Lake of Gazivode a bed of nails

Lake of Gazivode topic in Belgrade Pristina relationship was a “bed of nails” topic and to be honest, I personally and professionally was reluctant to speak or write about it. I do not know anyone who said something constructive about it and capitalized from it. Anyone with some knowledge about this resource and its meaning to Kosovo’s economy and wisdom about the Brussels’ process would estimate that Lake of Gazivode is a deal maker or deal breaker. In Belgrade-Pristina agreement, the Lake of Gazivode should be a millstone of Comprehensive Agreement on the Normalization. If it would be ignored, frozen conflict would introduce new dispute over water resources and there would not be peace and stability in this region.

A long ago, on a table full of the most prominent intellectuals from Kosovo, I’ve presented following argument:

  1. If Kosovo could acquire control over Lake of Gazivode at some costs (including cost of stability in the region), this control would have a short life time. In foreseeable future Serbia could claim its parental rights and use the water source from the water table in their jurisdiction on the Lake of Gazivode or from Ibar River upstream area to the Montenegro state border. Serbia could divert the water volume to region of Sandzak (Tutin, Novi Pazar and Raska) and used water could be discharged in to the same river banks in Raska town. Considering that the water source and discharge point is the same river, there wouldn’t be violation of the UNECE convention on Trans boundary waters since Serbia is not recognizing Kosovo.
  2. Alternative and solution to prevent this scenario that could limit Kosovo’s economy to grow I presented was: –Instead of controlling the resource, designate this resource for operation and management to Serbians from the Kosovo North! Revenues from the operation would be a strong incentive for Serbians to integrate into Kosovo society and any attempt from Republic of Serbia to use reservoir water or divert river Ibar elsewhere would be futile. As the effect, Serbians from Kosovo could protect Kosovo water needs indefinitely!
Water table Lake of Gazivode
Lake of Gazivode water table

To this day, I’ve found no opposition to this argument apart from the pure nationalistic and emotionally driven responses: Lake of Gazivode is KosovA’s property and national treasure, closing the door for any meaningful debate. True burden and cost of this resistance to change could have severe effect on Kosovo economy. There was one person, today Kosovo MP who stated that my argument seems logical and if he would ever find the flaw in my argument he’ll let me know. I’m still waiting for his call.

The critical issue that has most significance in this story is that this century would be a water century. Fresh water scarcity due to the increase in water withdrawal for the purpose of agriculture or industrial outputs is expected to grow doubling water use in less than 25 years in the region. Climate change and uncertainty about it could affect both the demand and supply. All elements are not working in the favor to both sides and some creative approach is necessary today to overcome future limitations.

My starting premise on presented argument about the Lake of Gazivode issue was very simple: Who ever attain the control of the Lake of Gazivode facilities, if the interest of Serbia would not be protected, it would lose the water from the reservoir! 

International Policy framework on Trans boundary waters

Trans-boundary waters are difficult international topic. Most of the natural boundaries between the states are rivers and other water bodies. Disputes are ever-present like nowadays in our region: Gulf of Piran (Croatia / Slovenia sea border), Serbia / Croatia border on the Danube, Montenegro/Croatia border on the gulf of Boka Kotorska entry, BiH / Croatia sea border etc. Most of the issues are not related to the size area of the water bodies wanted but about the resources in fisheries, domestic/international navigable water use, land route traffic, access to the ports etc. Water in international rivers basins especially in conflict sensitive areas could be even more severe: countries are willing to defend their interest by force if necessary (ICG 2002).

Figure 1 Catchment area Gazivode Dam
Figure 1. Catchment are Gazivode and Ibar basin area near 130sqkm in Kosovo (ESIAF 2016)

Because of site specific complex issues and misaligned interest of the parties involved, there is no solid international treaty or policy as the guideline for states to follow like “one size fits all” and let’s not lose energy on case points from the world since bilateral agreements are the only option that delivered some results and that would be exercised here.

Best practice on sustainable water management known to me is a Commerce Clause of the US Constitution on “Navigable Waters” (the term from Common Law evolved to the much more robust meaning). Commerce Clause designates federal power (Congress) to control shared resources and this federal nature is a prime reason for its success.

