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Project on Ethnic Relations PER Logo

New York City
April 7-9, 1997


Serbs and Albanians are locked in a dangerous interethnic struggle over thefuture of Kosovo (or Kosova, as Albanians prefer to call it, or Kosovo andMetohija, as Serbs refer to it). Both claim the region, which is currently apart of Serbia, as their birthright. Serbs insist that Kosovo is the cradleof their nation, inseparable from Serbia. Albanians, who now constitute morethan 90 per cent of the population in Kosovo, demand territorialindependence. The dispute not only threatens to erupt in open hostilitiesbetween Serbs and Albanians but may yet involve other countries in theBalkans as well.

The depth of the differences over Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians isreflected in the almost total absence of any face-to-face discussions ornegotiations between their leaders during the many years since the disputebegan. The meeting reported here, which took place in New York City in April1997, was arranged only after several years of efforts by the Project onEthnic Relations (PER) to bring the disputants to the table. Even thisaccomplishment was tempered by the fact that representatives of the rulingSerbian Socialist Party (SPS) declined at the last minute to join thediscussions, although its junior coalition partner, the New Democracy Party,was represented by its president. (SPS conditioned its participation on thewillingness of U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright to personallyreceive an SPS leader for an official visit on the eve of the PER meeting,as she had met the leaders of the opposition coalition Zajedno. SPS wasoffered other high-level appointments, but not with the secretary, and itthus declined to send representatives to the PER meeting.)

The New York meeting was a major topic in the Serb and Kosovar Albanianmedia for several weeks before and after the event, and it was the subjectof intense speculation, including a rumor that, because of the presence ofhigh U.S. officials, an American formula or "diktat" was to be revealed tothe participants at the meeting. U.S. officials did indeed take part, butonly as observers and as supporters of the effort to open a dialogue inwhich the sides could begin the difficult process of finding their own,mutually agreeable, answers. It is a measure of the long road ahead that theinitial impulse of the Serb and Albanian publics was to suppose that only anoutside power could resolve their difficulties. PER's insistence that theactual purpose of the meeting was to give the principals a chance to devisetheir own solutions and to deal with one another directly was met withskepticism.

The question of Kosovo is of course greatly complicated by the politicalcontext in which it is being played out: the breakup of Yugoslavia, the warin Bosnia, instability in neighboring Albania and Macedonia, and thecollapse of the democratic opposition in Serbia (confirmed by the conductand results of the September 1997 elections). However, even under lessgloomy circumstances, the head-on collision of two contradictoryprinciples--the preservation of international borders and the concept ofself-determination--guarantees that there will be no easy way out. Indeed,as the reader of this report will see, a good deal of the discussion anddebate that took place in New York revolved around arguments about which ofthese principles should prevail in the case of Kosovo.

To be sure, the international community, including the United States, hasfor the time being taken the position that the Kosovo problem ought to beresolved by means of some formula (various forms of autonomy have beensuggested) that would not lead to changes in the external borders ofYugoslavia. However, the Albanians have repeatedly rejected this position,and did so again in the New York meeting, appealing rather to the principleof self-determination, which they claim had been applied to others when theformer Yugoslavia disintegrated. The seeming impasse grows out of theentrenched attitudes of both sides, but it is exacerbated by genuineconfusion in the international community and the inconsistency of pastpractice in the application of these principles. All of this is reflected inthe tersely written summary of the discussions that took place at the NewYork meeting, which is the subject matter of this report.

For all that, the discussions did show that even when the most bitteropponents finally come to the table, the results can be salutary--as we seefrom their joint declarations at the conclusion of the meeting. We are nowin a race with time to see whether the mounting tensions in Kosovo willerupt into full-scale violence before the tiny and fragile seeds ofcompromise, the kind planted at the New York discussions, can mature. PERremains at the disposal of the parties.

A great debt is owed to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, not only forencouraging and supporting PER's overall efforts, but also for itsgenerosity in offering its quarters and logistical support for this meeting.The hospitable, caring, and efficient atmosphere at Carnegie was aninspiration to all of the participants. We also record with pleasure ourgratitude to Fulvio Dobrich, chairman of the U.S.-Southeastern EuropeBusiness Council, for his generosity in hosting a reception for theparticipants. PER Program, Officer Aleksey N. Grigor'ev, made indispensablecontributions to the complex preparations for the meeting and to itsorganization.

