Vol 1, No 1, 28 June 1999

Serb Proposals for Partitioning Kosova

By Nexhmedin Spahiu

During the last decade, many projects proposing the partitioning of Kosova appeared in the Serb and Western media. Many of them came from the most influential Serb academics, including Dobrica Cosic, Branimir Krstic, Aleksandar Despic, Dusan Batakovic and the Serb-American scholar, Steven Majstorovic.

The Cosic proposal

On of the first ideas for dividing Kosova into two parts came from the Serb academic Dobrica Cosic. He made his suggestion for a 60/40 (Albanian/Serb) split implicitly in the early nineties, and he explicitly repeated it during his term as the President of Yugoslavia. (See Map 1: The Cosic plan)

Contours of maps based on such partitioning proposals were published in the Italian magazine Limes in 1992, but Cosic did not elaborate on his idea in fine detail as other scholars would later do. His proposal looked like a desire to correct the old Memorandum of the Serb Academy of the Sciences and Arts (SANU), that is, to return to Moljevic's (a Serb ideologue from WWII) idea of a homogeneous Serbia. Cosic proposed to divide Kosova in such a way that eastern and central Kosova would belong to the Albanians, and the northern and western part to the Serbs.

The Krstic proposal

The idea of partitioning Kosova has been elaborated upon by the another Serb academic, Branimir Krstic (note 1), who proposed a division between Serbs and Albanians such that Serbs would take some 30 to 40% of the territory. The Serb part would almost reach to the outskirts of Prishtina from its northern and eastern side and would include certain Serb monasteries, as well as most of the valuable mines in Kosova. The Serb sector would also contain a Montenegrin part, sprawling from its high mountainous region down into the Kosova valley and onto the Dukagjin plateau, claiming the Serb Patriarchate of Pec and the Decan monastery. With such a partitioning, more than one million Kosovars would be expelled to the other part of Kosova or elsewhere, presumably by whatever means available.

Despic's presentation: peaceful divorce

A much better known partitioning proposal came in July of 1997 from Alexander Despic (note 2), president of SANU, in his annual introductory presentation. He suggested the partition of Kosova in order to cut the knot of Kosova which was becoming a very heavy burden for Belgrade in the post-Dayton period. In his much-disputed presentation, Despic said (note 3):

"The most important strategic future problem facing the Serb people in Serbia and Yugoslavia, pressing from inside and outside, is the issue of Kosovo. We are at a historical crossroads, from which lead two possible paths: one is the insistence on the territorial integrity of Serbia that does notallow for new secessions; the other is the path of accepting the Albanian aspiration to found an independent country by seceding a part of the territory of Serbia."

And the reasons why Aleksandar Despic would like to get rid of Kosovars?

"It is clear that if Serbia remains a unified, unchanged territory, after only several decades, the ethnic structure of our country will change fully... In 20 to 30 years, Serbia would become a country with two peoples (nationalities) of similar size, a bilingual country with two languages that do not have the same root... While the Serb people experience demographic recession as do many others, the Albanian minority is in a midst of a demographic expansion that has features of an explosion... Therefore, if and when they should get an overwhelming majority in a Kosovo parliament, while in the Serb and Yugoslav parliament a substantial and then a dominant part... then their status as a minority will have only academic importance... If it is assessed that such a development would not be favourable for the Serb people, that ethnic duality was insurmountable and would lead to the collapse of former Yugoslavia... than talks should start with those who insist on the secession of Kosovo on a peaceful and civilised separation and delimitation, in order to avoid the tragic experiences of the immediate past."

"Time works for the Albanian nation, and it can therefore wait for the day when it will become stronger, when its size becomes similar to that of Serbs... The Serb nation has much less time at its disposal to make its final choice. Before us is perhaps only one decade in which to opt for one or the other solution. After that, the question will be outdated: we will be living in a country of ethnically duality." (note 4)

Compared with the previous projects or even with the following ones, Despic's proposal actually looks quite moderate. In fact, this is desperate attempt to turn Serb national ideology in a quite moderate position. This comes from the lessons of Serb defeat in Croatia. Unfortunately, by mid-1997, it was too late for this.

