28 March 2006

Essential autonomy for Kosovo within existing borders of Serbia



Source: Government of Serbia

Date: 27 Feb 2006


Belgrade, Feb 27, 2006 - Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica addressed today members of the Serbian parliament at an extraordinary session, devoted to the Serbian government's Report on the course of talks concerning the political solution for the future status of Kosovo and Metohija, which was adopted at the Serbian government's session on February 23.


The official web site of the Serbian government brings the speech of the Serbian Prime Minister in full.


Honourable Members of Parliament,


The Resolution on a Mandate for Political Talks on the Future Status of Kosovo and Metohija, which the Serbian parliament passed on November 21, 2005, underlined the importance of regular reports to the parliament in the course of the talks. Three months later, the first one is laid before the parliament. This is an opportunity for a thorough debate on the past developments and for the Members of Parliament to address Serbia's highest-ranking representative body, in order to voice their opinion on what has been done already, and what is yet to be done to resolve this vital national and state issue.


But first, allow me to give you a brief account of the most important political events that preceded the process.


The ongoing cycle of events related to Kosovo and Metohija began with a standards implementation report by U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy Kai Eide, released on October 24 last year. Based on the report, a process was launched to produce a solution for the future status of Kosovo and Metohija. The Contact Group adopted its guiding principles for a settlement of the status of Kosovo, and the U.N. Secretary-General offered his recommendations for the talks and appointed his Special Envoy. The Serbian parliament passed the Resolution on a Mandate for Political Talks on the Future Status of Kosovo and Metohija, and a negotiating team was appointed shortly after. Under the Resolution, the negotiators adopted a comprehensive platform for the talks and appointed a delegation for the first round of talks, with a clear emphasis on decentralisation. The talks were held in Vienna, from February 20 to February 21, and are scheduled to resume in March, this year.


In the wake of these well-known events, the key issue has resurfaced of the chief purpose of the negotiations. We should never miss a chance, especially in this place, to reiterate our principal goal and, by extension, the reason for entering the political talks on the future status of Kosovo and Metohija. There are actually two goals, but interwoven so tightly that they create a single, worthwhile purpose - the survival of Kosovo and Metohija within Serbia and the survival of Serb people in Kosovo and Metohija.


As the Security Council endorsed the Kosovo future-status talks, Serbia decided to shoulder its part of responsibility in addressing the status issue, proceeding from the fundamentals of international law and democratic values of the modern world. Persistently and patiently, we are seizing each and every opportunity to suggest to the international community that only law and justice can pave the way to durable peace and development in the region, instead of unilateral acts of imposition or, worse still, unilateral acts of violence and usurpation.


Together with this report, it is advisable to take a more elaborate look at Ambassador Eide's comprehensive review. It is important to note that it was based on that particular document that the U.N. Security Council endorsed the Kosovo future-status talks. Four months ago the U.N. Secretary-General's envoy used a very gloomy word to describe the status of multiethnicity and the human rights situation in Kosovo and Metohija. Namely, he described the situation in the province as "grim". In this context, he made it very clear that opening the talks should not shift the focus of the international community to the detriment of standards. Quite the contrary, the talks should require a stronger leverage for the international community to oversee the implementation of standards and push them forward. The approach drew open verbal support from all international actors, repeating it invariably ever since, both in contacts with us and on other occasions.


The last six and a half years, however, made us skeptical about promising messages from the international community. As if by some evil logic, the fate of empty words appears to be reaching out to the latest messages on standards implementation, too. It's been full four months since Special Envoy Eide's report was released, and not even the slightest progress has been made. Instead, the Kosovo Serb community is stagnating in its terrible position, which seems to be getting worse in many aspects.


Wherever the Serbs may live in the province, unpunished acts of violence continued, sending the stark message that they should leave their homes in Kosovo and Metohija. Ahead of the assembly session at which the Resolution was adopted, the Bogorodica Ljeviska church roof was destroyed in a vandalistic act. Shortly before this one, the Serbs who wished to visit family graves on the Orthodox Day of the Dead had been stoned. Clearly there is no end to ethnically motivated violence, which Albanian extremists have targeted against the Serb community, as long as responsible international representatives are not doing their job.


