The Visitor Who Brought the Message

His last meeting with Slobodan Milošević, the third in three days, was a complete fiasco. A special US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, therefore, immediately left Belgrade on that March day of 1999. His departure was confirmed by Bill Clinton’s cautious comment delivered only a few months earlier, that the promises were not actions and that the cemeteries were filled with empty Milošević’s promises. Specifically, the US president did not fully trust his envoy for the Balkans, who told him in the first days of October 1998 that he, together with the Serbian president, reached an agreement that he could not achieve before. Milošević, Holbrooke reported, allegedly agreed to end the offensive in Kosovo, he withdrew most of the Serbian army and the secret police, allowed the arrival of international observers to the province and enabled the return of refugees to their homes. However, part of their agreement, which also mentioned the territorial integrity of the then Yugoslavia, also envisioned that Kosovo would have its own government and police. Milošević needed the agreement with Holbrooke in October 1998 in order to announce to the citizens that the danger of military intervention over Serbia no longer existed, as he allegedly achieved a good deal with the influential and decisive US policy.

A month later, the agreement, though appropriately processed, was publicly announced. The complete version was first published by Kosovo publicist and later politician Veton Suroi in his Pristina newspaper Koha Ditore. The first ones who received the entire text in Belgrade for reading were senior officials of the secret service. One of them, influential Zoran Mijatović, later explained and then described in his memoir book, Testimony from the Top of the State Security, that they saw then for the first time that the Agreement also spoke about the basis of an independent Kosovo, the structure of the parliament, the president, the independent judiciary and education.

In March 1999, Milošević forgot most of the agreed points.
Holbrooke’s sudden departure from Belgrade could not remain unanswered. Ambassadors of European countries in the Serbian capital began to clean their residences, embassies to destroy confidential materials and disable complicated technical equipment.

It was just one of those March days when Dr Janez Drnovšek invited me to ask me to immediately drive to the Brnik Airport and receive there the Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Montenegro, Vukašin Maraš. To be more specific, the Slovenian intelligence service enabled him to fly to London for a meeting over Ljubljana. This meant that the announcement of the destination of the flight of the Montenegrin government plane for the Yugoslav authorities was Ljubljana and that the continuation of the trip remained hidden. With Maras, a gentleman who knew a lot, we talked after his arrival from London back to Ljubljana. His estimates, at least in one part, completely surprised me. Of course, we knew that NATO’s action plan for attacks on Yugoslavia was active, we were relatively well acquainted with the contents of the Pentagon meeting of US Secretary of Defence William Cohen and Javier Solana on March 15, 1999. Nevertheless, Maraš’s assessment was completely specific. And that’s precisely what surprised me. No, he told me, they will not only bomb military targets, it is obvious that their intention is to destroy important civilian targets.

A week later, the bombing really started. Maraš’s assessments and announcements were quite correct. The cost of Milošević’s playing of an unskilled man was high. After his arrest and extradition to the international tribunal in The Hague, the issue of relations between Serbia and Kosovo began to be resolved again. Perhaps the most consistent and determinate with the plan of the Serbian Prime Minister Dr Zoran Đinđić, which has remained preserved in his notes under the simplest possible title, the Strategy for Kosovo.
Đinđić knew that a democratic Serbia must seek a decision on Kosovo, because it will be forced, so he wrote in January 2003, to finally define the state interests in Kosovo as a government. His assessment was that, in accordance with UNSCR 1244, the right for return a part of the military and police contingent to the province should be demanded. Then to start a discussion about the constitutionality of the Serbian community, which should have its institutions through which it will fulfil its interests. However, if Kosovo insists and wants to declare independence, then we will have to, Đinđic wrote, seek a territorial division, good international guarantees for the Serbs who remain in the Albanian part, and a special status of religious facilities. Soon afterwards Đinđić was killed in front of his office’s door.

Boris Tadić, the president of Serbia, established at the end of 2011 a four-point proposal with which the technical negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina should have begun. The current president, Aleksandar Vučić, has signed a number of important partial agreements as part of the talks on the Belgrade-Brussels- Priština line.

In the first days of this week, in March 2018, Belgrade, and a day before Priština, was visited by a senior official of the US Department of Foreign Affairs in charge of Europe and Eurasia, Wes Mitchell.
Perhaps the least perceptive, but politically most important was his announcement that America will again play a more active role in the coming period. Perhaps my assessment is too fast, also because I do not personally know Mitchel, but at least in one thing he seemed like Holbrooke. He is more technician and diplomat than a politician.
He knows what is the goal he has to achieve. That is precisely why he repeated three primary obligations to his highest political interlocutors.
First, the general, that both Belgrade and Priština must fulfil all signed and agreed obligations and to continue talks.
Also the other two, not very easy to accept. The first one was immediately confirmed in Priština. That the US administration will continue to support the transformation of Kosovo security forces into a professional army, because Kosovo has the right to form a security force that will include Kosovo Serbs. In relation to this, he did not forget to mention, and they did not really appreciate this in Priština, that their task would also be to immediately pass the agreement on the demarcation of the border with Montenegro and start the operation of the special war crimes court for the war crimes in the province after 1999. The next obligation that Mitchell spoke of will also be final. That the Kosovo Serbs have the right to form a special alliance of Serb municipalities with broad administrative powers.

The step from Holbrooke to Mitchell has been a long one. However, this step is nevertheless indicative of the goal Vučić called a compromise that would be difficult.

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