Majstorovic's draft: differentiated autonomy

Another proposal for division of Kosova came from the Serb-American scholar, Steven Majstorovic. His paper, "The Endgame in Kosovo" suggested the division of Kosova on a 75/25 Albanian/Serb split. (See Map 2: The Majstorovic plan)

The author gave the impression that the proposal was not engaged with the Serb national ideology. He recognised that Serb myths might be false in principle, but he nevertheless used them as others had before him. He referred to Noel Malcolm's book Kosovo - a short history in his paper but chose to ignore almost all of the Malcolm's conclusions, quoting Malcolm at only one point:

"Noel Malcolm suggests that the conflict could be resolved if the Serbs simply let go of Kosovo and en masse decided that their national myths are inaccurate and should be either disbelieved or at least dramatically changed. He insists that it is more important for the Serbs than the Albanians to do this because Serbs pose a greater threat to stability in the region. Malcolm's suggestion is not unlike the comment above about inducing historical Alzheimers in the Balkans. The chance that the Serbs would completely reinterpret or forget most of their national myths is quite unlikely; such a psychological change would necessitate a denial of identity". (note 5)

Majstorovic suggests that the least worst approach to resolve the Kosova impasse is to give both parties most of what they really want and for the international community to realise that not all states are completely sovereign. (note 6)

"Many states are soft states and are amenable to some social engineering. What the Albanians in Kosova want is independence, connection to Albania and control of territory. And according to Ibrahim Rugova, the Kosova Albanians do not want partition. What the Serbs want is respect for, and access to, their holy places. And most of all, the Serbs do not want to give up the symbols of the unifying myth that shapes the core of what comprises Serb national identity. Many Serbs may never visit Kosovo Polje, but they need to believe that they can if they want to. What the Kosova Albanians have to give up is control over about 25 percent of Kosovo's territory and what the Serbs have give up is 75 percent of their monasteries but not all of the most important ones." (note 7)

The line in the map runs north from Prishtina, to the southern part of Mitrovica, following the road to Peja (Pec) and going behind it to the Monastery of Decan. In fact, in this plan, 25% of the territory Majstorovic left for the Albanians holds most of monasteries, but it gives the Serbs most of Kosova's mines and industry.

Seemingly aware that there was no justification to partition Kosova, the author used false arguments: "Despite their small population of only 200,000, most of the Serbs in Kosovo are concentrated in the northern part of the province."

Although it was not written explicitly, this sentence gave the impression that the Serbs formed a majority in northern Kosova. This is not the case at all.

Most of the Serb population in Kosova live in its capital city, Prishtina, but here, too, they are a minority. According to the data given by the author of the next project for the partitioning of Kosova, academic Dusan Batakovic, the city of Prishtina held 16,898 Serbs and 4,169 Montenegrins, which represents 19.49 % of the total population of Prishtina. In the northern city of Mitrovca, according to Batakovic again, there are 8,933 Serbs and 1,503 Montenegrins, that is, 9.74 % of the total population of Mitrovica. We should note that the data given by Batakovic are unreliable, but in both cases, Majstorovic's argument assuming local majorities of Serbs is faulty.

Based in this false argument, Majstorovic called for a framework of mixed autonomy, territorial autonomy and personal autonomy as perhaps the only way out of the quandary short of further warfare and the ethnic cleansing of both Kosova and Belgrade. In the figures which he presented in his paper, Majstorovic showed a Kosova containing over 1,300 Serb holy places; in fact, the map showed Serb churches and monasteries existing in places where no sign of Serb churches and monasteries had ever been.

For the few Serbs left in this area (that is, in the proposed Albanian part of Kosova), Majstorovic suggested that they would either have to follow the path of previous Serb migrations to the north or take their chances. The Albanian controlled section of Kosova, according to the author, would really be functionally independent and only autonomous in a formal sense in order "to placate the international community and to conform to the UN Charters on state sovereignty and the inviolability of international borders."