Despite his own view that the situation in the province was "grim" when it comes to multiethnicity, Eide recommended that the future-status process should begin. This was also a formal end to the standards-before-status policy. This is also why we have every right to raise some very simple questions today. What has been done in terms of standards implementation over the past four months? At least on paper, since absolutely nothing has been done on the ground? What about strengthened monitoring mechanisms for the implementation of standards in the province? These are the questions to be sent to several addresses at once - to Martti Ahtisaari, the Contact Group and Soren Jessen-Petersen. We are entitled to ask if anything good has happened in the province over the past four months, whereas it would be easy for us to answer if anyone dared ask about bad things that happened there in the same period. Let me ask one more question the answer to which we have every right to seek - is there anyone to shoulder the responsibility for all the evil the Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija have been suffering for six years already? Having pursued a constructive and reasonable policy, the least Serbia can expect is to have all the answers.


Ever since its inauguration, the Serbian government has warned repeatedly that without proper decentralisation of power in the province there can be no progress in the implementation of standards. We do hope, therefore, that the decentralisation talks can indeed make a difference, having focused on a very serious theme. There are more serious subjects, of course, and we expect separate talks to be opened on cultural heritage, the protection and reconstruction of Serb Orthodox churches and monasteries in particular, property issues and privatisation, safety, etc. Finding consensual solutions in addressing all of them might create a more favourable atmosphere to allow for and facilitate the status process itself, which, on the other hand, remains entirely indispensable. We are ready for the status talks to begin immediately, since we have devised not only a clear strategy and goals, but also the ideas and concepts to make them happen. The right place to unveil them, however, is the negotiating table. Our proposals, which guarantee full and substantial autonomy of Kosovo and Metohija within the Republic of Serbia and the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, must be presented to the one and only valid party - Kosovo Albanians, that is, their legitimate representatives.


Honourable Members of Parliament, I would like to move on to summarise the first round of the Kosovo future-status talks. Even though officially opened nearly four months ago, the genuine talks are yet to begin. When I say "genuine", I think of a direct dialogue with Kosovo Albanian representatives, which Special Envoy Ahtisaari should make possible under the U.N. Secretary-General's recommendations. This, however, has not happened yet. Indeed, at one point the international community appeared more concerned about when the talks will end rather than when they will begin. Not only the individual views from Contact Group members, but also statements by key international actors in the talks, have created the impression. And before the negotiations actually started, there were people trying to fill the void in tangible actions with, say, "creative" interpretations of the Contact Group principles or, more precisely, by finding what did not exist in them. Their favourite argument has been that "to ensure that Kosovo does not return to the pre-March 1999 situation" means to ensure that Kosovo does not return to Serbia. Not only have they blatantly twisted the Contact Group guiding principles, but also the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, even before the status talks got under way. All these inaccurate and malevolent interpretations of the internationally accepted views and documents related to the Kosovo talks have been denied timely and very firmly by us and, occasionally, by Contact Group members.


I wish to assure you that in our contacts with foreign representatives, taking place on an almost daily basis, we have never missed a chance to offer the best arguments in favour of a consensual solution for the Kosovo issue. We never tire of explaining that it is the duty of the Special Envoy and his team, as well as the Contact Group, to create conditions for the talks to develop in good faith, trusting that a consensual solution is possible, as only a solution based on consensus can be the true, lasting one. Any other would have to be imposed, and such an approach would not only prevent durable peace, but also sow the seed of evil that, sooner or later, would generate a spiral of forcible change of borders modelled after Kosovo and Metohija.


This is where the meaning lies of our repetitive warnings that no violation of international law must be permitted and how dangerous its consequences may be. Just like any other branch of law, international law exists to address difficult situations first, and then standard circumstances. To be called the law, it has to provide generic and broad norms to cover all possible cases, including the most intricate and specific ones. When politicians are unable or unwilling to resolve a difficult and specific case, they tend to invoke its absolute uniqueness, exclusivity and matchlessness, so that they could shift their own responsibility to someone else's shoulders. This should never happen in Kosovo and Metohija, since the consequences of such an "elegant" attempt to evade responsibility would be horrifying. It was never easy to solve the Kosovo issue - in 1999, 1981, 1968, 1945 or much earlier for that matter. Yet the one determined to do it has to carry the burden until a genuine solution has been identified, not its surrogate.


