Thursday, March 24, 2005

T he year 2005 will see the Balkans return as one of the top issues on the international agenda by reason, once again, of the uncertain situation in Kosovo.

Six years after the dramatic events of 1999, the real power in Kosovo — officially part of Serbian and Montenegran territory — is wielded by the international community via the U.N. presence (UNMIK) and the provisional institutions for self-government run by the Kosovar Albanians, who comprise the majority of the province’s population. The Serb minority continues to feel insecure and remains suspicious, withdrawn and, unfortunately, uninvolved.

Fostering democracy, respect for human rights and — especially — minority rights, as well as good governance, have been the great challenge from the outset. Progress in these areas will decide if Kosovo develops security, or remains fragile and problematic (as indicated by the March 2004 incidents and the recent bombing attempt on President Ibrahim Rugova).

These will be the concerns of the Security Council during its discussions this summer of the progress report it will receive from a special representative appointed by the U.N. secretary-general. The international community’s initial goal of a stable, democratic and multiethnic Kosovo has not yet been achieved.

The economy, despite some improvement, remains exceedingly frail. Kosovo’s 600,000 unemployed outnumber the inhabitants of the country’s capital, Pristina. A thriving black market, illegal trafficking in persons and goods, and extensive corruption continue plaguing the region. Moreover, security for the return of Serb refugees and the internally displaced, as well as adequate protection of religious sites, remain major concerns.

It is in everyone’s interest to continue pushing for extensive and essential implementation of the “standards.” Our message must be clear: To the Kosovar Albanians and Pristina, we must stress the vital importance of strengthening democratization and good governance; to the Kosovar Serbs and Belgrade, we must bring home how counterproductive their noninvolvement might be to their own interests. After all, “the absent are always in the wrong.”

Beyond our insistence on the need for substantial progress on the “standards,” it is reasonable to be concerned about the future of Kosovo and its final “status.” We should not prematurely promote specific solutions before this summer’s evaluation. But we should seek a positive convergence of views based on certain fundamental principles and guidelines. I believe the following elements can provide a common basis.

The final status plan must be viable and realistic, to encourage the region’s stabilization and discourage destabilization.

Any solution must result from dialogue, in accordance with the U.N. Charter and resolutions, the Helsinki Final Act and the 1990 Paris Charter for a New Europe. The active participation of Belgrade is in everyone’s interest.

A return to the pre-1999 status quo is no longer a realistic option. Kosovo must remain multiethnic. Partitioning Kosovo, annexing or unifying it with any country in the region will be a source of dangerous instability. There must be a clear European perspective, providing a powerful incentive for carrying out Western and European principles and values.

A viable and stable solution to the Kosovo problem will be difficult without the coincident strengthening of what is so far the almost nonexistent European perspective of Serbia and Montenegro, which cannot remain the “black hole” of Europe.

Finally, it is necessary we proceed to a strictly monitored process for collecting small arms and ammunition in the region.

With these parameters in mind, Greece has the potential to promote and make a constructive contribution to regional stability, peace and prosperity.

We will do this as a member of the EU and NATO, as a member of the U.N. Security Council for 2005-2006, as a friend and ally of the United States, and as the chairman in office of the South East European Cooperation Process. And, of course, as a country with strong bonds of friendship and cooperation with all Contact Group members (i.e., the European Union, the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany).

Finally, and most importantly, Greece can play a constructive role because it is viewed by all of the immediately interested parties as a reliable, consistent and effective interlocutor, as was confirmed during Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’ recent visits to Belgrade and Pristina.

Petros Molyviatis is foreign minister of the Hellenic Republic.

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