EU offers the DIRECTIVE 2000/60/EC integrated water management but unlike the US example EU would never be able to implement this federal aspect due to the diverse political reasons of individual member states. Waters are managed across the boundaries with coordinated approach within the river watershed-basins areas. Focus is on water quality and sustainable water use has limited effect. Also, there is an institutional gap in the implementation (national legislations vs. EU directives).  In the relationship of shared river basins/watershed with the non state members, Directive calls in effect International UNECE Conventions on water protection and management (UNECE Helsinki 1992). UNECE convention has interesting model of forming the “Joint Body” from Riparian Parties (states in dispute) but in case of Serbia and Kosovo this model due to the status dispute would be indefinitely ineffective.

None of the above offers any solid guideline and delegate responsibility over the water resources especially in the contexts of the sovereignty dispute over Kosovo.

Beware of incoming “Water War”

Ibar river integrated management in the circumstance of the disputed sovereignty over Kosovo is at this point unspoken thing but can pose a threat to the stability to the region. In order to elaborate this, allow me to speculate some options and possible future scenarios of the water consumption from Ibar basin. Some options are real and under way to be implemented, some are simply hypotheses driven to extreme backboned with the data that could attract investors (hydro plants in upper stream of Ibar River), some are documented in the recent studies, while others are subject to the national policies… Basic knowledge of the region geography and physics/math skills isn’t necessary but is desirable to understand this issues and rational behind possible propositions.

Option 1, Kosovo enhances water withdrawal from existing facilities / Likelihood – HIGH.

Kosovo is currently working on the project of Ibar-Lepenac canal rehabilitation to cater water demand in Kosovo, financed through WB credit. This project aim is reducing losses at less than 20% from aged structures and boosts the capacity for the future projected demands -Example: New Kosovo Power plant and its investors insured their interest demanding the 0,43m3/s for the operation of the new plant and Ibar Lepenac would be accountable to deliver (credible source). To evaluate the consequences of this project in Belgrade-Pristina relationship we have to look water volume balance calculations given in Figure 2 that represent current mass volume balance  and Figure 3, that presents water volume projected after the project completion.

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Figure 2. Current figures – water distribution/production at balancing reservoir Pridvorica

Current discharge rate from balancing Reservoir Lake of Pridvorica is 3,7m3/second (location source data) and never below 3.5m3/second. Ibar Lepenac company does not report this figure instead they are presenting 60million m3/year production rate? What happens with undocumented volume is unknown variable and since in Ibar Lepenac company 100% production comes from Serbian community area (information base) and 100% of shares own by GoK and revenues stays there and since there is no a single Serbian member in a Board or any executive position, the answer to this question would be for a Serbian researcher difficult to find.

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Figure 3. Projected water distribution – WB Ibar Lepenac Project

Additionally, in Village of D. Varage there is another balancing reservoir and discharge to the Trepca facility at the rate of 1m3/s. Trepca is not using this volume anymore but many irrigation and fish farms near Mitrovica were built on this resource, Most of this volume could be considered consumption neutral.

Total water volume losses in the Ibar river would  drop from today 57,14% of water intake to the 33,8% of the intake calculating the total loss of fresh water balance to Serbia 231,5 million m3/year. That exact volume or  64,2% of water intake  would be diverted for Kosovo’s withdrawal needs. Some portion of that would come back polluted from the discharge points of industries in Sitnica basin but most of it would evaporate.

This is significant impact and opportunity cost for Serbia. Any activities on the implementation must be a subject of the agreement of the riparian countries under the UNECE convention.

Option 2. Kosovo – Construction of the emergency reservoir Mijalici Lake / Likelihood – LOW.

There are several propositions in Kosovo Water supply policies but most severe example is a proposition to build emergency water reservoir Mijalici Lake near Priluzje in municipality of Vucitrn in volume 3,7 million m3. The Lake purpose is to increase the supply and to shave the peak in demand for water supply for Thermal Plants and agricultural use. The feasibility study is made in 2016 with the data and set benchmarks that are alarming and pose violation of the UNECE convention. The report states that 6.5 m3/s capacity in canal Ibar Lepenac is attainable and neglecting the interest of Serbia in losses of the water balance (as mentioned in Option 1).

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Figure 4. Diverting Sitnica River to Mijalici Lake

More worrying, the paper presents that maximum capacity of the canal of 22m3 would be necessary to cater future demand projections but , where to find that much water? To compensate missing volume one can come to a conclusion that only available option is Sitnica River full volume and here I have to present my data mining conclusions or educational assessment:

Only attainable option for water needs is to divert Sitnica River in volume of 3-15m3 m3/s when needed by DO2 Ibar Lepenac canal to feed the Mijalici Lake leaving the 0.5 or 0,6 m3/s flow in Ibar river for ecological purposes. Loss of total 22m3/s of water in Ibar River basin would be major impairment for the Serbian communities in Kosovo North and Republic of Serbia in a form of environmental Injustice. There would be a significant loss in water volume for Serbia surface and ground waters as well that would be also UNECE convention and EU Groundwater Directive (DIRECTIVE 2006/118/EC) violation. If GoK would pursuit this option with the solid investment, the extreme reaction of Serbia would be expected.

