Kumanovo Agreement, 25 years later: A truce of great expectations and lost hopes

Kumanovski sporazum
Source: Kosovo Online

Exactly a quarter of a century ago, on this day, the Military-Technical Agreement was signed in Kumanovo, ending the 78-day war between NATO and the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The provisions of this agreement were incorporated into United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, which was adopted a day later, on June 10.

Negotiations to end the war began on June 6 at the "Europe 93" restaurant in the village of Blace in North Macedonia, just 500 meters from the General Jankovic border crossing.

It was a tavern that had always been frequented by those with great expectations and lost hopes.

After the war, the tavern received a trilingual plaque stating that the negotiations had started there, and the owners were always ready to recall some new spicy detail.

Today, it is closed and can only be seen through the wire of the newly built highway. The plaque is still there, but the Albanian flag and the banner "Poetry without Borders, Blace - Exodus 1999" have been ravaged by time.

Most of the negotiations and the signing took place at the airport in Kumanovo, under a huge military tent owned by the French armed forces.

The Military-Technical Agreement between the International Security Force (KFOR) and the governments of the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia was signed by Yugoslav Army General Svetozar Marjanovic, Serbian Interior Ministry General Obrad Stevanovic, and British General Michael Jackson.

The document provided for the deployment in Kosovo, under the auspices of the United Nations, of an effective international civil and security presence following the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution.

According to the Agreement, the international forces "are authorized to take all necessary actions to establish and maintain a safe environment for all citizens."

Initially, the KFOR Mission numbered around 50,000 members, but today it is about ten times smaller.

For official Belgrade, KFOR is the only guarantor of the safety of Serbs in Kosovo.

For Pristina, it is solely NATO, regardless of the name KFOR.

KFOR representatives have found a compromise solution, calling themselves "NATO Kosovo Force - KFOR."

"KFOR continues to carry out its mandate – based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 – to ensure a safe and secure environment for all communities living in Kosovo and freedom of movement, at all times and impartially. KFOR is the third security response, after the Kosovo Police and EULEX, with whom we work in close cooperation."

This is the conclusion of every KFOR statement. Without exception. Whether it concerns an incident or the donation of sports equipment to a school.

Controversies of the Military-Technical Agreement

For one of the signatories of the Kumanovo Agreement, retired police general Obrad Stevanovic, this quote is the key to everything.

The only problem, he says, is that it is not implemented as written. A controversy.

“Even after a full quarter of a century since the conclusion of the Military-Technical Agreement in Kumanovo, the problems of that agreement, its contradictions, and some other issues related to it are almost identical to those from a decade ago. The key problems of the Military-Technical Agreement are its non-implementation by the international security forces in Kosovo and Metohija, and its misinterpretation and misunderstanding,” Stevanovic told Kosovo Online.

He cites a key point of misinterpretation as the belief that the Kumanovo Agreement was signed with NATO.

He claims this is not true.

"Factually, the Military-Technical Agreement was concluded with the United Nations international forces. Another fact that is often misinterpreted is the composition of the international security forces in Kosovo and Metohija, which also consist of United Nations international security forces, not NATO forces. The third problem is the frequent distinction between the de jure and de facto situation in Kosovo and Metohija. The international security forces are de jure UN forces, but de facto they behave as NATO forces. Let me remind you that these forces included a significant number of troops from countries that are not NATO members: Russia, Ukraine, Jordan, and some others," explains the general.

There is no doubt that the greatest contribution of the Kumanovo Agreement was the cessation of war. But, he emphasizes, the problem is that it did not fulfill the hope of bringing freedom.

"Under the responsibility of the international forces from Kosovo and Metohija, as we know, about 250,000 people were displaced. We remember that NATO stated that the goal of its aggression was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. The humanitarian catastrophe before the start of the NATO aggression did not exist, and this is proven by simple facts. Before the aggression, about 50,000 people were sporadically displaced from Kosovo and Metohija, and with the beginning of the aggression, about 800,000 Albanians were displaced from Kosovo and Metohija," Stevanovic points out.

When asked what were the key reasons for the then leadership of the FRY to agree to negotiations and a peace agreement after 78 days of war, he says there were several, and one of them was quite strong.

At that moment, the FRY had no allies.

"China and Russia were also powerless to provide any assistance to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Therefore, the reason for engaging in negotiations and concluding the agreement was obvious. All military resources of the FRY were being depleted without the possibility of their replenishment and without the possibility of purchasing these resources from our friends. Russia had no way to, for example, provide us with combat aircraft, air defense systems, etc. It was clear that very difficult consequences were coming, which were already difficult up to that point. It was simply evident that in the future, we could find ourselves in a situation where we simply have no means for defense," Stevanovic says.

Who won and who lost

Dr. Petar Ristanovic, a research associate at the Institute for Serbian Culture in Leposavic, assesses that the Military-Technical Agreement in Kumanovo ended the war in 1999, after which the Albanians gained everything, and the Serbs lost everything.

"Essentially, the Serbs did not gain anything, in fact, they lost almost everything. From mid-June, in the following two months, a huge number of Serbs were forced to flee Kosovo uncontrollably to the territory of central Serbia. Those who remained in Serbian enclaves and larger Serbian areas that managed to protect themselves lived extremely hard for the next two years. They live hard even today. The next two months, the first two months during the summer, and then, mind you, the next two or three years were a period when their lives were practically in danger every day," Ristanovic told Kosovo Online.

