Making Peace: Kosovo/a and Serbia: Conflict Resolution Scenarios (2008)

By Dr. Ivana Milojević

This essay explores the futures of Kosovo/a and Serbia. It uses methods from scenarios and peace theory to articulate a different possible future for the region. The current trajectory promises hardship for all parties especially in the medium and long term.

Keywords: International conflict resolution, peace futures, transcend method, scenarios, Serbia, Kosovo/a

When there is a conflict between two ethnic groups, be it over territory, resources or values, there is also always a one sided take on the past and present. The one sided perspective Kosovars and Serbs have been using for decades, if not centuries, is akin to two deaf persons talking, without the ability to hear each other or lip read. It also reminds one of the ancient tale of blind men who attempted to describe an elephant via touching different parts of its body. The elephant is like a pot! asserts the one touching the head. No, like a, winnowing basket! says the one who touches the ear. Ploughshare! Says one touching the tusk. And so they went, describing the elephant as a plough (trunk), granary (body), pillar (foot), mortar (back), pestle (tail), or brush (tip of the tail). In a similar vain, Serbs exclaim: Kosovo is ours! This is where our nation was born, where our ancestral bones are buried and where our churches were built. No, Kosova is ours! exclaim Albanian Kosovars. We’ve lived here even longer and are now a vast majority. Oh well, they are all irrational barbarians, Balkan cavemen, exclaim the ‘civilised’. If it was not in Europe, no one would care, exclaim the postcolonial theorists. It is a result of a militaristic warrior culture, so assert peace theorists. No, a result of patriarchy, say the feminists. Unfinished nation state building process, is the discourse of the nationalists. One must respect international laws of national sovereignty, say the legalists. But the laws change when reality on the ground changes, say the realists. Change is the only constant, remind social change theorists.

The examples in the previous paragraph suggest that it is possible to theorise conflicts within and around Kosovo/a and Serbia in many different ways and via using many different discourses. Yet only some of the discourses are seen as legitimate and dominate. Both locally and internationally it is discourses of nationalism, realism and legalism that are most commonly used. Some are virtually unknown to the majority of the population, such as the feminist, postcolonial or peace movement ones. Some are stated explicitly (i.e. legalist discourse) and some are hidden, existing more at the myth/metaphor level (i.e. ‘Balkan’ identity discourse).

Another set of extremely powerful discourses are those of history, justice and righteousness. Most commonly it is these discourses that are used to propose ‘a solution’ to the current and long-term conflict over Kosova/o. And yet, paradoxically it is these very discourses that are also part of the problem.


History can be a fantastic resource to understand the present but when it comes to conflict situations it is too often used for further entrenchment. Coupled with discourse of nationalism, history can not be but about ‘cherry picking’ – i.e. selective use of dates that confirm ‘our’ victimisation and ‘their’ viciousness/violence/unfairness. Prior to the 1999 NATO bombing of both Kosova and Serbia there was a debate open to BBC listeners in terms of potential NATO intervention and also wider issues in relation to the conflict between Serbs and Albanians. One does not need to be a futurist to predict which dates which side was going to pick from history. Participants only talked about their own victimisation and only of some periods from history and not the others. To simplify, the debate went like this:

Albanian side

1999: 90% Albanians in Kosova. Serbs care “about mines not the shrines”.

1988: Revoked autonomous status. All rights abolished, police state introduced.

Albanians sought refuge in Turkey, during the reign of Vasa Čubrilović, the head of Serbian Regime that prosecuted them.

1912-1941: expulsion of Albanians and Colonisation of Kosova took place by Serbian monarchy/army/government.

Expulsion of Albanians in the 19th century (e.g. 1877-1878).

Albanians originally Illyrians, lived in Balkan since ancient times, more then
2 000 years before Serbs “even set a foot in the Balkans”.

Serbian side

1999: Albanians represent 20% in Serbia; used to be 16% in former Yugoslavia.

Autonomous status only given in 1974. Demonstration for independence in 1981.

1968-1988: Expulsion of Serbs from Kosovo and ‘demographic warfare’ (emigration of Serbs + illegal immigration + high birth rate of Albanian population).

1941-1945: Italian occupation of Kosovo and creation of Greater Albania, expulsion of Serbian population.

1389: Battle of Kosovo, the beginning of 500 years of colonisation by Ottoman Empire.

Historical evidence that Albanians lived in Kosovo for only the last 600 years.
Serbs came many centuries before that.

Thus the question of ‘whom does the Kosovo righteously and historically belong to’ cannot possibly be answered using this type of discourse. For a solution that is fair to all sides involved, for an outcome that is acceptable and sustainable a range of futures rather than history oriented discourses needs to be applied. So instead of only asking ‘who was there first’, ‘who is the rightful owner’ and ‘what are the legal issues and implications’ questions themselves need to be reframed. But before doing so lets look at some possible futures scenarios.