Mijalici
Figure 5 Mijalici Lake, near village of Priluzje (ESIAF 2016)

Most disturbing and alarming elements of this report are:

  1. This WB paper states –Based on the Country Environmental Analysis of Kosovo (World Bank, 2012), some elements of national legislation, also aligned with the EU policies. One should not be an expert to say that the paper itself is in direct violation of the DIRECTIVE 2000/60/EC and UNECE Helsinki 1992 convention. It is also in conflict the WB document from 2013 clearly stating that building of any future balancing reservoir could trigger notice and approval from riparian states on significant investments.
  2. Action like this (option 1 and 2) unilateral and damaging to the interest of riparian country under the UNECE convention and EC directives. Considering that the opportunity cost would be solely on Republic of Serbia, it is reasonable to expect reaction of Serbia in exploiting the options that would compensate those losses.

To conclude Kosovo’s option on this matter one important fact should not be neglected. Loan and construction of the Lake of Gazivode facilities was insured with the WB credit that Serbia is liable for upon the succession settlement with the other former SFRY republics. In case of the final Belgrade Pristina any solution over the ownership on Lake of Gazivode facilities it is reasonable to expect that cost of investment as well as many other cases in Kosovo should be used in to the account.

Option 3. Serbia – Ibar River water use and discharge in Serbia / Likelihood – LOW 

Serbia invested too little in development of Raska and neighboring districts, but that is about to change due to the sensitive aspects of those districts (Sandzak hotspot). Infrastructure is poor, and energy and water resources are scarce to cater the needs of investments. Where to find necessary water volume: -within the boundaries of the municipalities Tutin and Novi Pazar in the Lake of Gazivode! Water table of the Lake is on 200m higher altitude than Novi Pazar Town with the proximity less than 18km and those facts derivatives could draw some conclusions what could be possible right now.

But let us go wild in predictions and use the maximum volume of water or energy outputs.

Some reports indicate that the water inflow to the Lake of Gazivode is 350 million m3. Let us to be more conservative and use the more moderated available data. Hydrology reports are stating that Ibar river minimum water balance at the Montenegro Serbian border is no less than 5,6m3/s  (Hydrology station Bac Montenegro) at the elevation 820m above the sea level. Intersection of the Raska River that passes trough Novi Pazar a tributary to Ibar River in Raska town is at the elevation of 400m above the sea level.

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Figure 6. Hydro energy available from Ibar Serbian Montenegro border to Raska town

Maximum Energy output of this water volume at this difference in altitude is given in figure 6 and with the 50% of efficiency of turbines (due to the losses in water volume trough withdrawals that would be necessary), the total minimum power production outut could be 90,2 GWh/year. The power output can easily be doubled if we would use some real data or more optimistic hydrology projections if Serbia intends to use the water resource within its undisputed boundaries. To compare, hydro plant Lake of Gazivode highest power output in one year was 105 GWh.

The consequence would be that the Lake of Gazivode would have a shortage in intake for a minimum of 160 million m3 of water annually or minimum of 43% water volume in it but like the power output, figure can only be higher. Be advised that if Lake of Gazivode Reservoir drops under 200 million m3, power production would not be attainable but water use could be still available but all the projections motioned in the Kosovo options have to be revised.

Option 3 and 4
Figure 7. Options 3 and 4 ilustrations

Option 4. Serbia – Power production and reversible water supply system to Pester highlands / Likelihood – HIGH  

As stated, option 3 is an extreme speculation but plausible if the dispute Belgrade Pristina would persist in this century. One real option that is under the debate is that Serbia could offer investment concessions for small hydro plants from Bac (Montenegro border) to Ribarice (where the river meets the Lake of Gazivode). With the available elevation of 140m and 5m3/s with volume, the power output could be 6MW or 52GWh/year. However, this type of project would not have any effect on the Gazivode lake water table since hydro plants are water consumption neutral. But, consider this: -There is opportunity and knowhow (reversible system Bajna Basta and Lake of Perucac) that energy production with low capital cost power transmission lines could be used to pump some portion of water from higher elevation to town of Tutin with the construction of small balancing reservoir (similar to Mijalici Lake in option 2). This would help this district to shave the peaks in water consumption of the municipalities Tutin and Novi Pazar. That approach would reduce capital costs of power transmitting and insure power consumption to any investor. It would require some balancing water portion from upper altitude that would be pumped with the energy produced in hydro power turbines downstream. If this option would be attractive to Serbia or investors in near future, the effect for the lake of Gazivode water reserves could be significant.