This report has been prepared by Professor Steven Burg of BrandeisUniversity and was edited by Robert A. Feldmesser, PER's senior editor.Participants did not have an opportunity to review the text beforepublication, for which PER assumes full responsibility.

Allen H. Kassof, President
Livia B. Plaks, Executive Director

Princeton, New Jersey
October 1997


In April 1997, the Project on Ethnic Relations brought leaders of politicalparties from Serbia and Kosovo to New York for a discussion of issuesconcerning the future status of Kosovo. The participants from Serbia werethe president of the New Democracy Party, a junior partner in the governingcoalition, and senior officials of the major parliamentary oppositionparties. The chief party in the governing coalition, the Socialist Party ofSerbia, was invited to send representatives but did not do so.

The participants from Kosovo were senior officials of the Democratic Leagueof Kosova, the Parliamentary Party of Kosova, and the Christian DemocraticParty of Kosova. (The spelling "Kosovo" is used in English and Serbian andwill be generally used in this report; however, the spelling "Kosova" isused in Albanian and, in deference to the wish of speakers of Albanian atthe meeting, will be employed here when the reference is to such a speaker.The term "Kosovar" is used as an adjective for both Kosovo and Kosova andalso as a noun to denote the Albanian inhabitants of the region.)

Several Americans with academic and professional interests in the formerYugoslavia or in the resolution of ethnic conflicts also participated, andrepresentatives of the United States Department of State attended asobservers. These observers pointed out that the U.S. does not recognize theindependence of Kosovo and encourages all parties to find a mutuallysatisfactory solution within the existing borders of Serbia-Montenegro, butthey did not otherwise take an active part in the discussions.

Most of the discussion took place in the Serbian language, though someparticipants spoke in English; simultaneous Serbian-English andEnglish-Serbian translation was available to all participants. Someparticipants spoke in Albanian, which was translated into English. (Thesensitivity of the language issue was reflected in the opening statement ofone Albanian participant, who declared, "I will speak in Serbian in order tobe understood, so long as I am not pressured to do so.")

The Context

This meeting took place in the wake of several political developments thatwere important to the region. One of these, perhaps the most important, wasthe signing of the Dayton agreements in December 1995, followed by thedeployment of NATO troops in the region. Another was the conclusion, inSeptember 1996, of an agreement between the Serbian president, SlobodanMilosevic, and the president of the Democratic League of Kosova, IbrahimRugova, aimed at resolving the dispute over schools that had led to aboycott by Albanians of the state-run schools in Kosovo. (When Albaniansdeveloped an independent curriculum and established a separate educationalsystem, the Serbs insisted on the reintegration of Albanian students intothe national educational program as defined by the Serbian Ministry ofEducation and barred the Albanians from school buildings unless they hadagreed to the official curriculum.) This agreement raised hopes for furthernegotiations between the two sides, perhaps culminating in a peacefulresolution of other conflicts over Kosovo. However, the agreement remains tobe implemented.

A third development was the mass demonstrations in Belgrade and other citiesprovoked by the Serbian government's manipulation of the November 1996 localelections. The demonstrations lasted for three months, ending withsignificant concessions by President Milosevic; they enhanced the role ofdemocratic opposition leaders and increased the potential importance ofKosovar political forces in Serbian politics.

The last of these developments was the collapse of political authority inneighboring Albania--and the subsequent dispersal of large quantities ofweapons to the civilian population--during the weeks preceding the New Yorkmeeting. Albania had been the strongest external supporter of the KosovarAlbanians. This turn of events, and the prospect that arms might beginflowing across the border into Kosovo, increased the urgency of finding aresolution of the disputes over the status of the region.