Conflict resolution scenarios

In this section I employ four main approaches: power based methods, rights based methods, randomness/chance based methods and interest-based methods.

1. Power based methods ask the question of “who is the most powerful?”. It uses the rule of man, that is ‘fight it out, might is right’, overt violence (war, terrorism, individual and group attacks), and non-physical sanctions (alternative systems of governing, ultimatums, sanctions, psychological abuse, boycott and so on).
2. Rights based methods ask the question of “who has the best case?”. It relies on the rule of law, religious code or community norms. The resolution ultimately is through authority’s order, course of law or arbitrations.
3. Randomness/chance based methods asks the question of “who is ‘the luckiest’?”. These methods rely on the rule of chance, are random and ad hoc.
4. Interest-based methods ask the question of “what are the needs and concerns?”. It thus focuses on problem solving approaches, on ‘our way’ (collaboration) instead of ‘my way’ (forcing), ‘your way’ (accommodating), ‘no way’ (avoiding) or ‘half way’ (compromising).

Many of these conflict resolution methods have already been tried. In particular, power and rights based methods, by all sides involved, and also by the international community. This part of the world has had its share of wars, sanctions and group directed abuses, that is, its share of direct, structural and psychological violence. In 1999, power based methods were taken to a new high, with Milošević’s government attempt to the ‘ultimate solution’ of ‘not giving Kosovo away’.

So the world witnessed the expulsion of ethnic Albanians from their homes by Serbian military and para-military forces. Since in power based methods the game is not over ‘until the fat lady sings’ [“I nad popom ima pop”] the next stage involved NATO bombing of both Serbia and Kosova, effectively changing Serbian ‘my way’ to the ‘my way’ of ethnic Albanians. While this is difficult for Serbian nationalists to hear Kosovo has since 1999 effectively and de factol not been part of the Serbian territory. And yet, no long term, sustainable and acceptable solutions to all parties involved has been created either.

While currently, in 2008, there is a push for complete Independence by Kosovars (ethnic Albanians) have been successful in becoming independent, this independence is and a complete non acceptance of this solution by the minority of Serbs still living in Kosovo and also by the Serbian state. Most likely, if power based politics prevails, Serbs will eventually be forced to de facto accept a one-sided, one way solution that favours ethnic Albanians even if Russia and China continue to support the Serbian perspective.. But the negative consequences of this enforced solution may be too many, including the potential for nationalist, pro-militaristic and conservative Radical party to eventually seize the power in Serbia, even though they were unsuccessful in the recent election. . Its current leader Tomislav Nikolić explicitly stated that military intervention in Kosovo – if he is to have his way – would be a desired outcome should Kosovars proclaim full Independence. While this has not occurred, it is too soon to judge how history will play itself out, given the last decades or so of war. As stated by one Serb in a blog debating Independence of Kosovo: “Serbs waited for 500 years to free Kosovo and Metohija from Turks, we can wait again”. As well, even without military intervention and new war in the region consequences to both Serbian and Kosovar society will be many – from further focus on ‘ethnic cleansing’ to the creation of closed, conservative, xenophobic and totalitarian societies.

Another potential solution is of a compromise or a ‘half way’ approach. This approach involves some sort of a division and is currently (and after secession) preferred option of Serbians living in the northern part of Kosovo. This too is possible, although at this stage very unlikely. As well, this outcome too albeit it would fall short of the most desirable solution that focuses on the needs and concerns of all involved, that is future oriented and that has the potential to bring outcomes that are sustainable in the long term.

The following table summarises five possible scenarios: of one side prevailing (A1 or A2), gaining exclusive right to the territory through the rule of man, law or chance, or via being compensated for the loss (my way, your way); of no-one winning (sides taking turns to block the positive outcome for the other, ‘freezing of the issue’ as in during the last decade or via occurrence of various destructive violent based realities, killings, war, non-violent sanctions, or any other ‘no way’); of a compromise (some sort of a division of a territory, ‘half way’) and of a ‘win-win’ solution for all involved (collaborative, ‘transcendence’, ‘our way’ scenario).

Styles of Conflict Management

(based on Ron Kraybill’s work, Thomas-Kilman and Conflict Mode Instrument, David Ausburger’s and also Johan Galtung’s Transcend method)

In terms of these five potential scenarios for conflict management there is currently a formidable focus on ‘my way’ and power and rights based approaches. History in this context is not used as a ‘teacher’ but an additional tool to state one’s case.