Under any scenario where Serbia is deprived any rights over Lake of Gazivode, Serbia cannot be denied parental rights to use the resource on their own territory. As the result, Kosovo could lose the capacity to grow due to the shortages in water supply.

My personal opinion is that any of those options should not be in interest of Kosovo or Serbia but in the environment of Belgrade – Pristina dispute nature, one should take in to the account future uncertainty with the added issues followed by the climate change and its consequences. For this reason, all options have to be considered and none neglected.

For all presented options capital costs are significant and would not be possible without the state intervention. However, considering that the Serbia is in the control of the water source, the investment risks are marginal in Serbia while potential investor’s in Kosovo options must consider future actions of Serbia and request some risky guaranties from GoK.

Option 5 Kosovo – Serbia. Attaining sustainability / Likelihood – MUST

All examples above pose a real and a credible threat to the other party: -One player inducing the water shortage to the other and regardless to the projected benefits, I personally believe that both parties in the absence of the integrated water management would lose! Cooperation instead of control has not been exercised in this region but in this case it is necessary now more than ever. There is no better formula to compel nations and people to cooperate than by the market forces but there is a trick behind this. The shared nature of the resource (water) has to be acknowledged and in order to reconcile the interest the share distribution has to reflect the objectives:

  • Peace and stability,
  • Common interest and
  • Sustainable water use!

All this would not be possible if Serbia would not be included in the equation, in fact it is in best interest of Kosovo that Serbia would have the equal or full rights over the Lake of Gazivode.

Market forces in attaining peace, would it be even possible?

A question -What if this resource that is a potential conflict trigger could be at the same time perfect opportunity for the market base solution for reconciliation? In Lake of Gazivode issue there is a hidden value, we have a perfect allocation of resources with the single buyer and single seller. It is a rare case where market equilibrium could be exercised in service of peace. If we see it through those lenses, the agreement between Pristina and Belgrade could be acquired trough trade at the minimum political costs of all players.

Instead of the monopoly in supply and demand, let us split it and compel actors on cooperation to develop integrated water management mechanism that would not cover only water supply, but include also water quality, waste management (landfill site Mostina in Rozaje, discharge point into Ibar River basin). Opportunities are endless to use the reservoir for the recreational and agriculture use (fisheries and floating fish farms), allow construction on the lakeshore with the strict scrutiny building codes on the environmental impacts and banning/eliminating pollution discharge point sources with the technological enforcement (closed septic tanks). All this activities would generate revenues, generate profits and local and national GDP and would be a powerful force in democratic processes.

Appropriate water quotas at the appropriate price followed by the attainable goals in effluent limitation on pollution point source discharges could shift the region toward sustainable future. Invisible hand of the market could produce more efficiency and more responsible use of the resource so much needed in this region and it would be significant asset in fighting Climate Change.

Prove me wrong that the ownership of Serbians from Kosovo trough Association or the Republic of Serbia would not be beneficial to insure sustainable water supply for Kosovo future needs. I’m still looking for the opposition to my argument.

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Frozen Conflict vs. Recognition at the Market Price

There is a phenomenon like a veil that inhibits us from reaching any consensus or mutual agreement in any process related to Kosovo and Serbia. In my early professional days, one foreign official made a statement that has haunted me through to my professional maturity: Throughout history, peace in Kosovo was attained only when one group dominated the other. The “control” is a law of the land and all the fights, turmoil in northern Kosovo, KFOR, EULEX, Kosovo Police theatre performances in the north, riots, barricades and all other incidents are simply consequences of this doctrine, with the people of northern Kosovo cast in the role of experimental subjects. Even in the event that it is possible to find peers on the opposite side of the ring, those more willing to accept a different opinion, or at least accept the right of someone to hold a different opinion, any debate proves to be futile by its end.  Even if the debate might come to the shared conclusion that cooperation based on market-driven solutions would be more profitable for all parties, and a far more plausible basis for reconciliation that iron-fist control, the observation is that as soon as constructive debate ends all participants retreat back to their corners, where they would be reset to the factory default mode.