Our side is offering a solution with a historic consensual character, which, in other words, is the kind of solution we are ready to discuss. Between independence and common, standard autonomy after the European pattern, there is substantial, broadened autonomy, which we are prepared to define more specifically in a direct dialogue with Albanian representatives. There is one thing we cannot possibly do - to let another state be created within the borders of our own, splitting off part of the territory, and taking with it the international law, human rights, the fundamental principles of justice and morality, cultural heritage, spiritual background, property and anything our historic and modern identity might have been made of. We cannot let that happen for our own sake and for the sake of others, our neighbours, because one such "precedent" is bound to disrupt the balance the region has restored so painfully.


Knowing its purpose today, Serbia has to muster all its strength, political reason and unity to preserve Kosovo and Metohija. As time goes by, Kosovo and Metohija moves beyond a party issue, a concern that certain political groups might benefit from politically. This grave concern for today and even tomorrow, gradually and spontaneously builds up a broad social consensus, without which any government would find it difficult, if not impossible, to act. The Serbian parliament is assuming a very special role, which, in a parliamentary democracy it by all means deserves, becoming a place where strategic national decisions of utmost importance for Kosovo are made. The parliament should also keep and strengthen its control over such a crucial matter. The decision that the parliament should be regularly reported to in the course of the political talks was made precisely to allow it to react timely on any considerable change in the conduct of international actors.


There is no better way to build and carry out as difficult a policy as that towards Kosovo than through close cooperation between all state bodies and all social forces under the auspices of the highest representative body of the state. This is what can earn us respect from our opponents on the international plane, who cannot get past the inertia of the past, disregarding the new reality in the province and Serbia alike. Accordingly, by building up our internal democratic policy and a broad national and social consensus on Kosovo and Metohija, we can expect more positive reactions from the international community, which can be a decisive contribution to a just solution for this complex issue.


This may be the right time, the Honourable Members of Parliament, to recall that the Contact Group's guiding principles provide, among other things, that "any solution that is unilateral or results from the use of force would be unacceptable." This is also a good time to remind Mr. Ahtisaari of the statement he had issued as a Finnish president that whether Kosovo would be independent or stay within Serbia depended on the development of democracy. Today's Serbia is a democratic state by any standard, and no one questions that now. As there is no free democracy ready to accept part of its territory being taken away by an imposed solution, this Assembly has stipulated in its Resolution that "it would declare any imposed solution for the future status of Kosovo and Metohija illegitimate, illegal and invalid."


We trust the U.N. Security Council, because what we want is that the same universal principles all democracies in the world invoke, be applied to this state too. If an exception is made in this case, it would be an alibi and, consequently, a precedent for national minorities all over the world to get hold of their own states. The international community must know, and I believe it is very well aware of that already, that European and other standards and values imply that national minorities exercise their rights, either individual or collective, through different levels of autonomy and different systems of minority rights, not by disintegrating the existing states.


We trust the authority of principles our policy rests on, and we trust that our actions defend those very tenets and values the modern international order is anchored in. The consensual settlement we have offered is a European solution in the true sense of the word, being based on the European experience in seeking solutions in line with both the international law and the effort to identify the right amount of autonomy for national minorities. Substantial autonomy with enough autonomous powers and institutional mechanisms for the province to run properly its economic and social affairs constitutes a European formula for a consensual, lasting and stable solution. Within the substantial autonomy for the province, it is necessary to seek the best way of establishing autonomy for the Serb community as well.


I do believe we are united in our determination to defend the principles of our policy, because only they can lead us to a consensual and historically just solution. As always, the Serbian government will take all the steps necessary for the future talks solely in line with the mandate given to it by this parliament. We trust that at this point the state interest calls for the talks to continue within that same framework.


We are reiterating before this parliament today that Serbia supports a settlement, a just solution, respect to the generally accepted principles of international law and respect to universal values. If we all undertake not to abandon these principles, we will have the incontestable arguments based on law, justice and truth. I am convinced, the Honourable Members of Parliament, that our unity and these values constitute Serbia's strongest foothold available today.