The partition of Kosovo has become a hot topic throughout the summer, with shifting views towards the issue making headlines every day both in the region and internationally.
Kosovo is eager to come up with a final agreement, as it would enable it to get a seat at the UN and open a path to other international organisations. Though Serbia may not be in a hurry to recognise Kosovo, ending the status quo would remove a major hurdle in its path to EU membership which is becoming increasingly popular amongst its citizens. Introducing the border correction as part of the agreement, however, may be too risky to pass.
Participating at Alpbach forum in Austria last Saturday, both Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci tried to get a broad consensus on the idea that without the border correction, it will be impossible to find a common solution between Serbia and Kosovo.
“Kosovo is determined to reach a binding legal agreement. Time for it is now. It is very difficult and therefore we need everybody’s support. We have decided to explore every possible option,” said Thaci.
Appeals for international community to help find a solution
Both presidents also appealed to the international community to let the two sides find a common ground without outside interference. This comes amid recent comments by John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, that the U.S. will not oppose any border corrections if both sides agree to it.
“Our policy, the U.S. policy, is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments. It’s really not for us to say,” Bolton said at a recent news conference in Kyev.
Johanes Hahn, the EU enlargement commissioner, who was also on the panel in Alpbach, tried to balance his response to the issue, urging the leaders to come up with a solution that will not destabilise the region.
“Whatever the solution is, and we should not exclude anything, should contribute to stability in the region and this solution should not trigger any additional ideas in the region. The international community should be convinced that the solution is tailor-made so that it guarantees stability,” Hahn said.
Vučić, in turn, emphasised the agreement concerns only Kosovo and Serbia and would not have a spill-over effect.
“We are doing something for the future of Serbs and Albanians. And we need to take care of ourselves, harming no one else, influencing nothing else in the region.”
Thaci’s added that “countries in the region should not be afraid of a possible agreement between Kosovo and Serbia even if it includes border change. It will not be a correction along ethnic lines – Kosovo will continue to be a multi-ethnic country and to support minority rights.”
Ivica Dačić, Serbian foreign minister, said the best thing that came out of the forum in Alpbach was that a shift in the approach to the problem has been made which in turn makes it more likely than ever that a compromise can be achieved.
In an op-ed in Serbia’s daily Večernje Novosti earlier this month, Dačić wrote that “everyone needs a lasting solution to the conflict between Serbs and Albanians which can only be achieved by the agreement between the two, where each side will gain and lose something”. He suggested the compromise should include dividing what is Serbian and what is Albanian; securing the Serbian Orthodox heritage by creating autonomous monastery communities based on the Athos model in Greece; ensuring the Community of Serb municipalities for the Serbs in the south, and getting financial compensation for usurped private and state property.
The critics, however, are wary of the border partition proposal, arguing the secessionist groups, primarily in Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina and ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, might use the border correction as a precedent to further their own goals in the future.
“If Kosovo can be partitioned, then the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia can be revisited, too”, says Jasmin Mujanović, a political scientist, in his op-ed for the Balkan Insight.
Daniel Serwer, director of conflict management at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former U.S. special envoy to the Balkans, also agrees the partition is a “bad idea”.
“It could be destabilising for the Balkan region, [and it could] enhance political support for those inside Kosovo who oppose Kosovo statehood and want union with Albania,” Serwer told Voice of America earlier in August.
“It could also hurt moderates in Serbia,” he added. “It would also have a bad impact more broadly than that, on Macedonia, on Bosnia and Herzegovina … and then you have Russian ambitions to control South Ossetia in Georgia and other territories, so it opens a Pandora’s box.”
The idea is also being met with anxiety in both Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia’s opposition parties as well as Serbian Orthodox Church are against partition, fearing it will encourage calls for greater Albania and leave hundreds of Serbian historical monuments as well as a significant part of Serbian community in Kosovo beyond Serbian control.
“Kosovo and Metohija, with its one thousand and five hundred Serbian Orthodox monasteries, churches, foundations and monuments of Serbian culture, represents the inalienable central part of Serbia”, stated the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Opposition in Kosovo as well as its Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj are also fierce critics of the proposal, insisting the border correction is unconstitutional. In his recent comments to Radio Free Europe, Haradinaj said that “Kosovo has its borders, it has a border with Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia«.
“We respect these borders and we do not think that we need to be creative in designing a new border,” he added.
Though the international mood on the possible partition of Kosovo is shifting, it is obvious that both Vučić and Thaci still have to get the consensus on the proposal back home. Both have announced there will be a referendum in each country once the final agrement is reached. But the time to meet in the middle is not unlimited. The international community may well decide to stay out of the negotiations, but it is pressuring the two sides to not dwell too long on finding a solution. Some reports suggest Serbia’s expected to recognise Kosovo by spring next year. The next meeting between Serbia and Kosovo is in Brussells on 7 September and will, indeed, be watched closely both in the region and abroad.
Since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo has been recognised by 111 out of 193 United Nations member states, with 23 out of 28 EU members. The border that was established in 2008 adopted the borders Kosovo had while it was part of Yugoslavia as Serbia’s autonomous province. Some 120,000 Serbs remained living in Kosovo which has a population of 1.8 million. On the other side of the border, around 50,000 ethnic Albanians continue to live in Serbia’s Preševo valley, near the border with Kosovo and Macedonia.