Ivor Roberts: Partition is the best answer to the Kosovo question

Share

It was entirely predictable that talks over the future of Kosovo between the Serbs and KosovarAlbanians should end last week with no agreement. There are two main reasons why this problem is proving so intractable: one ancient, one modern.

The loss of Kosovo, the cradle of Serb civilisation, to the Ottoman Turks over 600 years ago was felt as keenly as the loss of Jerusalem by the Jews to Roman imperial forces. When at last Serbia re-acquired Kosovo after the first Balkan War of 1912, the ensuing territorial division left more than half the Albanian people outside the borders of the new Albanian state and with a deep sense of grievance. Let me quote the bitter parting words of Isa Boletini, the leader of Albania's delegation to the London Ambassadors' Conference of 1913 which confirmed Kosovo as part of Serbia: "When spring comes, we will manure the plains of Kosovo with the bones of Serbs, for we Albanians have suffered too much to forget."

Since then, in what we may call more modern times, whoever has been top dog in Kosovo has maltreated the other. This has generally, and most egregiously under Slobodan Milosevic, meant Serbs maltreating Albanians, though when the boot has been on the other foot, it has been applied with some vigour.

Moreover, it was hard to imagine that an agreement would be reached last week when the Kosovar Albanians had already been told that their position on independence was being supported by the US and the EU. When President Bush visited Albania last June, he told an enthusiastic crowd that Kosovo should be independent. By thus removing any incentive for the KosovarAlbanians to compromise on their independence stance, the US fatally undermined the negotiations before they began.

Given the impasse we have reached, where the West is mainly committed to supporting qualified Albanian independence and Russia is equally committed to blocking any agreement in the Security Council which does not command support from Serbia, it may be timely to look at imaginative alternative solutions.

The West is fond of the mantra that the status quo is not sustainable. What they really mean is that Kosovar Albanian expectations of imminent independence have been raised to such an extreme that any frustration of independence will lead to violence against the Nato forces. So we must give Kosovo its independence quickly. The status quo is very unstable, but we must change it in ways which make it better, not worse. So Kosovo should become independent, but not within its present borders.

Within the negotiating process, one of the excluded options (self-imposed by the international community), was that Kosovo should not be partitioned. It is hard to understand the intellectual underpinning of this policy when the old Yugoslavia has been progressively partitioned and when the proposal to give Kosovo its independence is itself a partition of Serbia. The unstated concern is clearly that the partition of Kosovo could lead to pressure for a partitioning of Bosnia, a proposition which the international community themselves incidentally accepted (and later retracted) during the negotiations to bring the war in Bosnia to an end.

Again, the Kosovar Albanians have been told that they are not allowed in the event of independence to unite with Albania. This is absurd: if two independent countries freely wish to unite and do not destabilise their neighbours in doing so, there is no justifiable reason why they should be prevented from going ahead.

Whatever the pious hopes of the West and its diplomats, multi-ethnicity has failed in Bosnia and Kosovo. (Neither Bosnian Croats nor Serbs pass the Tebbit cricket test.) But the determination to deny the failure has led to incoherent policies by the West, pushing for more centralisation in Bosnia to weaken the Bosnian Serb entity to the benefit of the Bosnian central government, while going in the other direction in Kosovo to the point of secession. As the West's aspirations for tolerance and multi-ethnicity in Kosovo have proved to be so much empty rhetoric, we need to impose a solution which offers security to both communities. That requires the partition of Kosovo.

Partition of Kosovo will please neither side, but the equality of pain is more likely to lead to stability than present Western plans which will undoubtedly destabilise Serbia, and through Serbia the whole region. It is hard to explain to Serbs why, when Milosevic was still in power, a settlement was imposed which left Kosovo legally and formally part of Serbia. But having overthrown Milosevic and lived according to the rules of the international community for the last seven years, the Serbs now face being punished by losing nearly 20 per cent of their territory. It is not a policy which is likely to strengthen the already fragile plant of democracy in Serbia. The fires of nationalism risk being reignited.

Sir Ivor Roberts is president of Trinity College, Oxford, and a former ambassador to Yugoslavia, Italy and Ireland

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

.NET Developer (C#, .NET, Support) - Coventry - £45k

£45000 per annum + Excellent Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: .NET Develope...

C# / ASP.NET Developer

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: C...

Maths Teacher

£100 - £150 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: Urgently...

Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The influx of hundreds of thousands of eastern European workers has significantly altered the composition of some parts of Britain  

Immigration is the issue many in Labour fear most

Nigel Morris
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker