Miroslav Lajčák: Top Slovak diplomat embarking on yet another mission to the Balkans

Miroslav Lajčak; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – Miroslav Lajčák was appointed today as EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues. The former Foreign Minister of Slovakia will once again return to the region he has gotten to know quite well over his career.

“Miroslav Lajčák is a very respected politician and experienced diplomat, who enjoys full trust throughout the EU. I am sure he will be doing an excellent job as EU Special Representative, helping to relaunch the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue”, tweeted High Representative Josep Borrell upon nominating him.

Lajčák’s experience in the Western Balkans is greater than most of EU’s diplomats. He first encountered the region professionally as the right-hand man of Eduard Kukan – at the time a UN Special Envoy to the Balkans as well as Slovakia’s Foreign Minister. He was subsequently made a Slovak Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 2001 and 2005, and speaks Serbian.

His official biography states that he negotiated, organised and supervised the referendum on the independence of Montenegro in 2006 on behalf of the European Union. Following his short return to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, Lajčák was appointed High Representative of the International Community and European Union Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2007. He left the position in 2009 to become Foreign Minister in his country, but not before BiH signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.

High Representative Lajčak meeting with then Prime Minister of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik in 2008; Photo: Ohr.int

After Prime Minister Rober Fico was ousted in 2010, Lajčák headed to Brussels, working within the newly established European External Action Service as the Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia under High Representative Catherine Ashton.

Return of Fico’s SMER to power in 2012 also saw Lajčák’s return at the helm of Slovakia’s diplomacy, the position he relinquished only in March 2020, after SMER’s defeat in the general election a month earlier. He managed to keep his position in 2018, after Robert Fico resigned as Prime Minister following a murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and protests that ensued.

During his long tenure as the Foreign Minister, Lajčák weathered several political controversies, including the decision of Visegrad countries to close their doors to refugees and migrants during the 2015/16 crisis. Slovakia was the first to bring a lawsuit to the European Court of Justice aimed at blocking the mandatory quota system.

“You cannot turn into a multi-cultural society overnight,” Lajčák said at the time.

He also had to defend his ministry’s record after Slovakia allegedly misused the funds allocated for its Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2016.

Nevertheless, he managed to keep a high profile. In 2014, he was rumoured to be one of the potential successors to Catherine Ashton as the next High Representative. He also presided over the United Nations General Assembly from 2017 to 2018 after his country was elected to the Presidency for that period.

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić meets with Lajčak at UN General Assembly in 2017; Photo: President of Serbia

Speaking for our portal in 2017, Lajčák touched upon some of the issues that will be important for his mandate, such as the Western Balkan’s nationalism and rhetoric surrounding it.

Read also: [EWB Interview] Lajčák: We have to bring EU perspective closer to Western Balkans

“It is there, it is part of the political culture of the region. I am not happy about it. It is not helpful, but it works with the voters, so, therefore, the political leaders are using it. Apparently, the voters react more positively to the nationalistic rhetoric than to the pro-European rhetoric. Again, I would say that part of the answer might lie in the fact that the European perspective is seen as less tangible compared to some years back, and therefore to overcome this, we have to bring the EU perspective closer”, Lajčák said at the time.

His experience with the region and European diplomacy seems to make him extremely qualified for the job. Not everybody seems to be convinced, though.

“EU officially appointed a Special Envoy on the dialogue between Kosovo & Serbia. I congratulate him for the nice job he got. But his new mission is designed to fail due to his record to stop Slovakia to recognize Kosovo & the vote against Kosovo’s seat in UNESCO”, tweeted President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi some time before the official appointement. Thaçi will persumeably be one of the principal figures in the region Lajčák would have to cooperate with during his mandate.

President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci with the President of the UN General Assembly Lajčak in 2017; Photo: President of Kosovo

Some analysts also believe Lajčák to be an unfortunate choice for the job. In a February op-ed for EUObserver Toby Vogel and Bodo Weber of Berlin-based Democratization Policy Council argued that the fact that Slovakia has not recognised Kosovo and his apparent history of putting personal ambitions ahead of the mission he has been given as the reasons against his appointment.

According to Vogel and Weber, Lajčák’s tenure as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina can also be described as a failure. They wrote that he was too relenting toward Serb leadership at the time and that the clash he had with Milorad Dodik back then resulted in a “humiliating retreat”.

Despite these assessments, Lajčák seems to be eager to carry on with his work on international cooperation and multilateralism, as he wrote on his Twitter account upon leaving the office of Foreign Minister. Will Kosovo-Serbia normalisation process, that has given much headache to his predecessors, prove to be too much for him? The region will have to wait and see.