Internal dialogue launched by the President of Serbia created a competitive atmosphere among political experimentalists in Serbia, each desperately competing against the other to present the solution. The ultimate price of this competition is, what? Well, that depends on the stake, on the outcome. who is the client, or who hopes to attract which client? The correlation of opinions or propositions with the interest base is readily evident, without exception. I’m not claiming that financial capital was poured to influence the process, but the capital comes in forms other than money. In effort to be concise, in the propositions so far put forward, I find competing commitment, a lack of courage and integrity, plentiful in their eloquent expression of nothing, and a great deal of self-promotion and all agreed that frozen conflict is unattainable.

Proposals can be graded from the extremely rigid to the ambitiously creative, and have included, in various forms: the reinstitution of Serbian sovereignty in Kosovo; maintenance of the status quo / frozen conflict; the partition of Kosovo in exchange for some form of recognition; sign the comprehensive agreement and leave everything as it is. To the best of my knowledge, no one has explicitly recommended recognition of Kosovo by Serbia, or if they have this information was not released to the public. In spite of my strong personal opposition to this kind of the proposition in its raw form, if there was no discussion on this option it has to be argued that the internal dialogue is futile and meaningless and the participants are not reflecting the credible sample of opinions. A pragmatic and honest approach and, if you will, an academic rigorous approach would have to evaluate all possible alternatives, no matter how undesirable they might be. Presenting that option would inevitably redirect the course of the debate and its possible outcomes. I will elaborate on this later.

A while ago, I participated in one scenario-building panel with a diverse group of peers. Despite a few hundred years of experience in the room, it was impossible to develop a win-win scenario. Indeed, we were unable even to reach a zero-sum scenario for Kosovo-Serbia. The product of the process was a series of graded versions of possible futures, and all of them were terrible. As a Serbian from northern Kosovo, part of my personal and professional platform is to improve the livelihood of the Serbian community to a level that is comparable with that of anyone else in the region. My proposition to the scenario-building forum was made on the premise that integration of the Serbian community into the Kosovo system and structures must be a rational choice, rather than the current situation of an imposed infringement on liberties. Asking for any more provisions of concessions for the Serbian community is not a realistic option, it will be rejected on point of principle. This “red line” was evidenced repeatedly throughout the discussions. In the context of this, one participant offered a highly insightful observation: “It is strange to accept that likelihood of war is higher than the likelihood of giving the Serbs more rights and to have peace”. I take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank this person for his objective remark.

Enough about the deconstruction of people’s integrity or ideals, credibility and futility, and let us indulge ourselves by attempting to be a bit more radical.

I can summarize my reasoning for this text as follows: Hunter Thompson said in explanation of his “Hell’s Angel” book, “the people become obsolete and that the people that got affected by this are the ones least capable to understand the reason for it”. The same definition can be applied to all of us in this troubled region. I have seen the evidence of existing people on both sides that do understand the reasons but they have no voice, or their voice is compromised with the sense of “greater good”.

From my personal perspective, all possible outcomes would fall under two high likelihood alternatives.

Alternative A.

Signing a comprehensive, legally binding normalization agreement

The EU has defined this milestone requirement for Serbia’s accession to the Union, and apart from this narrow purpose the benefits to both sides are not so clear. My Albanian friend defined this agreement a while ago as “Everything-short of recognition”. At the time of his definition, this was a desirable outcome for Kosovo, but I’m not sure that today he’d be willing to stand to defend his words because he is working for the Government of Kosovo. I do not think that for Kosovo this would be sufficient since there are no incentives to give Serbia an open door toward the EU, and the timetable for this agreement is far too optimistic. Even if the agreement could be reached, my argument is that Comprehensive Agreement without recognition would merely perpetuate a mutated form of “frozen conflict”; Serbia would remain a credible threat to Kosovo statehood in the regional and international arena. Mathematically speaking:

Comprehensive, legally binding normalization agreement = Frozen Conflict

And that’s it.

My personal belief is that this course of action could pave the way for another conflict, as non-recognition, partition or other half-way options would remain a latent and permanent threat to Kosovo statehood ambitions. The “frozen conflict” would merely shift to other areas such as energy, trade, economy, environment and beneficiary use impairment of shared resources (air, water, Ibar river basin). The options are endless, restraint of populism in political discourse is not feasible in this region.

Evidence in support of this argument can be found in one of the main provisions of the Brussels Agreement, active Serbian participation in Kosovo electoral processes. Ask any MP from Kosovo Albanian parties to compare cooperativeness of Srpska Lista nowadays with SLS in the past. All answers would fall within the category of “Be Careful What You Wish For”.

