The Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center, a government-sponsored research venue for scholars, has in recent days hosted discussion forums examining the recently launched future status negotiations for Kosovo, the Serbian province that has been under international administration since 1999.
In recent weeks, several high-level officials have signaled that some kind of conditional independence will be the likely result of the Kosovo final status negotiations. The southern Serbian province has a 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority, which strongly favors independence, an outcome vehemently opposed by Belgrade. Erhard Busek, the Austrian politician who heads the European Union agency that coordinates aid to the region, is doubtful that Belgrade and Pristina, the Kosovo capital will ever agree on Kosovo's future.
"Personally I may say, I'm convinced there is no solution where you will get an agreement by Belgrade," said Erhard Busek. "There's the possibility of an impossible solution which is really not acceptable, and a solution for Belgrade which is not really acceptable but with which you can live, giving some perspective."
At a Wilson Center forum on Wednesday, most speakers agreed that the negotiations are likely to result in independence. Broadcaster and writer Elez Biberaj cautioned that a partial solution, conditional independence, will be unacceptable to the Kosovar Albanians. Worried that there could be a mass exodus of Kosovo's Serb minority, Biberaj said ethnic Albanians must accept responsibility for assuring the safety and welfare of Kosovo Serbs, who currently are unable to move freely without protection from NATO-led peacekeepers.
Scholar Ross Johnson, former research director at Radio Free Europe, said to safeguard Kosovo's minorities it might make sense to consider adjustments to the territory's northern border with Serbia, a Serb populated area where the Kosovo authorities exercise no jurisdiction. Johnson conceded there are risks to changing the border near the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica.
"[I would ask these questions] To the Kosovo Serbs: if this becomes part of Serbia [northern Mitrovica], would this become the magnet that would draw all other Serbs out of Kosovo? And do you really want this? And to the Kosovo Albanians, I would say, do you think you really can digest this [gaining control of this area]," queried Ross Johnson.
Aid consultant and Balkans expert Brenda Pearson agrees that partition should not be ruled out.
"I think these parallel structures links to Belgrade, particularly in Mitrovica, have created an internal partition," said Brenda Pearson. "It may not be an actual partition but the idea is on the table. And I think it is foolish to ignore that it is in people's minds."
Pearson worries that the Serbian government will ultimately walk out of the negotiations, the first round of which took place earlier this week in Vienna.
"There is a very real possibility that the Serbs will walk away from the negotiations," she said. "And their refusal to agree to final status will lead to an exodus of Serbs out of Kosovo, which will then be manipulated [by Belgrade] for a short-term propaganda win."
While the Kosovo negotiations are chaired by retired Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, a contact group of major powers, the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Russia, is active in guiding the talks. There is recognition in European capitals that the Kosovo talks are vitally important and will impact neighboring Balkan states, all of which seek membership in the European Union.