The dispute over splitting Kosovo

The Solomon-like idea has resurfaced as officials grapple with

Dobrica Cosic believed in a partition of Kosovo 30 years ago, and he believes in it today.

Mr. Cosic, a former Yugoslav president and arguably the country's most popular writer, came up with the idea on Nov. 29, 1968, when ethnic Albanians of Kosovo were clashing with Yugoslav police in the streets of Pristina. "On that day I wrote in my diary that territorial separation between Serbs and Albanians was inevitable," says Cosic in his large house in the Belgrade suburbs.

His concept is for Kosovo to be split in two, with the north going to the Serbs and the south to the ethnic Albanians. The Serbs would be able to keep most of their Orthodox Christian monasteries, and the ethnic Albanians would be free to join with the country of Albania.

But the plan, which has resurfaced as international officials and analysts grapple with possible outcomes to the Kosovo crisis, is equally disturbing for all parties involved. It would mean the disintegration of Kosovo and the redrawing of international borders.

"We're not getting into changing borders," says a Western diplomat. "You could end up changing the whole world. This idea is nothing but lip service. We need solutions based on democracy."

The Western powers favor ethnic Albanian self-rule - with the province remaining inside Yugoslavia. That plan, driven by the United States, met with resistance, and deadlock over it has resulted in NATO airstrikes.

The Serbs fear that ethnic Albanian rule of Kosovo would lead to eventual independence. The Albanians say they can never be safe as long as they are under the ultimate rule of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president. Both sides have strong historical claims to Kosovo.

Furthermore, there are questions as to whether the two groups have the potential to live together after war and "ethnic cleansing." Whatever affinity Albanians and Serbs may have had as neighbors is now gone.

Cosic believes that, while a partition is painful for everyone, it is the only solution that could be permanent. Other proposals, such as autonomy, would need to be constantly revisited, he says, and could lead to decades more of conflict.

"Every solution that is not final is lethal to both nations," he explains. "I see a permanent solution in compromise between history and ethnicity, which means a partition of Kosovo."

Cosic says he helped draw up a map of the partition in 1985-86, but he asked that it not be shown in today's heated political climate.

One problem with his idea is that Serbs and ethnic Albanians do not live in compact areas. Podujevo, for example, is a stronghold of ethnic Albanian resistance in the northern reaches of Kosovo. A partition would likely lead to massive population movements - although in theory it would be by choice of the inhabitants. It could fuel similar partition movements throughout the region, particularly in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia.

Cosic has long been an intriguing figure here, a man who has stood alone on a moral and intellectual high ground. He is a writer of gritty historical fiction, and he is an old-style Serbian nationalist whom some blame for fueling tensions that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia.

When a powerful group of Communists turned into nationalists and rose to power in the early 1990s, they seized hold of a manifesto Cosic had helped write a few years earlier. In the article, Cosic argued that Serbs were exploited in multiethnic Yugoslavia and had to defend their interests or face extinction.

His words, partially backed by the prestigious Serbian Academy of Science and Arts, were used as a moral justification for nationalist leaders like Mr. Milosevic.

After the wars started in Croatia and Bosnia, Cosic was chosen as the first president of rump Yugoslavia - for the reason that he was one of few Serbs who could lend moral credibility to the restructured country. He was fired in 1993, however, when Milosevic and radical leader Vojislav Seselj pooled their parliamentary votes and turned against him.

In the early 1990s, Cosic received several inquiries about the partition proposal from leading international diplomats. But the West was more concerned with Bosnia, and despite warning signs, pushed Kosovo off the agenda.

"They thought the idea was premature," Cosic says, "but now I think that that was the right time." Today, under airstrikes and a seemingly intractable conflict, Cosic sees vindication for his 1968 assessment - that Albanians and Serbs could not live together. He also sees room for a possible revisiting of his ideas.

The US wants to bring armed international troops into Kosovo to ensure the return of ethnic Albanian refugees. The Serbs favor a Russian-led force and the Albanians want NATO-led troops.

Last week the US State Department raised the possibility of different internationally supervised zones in Kosovo. Few if any details have been discussed, but one reasoned scenario would be for Russian peacekeepers to predominate in Serbian-populated areas, mostly in the north, and NATO forces to protect ethnic Albanians.

It could become the starting point for a partition, though US officials say that is not their intention.

If the deployment of forces partitions Kosovo, says Shkelzen Maliqi, an independent ethnic Albanian analyst now in Macedonia, this will be the "acceptance of the policy of ethnic cleansing. The partition of Kosovo will make the disappearance of Kosovo, since the Albanian part will join Albania. And this will be the same mistake which was made in Bosnia."

"I find that very interesting," says Cosic of internationally supervised zones in Kosovo. "Basically, I couldn't reject that concept. Maybe it is the way for a final solution; maybe it is the only way."

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