To conclude, if the objective is to attain stability and peace in this region, this alternative would not work!

Alternative B.

Full recognition of Kosovo (not necessarily by Serbia)

Kosovo’s statehood ambitions face indefinite stagnation. For any motion forward for Kosovo, one of the two players would need to make a radical step:

  1. Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo would void UNSC Resolution 1244, Kosovo obtains full sovereignty.
  2. Russia and China, for their own interests, cease to oppose Kosovo’s international recognition and UN membership.

It was stated many times by the various people smarter than me, a signed Comprehensive Agreement between Belgrade and Pristina would have no weight on Russia’s or China’s geopolitical interests or their execution within the context of the UN. UN membership for Kosovo will be decided in the realm of global tradeoffs. An idealist might believe that the Kosovo supporters would come to its aid again, but the price to be paid for Russia not to wield its UNSC Veto has risen since the 1999 NATO bombing to the 2003 Iraq invasion. What is the price today when the “West World” is doing everything to isolate Russia? I’ll not be wrong if I say that all the capital of Kosovo would not be sufficient to compensate the cost.

Serbia statehood is undisputed in the world. The EU membership path being tied with the Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue is at this point the only major impairment in this process. Even with the readily apparent difficulties, it has to be conceded that in comparison with the immediate region, Serbia is doing just fine. Serbia currently has the diplomatic and political leverage to keep Kosovo at a disadvantage in any aspect of regional and international dynamics, for as long as it takes. As long there is lack of consensus within the EU concerning Kosovo, Serbia’s path toward EU membership will be slow but safe, while Kosovo’s EU membership future is questionable at best. The status quo suits Serbia far more than it suits Kosovo. The ball is currently with Kosovo and its supporters, who have need to change the game. It is for this reason that Frozen Conflict is a desirable outcome for plenty of right-wing patriots in Serbia.

But, let’s try to stay on the track here for a while. Would recognition work? It depends. In this form, with the acceptance of “reality” unlikely, the frozen conflict is much more appealing to the general public and the political leadership.

Kosovo shapes the political environment in Serbia, and has proven to be a slippery slope for many governments so far. In the next year or two, apart from the ever-present risk of “unforeseen developments” in Kosovo, whether they be new laws, trains, whatever, here are some of the more imaginable challenges:

  1. The current government in Serbia might fail, and its leading party might implode in consequence of its inability to attain some their own objectives in respect of Kosovo status.
  2. Any more dialogue concessions to Kosovo without benefits for Serbia could bring the same result.
  3. Opposition voices could reconcile the diverse interest to develop a coherent and united political opposition, with focus on the interest of to target the leading party on constitutional change that is in the agenda of this government. The consequence of the failure to deliver the constitutional change would redefine the political environment in Serbia.

To overcome this conundrum, I have to assume that it was the intention of the President of Serbia, in calling for internal dialogue, to seek the answer to the following question: At what price would recognition of Kosovo would be acceptable?

Let me be clear about something: -I am not recommending recognition and I’m not saying that the President of Serbia has that objective. I’m merely proposing the discussion, seeking to identify the limits of possibility, with the objective of peace and stability, that is without doubt the objective of this generation of national and regional leaders.

In Alternative B. Serbia has the leverage to control (or at least shape) Kosovo’s future. Other players would state their claims but they would not suffer or benefit much from the outcome. It is Belgrade and Pristina that will feel the benefit and/or suffering, since our joint destination is clear. Instead of paying fees to middleman we should try to exercise direct cooperation to maximize benefit and minimize suffering. If the cooperative model is accepted, we will need to answer a single question:

WHAT ARE SERBIA AND KOSOVO WILLING TO TRADE IN ORDER TO SETTLE THE DISPUTE?

If Serbia would set its course of action toward this question, it would gain an initiative that could not be ignored domestically or internationally. Kosovo has even stronger incentives to resolve the dispute, and should embrace the initiative, because from Kosovo perspective the current tactics have not worked.

I believe that the answer to this question is the answer to all of our current problems, and it might be property, it might be territory, it might be resources, it might be more prerogatives and rights for Serbians in Kosovo (I personally favor this), it might be cultural heritage preservation, it might be exchange of territory, it might be the partition, it might be anything we agreed on, I don’t know, but I do know that it cannot be that which already is.