Summary of Discussions

The New York meeting was intended to focus on principles that might allowthe Kosovars and the Serbs to enter into negotiations, rather than on thesubstance of the issues dividing them. However, despite serious efforts byall participants to achieve tangible results, it proved difficult to discussprinciples without getting into substantive issues. Indeed, the proceedingswere punctuated by the insistence of some on recounting historicalgrievances or claims, by disagreements over various matters, and byarguments over the desired outcomes of any negotiations. There were alsooccasional outbursts by participants that reflected the emotional depth ofthe issues and the frankness with which they were discussed.

Both Serbian and Kosovar participants criticized the governing SocialistParty of Serbia for refusing to participate in the meeting. Albanianparticipants challenged the participants from the Serbian opposition todeclare their opposition to the government's actions in Kosovo. The Serbianparticipants expressed views that were clearly at odds with those of thegovernment and they refused to accept responsibility for the government'sactions, but they insisted that they could not negotiate with Kosovarleaders. As one opposition member said in his opening statement, "We are nothere to negotiate. That is not our responsibility, and we are notauthorized. We are here as opposition."

The opening statements of some of the Serbian participants did articulate anumber of principles for discussion. One stressed human rights,self-determination, the role of the international community, and the need toresolve constitutional questions. He spoke of the need for"compromise-oriented dialogues" that would produce "a solution more or lessacceptable to everyone." Another Serb stated that a resolution of thedisputes was possible only on a democratic basis and that this required ademocratic Serbia. But he also argued for a particular substantive result byinsisting that, while Kosovo should be granted "complete territorialautonomy," it must remain part of Serbia. An ethnic basis for sovereignty,he declared, was a contradiction of democratic principles. He pointed to theUnited States as "a model for us--all different peoples accepting the samestate." This participant called upon the Kosovar Albanians to "participatein elections--local, republic, and especially federal--in order to helpcreate a democratic Serbia/Yugoslavia."

However, the continuation of Kosovo as part of Serbia was explicitlyrejected by several Albanian participants. One argued that "Albanians arenot a national minority, and one cannot apply European standards of'minority rights' to them. No solution is possible based on autonomy withinSerbia; that would be a continuation of slavery, which sooner or later wouldresult in a bigger tragedy than Bosnia." Another seconded this view and saidthat the right of self-determination required recognition of the will of theAlbanian people in Kosova to have an independent republic. But, he added,"it is still possible to begin a process leading to a peaceful solution."

Another Albanian participant pointed out that the Kosovars' struggle hadbeen conducted peacefully despite "our clear negative response to theSerbian regime" and that their refusal to engage in violent measures had"made dialogue possible."

Still another Albanian participant rejected the U.S. model that had beenproposed by a Serbian participant. The United States, he said, was "animmigrant society," whereas "Albanians have always been in their ownterritory." Albanians, he continued, "sooner or later must have their ownstate," and it was not their responsibility to democratize Serbia.

A Serbian participant responded by saying that the Albanian participant"shows no concern for the other side, the Serbian side.... He wants Serbs tobe concerned about Albanians, but both sides have to be concerned about bothsides." This participant insisted that "existing borders must be retained,and we must make the best solutions within them," though, he added, that mayhave to be done in stages, over a long period of time.

An Albanian participant returned to the subject of what he called the"Wilsonian right to self-determination," and he expressed the belief that"if there would be goodwill on the Serbian side, with support from a third,international party ... the settlement of the Kosova issue seemsachievable." It was not sufficient, he said, to speak about human rights;"collective national rights must also be addressed." He, too, repudiated theidea that Kosovars should take action toward the democratization of Serbia,though he acknowledged that "a democratic Serbia is in our interest" andindeed that "the correct, just position of Serbia toward Kosova is a testfor a democratic Serbia." In his view, the Kosovar leadership had alreadyoffered a proper solution: "Kosova joining Albania in a national state withall other Albanian territories."

This brought the response from a Serbian participant that "dialogue andcompromise presuppose that both sides abandon their maximalist positions."He proposed that a process of negotiation be begun that would involveadditional meetings between the two sides, including representatives of thegoverning party in Serbia. Another Serb made a plea for "mutual help,"arguing that "we have to find a means by which Kosovar Albanians can havetheir own state and Serbs can have their own state."

