The “dialogue” on the future of Kosovo and Metohija which Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić initiated in his article with Belgrade-based Blic newspaper on July 23 has made headlines in Serbia. Deputy Prime Minister - Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dačić expressed his views of the issue in an article published by the same newspaper on July 31. Almost simultaneously, Second Deputy Prime Minister - Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajić voiced the issue on television, RTS state channel.
Noteworthy that the both ministers suggest “a clear distinction” between the Serbian and Albanians areas as one of possible options to ensure long-term solution to Kosovo and Metohija issue. As EADaily reported earlier, “In the treaty between Serbs and Albanians this is the only possible compromise solution to preserve the special status of our churches and monasteries and the Community of Serbian municipalities in southern Kosovo,” Ivica Dačić said. According to Rasim Ljajić, had in 1995 and 1996 Slobodan Milosevic suggested such distinction, the then leader of Kosovo Albanians Ibrahim Rugova would have been happy. Ljajić suggested normalization of relations which implies admission of Kosovo to all international organizations, except UN, without recognition by Serbia. Belgrade could demand financial support and benefit from the situation.
EADaily talked to Serbian experts to find out what kind of distinction is in question.
Nikola Tanasic, a Serbian philosopher, analyst at New Serbian Political Thought magazine, recalls that Ivica Dačić speaks about “distinction” between Serbian and Albanian areas on territory of Kosmet (Kosovo and Metohija) every time when he is supposed to “display personal initiative” on Kosovo.
The term “distinction” as such has no specific content, but the parties can interpret it in their own way, Tanasic says. For Serbs (and Albanians) it means “division of Kosovo,” which would result in separation of four municipalities in the north of Kosmet (Leposavić, Zvečan, Zubin Potok and North Mitrovica) from the region and unification with Serbia in exchange for recognizing “independence” of the “what will remain from Kosovo,” he explained. Representatives of European Union may interpret that term as a political autonomy for the Kosovo Serbs, which does not imply “redrawing of borders on the Balkans,” Tanasic said.
According to the Serbian expert, the given scenario is quite problematic and Dačić is well aware of it. It will touch almost all the countries in the region prompting public unrest and even new armed conflicts, Tanasic says. To prove his words, the expert recalls that Albanians demand uniting the Preševo Valley (three municipalities populated with ethnic Albanians in the south of Serbia) in response to the thesis of “separating north of Kosmet.” “It is not the only problem, indeed,” the expert said. “Approximately half of the remaining Serbs reside in the north of Kosovo, but the key monasteries and cultural monuments are not in that territory. After all, such distinction would legalize the incredible plunder of Serbian public and private property in other parts of Kosovo and Metohija since 1999. As a result, 250,000 internally displaced people cannot bring back their property or return to their homes.”
Another expert, Serbian political analyst Milan Damjanac believes that the only possible “distinction” is separation of Serbia from its southern region. Such option could be acceptable if the borders of all the former Yugoslav republics were revised. “It is senseless for Serbia to recognize separation of part of its territory in favor of the Albanian people and do not demand unification of Serbian-populated territories of other countries. Signing an agreement under which Serbia would refuse from the biggest part of Kosovo in exchange for a small northern part will bring nothing to it,” Damjanac told EADaily.
The expert is sure that geopolitical circumstances are not favorable for Serbia and it is not the right time to settle the Kosovo conflict. “However, Serbia’s leadership is facing pressure, since it probably made certain commitments before coming to power,” Damjanac said.
As for the statement by Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajić, saying that “Milosevic could agree on Kosovo,” Nikola Tanasic considers as one of the favorite “tricks” of Serbian politicians trying to “remain general after battle.” Undoubtedly, Slobodan Milosevic with his strong army and police that controlled the region then could settle the conflict on his terms until NATO and, namely, U.S. interfered with the conflict directly, the Serbian political analyst said. The government of Serbia has no such chance now. Nevertheless, he said, they blame Milosevic “to conceal all the shameful concessions to Pristina and NATO occupants made by the following cabinets.”