Randomness/chance based methods, ‘no way’ and ‘your way’ approaches are, on the other hand, most commonly not seen as a solution and indeed, they are very unlikely to create one. This is because there is a high concern for goals (‘my’ Kosova/o) and ideals (it is ‘ours’) by both (all) sides involved. In addition to this goals and ideals axis, relationship axis can also be used to provide some explanations, specifically to also help explain overwhelming focus on ‘my way’ approaches. The sad reality is that neither the majority of ethnic Albanians living in Kosova and elsewhere nor the majority of Serbs (living in Kosovo, Serbia and elsewhere) currently care much about establishing quality relationships with the other group. Rather, the full on process of ‘othering’ has been going on for many years now, and also periodically throughout the history. This means that ‘the other’ is portrayed as ‘less’, ‘violent’, ‘wrong’, ‘evil’, ‘wild’, even ‘dirty’ and ‘disgusting’. And it doesn’t matter which side is using it, either explicitly or implicitly when talking and thinking about the other, the outcome is always the same: “‘We’ really do not want to deal with the other and it is the unfortunate fact that they live in our close proximity”.

To summarise these are the potential outcomes:

• Scenario 1 (My way, A1 wins) Kosovars proclaim secession. Most if not all states recognise independent Kosova. EU EU and the UN Security Council eventually recognised Kosova as a new state. Serbia in the end eventually accepts the defeat.

• Scenario 2 (Half way, compromise) Kosovo gets somehow divided, i.e. between North and South or between Serbian controlled enclaves where Serbian ‘minority’ lives and where Serbian monasteries are situated and the rest of Kosova.

• Scenario 3 (No way, withdrawal) The issue is frozen for another several decades. Kosova’s full ars decide to wait or they proclaim independence but this is stalled by international legal processes. Serbia uses its limited power to make life difficult for Kosovars, so that they too do not fully ‘win’. China and Russia continue to veto attempts by others to grant Kosovo full international recognition.

• Scenario 4 (Your way, A2 wins) Countries like Russia and, China and Spain pressure UN Security Council and EU Union proclaim to reject secession. International legal processes end up in ruling that Independence was an illegal act. that Kosovo officially becomes again a part of Serbian state and confirms and the full national sovereignty of Serbia and its territories is confirmed.

• Scenario 5 (Our way, transcendence) Kosovo/a and Serbia join a larger political entity i.e. European Union simultaneously. In this scenario Kosovo would officially remain part of Serbia but yet would be given de facto autonomy of a state. Whether certain territories are officially in Serbia or Kosovo becomes less important than good quality relations and high standard of living. Municipalities are also allowed self-determination rights. This is thus simultaneously globalising/unifying and localising/self-determination based scenario. Both Kosovo and Serbia agree to the treatment of minorities to be of highest standard and allow for the free movement of people, goods and services between these two territories, again based on EU standards. Kosovo/a becomes ‘an independent’ region within a broader association, a Truth and Reconciliation type process begins, refuges are brought back, local groups engage in various peace building processes, peace education initiatives are applied, psychological trauma counselling workshops take place, ecumenical peace work gets intensified and a sense of a common future based on positive neighbourly relationships starts to develop.

The most preferred scenario for Kosova Albanians is Scenario 1. The most preferred scenario for Serbian (identity, state) side overall is Scenario 4. For Serbian (now) left as minority in Independent Kosova scenario that is currently vocalised as the most preferred is Scenario 2. The most likely scenario at this stage is Scenario 3, or some version of it. This would mean that Scenario 1 has already partially occurred, that is, there is recognition by some states but certainly not by the UN security council. The most likely scenario is currently Scenario 1 or some version of it, i.e. However, Serbia and some other countries continued to not recognize an independent Kosova and to freeze relationships (through, for example, boycotts, sanctions, legal initiatives). This likely scenario may turn very costly in the end as the potential ground for further conflict(s) develops. These may include further and potentially violent conflicts between two political options in Serbia, between Serbian minority and Albanian majority in independent Kosova, between Kosova and Serbia and between other secessionist movements within states across Europe. As well, as further conflicts and division between members of the UN Security Council may also occur.