Another focus of discussion was the role of Kosovar Albanians in thepolitical life of Serbia. One Serbian participant urged the Albanians totake an active part, because, he said, "if Serbia democratizes throughaction by the Serbs alone, the position of the Albanians will be weakened."Another declared that "self-determination is the right of people to choosetheir own government, not necessarily to have their own state." Serbia, hewent on, should confer on Kosovo "all human rights and constitutionalrights." And another suggested that, in return for Albanian participation inSerbian elections, "all national cultural institutions of the Albanians"should be restored, and that there be "Serb-Albanian cooperation in policeand the judiciary in order to guarantee rights." Furthermore, theparticipant proposed that Serbia be decentralized, meaning that, among otherthings, there would be "realistic and wider authorization of the provincial[i.e., Kosovar] parliament, authorization that exceeds simple autonomy,although the word 'autonomy' has to be retained in order to retain popularsupport in Serbia." The participant added that "the international communitysupports the borders of Yugoslavia and calls for autonomy for Kosovo withinit."

An Albanian participant supported this point of view. He said that all couldagree on full and immediate respect for human rights and on the return tomajority rule in Kosova. The problem now, he added, "is how to enable themajority of the population to rule itself." Other members of the Albaniandelegation, however, were less willing to proceed on those premises. "Wehave tried all forms of autonomy," one declared. "Autonomy is no longeracceptable to the Albanians. The central question is the question of power.If you want trust between people, you cannot offer us what Tito offered us.Mankind has not developed anything better than the state as a means by whichto secure self-development. Albanians must be accepted as independentsubjects and as equals before entering into discussions of the nature of thestate." Several of these participants firmly rejected any solution in whichKosovo would remain part of Serbia or of the Yugoslav federation. In thewords of one, "Kosova as a republic [in a Yugoslav federation] is not acompromise."

A Serb participant took a different tack by stating, "We are not againstyour state, but it is not a realistic option now. An independent republicwould lead to destabilization." He seemed to be implying that the Serbianopposition could not be expected to express open sympathy for Kosovo so longas such an expression would not bring electoral support. An Albanianparticipant then asked, perhaps replying to this implication, "What do theSerbs ask of us?" This may have been an invitation to discuss the specificsof political cooperation between the Kosovar leadership and the Serbianopposition, but such a discussion did not materialize.

Instead, the discussion turned back toward the outcomes of negotiations,when a member of the Kosovar delegation insisted that the Serbian oppositionhad to support independence for Kosova if the Albanians were to have any"confidence" in them. After all, he pointed out, "Serbia rejected aconfederal solution when Slovenia and Croatia proposed it." But a Serbianparticipant argued in favor of autonomy for Kosovo by arguing that "we havenot tried democratic autonomy, which is not the same as Communist'autonomy,'" and he pointed to South Tyrol as a possible model for Kosovo.Another Serb supported this point, saying that "no one wants domination orthe maintenance of oppression."

An Albanian participant objected to any discussion of the specifics ofKosova's status by making this analogy: "Prisoners may be entrusted toimprove their own conditions, but they are still in prison." This ledanother Albanian participant to declare that Kosova was indeed "a prison,"and he went on to say that "the Serbs want to oppress. They voted four timesfor Milosevic. Every Serb believes Kosova is Serbia.... We do not want todeal with cosmetics. We want to deal with the question of whether theAlbanian nation is equal to the Serbian nation." He insisted that theSerbian opposition leaders must say this openly; otherwise, "democratization... is a path to continued domination."

Seeking to calm the emotions aroused by that declaration, another Albanianparticipant observed that "under democratic conditions, both nations candecide their own fate.... Is there a need for an interim agreement? If so,what should it look like?" And another Albanian participant seemed to offera basis for negotiations when he said that they should take place withoutany assumption that Kosova would either remain part of Serbia or becomeindependent.

Nevertheless, a Serb participant, though saying "we are eager to solveproblems," reiterated the position that "we cannot accept any change in theterritory or sovereignty of Yugoslavia." On the other hand, one Serbparticipant who had consistently maintained that Kosovo was a part of Serbianow said that Serbs could not be asked to change the country's borders "inadvance of discussions." Another Serb spoke of a "step-by-step formula,"consisting of confidence-building measures and resolutions of specificissues, leading eventually to a solution of the dispute over Kosovo'sstatus. Still another suggested that the agreement between Milosevic andRugova about schools amounted to "de facto recognition of Rugova as leaderof Kosova," implying that Kosovo had already achieved equal status.

