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Reaction in Kosovo to Kostunica's Victory

While the world watched in fascination as mass demonstrations in Belgrade toppled Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from power, Kosovo—where Milosevic had committed some of his worst crimes—had an almost eerie air of normalcy. On the night Milosevic fell, cafés were full and the usual crowd of young people strolled along Pristina’s central artery, Mother Theresa Street. But Pristina’s surface indifference masked serious unease about events in Serbia and especially about the swelling international welcome for newly elected President Vojislav Kostunica. Kosovo Albania’s political circles, opinion leaders, and public, which for long had a head-in-the-sand approach toward the rise of the democratic opposition in Belgrade, are only beginning to come to grips with the changed political landscape in the Balkans caused by Milosevic’s fall.

Initial reactions to Kostunica’s election suggest the radicalisation of Kosovo Albanian opinion on issues such as co-operation with the international community and Kosovo’s future status. If NATO governments go too far toward welcoming the new Serb democratic forces without sending some positive and reassuring signals to Kosovo, the already evident sense of impatience among Kosovo Albanians with aspects of the international mission could grow and eventually turn dangerous.

Over the next year or so, the international community should seek to turn the attention of both the Kostunica government and the Kosovo Albanian community toward confidence-building measures and dialogue that could lay the foundation for diplomatic engagement at the proper time. Over the longer run, the international community should recognise that Milosevic’s departure makes it imperative to accelerate plans to create interim Kosovo-wide democratic institutions, with elections held no later than early 2001, and after that to move promptly to create a clearly understood roadmap for resolving Kosovo’s final status.

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