Unlike the Serbs, the Albanians, he explained, "more or less got what they expected."

"First in practice, and then by declaring independence. A large number of European and Western countries recognized the independence of Kosovo, which is now contested, and it is a quasi-independence, but it functions in that legal vacuum. Kosovo functions in such a way that it can be said that the Albanians got most of what they demanded. But, the question arises whether the war, suffering, and destruction were worth it," Ristanovic emphasizes.

He highlights that from this time distance, the key question for historians is whether the price paid was too high for what was gained through the Kumanovo Agreement compared to what was previously offered during the Rambouillet negotiations.

"My opinion is that the price was indeed too high, if we look at the differences between the agreement that was ultimately offered in Rambouillet and what was signed in Kumanovo and what followed later - Resolution 1244. The main difference is that Rambouillet envisaged that after three years a referendum would be organized where the Albanian majority would almost certainly vote for the independence of Kosovo. The Military-Technical Agreement in Kumanovo and later UN Security Council Resolution 1244 did not have such a provision," notes this historian.

He adds that the adopted resolution guaranteed the integrity of Serbia.

"Essentially, it envisioned a broad autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia. However, in practice, I believe it was expected, and later confirmed, that the Albanians would, after a period, declare independence, which is contested today but is largely a reality on the ground," Ristanovic observes.

The primary task of the Military-Technical Agreement was to end the war which, according to him, did not end in either capitulation or victory for the then FRY.

"I can't call it a complete capitulation. I believe it wasn't a capitulation, but it is definite that the then Yugoslavia lost the war. It was forced to withdraw its military and security forces. It lost the capacity to protect the Serbian population. Definitely, the war was lost even though the Yugoslav leadership at that time declared victory, which we all remember today. It was definitely not a victory, but it wasn't a complete capitulation either, although it was quite close to it," Ristanovic says.

He believes it was inevitable for NATO to win due to the enormous disparity in military forces and resources, and that the Albanians also won militarily at that time.

"Of course, it wasn't the Albanians and the KLA who won, but NATO forces who fought against Yugoslavia."

Analyzing the Kumanovo Agreement, what has been implemented, and what remains just words on paper, this historian highlights that the most important point was carried out - the withdrawal of police and military forces from the territory of Kosovo.

"And essentially, Serbia at that moment largely relinquished its sovereignty over Kosovo and Metohija, at least in a practical sense. Unfortunately, what was foreseen for the other side was not implemented. The KLA was never fully disarmed. In fact, it was largely not disarmed at all. Its core later became part of today's quasi-military forces," Ristanovic points out.

He reminds that the provision from the Military-Technical Agreement, which was later included in UN Security Council Resolution 1244, about the return of a limited number of police and military forces to Kosovo, was never implemented.

"That was never carried out. Serbia requested it several times, but it was rejected because it required the consent of the international forces, that is, NATO forces, which Serbia never received," Ristanovic concludes.

The End of Milosevic's Regime

On the other side of Kosovo, in Pristina, political scientist Fidan Ukaj believes that the signing of the Military-Technical Agreement in Kumanovo, 25 years ago, removed Slobodan Milosevic's regime and established peace and security.

"With the Kumanovo Agreement, Milosevic's regime was permanently removed from Kosovo, and the KFOR mission was established. Almost 36 countries sent their troops to Kosovo as part of KFOR, and as a result, peace and security were established. With the establishment of the KFOR mission, the genocide that was present in Kosovo from Milosevic's regime was eliminated once and for all," Ukaj told Kosovo Online.

He highlights that KFOR forces have played a very important role in securing Kosovo from June 11, 1999, to the present day, and that their reduction over the years is a result of the creation of stable security conditions.

"With the formation of Kosovo's institutions after the declaration of independence on February 17, 2008, institutions such as the police and the Kosovo Security Forces were consolidated and strengthened, and their capacity increased. It has been shown that KFOR and NATO troops contributed to its liberation, creating peace and security for all citizens," Ukaj concluded.

Days of Joy, Fear, and Symbols

Just next to Pristina is Gračanica, one of the largest Serbian enclaves, which emerged as a phenomenon or consequence of 1999.

Political analyst and historian Aleksandar Gudzic is one of those who witnessed history with his own eyes.

Today, 25 years later, from a professional standpoint, he believes that the Military-Technical Agreement in Kumanovo marked the end of the 1999 war but also the beginning of the largest ethnic cleansing at the end of the 20th century.

"The citizens of Kosovo, whether of Serbian or Albanian nationality, greeted the Kumanovo Agreement and the end of the bombing with joy. In the days that followed, fear and displacement ensued for the Serbs. It was the largest ethnic cleansing at the end of the 20th century, as 230,000 Serbs were expelled. They never returned," Gudzic says in an interview with Kosovo Online.

He adds that the return of expelled Serbs to Kosovo in the past 25 years is at the level of a statistical error and that the return process never really took off.

"Even those who did return, it was an unsustainable return, and those who decided to go back to their place of birth very quickly left again," Gudzic recalls.

According to him, Kumanovo was not chosen by chance as the place where the agreement to end the war would be negotiated and signed.

"In the First Balkan War, in the Battle of Kumanovo, the Serbs definitively liberated Kosovo from Ottoman rule and ideas. The symbolism of the Western democracies was to have an agreement signed in Kumanovo, which later all signatories except Serbia would manipulate and not respect. This was meant to symbolically signify the loss of Kosovo," Gudzic concludes.