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Kosovo's Albanians, Serbs Foresee No Compromises

by Steve Crabtree

Each group strongly committed to its vision of Kosovo's future


PRINCETON, NJ -- Some analysts believe the question of Kosovo's status may result in renewed violence in the Balkan region unless progress is made in the next few weeks toward resolution. However, it has become increasingly doubtful that a compromise solution tolerable to both sides is within reach. At the conclusion of 13 months of negotiations in March, Serbians and Kosovar Albanians remained deadlocked in what has proved to be one of the region's most intractable conflicts.

Unlike other Balkan states that have claimed independence, Kosovo was a Serbian province rather than a separate Yugoslav republic. However, an estimated 90% of its residents are ethnic Albanians. A bloody war between the two sides, which eventually involved NATO, led the United Nations to place it under its administration in 1999.

In March 2007, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, a special UN envoy, proposed a plan for conditional independence that was quickly denounced by the Serbian government. The United States and the European Union back the Ahtisaari plan but Russia, which insists that Kosovo and Serbia must agree to any plan for Kosovo's future, has raised objections.

Gallup World Poll data from the region indicate just how unlikely any such compromise is by illuminating the depth of the divide. Respondents in Kosovo's Albanian and Serbian communities were asked in February to choose from a list of possible outcomes, ranging from full independence within Kosovo's present borders, to continuation of Kosovo's status as a Serbian province. In between were three prominent compromise proposals for Kosovo: 1) "conditional" independence, without an army or membership in international organizations for a specified adjustment period, 2) the partitioning of Kosovo between Serbia and a new independent state, and 3) Kosovo's reorganization into two entities within Serbia, with broader autonomy for the Albanian population.

The results reveal a complete absence of support for compromise proposals among Kosovar Albanians -- virtually all said Kosovo should be an independent state within present borders. For their part, Kosovar Serbs were only somewhat more likely to consider compromise options: 77% said Kosovo should remain a Serbian province, while 13% said it should be partitioned.

Perhaps even more telling is that there is little practical recognition among either group of the possibility that compromise will eventually be necessary. Strong majorities in each population -- 87% among Kosovar Albanians and 64% among Kosovar Serbs -- fully expect the outcome preferred by their respective majorities to win out. The idea that each population is so committed to its own vision of the future makes it easier to see why protracted negotiations have proved to be a blind alley.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted during February 2007 with a randomly selected sample of Kosovo residents, aged 15 and older. For results based on the sample of 714 Kosovar Albanians, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 percentage points. For results sample of 257 Kosovar Serbs, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±6.7 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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