BELGRADE/PRISTINA – It recently became clear that the Presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaçi, are pushing for some sort of border change as a lasting solution for mutual relations. What precisely Vučić’s “demarcation” and Thaçi’s “correction” mean is still unknown. However, the idea has already been met with significant opposition both domestically and internationally, and it could lead to numerous harmful consequences, the commentators agree.
Ilir Deda, member of the Assembly of Kosovo from the opposition party The Alternative, thinks that Thaçi’s decision does not have much significance.
“In contrast to Vučić, Thaçi does not have any influence here. He is without political control in Kosovo and he will not gain any. Therefore, Western countries must seriously think about who should represent Kosovo in negotiations. I wish to remind that Kosovo’s Assembly gave the mandate for negotiating with Serbia to Kosovo’s government two times, in 2011 and 2012. It did not give it to the President, and it cannot give it without violating our Constitution, because Kosovo is a parliamentary republic, and the whole power is concentrated in the government”, stated Deda for Radio Free Europe (RFE).
He added that opposition intends to challenge Thaçi’s mandate for negotiating in front of Constitutional Court and added that Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, recently stated that every division of Kosovo means new war.
Shkelzen Maliqi, writer, philosopher and analyst from Kosovo, in his interview for Serbia’s daily Danas, also questioned the significance of Thaçi’s statements regarding Preševo Valley.
“I believe that Thaçi himself does not think that the agreement will lead to territory swap, and that he mentions Preševo Valley as a counterclaim which should neutralize Serbia’s aspiration towards 10% of Kosovo’s territory (the northern municipalities with Serbian majority). However, there is maybe a project of symbolic territory swap, in a way recently explained by former Austria’s Ambassador and EU Envoy to Kosovo Wolfgang Petritsch”, said Maliqi.
Dušan Janjić, president of Forum for Ethnic Relations in Belgrade, also speaking for RFE, is of opinion that president Vučić, despite a dominant position of his Serbian Progressive Party in Serbia’s politics, still does not have an unlimited maneuvering space.
He said that Vučić succeeded in turning Serbian Orthodox Church and both pro-European and pro-Russian opposition against him. “Nobody wants war, nobody wants violent migrations”, emphasised Janjić.
Support for the idea of territory swap is also lacking from the most influential EU country in the region – Germany. This was emphasised by Bodo Weber, Senior Associate of the Democratization Policy Council from Berlin.
“Germany’s position is not changing and the narrative about division does not make any sense, there will be no division. Germany bases the entire dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on Serbia’s EU perspective, which depends on Germany. Therefore, the whole idea has been insane from the start, and still is”, claims Weber.
Asked about the apparent softening of US’s position on this issue and its parting with Germany, Weber said that one should be careful when interpreting the call (from US) for “creative and flexible” solutions, because it is not known what it means and from which position it comes. However, due to Germany’s strong opposition, Weber thinks that even if Washington changed its position, that would not make the situation any different.
That Germany discourages border changes in the Balkans was repeated today by the Chancellor Angela Merkel during her meeting with the president of the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers, Denis Zvizdić.
Support for the division based on ethnic principle by some Western officials is seen by Shkelzen Maliqi as a consequence of their belief that this kind of solution would be “quicker, more pragmatic and lasting”. However, according to him, the solution bears with it a number of negative consequences, such as low possibility for peaceful migration of people that remain on the “wrong side of the border”, a situation that manifested itself multiple times during the 1990s wars.
The consequences of demarcation were also illustrated by foreign policy commentator of Serbia’s newspaper Politika, Boško Jakšić. “It would be a change of territories in some way, and then we only need a wall which would separate us like Israelis and Palestinians. I do not see a lasting solution there”, he said for RFE, adding that, according to that scenario, Serbs south of Ibar river would be left without protection.
Ilir Deda did not miss the opportunity to emphasise the harmfulness of that kind of solution, saying that change of the border between Kosovo and Serbia would destabilise the entire region and open the questions of Macedonia’s, Montenegro’s and Bosnia’s borders, as well as the borders of some other countries in Eastern Europe.
Will Vučić and Thaçi continue to support border change, and is it only tactics or faithful commitment to finding a best possible solution, will be seen in the following months.