Since ethnic Albanian leadership in Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, the territory has remained a disputed and to a limited extent a sovereign autonomous territory. Currently, Kosovo is recognized by more than a hundred countries. It´s sovereign status is yet a matter of question and rather vague. The country must rely on diplomatic patronage of states that act in favour towards it, still is on its way to gain a membership within United Nations and its efforts to enter European Union are rather precocious. Moreover, Kosovo´s attempt and fight to achieve a sovereign status is being opposed and hindered by Serbia that has its support from influential international scene players – China and Russia. Besides of them there are number of other countries that actively resist the idea of Kosovo creating an independent area and acting like a state under its own supremacy. For instance, we could state Cyprus and Spain which both paradoxically had been experiencing separatist issues on their own.
European Union has been actively included in proposing solutions leading to normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo since 2011. Since this engagement several agreement suggestions were submitted but literally none of them was ever feasibly applied in practice. Even though the proposals did not include a formal recognition requirement but rather tried to imply measures leading to a stable country based on democratic and transparent principles in accordance with its multi-ethnic nature. As a result of its unsettled relations Kosovo does not fulfil requirements essential for entering both EU and UN and is stuck in a so-called frozen conflict. What is more Serbian minority in Kosovo still retains firm links with Serbia, occurring and present mostly in northern parts of the country. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as parallel structures and systems or a state within a state. These structures operate on the very basic and crucial levels and cover political, educational, health, security or social systems. These structures act autonomously representing and promoting the interest of Serbia in Kosovo.
This paper aims to provide an outline of modus operandi of Serbian parallel structures in Kosovo, historical background, formation as well as efforts and measures taken in order to dismantle them or eliminate their influence in Kosovo. It describes its actions and a dual practice in Kosovo and contextually provides a summary of impact of parallel structures within a state of Kosovo.
2. Conceptualization of Parallel Structures
The concept of parallel structures is not a new phenomenon and has been around for many years. And, thus, therefore it is sometimes inaccurately associated only in term of Kosovo. Parallel structures have been typically represented not only in Northern Kosovo but also in Northern part of Sri Lanka which was controlled by Tamil militant organization (Somasundaram 2010: 18). Rather similar cases could have been seen in ‘’the Moldovan province of Transdniester, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh’’ (Selimi 2015: 119). Even though that the concept itself has been seen in many variations with number of nuances it was necessary to come up with a common definition within the international society. Parallel structures are, thus, ‘’parallel institutions opposite institutions representing popular sovereignty is a socio-political phenomenon that accompanies transition societies’’ (Ibid.). In a simple way they are also sometimes called as ‘’a state within a state’’ (Ibid.).
If we examine the meaning of the definition closer, we can explore that parallel structures are in Selimi’s (2015) research featured with seven characteristics. First of all, these structures cannot be recognized by the state power given the lack of political legitimacy and therefore they can be labelled as illegal structures. Secondly, inasmuch as they are illegal within a certain state, they cannot be internationally recognized as a sovereign entity. Moreover, rationally, they do not possess internal as well as external authority. Nevertheless, they might be occasionally recognized by other state but in this case, it would inevitably lead to the violation of the UN Charter. Thirdly, given the lack of legitimacy, potential clashes between the parallel government and the official structures of the given state might occur as the official government would try to attempt to gain control over the disputable territory. Fourthly, during the existence and functioning of parallel structures, the state where they reside should not be considered as a failed state. The parallel structures are not merely a result of the ethnic division, but also other causes can be explored such as social, political or economic differences. Last but not least, these structures should be entirely independent in their decision-making processes, however, it does not imply they cannot obtain any kind of support from other related state. Lastly, parallel structures ought to have a certain degree of legitimacy over the territory they control. It means that they are very often the main and crucial providers of education or security.
