The risk and the price: demarcation and what comes after

Marko Savković

30. August 2018

The risk and the price: demarcation and what comes after

Photo taken from info-ks.net

In the discussion of the next, supposedly final phase of solving the so-called Kosovo problem, the term “demarcation” was introduced. No one knows what it might imply. But nevertheless the very idea is being criticised. Taking into account statements by Hashim Thaci and Ivica Dacic, various authors, who largely belong to the circle of liberal thinkers, are convinced that demarcation means division and exchange of territories according to the ethnic principle. They warn of the consequences of such an agreement on Bosnia and Macedonia, but also observe (again, alleged) change in the attitude of the United States, whose administration (allegedly) has abandoned the long-established “red lines” in the region. Germany, as the last country standing in the way of this “madness”, is called upon to react; the German Chancellor, after a few weeks, reiterated the view that the change of borders in the Balkans was excluded. However, others, concluding with the European Commission and Commissioner Hahn, refused to do so, calling instead for a solution that would be “in line with international law.”

The character of the regime in Belgrade and Pristina raises concerns; so does their ability to reach a settlement and make it sustainable. Researchers and authors in Serbia and Kosovo criticise the atmosphere that most believe is deliberately created: if there is no agreement, war looms, read the front pages of Belgrade tabloids. Finally, calls are made for “local ownership”, but one that does not include those in power. Two presidents, who asked for the dialogue to brought to the highest – that is, their level – act in concert; just look at the panel at the European Forum in Alpbach last weekend.

Demarcation – which implies both the “comprehensive agreement”, but very likely the exchange of recognitions as well – from the idea on the margin, became the first option to solve the Kosovo problem. There are several reasons for this (all of which can be challenged). The process of technical and political dialogue held in Brussels since March 2011 is, according to Avni Arifi, “clinically dead”. Because there was not enough political will (and willingness to pay the political price), dialogue was led with pain from the beginning. It remains an open question whether that was the strategy of the parties from the start. Then, Serbia was able to challenge (contest) Kosovo’s statehood. “The wave of recognitions” was stopped; we can only speculate about the political price Belgrade had to pay for it. Third, as a result of both the efforts of Serbia and objective international circumstances, Kosovo did not become a member of the UN and the Council of Europe. Nor is it certain that it will, if current policies continue. Fourth, and in connection with the first, the fate of the so-called Community (Association) of Serb Municipalities is extremely uncertain. The Community (Association) was considered a “compensation and guarantee” in terms of ensuring the personal autonomy of members of the Serbian community in Kosovo. Although this has not been stated explicitly, it naturally went along with the “two Germanies” model that has long been the only one “on the table”. Proposed ten years ago by Wolfgang Ischinger, and advocated by a number of German diplomats, it is no longer acceptable to Pristina because it does not lead to explicit recognition. (This, of course, does not mean that the explicit recognition of Kosovo from Serbia automatically leads to membership in the UN, but more on that later).

Let’s imagine that demarcation is agreed. Dilemmas open up at every step. The first question concerns holding a referendum. Taking into account the experience of Macedonia (agreement on the name issue), we assume that the question posed at referendum, both in Belgrade and Pristina, would be closely linked to the continuation of European integration. We can imagine a merciless campaign that will further polarize both societies. In addition, it is not impossible for the referendum to be held, with respective public(s) not even aware of the contents of the (future) agreement (unlike, again, the case of Macedonia). What is certain is that many will get a stomach stung from dramatic statements, change of attitude overnight, lamentation of missed opportunities, and terrible political opportunism.

A successful referendum would allow those who proposed it – it is still unclear who will support Thaci in Kosovo – to agree on the details of a “comprehensive agreement”. A truly comprehensive agreement should include, in our opinion, the following elements: recognition, establishment of diplomatic relations and exchange of ambassadors; annexes on: Gazivode Lake management regime (regardless of whether the border correction will place Gazivode in Serbia or not), due to its importance for the population in Kosovo (see the text of Ljubiša Mijačić in New Magazine No. 380); regime over Trepca mines, one part of which operates under the laws of Serbia, and the other of Kosovo; the status of the monasteries and property of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is difficult to imagine any extraterritoriality, which in reality is a hard to enforce; but the inviolability of ownership, surely. Additional annexes (not declarations!) of concern: the rights of minority communities (although Kosovo’s constitution and laws are among the most advanced in Europe, the problem has always been implementation) and the fate of missing persons – declaratively accepted within the framework of the Berlin Process. The fate of the Community (Association) of Serb municipalities needs to be decided upon; it is speculated that in case of demarcation accompanied by border correction, it would remain unachievable. There is, ultimately, the issue of lost property and compensation: with difficulties and resistance similar to that in Croatia, we can imagine that it will be resolved.

It is therefore clear that demarcation closes one, and opens the other round of problems. In the event that demarcation is accompanied by the correction of borders, there is the issue of precedent (which should have been raised back in 2008, when Kosovo unilaterally declared independence). That’s why international guarantees are important – both from the Quint as well as Russia. Also, at one point, Moscow, and even China will have to be involved for Kosovo to get that chair in the UN; if we presume that Moscow wants a solution for the Kosovo problem in the first place. Our position is that the only real guarantee of further inviolability of the borders in the Western Balkans is the membership of Serbia, as well as of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina in NATO. This option, however unlikely, must be communicated to decision-makers. Let us consider the relations between Greece and Turkey; on several occasions, only NATO membership deterred them from entering an open conflict.

It is interesting that few in the discussion take into account the degree of change that would have to take place in the politics and reality of Serbia. Long heated by the media and many others, “struggle for Kosovo”, returned to our scene an idealistic tale of the “cradle of Serbs” that was “temporarily seized.” Waiting for international circumstances to become “more favorable”; so Kosovo would somehow be reintegrated to Serbia, with million and a half of ethnic Albanians, among many fought and died precisely to prevent that. There is also the argument that by reaching an agreement, those who have caused conflict will be rewarded, and that their authoritarian rule will be strengthened. Finally, the opening of the story of the division of Bosnia is foreseen, which once was the trigger for the bloodiest conflict of all in the territory of former Yugoslavia.

Ultimately, it is the issue of risk and price involved, as with all peace agreements; and “a comprehensive agreement on normalization” will be precisely this. Serbia can continue with what it has been doing so far; but that policy nears its end. In order to keep the prospect of European integration open, Belgrade gradually – as slowly as possible – integrated institutions in the north of Kosovo. Now, in addition to education and health, there is little left to integrate. At the same time, it has obstructed – in line with the state policy that was legitimised at elections – the aspiration of the generations of Kosovo Albanians. In this way the relations of the two peoples remain locked in the 1990s; while the European Commission talks about “connectivity” agenda, athletes from Kosovo are prevented from participating in competitions held in the territory of Serbia proper, and Serbs can not go to Djakovica to visit their church and houses. Of course, politicians contributed to it; but, unless we think that some of the champions of civil society and academia will come into the position of the bearers of political power, politicians will be expected both to take the decision and responsibility for its consequences. After all, an agreement will not mean normalization; but can surely open the way for it.

Text first published in Novi magazin No. 383 on 30 August 2018