Following the author's idea, the area north of the line on the map would be quite different. In this area a system of "personal autonomy" (note 8) would prevail in which the individual rights of both Serbs and Albanians would be protected by a team of international monitors. The Serbs would retain control of the "original seat of Serb Orthodoxy at Pec", the Decan Monastery and, of course, the area around Fusha e Kosoves and the Gracanica Monastery.

It is evident that the government in Belgrade would still rule the northern segment of Kosova, but it would be a "soft" rule compared to the exclusive monopoly power by the state farther to the north. Except for national extremists in Serbia, Majstorovic thought that most of the Serb population would be more than satisfied with "an arrangement that could preserve their identity markers." By this project, the names of the two sections of Kosova could even be tinkered with so that the northern section would be called KosovO while the southern section would be KosovA.

Batakovic's proposal: an idea for cantons in Kosova

The idea of cantonisation for Kosova is the most recent Serb idea. It appeared in September 1998 and came from the Serb academic Dusan T Batakovic. At that time, the war in Kosova was nearly at an end after the wide Serb army offensive against the Kosova Liberation Army and civilians in Kosova.

Surprisingly, immediately after the war had started in March of that year, news from Kosova filled the world media, and the issue of Kosova became a top agenda item in the world politics.

The Serb academics and politicians realised that something needed to be changed in the policy towards Kosova. At that time, it was too risky for the Serb side to open the question of partition, because the world's attention was now focused on the province, and the possibility of independence was being discussed in media and diplomatic circles: an offer to divide Kosova would lead to a debate on full independence for the rump Kosova, and then, since the international community was not apt to change the borders, this debate would lead to the independence of the whole of Kosova.

Thus, the idea of creating cantons in Kosova was formulated by Batakovic as a more attractive idea for the compromise-seeking Western diplomats. In fact, the idea of making cantons in Kosova would eventually lead to partition, but unlike the earlier partition proposals relying on the "fire and iron" method of ethnic cleansing, this would be a slightly longer process. (See Map 3: The Batakovic plan, showing the patchwork of single-ethnic cantons and ethnically mixed cities.)

Different plans, same philosophy

The numerous Serb projects for the partitioning of Kosova are merely a continuation of Serb nationalist programmes. All of these projects were based upon the same assumptions and principles:

1) the era of democracy in Europe threatens the Serb domination in Kosova

2) Serbia should not be democratised until it solves the problem of Kosova

3) Serbia has a moral right over Kosova, because of its cultural and religious heritage and because of its minority there

4) any partition plan should give the Serb side a chunk of Kosova which is far bigger than the percentage of the Serb population in the province - from 25 % (Majstorovic) and 30 % (Batakovic) up to 40 % (Cosic).

5) any partition plan should give the Serb side the wealthiest part of Kosova, that is, at least, the industrial city of Mitrovica and the mines of Trepca (the biggest mines in Europe for lead, zinc, silver and gold), upon which the entire economy of Kosova relies

However, none of these projects was logically justified. All of them, although they seemed to be concerned with Serb holy sites and the Serb minority in Kosova, were ultimately ready to sacrifice the churches, the monasteries and even the Kosovan Serbs themselves in order to keep the wealthiest part of Kosova in Serb hands.

Nexhmedin Spahiu, 26 June 1999


1) Branislav Krstic, "Kosovo izmedju istorijskog i etnickog prava" (Kosovo Between Historic and Ethnic Right), Vid, Beograd, 1994)

2) "Debat rreth ceshtjes se Kosoves", Bujku, July 8, 1996,

3) Gazmend Pula, The Serbian proposal for the partitioning of Kosova: accents of Albanian reactions, Suedosteuropa, 45:639-42 Heft 8 1996

4) Cvijetin Milicojevic, Bahri Cani, "Ko deli Kosovo", Betim, Belgrade, July 1996, special publication.

5) Malcolm, N. Kosovo - A Short History.

6) See Ruth Lapidoth, Autonomy: Flexible Solutions to Ethnic Conflict (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997), 41-47.

7) Rugova news conference, Rilindja (Tirana), March 30, 1996.

8) Lapidoth, Autonomy, 39.





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