An Albanian participant said that "if supporting Kosovar aspirations ispolitically impossible for the Serbian opposition, then a coalitiongovernment would be impossible and a solution would be impossible. Thereforethe whole approach is wrong." Another said that Serbian insistence thatKosovo is part of Serbia "makes negotiations, let alone agreement,impossible." He also emphasized the difficulty for Kosovar leaders ofentering into any agreements on specifics in the absence of agreement on thelarger issue. "Respect for human rights is irrelevant to, completelyseparate from, the question of whether Kosova will remain part of Serbia orseparate from it."

Several Albanian participants expressed their objection to any action thatwould "legitimate" Serbian rule over Kosovo. One pointed out that, forexample, this was the explanation for Kosovars' refusal to participate inSerbian elections.

Serbian participants suggested that restoration of the constitutional statusof Kosovo prior to the changes of the late 1980s and 1990s might allow someprogress. But an Albanian participant replied that the "pre-1990arrangements depended on the existence of Yugoslavia. Since that state hasdisappeared, that constitutional system is no longer valid."


Toward the end of the meeting, an Albanian participant set forth severalpoints that he thought all participants might be able to agree on. Thesewere:

  1. Kosova is a problem, and it must be solved.
  2. The solution must be reached democratically, peacefully, and on the basisof mutual respect.
  3. All possible outcomes should be allowed for.
  4. Kosovar institutions should be transformed in the direction of democracy.
  5. The principle of territorial integrity should be respected.
  6. A dialogue should be commenced looking toward negotiations on a permanentstatus for a democratic Kosova and a democratic Serbia, with the help of athird party.

One Albanian participant and one Serbian participant were asked by theothers to draft a set of "jointly agreed positions," and they did so, on thebasis of the six points above. The draft was then made the subject ofintensive discussion among all the participants, particularly concerning therole of other countries in achieving a solution and the implication of thepositions for whatever borders might be set. In the end, the participantswere able to agree on a document containing three points.

With somewhat less difficulty, the participants also reached agreement on aconcluding statement, which included a call to "reconvene the roundtable assoon as possible" and which urged the Socialist Party of Serbia toparticipate in future sessions. Both this "Concluding Statement" and the"Jointly Agreed Positions" are appended to this report.


Jointly Agreed Positions

  1. Kosovo constitutes a serious problem that requires an urgent solution. Without international encouragement and assistance the current lack of confidence between the sides cannot be overcome or a lasting settlement reached.
  2. The problem can only be resolved by mutual accord reached through dialogue that is entered into with no preconditions or prejudgment of possible outcomes.
  3. The agreement must be based on the principles of democratization, mutual respect between the sides, respect for human rights, both individual and collective, and promotion of regional stability through respect for Helsinki principles concerning borders. An interim solution requires a democratic Kosovo and a democratic Serbia.

Concluding Statement

On April 7-9 1997, leading Serbian and Kosovar Albanian political figuresmet in New York City to continue the roundtable discussions of Serb-Albanianrelations and the issues of mutual concern over Kosovo.

The participants included, from Belgrade: Vuk Draskovic, President, SerbianRenewal Movement; Dusan Janjic, Coordinator, Forum for Ethnic Relations;Miroljub Labus, Vice-President, Democratic Party; Dragoljub Micunovic,President, Party of Democratic Center; Dusan Mihajlovic, President, NewDemocracy Party; Vesna Pesic, President, Civic Alliance of Serbia; fromPristina: Fehmi Agani, Vice-President, Democratic League of Kosova; MahmutBakalli, former political leader of Kosova; Adem Demaci, President,Parliamentary Party of Kosova; Hydajet Hyseni, Vice-President, DemocraticLeague of Kosova; Abdullah Karjagdiu, Vice-President, Parliamentary Party ofKosova; Mark Krasniqi, President, Christian Democratic Party of Kosova;Veton Surroi, Editor-in-Chief, Koha. Representatives of the Socialist Partyof Serbia were invited, but did not attend.