The purpose of designing futures scenarios is to make more informed choices in the present. Futures thinking is ultimately about inquiry into probable, possible and preferable futures, which we are creating today. For example, had various former Yugoslav ethnic, religious and ideological communities as well as politicians, journalists and other professionals gone through a process of envisioning different scenarios and its many intended and unintended consequences, would they still had made the same decisions they did back in the 1980s and 1990s? Had the international community anticipated how much the war in the former Yugoslavia was to eventually cost them (not to mention the human and environmental cost to the region itself) could things have been different? Most pre and post conflict nations do not engage in this process and thus behave reactively rather then proactively and constructively. We can see similar occurrences happening at the global level also – thus the short-sightedness, destructiveness and even plain stupidity of all sides involved in so call ‘war against terror’. And yet this short-sightedness and reactive ness has nothing to do with ‘human nature’ or inevitability of action-reaction-reaction… or trauma-further trauma-further trauma… mechanisms. This is because even though most societies do not currently engage in the long term thinking – non-action at the global level in regard to the climate change is but one example – some have done and continue to do so. History teaches us that it could be otherwise and that different choices with very different future outcomes could be made. While the former Yugoslav ethnic groups haven’t learned alternative lessons from history (such as that ‘violence breads violence’, ‘unjust solutions do not last’) South Africans it seems did. Thus the former Yugoslavia collapsed and in the process created hundreds of thousands dead people, millions of exiles, damaged the psychological makeup of those that remained and militarily polluted environment, to name but a few negative outcomes. South Africans who used the scenario planning process, on the other hand, created a Truth and Reconciliation commission. This is but one example. There would be many others, beyond the scope of this paper. The literature on peaceful societies, social movement and communication practices (i.e.research by B. Bonta, E. Boulding, G. Kemp, D. Fry, P. Ackerman, J. DuVall, D. Barash, J. Galtung, G. Paige, E.Jones, R. Haenfler, B. Johnson, M. Rosenberg, W. Glasser and many many others …) gives multitude of concrete examples of how historical and contemporary peaceful societies, groups and individuals dealt/deal with conflict in a positive and constructive manner. The whole field of Peace and conflict studies does the same. Other various individuals and groups engaged in the nonviolent social and political efforts also.

Crucial in these efforts is to move away from ‘the problem’ (detrimental historical stories, unmet expectations, violence that happened in the past) and to future alternatives that are positive, imaginative, creative and doable. The main questions should be: how to respond to the crisis/conflict in a way that is honest (acknowledges what is going on for all involved, beyond delusions and misconceptions) and compassionate (cares about all involved, about relationships with the other and about ‘our way’, ‘win-win’ solutions)? (For this approach see: What are some of the basic needs of all involved? What do Kosovars need? What do Serbs? What does the international community? How many future based solutions accommodating to those needs (rather than ‘wants’ and ‘shoulds’) can be created? Out of the multitude of these creative, positive and doable alternatives which ones are the most preferable for all involved? Who are the actors that are to be involved in this planning and visioning process? How many stakeholders beyond government officials, politicians and bureaucrats can be found? Who are the most marginalised groups – can they provide out of box thinking and solutions? Can representatives of various yet marginalised discourses, including peace oriented ones, feminist, futurists and representative of other ethnic groups also be included? Why leave it only to nationalists, lawyers and governments? Why not engage in truly democratic practice wherein voices of all involved are to be heard and given space?

For some of these questions to be engaged with, extensive community collaborative processes of envisioning desired, preferable futures are needed. Given the financial difficulties of both Serbia and Kosovo financial support by international community is also needed. Even though such processes would be by far the least costly than any other alternative there needs to be a will to start these processes + the means to achieve them. And while all that seems like a hard work it is necessary if future generations in this area are to live harmoniously, fruitfully and optimistically. Even if (or when) after Kosovo does secede, ethnic Albanians, Serbs and others still will need to continue living there, next to each other. Put simply, the neighbours are not going to go away, miraculously disappear or somehow get completely silenced. So it is the best bet for all involved to learn how to live together without hate, resentment and ‘othering’. Those living today do have a responsibility at the very least to leave to their children and grandchildren a world somewhat better to the one they inherited.

So why not inquiry of both sides into:
1. The positive aspects of the other group. Is their something, anything positive about the other? As there must be, no matter how small, lets build on that. How do we do so?
2. What do I (we) really want? What are our needs here? How do we distinguish those needs from what we were told our needs have to be or from the “unrealistic, wishful thinking”?
3. Can my trauma be heard by others? Can they recognise it without going into blaming and shaming?
4. What are some of the commonalities in our futures visions? Living in peace, harmony and abundance perhaps? How is this best to be achieved? Is the conflict between us helping our vision or hindering it?
5. What are some best strategies that we can implement here and now to bring forward preferable futures for all involved?

If not only the long-term but also immediate future are to be better than the past and present, different strategies, different thoughts, different discourses and different futures visions need to be chosen. For, as the saying goes, if one usually does what one has usually done; one is going to get what one has usually so far got. It would be nice if, for a change, things did change and positive, safe, healthy, inclusive, purposeful, imaginative, fun and abundant presents and futures were created. And even though at this stage this does not seem very likely such alternative futures too are possible.

Article by Ivana Milojević, Research Director, Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Emails: and

Published version: for the PDF click here