Kosovo is not an island and its future status can be decided only in partnership with the international community, says a Swiss diplomat.
Tim Guldimann, the new head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo, tells swissinfo why he is optimistic for the province's future after initial contacts with local leaders.
The Serb province of Kosovo, which has been administered by the United Nations for the past eight years since a Nato bombing campaign forced Serbia's withdrawal in 1999, remains in political limbo.
Diplomats from the United States, the European Union and Russia are trying to broker a deal between Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who want full independence from Serbia, and Serbian officials, who oppose any such move. The so-called "troika" is due to report back to the United Nations by December 10.
General and local elections are also being held in Kosovo on November 17, but Serbia's government has urged Kosovo Serbs to boycott them.
swissinfo: What are the main challenges you are likely to face in your new job?
Tim Guldimann: The top priority is to assist Kosovo in the upcoming parliamentary, municipal and mayoral elections in November. We are working together with the central election commission, which I chair. But I want to stress that these are Kosovo's elections; it's not us who are holding elections.
There are also the ongoing discussions on Kosovo's future status, but the OSCE is not involved. We don't know what the results will be. The hopes for a breakthrough in an agreement with the EU, US and Russia by December 10 are small.
The EU is preparing to deploy a mission that is supposed to follow up on the UN Mission in Kosovo. It is possible that this EU Mission could be deployed very soon, even if the status question has not yet been resolved.
Therefore, our task now is to prepare the OSCE Mission for the new – only assumed – circumstances next year. Today, the OSCE Mission is part of the UN Mission. If the EU Mission is deployed and replaces the UN Mission, the OSCE Mission would become an independent mission, if all OSCE participating states agree to maintain the OSCE presence.
swissinfo: What are your first impressions of your initial contacts in Kosovo?
T.G.: I feel a very strong will of the Kosovar politicians I have met so far to move forward and to take Kosovo's destiny in their own hands without lamenting and blaming others for all the problems created by a very difficult past. There is a very refreshing attitude to the future.
When it comes to the question of how the authorities want to deal with the interests of the Serb community in Kosovo, as well as those who left Kosovo, they are aware how important this is for Kosovo's international reputation. They clearly state that they want to work for the positive integration of the Serb community in Kosovo.
swissinfo: What do you think will happen if the province continues to remain in limbo, or if it decides to declare independence after December 10?
T.G.: Of course one should not abandon hope that a solution can still be found in the coming weeks, but we also have to think about the consequences in case such an agreement cannot be reached.
Our mission stresses that the upcoming elections have to be considered independent from the status discussions. It is important that these elections are held, as Kosovo needs democratically elected institutions – whatever happens concerning status. We insist that these elections should not be abused to promote positions which could affect the status discussions.
We also hope that whatever steps are taken by Kosovo's politicians in the context of the status discussions, they should be taken in agreement with the international partners. Kosovo is not an island and its future depends on its cooperation with the international community. Therefore unilateral steps could lead to political conflicts affecting Kosovo's interests.
swissinfo: Do you have concerns about the security of the province?
T.G.: For the time being, at least on the surface the situation is calm, also in Kosovo's north with its Serb majority. We feel a very strong effort by top Kosovo representatives to maintain security in Kosovo in view of the elections and the ongoing status discussions. They know that if security is jeopardised, this will definitely harm the political process.
Of course, the Albanian majority in Kosovo expects a quick decision on independence. But they understand that whatever happens can only be productive for Kosovo's development if it happens in the context of an agreement with the international partners.
The main task now is to work for a scenario acceptable to the Albanian majority in Kosovo in the framework of an international understanding with the EU, US, Russia and Serbia.
swissinfo-interview: Simon Bradley
Swiss diplomat Tim Guldimann started as head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo on October 1, 2007.
Guldimann joined the Swiss foreign ministry in 1982. His early diplomatic career included postings in Cairo, Geneva and Bern.
From 1996 to 1997 he headed the OSCE Assistance Group in Chechnya, and from 1997 to 1999 he was head of the OSCE Mission in Croatia.
From 1999 to 2004 he was Swiss Ambassador in Iran.
Since mid-2004 he has been on temporary leave from the Swiss foreign minister, working as Professor of Political Science at Frankfurt University in Germany.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
The OSCE is an international organisation that aims to prevent conflict and manage crises in Europe, the Caucasus and central Asia.
The organisation is based in Vienna, Austria, but many of its 3,500 staff work in the field. The OSCE is particularly active in the former Yugoslavia and in the republics of the Caucasus.
The organisation's mandate is broad. It aims to promote democracy and human rights and resolve regional conflicts. To this end it encourages political, social and media reforms.
The OSCE has no peacekeeping contingents, but may call on the resources of other international bodies, including the UN and Nato.
The OSCE Mission in Kosovo was created on the basis of a decision of the Permanent Council of 1 July 1999. It is integrated within the overall framework of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo and is responsible for human rights and minority rights, the rule of law, the creation of democratic institutions, and the organisation of elections. It is the most comprehensive of all the OSCE's 19 missions with a staff of about 1,000.