West should welcome Serbia-Kosovo border change, writes Prelec for “Politico”

Mitrovica Bridge; Photo: Wikimedia Commons

BRUSSELS – Recently proposed land swap between Serbia and Kosovo, in which the former country should get the northern Serbian-majority municipalities and the latter Albanian-majority Preševo Valley, deserves careful support from the West, writes Marko Prelec, professor of practice in the School of Public Policy at the Central European University, for POLITICO.

This is the only solution that would be genuinely accepted by both sides, argues Prelec, and that is the reason why it should be considered.

“Why would Serbia agree to a deal like this? Because it represents an acknowledgement that American and European policy toward them has failed… A land swap lets Serbia say: “You tried to do this without us and it didn’t work.” Admissions like that are potent, especially when countries grapple with emotionally charged issues like history, identity, and territory”, he writes.

From the perspective of Kosovo, accepting this agreement is even more intuitive – it would enable it to become a full member of the international community, including the UN and Council of Europe memberships.

“While the impasse continues, neither country has a realistic hope of joining the EU. Brussels has made clear to Belgrade that it must settle its dispute with Kosovo before it can become an EU member”, Prelec reminds.

The opposition to this kind of solution was also addressed. Prelec is aware that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as senior EU politicians such as Carl Bildt, regard it as a “recipe for instability”. There are, namely, other fragile borders in the region, mostly in Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, revision of which would be brought under the spotlight if the ethnic demarcation between Kosovo and Serbia was successful.

However, although he admits that there is a possibility for such scenario, Prelec does not regard it as plausible.

While the territorial integrity of Macedonia, which has a large percentage of Albanian population, has been endangered on several occasions, the present situation is quite different, he writes. “Macedonia has become far more stable, and has a progressive, multi-ethnic government; NATO membership is possible as early as next year. The country’s Albanian population is pragmatic, and content to live in a state with good prospects of European integration and prosperity”.

Much more risk of secession can be found in Bosnia and Herzegovina, i. e. its Serbian-majority entity, Republika Srpska. Despite that fact, according to Prelec, chances for border change remain low.

“Glance at a map. Their region comprises two halves: a poor, small east along the Serbian border and a larger, richer west abutting Croatia… The Serbs could declare independence tomorrow, but two-thirds or more of their people would be cut off in the west, with no land route to friendly territory. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitution already gives their region extremely broad autonomy, which would probably be lost in the aftermath of a failed secession”, he argues.

The land swap would be mutually beneficial and there is little reason to worry about the precedent it would create, the article reiterates. Therefore, EU’s support would be more than welcome, it concludes.