To sum up, the parallel structures can be easily considered as illegal structures lacking any kind of legitimacy. In addition,they also very often represent sort of a burden for the official government in terms of security and alike. Drawing from the theoretical reflection of the concept itself the further chapters will focus on the development and performance of the parallel structures in Northern Kosovo
3. Emergence and Development of Parallel Structures in Northern Kosovo
Looking back into the history we can trace that these so-called parallel structures had been already present in the area before the civil war where Kosovo Serbs and Albanians were living in parallel societies divided from each other. The Albanians were first in creating such structures which emerged with Slobodan Miločević’s policies towards Kosovo region. Kosovo Serbs did not make otherwise (Jancić 2015: 221-222). After the NATO intervention in 1999 which brought the conflict between the Serbian regime and Kosovo Albanians to its end the United Nations designated Interim Administration Mission (UNMIK) based on UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1244 (Visoka 2012: 33). Drawing from the UNMIK mission the main purpose of the act was to substitute temporary authority in war thorn society and to establish peace and begin post-conflict reconstruction. Nevertheless, the remaining Kosovo Serbs waved aside to recognize the UNMIK temporary administration and therefore ‘’the Serbian administration; courts, schools, hospitals, etc., directly answering to Belgrade, has been maintained’’ (OSCE 2003: 5). Moreover, after the conflict the Kosovo Serbs were predominantly living in municipalities such as Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Zvečan and Leposavić (Agimi 2016: 85).
Additionally, due to the preservation of Serbian influence the Serbian administration has been ipso facto maintained and these conditions helped later to form the so-called parallel structures. Simultaneously, the UNMIK has been refusing these structures since the late 1990s (OSCE 2006-2007: 5). Also concerning the Northern Kosovo, due to the Serbian influence and Kosovo Serbs’ reluctance the parallel structures were and are still to some extent obstructing peacebuilding and state building efforts in Kosovo. Furthermore, Serb’s parallel structures have not only opposed to the UNMIK’s decision, but they have also hindered the activities of EULEX (The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo), KFOR (Kosovo Force) and ICO (International Civilian Office) (Visoka – Beha 2015: 8, 9). In term of unwillingness of Kosovo Serbs to join the peace process and given the mixture of different policies coming from the international community, Belgrade and Kosovo Serbs, it is not far from reality to note that very unstable, murky and sometimes rather violent environment was formed (Visoka 2012: 36). As an example, it is worth to mention so-called Bridge watchers. Bridge watchers emerge at the end of 1990s as a formal security Kosovo Serbs organization. The main aim of the Bridge watchers was ‘’to prevent Kosovo Albanians from entering the north of Mitrovica; to gather information on Kosovo Peacekeeping Force (KFOR) and UNMIK Police; and to gather information on any Kosovo Albanian living in the north’’ (Beha 2012: 189). The Bridge watchers were likewise involved in certain criminal activities (Ibid.).
During the 2003 the conditions in Kosovo worsened rapidly due to the unresolved status of Kosovo Serbs. Also, the Albanians felt hugely frustrated because they did not see any possible solution tackling the whole situation. With no clear-cut political status on Kosovo the violent riots erupted in March. The result of the massive riots was that thousands of Serbs were displaced and hundreds of Serb Orthodox Churches were damaged (Visoka – Beha 2015: 20). The overturn came to the effect in 2008 when Kosovo declared its independence. Nevertheless, this decision was greatly refused by the Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Serbs called for strengthening ties with Serbia (Lehne 2012: 1). Therefore, despite the strong criticism from the international community Serbia organized local elections in northern municipalities dominated by Serbs. However, given the inner tension between Kosovo Serbs living in the north and south of Kosovo the result was rather vague and did not lead to any final solution and afterwards the current conditions of parallel structures were with the help of Serbia preserved (Beha 2012: 187). As a matter of fact, Serbia did not only help the preservation of parallel structures, but Serbia also established its own municipalities in Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Zvečan and Mitrovica North (Visoka – Beha 2015: 71). Besides, Serbia pays huge costs for the functioning of these structures when only in 2008 Serbia allocated almost 500 million Euros to fund them (Bartlett eds. 2018: 247).
Another round of negotiations regarding the existence of parallel structures emerged in 2011 when EU started the mediation between Belgrade and Pristina. Nevertheless, the negotiations were rather unsuccessful given the fact that Belgrade denies to being involved in support to parallel structures on the one side, but Pristina states otherwise (Jancič 2015: 231-232). Furthermore, the attempt ‘’to include the northern municipalities of Zubin Potok, Leposavić, Zvečan, and North Mitrovica‘‘ (Agimi 2016: 88) failed as well. Even though the EU, mainly Germany, wishes to dismantle these structures due to the obstructions to the peace talks in the ethnically divided country (Nikolić 2012). Very active figure on the Germans’ side was certainly Chancellor Angela Merkel who clearly announced that presence of parallel structures does not correlate with free trade and border cooperation and, thus, existing structures ought to be dismantled as soon as possible (World Bulletin 2011).
