Decentralization as a conflict transformation tool: The challenge in Kosovo
Perspectives are divided on whether decentralization can ease ethnic conflict. This article considers whether asymmetric decentralization reforms in Kosovo have reduced tensions between Kosovo Albanians (K-Albanians) and Serbs (K-Serbs). We argue that because decentralization has been linked to Kosovo's sovereignty in the years after the NATO bombings, during the final status talks, and after independence, it has not achieved intended outcomes throughout the territory of Kosovo. Instead of assuaging tensions and generating allegiance to the central government, decentralization has re-inforced ethnic divisions and strengthened K-Serb ties to Serbia, particularly in northern Kosovo. Concessions to majority Serb municipalities in Kosovo have been seen by K-Serbs as a bribe to buy acceptance of independence, while K-Albanians question their leaders' continued policy of asymmetric decentralization. Since independence, there have been some encouraging developments in southern municipalities, where K-Serbs have participated in municipal elections organized by Pristina. Based on Kosovo's experience, we argue that policy-makers must consider the impact of decentralization reforms at multiple levels of conflict. Further, although we find that decentralization may engage minorities in political processes if reforms are attempted after the establishment of a central government, we caution that it must be combined with policies to encourage interaction and dialogue between ethnic groups if it is to assuage conflict. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.