Why can it not be that which we currently have? As the Serbian from the north I know well about this. Nearly 20 years of Albanian domination in Kosovo offers nothing good for the Serbians, and not even much for the Albanians. We are living in the intervals between the incidents and our life is shaped by them. Recent events, including the theatrical arrest of Marko Djuric, once again proved that Kosovo society is unable or unwilling to protect civil rights, even for government officials. A few isolated voices have condemned the use of unnecessary force and the degrading parade of the arrested Djuric, but in general there has been no clear articulation of the obvious: this is wrong! In the same week, the incident with Gulenists cause public unrest and strong political comment. The message to Kosovo Serbs is clear: even Turks, foreigners in Kosovo, should enjoy some fundamental rights, which Serbs should not.

I’ve spoken at the “grownups” table a long time ago, and heard what they had to say, and it is incidents like this one, large-scale, small-scale, one-off or daily, that will eventually lead to the drawing of a line along the Ibar River, and that it will not be possible to place the blame solely upon the Serbs..

The moment is ripe and there is an excellent opportunity for greater community engagement with the recently published EU Calls for proposal – EU Facilitated Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina with the minor eligibility criteria’s adjustment: The facilitation ultimate virtue must be courage, integrity, large outreach capacities and grassroots action but it must have local ownership – no outsourcing. As a non-governmental veteran from northern Kosovo, I do not see those qualities in our civil society nowadays. Which brings us full circle to my opening argument, once the nice safe-space discussion is over, all parties retreat to their corners for reset to factory default? If I were writing this ten years ago, I would propose that national televisions would link Belgrade and Pristina, to ensure wider outreach. But today, sorry, I have no proposal.

To conclude this piece with an economics analogy: in any alternative where trends would be managed by the mutated form of frozen conflict, the market price for the peace can be expected to grow. For this reason, it is logical to seek a solution that would acquire the peace at the reasonable market price now.

 

Proposition for the Election Reform in Kosovo – Affirmative Voting System

2015-11-09 11.08.24Kosovo election reforms have been, for a long time, in the state of stagnation without any progress attained to the date. The focus and the main reason for the higher demand for the reform both by the local actors and as well international community is that the current electoral system is fraudulent. This paper would not get deep into the mainstream aspects of the electoral reform in Kosovo. This paper will only tackle the one aspect that is debated the least, the – election of President of Kosovo.

Kosovo Constitution is clear on the presidential electoral system – Kosovo President is elected by the Assembly members (Ch.V Art. 83). The practice of this system has exposed a number of inefficiencies since Kosovo’s constitution declaration. The political and constitutional deadlock after the parliamentary election in 2014 has, to the full extent, exposed how this system could create confusion. For some time, the only legitimate authority in Kosovo was the President of Kosovo and she was a mere appointee elected in the most controversial circumstances without any individual political capital or the legitimacy of power assigned by the people of Kosovo.

In the direct communication with political or civil groups from Kosovo, the author of this proposal heard no argument against the proposition that the President of Kosovo should be directly elected. At the same time the same individuals were reluctant to include this aspect in the ongoing electoral reform debate because of a number of reasons, the most prominent of them being the fact that the President of Kosovo has few powers that can be abused and so the risk or gains in this aspect are narrow. Would the constitutional deadlock in 2014 have been politically volatile as it was if the President of Kosovo were elected directly? I argue not.

The Constitution of Kosovo designates powers and responsibilities to the President and one on the most distinguished ones came from the Ahtisaari Plan(Ch.V Art. 83) stating: The President is the head of the state and represents the unity of the people of the Republic of Kosovo. As a Serbian from Kosovo I have not enjoyed or sean the evidence that the president exercised its power in the interest of my people. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of the opposite cases. The President of Kosovo is not immune to the majority opinion/value system otherwise, he/she would jeopardize its position. Naturally, under these circumstances the President would behave as the servant of the majority opinion in full duration if the mandate.

My prime objective in developing this proposal was the question and the argument I presented in Belgrade Security Forum in 2015: How to convince the Albanian majority to see the minorities as the asset rather than as nuisance?

Before I present my proposition, let me make following statements:

  1. There is a critical mass in Kosovo demanding the direct election of the President of Kosovo.
  2. Political culture and discourse is volatile, nationalistic, entrenched in ethnic and sectarian divisions (KIPRED 2005).

It is safe to say that the statement 1. is false (but could easily become true) and that the statement 2. is true and the most critical aspect which impairs the minority integration processes in Kosovo. To elaborate the proposal, let us assume for a moment that both statements are true. Let us assume that the direct elections are desired by the Kosovo majority as anecessary tool in building Kosovo’s democracy.