Tanasic recalled that in 2000, when Milosevic handed over his powers, the only document regulating what was taking place in Kosovo and Metohija was Resolution No.1244 of UN SC that guarantees state sovereignty and integrity of Serbia and provides an opportunity for 1,000 Serbian military to return to the region. “After Milosevic, no government in Serbia used that opportunity, even when security of Serbs in Kosmet was directly endangered. Accusations against Milosevic look to conceal also the fact that Kosovo Albanians seized from Serbs everything they could during pogroms in 1999 and 2004. All the other thing they have they received from Serbian government, which made such concessions to favor European and American officials,” Nikola Tanasic said.
The expert said Serbia’s positions in the talks are incomparably weaker than they were in 1995 or 2010, due to the government policy of “transferring Serbian statehood in Kosovo to Pristina in parts for already 16 years in exchange for uncertain and suspicious ‘promotion on the way to European integration’ amid constant complaints that ‘Milosevic wasted everything’”.
According to Tanasic, Milosevic made a surprisingly good agreement in 1999, considering the unequal conflict he was involved in. Both the following and the current authorities have bargained away everything that the Serbian army gained then. They are going to sell the uttermost farthing claiming that yet Milosevic sold all that, the Serbian political analyst said.
Milan Damjanac, in turn, said Rasim Ljajić’s statement looked to “feel the pulse” of the people. “All institutions in Serbia are occupied, in fact, and will support the idea of ‘closing the Kosovo issue’ with certain recognition. Even Serbian patriarch avoided comments on the new situation, which shows the occupation decree and atmosphere of fear,” Damjanac said.
The expert believes that President Aleksandar Vučić needs this entire story around “dialogue on Kosovo and Metohija” to gain more time from the West to retain his power. Damjanac thinks the only thing Serbia can gain from the new circumstance is legalized residence of Serbs in certain regions in Kosovo and protection of monasteries via the Kosovo system. With all the other actions, they are throwing dust in people’s eyes.
They blame Milosevic for their own mistakes and try to persuade the poor population that Serbia will get material benefits from sale of its territories, which is incredible, Damjanac said.
His colleague, Nikola Tanasic added that Rasim Ljajić is a professional politician known with his moderate and well-thought statements that ensure his irreplaceability on political arena in Serbia. “Therefore, his remarks about ‘financial benefit’ the country will get from transferring Serbian statehood in Kosmet to Albanians sounds like a casual interpretation by journalists rather than original statement,” Tanasic said. Ljajić himself explained that Serbia shall not have made new concessions to Albanians unless they prove they can provide the Kosovo Serbs with all the rights they pledged to provide yet long ago, as well as until EU makes clear what Serbia is required to do about Kosovo and Metohija and what political benefits it will get instead, the expert explained.
He supposes that these are empty words, given the norms of European policy. “Yet ten years ago, German Ambassador Andreas Cobel openly said we ‘should be grateful to Europe, if the issue of Sandžak (region densely populated with Muslims in the southwest of Serbia) and Vojvodina (multi-ethnic region in the north of Serbia) is not raised after Kosovo.’ Therefore, the outcome of any concession to Kosovo is evident – it will result in new demands and new parts of Serbia until nothing is left from the country,” Nikola Tanasic said.
Milan Damjanac fears that Albanians in Kosovo may demand more than distinction of areas. They want part of central Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece, he said. “Essentially, Dačić voiced the Serbian government’s request for division of Kosovo and hopes someone will hear it, though the Brussels agreements put an end to the issue of dividing Kosovo and Metohija. Serbian institutions in Kosovo transferred their powers to Albanians and were dissolved. The American protectorate took shape as a state after it competences extended over the north of Kosovo,” Damjanac said.
He said maximum the Serbian government may get is a special status for Serbian monasteries and communities in exchange for normalization of relations with Kosovo and a permission to the self-proclaimed republic to become a member of all the international organizations without formal recognition by Serbia. Here is how the expert sees possible recognition scenario: Serbia signs a binding agreement with Kosovo to refuse from its claims on part of its territory and official dissolves all its institutions there, integrating them into the Kosovo system. That process has started already with signing of the Brussels agreement.
The expert believes that the final phase of independence for Kosovo shall mean admission to all international organizations, except UN. This condition will be laid down to the Serbian government but it depends not on Serbia, but Russia that has its own reasons to retain its tough stance on Kosovo’s admission to UN, Milan Damjanac said for conclusion.