Furthermore, at the beginning of negotiations the EU was striving to implement any kind of reform, at the end of 2013 after the immanent pressure the EU diplomats implemented so-called Brussels Agreement which was partly accepted by Belgrade and Pristina agreement (Rossi 2018). The agreement was especially signed by ‘’Serbia’s Prime Minister, Ivica Dacić, and Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci’’ (Ibid.). The Brussel agreement specifically contains that municipalities such as Mitrovica, Zvečan, Zubin Potok and Leposavić (Smolar 2013) will be ‘’subject to Kosovo law’’ (Ibid.). In other words, on the one hand these municipalities will follow the rule of law in Kosovo, and on the other hand they will dispone with certain competencies concerning their own economic development, education, healthcare and urban planning. Moreover, the points of the agreement also contain the reference that even the Kosovo police should be sent to the northern parts. However, in this case Kosovo Serbs addressed the crucial condition that the commander of the local police unit must have been Serb by any means (Emini-Stakic: 5). Regarding the court system, the local courts in the Serbian municipalities should also be predominantly occupied by Serb judges (Smolar 2013). Furthermore, another condition was that the local Serbian parallel courts had to be dismantled too (Peci 2013). Lastly, certain Kosovo politicians, such as former Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj, believe that these new principles should ensure the multi-ethnic character of Kosovo (Euroactiv 2013).
The Brussels Agreement had gone beyond expected border that would have been expected and is arguably marked as an historical turn. But the change never comes overnight. And even the foremost agreement does not always have to be followed. Northern Kosovo and its parallel structures are not an exception. Some experts argue that the parallel activities have not absolutely disappeared yet. Drawing on this conclusion, according to the GAP Institute the Brussels Agreement specifically ‘’addresses mainly the integration of police, judiciary, creation of the Association, telecom, energy and holding of local elections.’’ (Gap Institute 2015: 1). However, it does not have to necessarily imply their absolute disappearance. What’s more, the agreement sort of does not deal with other structures embedded in the society and therefore the municipalities in Northern Kosovo still have considerable influence over education, administration, health, urbanization, public service, sports and culture (Ibid.) The following chapter will examine the particular issues which yet existing parallel structures conduct
4. Functioning of Parallel Structures
As mentioned above, Serbian parallel structures in Kosovo have not been dismantled at all so far. After the implementation of the Brussels Agreement some of the existing structures just switched the coat when the northern municipalities were renamed, on Belgrade’s suggestion, to ‘’Interim Administrative Bodies’’ (parallel structures). Nothing has really changed much. The structures managed to achieve certain progress in integrating police and courts but in other terms they remained merely unchanged. Serbia has not cut its financial support yet, too. Additionally, it could be said that Serbia is practicing a model of local governance in the four municipalities/Interim Administrative Bodies (Zvečan, Leposavić, Zubin Potok, Northern Mitrovica). Regarding the public service, for instance, the parallel organs issue the ID cards etc. according to the Serbian model, and not according to Pristina regulations. More importantly, the special Serbian organ, the Ministry for Kosovo in the Government of Serbia, has substantial control on education, culture as well as healthcare. Another pivotal issue emerged when local officials had been revealed when taking double salaries, from Pristina as well as from Belgrade. This basically goes hand in hand with unfinished consolidation of power over the Northern municipalities since not all of the structures have been dismantled and therefore existing systems create a great chance for such incidents (Gap Institute 2015: 1-5). Now the paper will provide an outline of examples of modus operandi of parallel structures
5. Parallel Security
First of all, it is necessary to point out that the Serbian influence is still present and that the nature of the security structures have undergone significant changes. For instance, Bridge Watchers, the tremendously known for their criminal activities, had disappeared over the years. Nevertheless, the existing police, even though that it should have been integrated into the official Kosovo police with certain exceptions such the commander must be Serb, is still under Serbian influence. Indicated reasons according to Selimi (2015: 123) – locals still feel strong mistrust in Pristina which is moreover supported by Belgrade benefiting from the whole situation.
6. Parallel Courts
Parallel courts go strongly hand in hand with security structures and these courts had up to 2007 only solved around 5000 cases, according to OSCE (OSCE 2007: 16). Moreover, the parallel courts followed Serbian justice and law regulations. In the past particular conditions were met when Serbian official agreed to integrate its judges into newly emerging Kosovo judicial system. Notwithstanding that the international community pressure for change ‘’in other parts of Kosovo, individual judges and prosecutors were integrated in the Kosovo justice system. Nevertheless, in Serbia courts claiming jurisdiction in Kosovo still persist.’’ (Selimi 2015: 121).