Contrary to the majority’s point of view, the minorities in Kosovo have no interest to support this reform for the following reasons:

  1. The reforms would require constitutional changes that would increase the possibility ant therefore the fear for losing other rights and privileges derived from the Ahtisaari plan.
  2. There are no motives or incentives for the successful participation of minorities in such elections because they would not bear weight in the current electoral system.

According to the census, Kosovo minorities’ political influence amounts to little more than 5% of the population (census boycotting in the north, and to some extent, in the south are adding some confusion to this). Even if it were up to 10%, it is fair to say that the Kosovo demographic would, in this case, be a primary de-motivator for the participation in the process of the election of the President of Kosovo. Could this be changed? Here is what I came up with:

DEVELOP A DIRECT PRESIDENT ELECTION PROCESS IN KOSOVO WITH THE SEPARATE BALLOTS FOR THE REGISTERED MINORITY CONSTITUENCY WITH THE OPTION TO VOTE EIDER YES OR NO FOR ANY OF THE CANDIDATES.

Let me elaborate: Imagine that the less than 10% of the minorities would have discretion to choose between two candidates and the choice can be eider to support one candidate or to vote against one candidate. The vote weight is either +1 or–1 and the basic democratic principle One Man-One Vote is not compromised. The elected candidate would be the one with the absolute value of the votes. Example:

Candidate A got 99 votes and 4 negative votes. Candidate B got 96 votes and no negative votes.Candidate B would win the election with the 96 vs. 95 vote majority.

My hypothesis on this scheme and objective is that the negative vote margin would correct and punish the negative nationalistic discourse and change political culture in Kosovo in a single stroke. Let’s call this AVS (affirmative voting system).

What this system could change:

  • Option of the AVS would add the weight to the minorities’ votes in Presidential elections and create motivating factor for the minorities to participate in the process.
  • Demographic percentage of minorities is perfect as it can represent a winning margin for the presidency.
  • AVS would initiate the change in the communication and outreach activities of the majority leaders toward the minorities
  • The Scheme could drive forward the change of political culture, leadership behavior, and communication culture of the majority toward the minority.
  • Kosovo’s right wing political option’s uprising trend on nationalism would be seized and marginalized.
  • Direct election could induce more powers to the President thus more scrutiny by the public which would supportthe democratization processes in Kosovo including the positive change in Kosovo Parliament.

Why it can work?

First and foremost, the figures behind the demographics are compelling. The interests of the Albanian majority group in Kosovo would not be compromised if the public choice is to develop and make apositive change. The burden would lay heavier on the right wing radical political groups which in the Balkan environment  pose a threat to the peace and stability.

If the majority (since they are the only ones who can enact this legislative act) would embrace this option as such, it would show the highest level of maturity and prove that they are committed in building unity around the highest representative figure -The President of Kosovo, enabling him/her to, in the full meaning of the word, to act as THE HEAD OF STATE AND REPRESENT THE UNITY OF THE PEOPLE OF THE REPUBLIC OF KOSOVO. Alternative to this optionis what we have today.

Allow me to contradict myself and state my biggest fear. A high turnout of negative voting can create animosity toward the minorities thus the ethnic turmoil could be expected but, in the long run, and if enacted properly with the support of the civil sector and the largest possible consensus, the democratic processes would lead to the decreased use of the discretion rights to vote “No”. Once the full inclusion of the minorities is attained and Kosovo becomes a truly multiethnic society, the scheme can be abandoned with the full consensus.

To the date I have not found a case point to cover this proposition and in all honesty I’ve not investigated in details but only hypothesized the option. More elements are explored in the game theory exercises: disapproving vote, strategic voting, coomb’s method, ranked voting or similar.

Not quite similar but with the same controversy, the case of Presidential Election system in USA could be taken as an example. The presumption that the people vote the president is false. The US President is elected by the people, but trough the Electoral College. In the US election in 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by the 540.000 people over George W. Bush and still, he was not elected as President of the US. I believe that Kosovo can allow itself to be creative to resolve some severe issues that pose threat to its stability and growth.

I admit that if one should propose this to the political parties I would expect to see so much solid opposition that it would smash the wall. To be honest, at first, the idea sounded surreal to me too, however, at the same time, the composition of the demographics in Kosovo and the commitment in building a multiethnic society make me a believer that this could help bring about the change that is necessary in Kosovo.

The sole purpose of this proposition is to induce the debate and dialog on how to find the motivating factor for all ethnic groups to be a part of the system, to induce the change or create suitable leadership behavior that would cater to the needs of all people in Kosovo.