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Kosovo: Still Stuck in the Mud!

Leaders in Belgrade are afraid to propose bold, forthright, innovative proposals that will serve Serbia’s interests. They keep looking over their collective shoulders, wondering what will the Americans think, what will the EU think, what will the Germans think
Datum: 15/03/2018

Kosovo: Still Stuck in the Mud!

Foto Tanjug

Hostilities ended in Kosovo in June 1999. It has been ten years since Pristina unilaterally declared independence. It has been five years since the beginning of the Brussels Agreement which were supposed to launch a new era of cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina. And, Oliver Ivanovic was brutally and cowardly murdered six weeks ago. In all of that time and through all of these events, very little has been accomplished in resolving the question of Kosovo’s future. Sadly, Kosovo remains just another frozen conflict.

But, why? Why has there been so little progress on Kosovo? Partly the intransigence is due to an inability of politicians on both sides to compromise. But most of all, the Kosovo issue is stuck in the mud because of cowardice by politicians, especially in Serbia. Leaders in Belgrade are afraid to propose bold, forthright, innovative proposals that will serve Serbia’s interests. They keep looking over their collective shoulders, wondering what will the Americans think, what will the EU think, what will the Germans think. They are more concerned with making sure the Western powers are happy and satisfied than with doing their duty for the Serbian people.

This does not mean there has been no lack of discussion on the issue. In fact, discussion of Kosovo has been very prominent over the past several months in Serbia. But, all the talk reminds us of William Shakespeare’s beautiful play, Much Ado About Nothing. It is a satirical comedy filled with gossip, rumor overhearing, jealousy and misunderstanding that accomplishes nothing for most of the play. Finally, a hero and heroine emerge and set the record straight. Let’s hope that happens among Serbian political leaders with respect to Kosovo. But, the signs are not promising and for now we simply have to put up with them saying a lot, but accomplishing very little.

President Vucic often says the right thing. On a recent trip to Austria he said “it is now up Serbia and Kosovo to make concession,” evoking a sense of optimism. The President has made this sentiment many times during the past five years. But he also has said several times that there are “huge obstacles” to a successful agreement with Pristina. And, while attending the Davos meeting last month, Vucic opined that compromise with Pristina was unlikely in 2018. It’s no wonder that Vucic’s see-saw statements have led to a profound sense of confusion. Hashim Thachi and other Kosovar leaders have created the same sense of confusion by making similar statements. Thaci recently declared that he sees an opportunity for an “historic agreement” with Serbia in 2018. And yet, last summer Edita Tahiri, Pristina’s Minister for Dialogue and the Head of the Kosovar Delegation to the Brussels talks, rebuffed Vucic’s reconciliation talks.

Unfortunately, instead of moving ahead on to overcome the “huge obstacles,” work on the necessary “concessions” and deal with really profound issues major Serbian leaders are consumed by trivial, petty issues that really have no bearing on resolving the Kosovo issue. Vucic says he will agree for Kosovo to get a “chair” in the U.N. for a one day visit of German Chancellor Merkel. What is this supposed to accomplish other than to allow Pristina the trappings of a sovereign state? Foreign Minister Dacic vents about small, irrelevant states—such Burundi and Comoros—rescinding their recognition of Kosovo and boasts about countries that have not recognized Kosovo’s independence. Again, what is the point? Why consume time and energy on such a minor matter? And, Defense Minister, Alexander Vulin, who is always consumed by the “boogeyman” of a Greater Albania, argues that decisions are being made in Tirana, not Pristina. He has never provided evidence of this charge and, even if it is true, Serbia is more than capable of defending itself. These are merely examples. The Serbian media is full of additional examples almost every day.

At this point in time, the Serbian leadership should focus on and take action on in preparation for any future talks in Brussels. The goal is to focus on the major questions, such as sovereignty, borders, economic development, etc. The goal at this point should not be to discuss the minor issues such as telecom, judicial, customs, etc. These issues that should be determined once the larger issues have been settled. Belgrade also should acknowledge that every past formula has failed.

Several proposals have been made to hold an international conference to examine possible ways forward. Part of some of these proposals want to include the U.S. and Russia - perhaps as leaders - of such a conference. The idea of a conference is worthwhile, but the inclusion of the U.S. and Russia, as well as other large powers, such as the EU, would be a huge mistake. The involvement of the U.S. and Russia would quickly turn the conference into a platform for a new Cold War. Moreover, the American involvement in the Balkans has been a disaster since it started in the early 1990s. Washington has never understood the ethnic dimension in the region and has attempted to force political and security structures on policies on the region that do not work. Yes, the Russians would defend the Serbs, but their main interest is not Kosovo or Serbia, but pushing their own interests against the U.S. Any conference should be held among the parties in the Balkans who will be directly affected by the outcome.

Once these issues have been acknowledged and satisfied, leaders in Belgrade need to focus on the major issues. This has not happened in the five years the Brussels Agreement had been promulgated. To get to the “end game” Belgrade has to listen carefully to want the EU wants and what it does not want. Serbian leaders should hold the EU to what it says publicly. EU Commissioner Hahn recently said that the EU has “no predetermined plan” for resolving the Kosovo issue. In other words, the EU just wants a “legally binding” agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. As I have said for many years, Belgrade needs to become much more assertive, must seriously examine partition along the Ibar River and, above all, stop surrendering on minor issues that, taken together, constitute Serbian recognition of Kosovar independence. Belgrade needs to shape Chapter 35 of the Aquis Communautaire to serve the best interest of Serbia. President Vucic has promised a breakthrough proposal on Kosovo in April. Let’s hope he finally is the leader he claims to be.


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