7. Parallel Public Service
Public service, starting with education, municipal services and ending with healthcare, has been supported by Belgrade and does not match with activities of Pristina (Crisis Group 2011). Probably the biggest concerns arise within the educational system which is constantly being supported by Serbian Ministry of Education (Hysa-Haziri eds. 2011: 11) that exclusively controls 21 primary schools and 9 secondary schools. Undoubtedly, ‘’the illegal system of education still continues to operate outside the legal education system of the Republic of Kosovo’’ (Selimi 2015: 123) which does not correspondent with Kosovo education framework. On the other hand, to be accurate it is necessary to state in this coherency that according to Ahtisaari Plan (formally the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement – CSP), particularly Law on Education from 2008 it was allowed to follow Serbian curriculum. According to this plan schools that were offering instructions in Serbian could implement textbooks and curricula issued by the Ministry of the Republic of Serbia with the notification of the Ministry of Education of Kosovo. (Selimi 2015: 124)
In term of the healthcare system the conditions are rather similar. ‘’Illegal Serb Health Care in Kosovo is particularly well organized in its northern municipalities’’ (Selimi 2015: 124). The parallel health care institutions are also covered by the Ministry of Health of Serbia which predominantly donates the whole sector. The biggest hospitals are primarily located in Mitrovica (Hysa-Haziri eds. 2011: 19).
Lastly, parallel structures are also tied up with the financial system when the ‘’financial system in north is mainly separated from the bank system functioning in Kosovo and the one of Central Bank’’ (Hysa-Haziri eds. 2011: 58). Furthermore, the Serbian Dinar is the most-wide spread currency in Northern Kosovo. Beside the financial system, in the Northern Kosovo there are many other parallel structures such as culture and sport institutions, parallel post and energetic institutions, parallel local government institutions or parallel transport institutions (Hysa-Haziri eds. 2011: 3).
The integration of Serbian minority in the new Kosovo appears as a multidimensional and coherent problem that is present on the international scene since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999. Whilst most Serbian citizens employed within public structures in Kosovo has managed to embed itself into the new system the northern part of the country – Mitrovica region, seemingly resists all the efforts made in order to incorporate as well on domestic as on the international level. As the main problem may appear the fact that Serbian parallel structures are publicly tolerated as this attitude helps to preserve relative peace, maintain stability and prevent further conflicts. Serbia seems to hold tightly on sustaining the existence of its parallel structures in Kosovo as their primary function is to secure Serbian interests and control and cover broad spectrum of activities in Kosovo.
The Serbian community living in Kosovo was also encouraged by Belgrade to participate in local political processes under the international organization and the administration, including the first elections after the war in Kosovo, on both a national and municipal level. The legal and political basis of international mission in Kosovo was joined by independent policies of some countries as Spain, Russia, etc. Those countries participated in civil-military missions in Kosovo and in some way helped to further formation and functioning of parallel structures in the region. According to Resolution 1244 adopted by United Nations Security Council in 1999 structures regarding public services as education, health care, cadastre etc. were not treated and seen as illegal. On the contrary, those, regarding safety issues were strictly forbidden not only by the Resolution but also by Military technical Agreement of Kumanovo Agreement. Since the very first Kosovo institutions were established after the end of the war, the problematic northern municipalities started to object the cooperation and until 2007 accepted a cooperation with UNMIK instead. It might be concluded that this approach served as a main trigger that started systematic strengthening and expansion of parallel structures in Kosovo. Serbia and Kosovo institutions overlap in the northern Kosovo seemingly without formal boundaries or rules. Serbian and Albanian communities have developed pragmatic ways of navigating between these parallel systems where cooperation is unavoidable.
For now, institutions in Kosovo are clueless against the influence and practice of the structures and relies merely on an external intervention from Brussels to constrain on further arrangements to eliminate them. For now, it might be predicted that the northern parts of Kosovo will remain for an unspecified term under a dual sovereignty practice opposing Serbian influence – primary goal of Belgrade to control and possibly regain what it has formerly lost.
Written by Zdeněk Rod – Halina Chraščová
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