Albanian majority and political leadership in Kosovo think of the Serb minority only when they stand in the way of and boycott the institutions of Kosovo or bring trouble to international missions in the country. There is no serious analysis of why the Serbs are so hostile to those institutions and missions, and no strategy to integrate this ethnic community into the wider society of Kosovo. The UN agreement comes at no surprise for Kosovo; it only legitimizes the already factual divides of Kosovo among ethnic boundaries. However, the UN-Serbian agreement and Prishtina’s proposed plan, reveals that there is no strategy to integrate the Serbs.

Whichever strategy for integration is imagined, it should facilitate the formation of political identities based on ideological orientations that overcome those based exclusively on ethnicity. However, this could not be done by externally imposed plans, but should stem from the domestic political process.

Unless we succeed in integrating ethnic minorities and forming ideological identities, Kosovo will continue to face consequences of its minorities being used as tool by those who wish no good to it, whereas very little time and effort could be spared to develop and build the state. Kosovo’s leaders should not take for granted the integration of communities and development of the country, as international actors are ultimately interested in security, rather than integration and development.

The legacy of international administration

If we look back at what the international administration did in integrating communities, there is not much to be proud of. In trying to provide an alternative to the prevalent antagonistic relations between ethnic communities in Kosovo, international administration has tried to build a consensus in which it could accomplish its plans in the territory.

Yet, in a situation where there are deep ethnic antagonisms, international administration found no other viable way save legalising ethnic divisions by building institutions that would operate on ethnically based values. It did so by policies such as decentralising the territory based on ethnic boundaries, reserving seats for Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo government and assembly, allowing for Serbian institutions to be active in Kosovo and for Serbian elections inside the territory of Kosovo (which was supposed to be administered solely by UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and Provisional Institutions of Self Governance (PISG) and not by parallel institutions whatsoever). Finally, the six point agreement is but a step in the series of legalising divisions even when Kosovo is entering a new phase of its statebuilding process!

As these policies contributed further to enforcing the values based exclusively on ethnic identities, no wonder then that there was no opportunity for formation of identities based on ideological values of common citizenship. Impeding the expression of political values and aspirations, gives no opportunities to form identities on grounds of political and social interests. This it is precisely the reason why people in Kosovo fail to articulate ideological identities and conflicts over the dominating ethnic ones.

Overcoming ethnicity in politics

The question remains how are we to facilitate formation of other political identities based on social or ideological interests, in a context where people defined themselves for so long in terms of their ethnic belonging and against other ethnic groups? The answer is simple:  We need to give way to democracy to flourish in Kosovo, because the political process that democracy necessitates inevitably facilitates the formation of political identities that go beyond those based exclusively on ethnicity as political identity. Whereas in Kosovo democracy exists in its minimal level (representation only, where demos is reduced to merely potential voters), it is, however, by its definition, a more active participation of citizens in public deliberation and contestation.

In order to democratise Kosovo’s society, we need not hinder the domestic political process, as there is no democracy without politics. By political process I mean social engagement in the making of policy and legitimising government. Only by making politics work—and by politics I don’t mean weaving flags and shouting slogans—i.e. addressing the real issues of people and living standards of employment, education, housing and health care, we can change the dynamic of society by concentrating on related laws and transform the society.

I consider pluralist democracy and politics of inclusion as a strategy for allowing communities to bring in their political values and aspirations into the public sphere. This strategy represents an alternative to both the antagonist relations that prevail between ethnic groups in Kosovo, and, on the other hand, consensus without politics.

Opening the public sphere to expression of political values and objectives is a good chance for the latter to be discussed and negotiated. Whereas those political viewpoints that are not in tangent with the plans of International Administration were foreclosed from public sphere, they found their way outside of it and took the form of hard line nationalist movements. This is especially true among communities with low level of representation in political institutions, mainly—but not exclusively— among the Serb community.

Oppressing political expressions resulted in failing to make them visible and bringing them to the public in order to be challenged, negotiated and revised by deliberation. Excluded from the public sphere, they are in no way faded away or silenced, but took other guises much more difficult to be managed. Indeed they continue to appear as ethnic, racist, nationalist or religious fundamentalist violence.

Rules of the political ‘game’

Considering the risk that politics or democracy in its narrow sense (only elections ending at the ballot boxes) in post-conflict societies may bring into power irresponsible regimes and reinforce the structural impediments to democracy, a consensus on the rules of the political ‘game’ is needed. In other words, in order to facilitate the political to happen and avoid a possible domination of extremist right wing parties, a basic consensus on certain rules regarding the space and the context in which political deliberation takes place, is required.

The most important rule of this political ‘game’ is that is should be played within the legitimate institutions of Kosovo, which Serbs largely oppose. Indeed, legitimacy may always be contested. Nevertheless, institutions built under the auspices of UN and elected representatives of these institutions are internationally as well as domestically legal. This is the common ground that could make an integrated Kosovan society possible.

22 November 2008

Published at: New Kosova Report.

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