Serbia offers a Kosovo smorgasbord

Eager to ensure that Kosovo does not inhibit its EU membership aspirations, the Serbian government – facing elections next year – has recently offered a veritable smorgasbord of possibilities for reaching a “historical” compromise.

By Gerard Gallucci

Over the last several weeks, Serbian president Boris Tadic has been pulling out all the stops in his effort to gain EU candidacy status this year. He needs the political boost of prospective membership as he faces elections next year as the proponent of joining Europe. Tadic finally found Mladic and officials of his government have offered a veritable smorgasbord of possibilities for reaching an “historical” compromise over Kosovo. Tadic believes that Serbia is keeping its international commitments and he has called on the EU “to fulfill its part.” Stating his position as strongly as he ever has, Tadic said in an interview that Serbia, “should be given the same path to EU membership accorded to…Croatia” and “simultaneously be given the date for the start of the entry talks and not just the candidate status.”

Despite efforts by Pristina and others to move the goalposts by making recognition of Kosovo a condition for EU membership, Tadic says he does not expect the EU to do so. Domestic politics make it politically impossible for Tadic to simply give Kosovo away by recognizing its independence. Nevertheless, he and other senior officials have put almost everything else on the table. Belgrade has repeatedly stressed readiness to reach agreements on technical issues in talks with Pristina. The chief of Belgrade’s negotiating team was also first to raise the possibility of discussing the partition of Kosovo in the talks. The charge was then taken up by deputy prime minister Ivica Dacic, who publicly suggested resolving the Kosovo issue – in the interests of Serbia’s EU membership – by separation (or partition) of Kosovo. More recently, he raised the possibility of treating the Kosovo issue as a matter of border adjustment with Albania, thereby explicitly accepting the notion put forth by Albanian nationalists – such as Kosovo’s Self Determination movement – of a Greater Albania. In this scenario, Tirana and Belgrade would agree on splitting Kosovo along ethnic lines with most of it being absorbed into Albania. According to Dacic, “separation, followed by living peacefully side by side” is the “only realistic solution.” Former Yugoslav president Dobrica Cosic goes even further, proposing an exchange of territories including the Presevo Valley. (Early in 2010, a report circulated that Belgrade made such an offer – Presevo for northern Kosovo – to the Americans, who refused to carry it to Pristina.)

The Albanians and their Quint allies have rejected the idea of partition as they believe the question of Kosovo’s independence and territorial integrity have been settled. Many Balkans experts remain loudly opposed to the idea of partitioning Kosovo along ethnic lines for fear that it will spread to the rest of the region. But leaving aside that giving northern Kosovo a special status need not include partition and that Kosovo independence is already an ethnic partition, what especially is wrong with allowing the formation of ethnic majority states? The formation of nation states is the story of European political development since Napoleon. Drawing lines may not always be neat, even in the best of cases leaving ethnic minorities somewhere. But most European states have such minorities, either indigenous or immigrant. Ensuring equal treatment, opportunity and prosperity without borders is one of the things the European Union is all about. Size cannot be an issue, as Bosnia without the Serb and Croat cantons would still be larger than Luxemburg and Kosovo.

In any case, President Tadic has not disowned any of the ideas recently raised. Indeed, he has said that nothing should be “written in stone” and that “unconventional moves” may open “a chance to find some new solution.” This seems to leave the EU (and the US) with a range of possibilities for putting aside the Kosovo issue that revolve around finding some formula for not forcing Belgrade to either recognize or abandon the north to Pristina. Should this not be doable?

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s advisory board. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.

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