The first roundtable "Democratic Processes and Ethnic Relations inYugoslavia" was held in Belgrade in June 1995. At that meeting the SocialistParty of Serbia proposed to begin serious discussions towards seeking asolution to the problems in Serb-Albanian relations. The most importantresult of the first roundtable was the support of this initiative by theDemocratic League of Kosova.

A number of political events in Serbia/Yugoslavia delayed the resumption ofthe discussions. Finally the participants agreed to convene the secondroundtable early in 1997, this time in New York City. The meeting wassponsored by the Project on Ethnic Relations.

The participants engaged in intensive discussions and exchange of views.Several common points emerged at the meeting.

The participants agreed to meet on a regular basis, and plan to reconvenethe roundtable as soon as possible in Belgrade, Prishtina, and othersuitable locations. The next session will be organized by the Project onEthnic Relations (USA) in cooperation with the Forum for Ethnic Relationsand the Democratic Center Foundation (Yugoslavia).

Accepting the fact that this is a difficult process, the participants urgethat a step-by-step approach aimed at facilitating the beginnings ofpolitical negotiations on the full range of issues be initiated withoutfurther delay. Participants realize their responsibility for the future ofthe Balkans, Yugoslavia, and Kosovo. The participants reconfirm theircommitment to the peaceful resolution of all disputes.

The Socialist Party, as the current ruling party in Serbia, has a specialresponsibility for promoting the democratic and peaceful resolution ofproblems in Kosovo. Therefore, the participants urge the Socialist Party ofSerbia, which participated in the first roundtable and suggested that therebe a second one, to participate in the future work of the roundtable.

The only possible framework for discussions of such issues must bedemocratization, mutual respect between the sides, respect for human rights,both individual and collective, and promotion of regional stability.

The participants are grateful to the Project on Ethnic Relations and otherAmerican institutions for their continuing support in promoting dialogue onthis issue and democratization in the region, and hope for similar supportfrom European institutions and organizations. However, all parties recognizethat solutions must be reached by the Serbian and Kosovar Albanian politicalactors themselves.


From Belgrade:

Ivan Djordjevic, Chief of Staff, New Democracy Party

Vuk Draskovic, President, Serbian Renewal Movement

Dusan Janjic, Coordinator, Forum for Ethnic Relations

Miroljub Labus, Vice-President, Democratic Party

Dragoljub Micunovic, President, Party of Democratic Center

Dusan Mihajlovic, President, New Democracy Party

Vesna Pesic, President, Civic Alliance of Serbia

From Pristina:

Fehmi Agani, Vice-President, Democratic League of Kosova

Mahmut Bakalli, Former Chairman of the Kosovo Provincial Committee of theLeague of Communists of Yugoslavia

Adem Demaci, President, Parliamentary Party of Kosova

Hydajet Hyseni, Vice-President, Democratic League of Kosova

Abdullah Karjagdiu, Vice-President, Parliamentary Party of Kosova

Mark Krasniqi, President, Christian Democratic Party of Kosova

Veton Surroi, Editor-in-Chief, Koha


Steven Burg, Professor, Brandeis University

Aleksey Grigor'ev, Program Officer, Project on Ethnic Relations

David Hamburg, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

Robert Hayden, Professor, University of Pittsburgh

Allen Kassof, President, Project on Ethnic Relations

Jeanette Mansour, Program Officer, The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

Matt Palmer, Country Director for Serbia/Montenegro, US State Department

Rudolf Perina, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for EuropeanAffairs, US State Department

David L. Phillips, Director, Project on the South Balkans, Council onForeign Relations, Center for Preventive Action

Livia Plaks, Executive Director, Project on Ethnic Relations

Barnett Rubin, Director, Center for Preventive Action, Council on ForeignRelations

John Scanlan, former US Ambassador to Yugoslavia; Member, PER Council forEthnic Accord

David Speedie, Program Chair, Program on Preventing Deadly Conflict,Carnegie Corporation of New York

Jim Swigert, Director, Southeast European Affairs, US State Department

William Whitman, Special Advisor to Cyrus Vance