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Marko Djuric: Kosovo separatists need casus belli instead of compromise

Marko Djuric. Photo by the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia in Russia

The director of the Serbian Government Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has told EADaily about the current situation and prospects of the Kosovo settlement.

Mr. Djuric, you have been attacked recently by Albanian separatists in Kosovo. At the same time, the Albanian party alleged that your stay in the Kosovo territory was unlawful. What do you think was the true reason for your abduction? What did the Kosovo Albanians get as the result of their attack?

I was in the territory of my country, in the territory of our southern part in Kosovo and Metohija. I was there in accordance with the laws of the country and in accordance with previous agreements on visits of officials that were concluded by interim institutions (authorities) in Pristina. I let them know about the visit more than 70 hour before it took place. According to the agreements, I did not need a permission, I was supposed just to inform the institutions in charge what I actually did.

The attack was aimed at intimidating the Serbian population that still remains in the territory and further increase their influense in north Kosovo and Metohija. They are not ready for compromises; they are trying to find a pretext, it can be called a casus belli, to oust the rest of Serbs, especially from the north, because they believe the Serbs are an obstacle on their way to imrpoving their stance in the negotiations to follow. Nevertheless, we clearly state that violence cannot result in a compromise. What happened in March 26 did not make us cast doubts on our principal position that Kosovo and Metohija are inalienable part of Serbia.

This incident made the Serb List party leave the «parliament» of the separatist Kosovo and declare that it would form the Community of Serb Municipalities on its own. After seeing that the Serbs are determined to do so, the Albanians initiated the process of forming the community. How do the Serbian and Albanian views of the functions of the community differ?

I do not believe that the Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija would establish the Community of Serb Municipalities, especially the way it is envisaged by the Brussles Agreement. The view the establishment of the community in the context of a ruling of the «constitutional court of Kosovo» that declared invalid 22 of the 23 principles of forming the community agreed upon by both parties in Brussels. Thus, they would like to nullify all the political, economic and other rights this association is supposed to have.

On the other hand, the Serbs believe that they do not need such a community that would encroach on their interests. The Serbs opted for forming the community in accordance with the agreements previously made. It means the community is to have the most extensive powers in the filed of economy, culture, education, town and rural planning, and, finally, in the field of security. It should be noted that in accordance with the Brussels Agreement, the municipalities of the community are to decide who will head law enforcement institutions. We need this type of the community instead of what Pristina invented: an empty shell as a new tool to suppress the Serbs.

Leader of the separatists Hashim Thaci has recently announced establishment of a work group with participation of EU experts that would draft proposals related to the charter of the community. Can the Serbs of Kosovo hope that under this project they will be guaranteed a real autonomy?

First, it is not the business of Pristina, Hashim Thaci or someone else to form from outside some groups connected to the Community of Serb Municipalities. They are just to provide the Serbs with an opportunity to establish such a community in accordance with the agreements in force. This means that legal and constitutional premises should be established in Kosovo and Metohija for its normal functioning. In future, the are expected to elaborate a concept of amending their own legislation to let the community function easily in their system. And the Serbs will establish the community the way it is said in the Brussels Agreement. Not less.

What to the Brussels Agreement say about the establishment of the community?

6 of the 15 clauses of the Brussels Agreement (they are the first ones) are about establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities. They envisage the most extensive powers for the community and a full-fledged participation of Serbs in other institutions n accordance with internal and international laws. On April 19, it will five years since the Brussels Agreement was signed, but Pristina has not taken any certain step to fulfill its obligations within its framework, that is to form an association of municipalities with predominantly Serb population. I am sure that such behavior of Pristina is mostly based on the assumption that they were given a carte blanche from the international community that they are using in the attempts to win a more advantageous position for the talks ignoring the current agreement and exerting pressure upon the Serbs. They hope that applying the joint effort they will be able to weaken Serbia and make it accept their inadmissible conditions. But I can state that today Serbia is a responsible and independent state that cannot accept unlawful attempts to influence its domestic and foreign policy.

When we speak of the Brussels Agreements, the Serbian government is often criticized for signing and fulfilling them. What do you think is positive about these agreements? What would you have changed had you such an opportunity?

Even after signing the Brussels Agreements, Serbia adheres to its principal position on all vital issues. We have not and will not recognize the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo. We have not and will not agree to the membership of the so-called Kosovo in international organizations like the Council of Europe, OSCE, the UN. On the other hand, using these agreements, we have tried to ease everyday life of our people in Kosovo and Metohija, to improve the relations with the Albanians, their political representatives, to come to a long-term stability and peace in the interests of just Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, but Serbia in general. As a result of hard and tiresome negotiations (I personally participated in more than 230 rounds), there has been no massive ethnic violence within five years in Kosovo. Of course, there people who dislike compromise, who dislike decisions that do not result in one side having everything and the other losing everything. Today, they are trying to put us aside from the process of implementing the Brussels Agreements. The fact that the Pristina leadership even five years after signing the Brussels Agreements has not implemented its major provisions shows perfectly well how they meet interests of the Serbian people.

President Vucic says that he supports the «policy of peace.» This statement is accompanied by not peaceful statements and actions of the separatists' leaders Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj. Is it possible to achieve something in the Kosovo issue in terms of peace, when the opposite side is not tuned for peace at all?

Peace, like tango, needs to for the process. I am sure that our effort to preserve peace in the Balkans are a result of our willingness to build a state with a solid economy, a state that has good relations with all the countries in the world, a state that supports principles of the international law. On the other hand, we see politicians with unquestionable military past that made them objects of investigation of international justice bodies regarding their involvement in military and other crimes. There is a large disproportion here between characters and personalities of the people who represent the two parties. We cannot choose now who will be representing the Albanian people, but I believe that if they opt for the way of conflict instead of the peaceful way, it would undoubtedly be a loss for both the Albanian and Serbian people. They will not be able to be the winners in this fight, despite their view of the balance of forces in the current world and despite the fact that sometimes it seems to them that they enjoy unconditional support of their patrons who have let them to pretend they have independence for ten years.

Apart from the Serbian people, who are the biggest value Serbia and Kosovo have, the Serbian cultural heritage is also deployed there. How is Serbia going to settle the issue of the status of Serbian monasteries in Kosovo? Media reported recently that there are plans to establish the Serbian patriarchy with its center in Belgrade and the Kosovo patriarchy with the center in Pec. Won’t Serbia lose its church in Kosovo and Metohija in this case?

The Serbian Orthodox Church just like the Serbian state is single and indivisible. Our patriarch is also the archbishop of Pec. In this sense, our church is a significant pillar to help Serbian people survive in Kosovo and Metohija. The eparchy of Raska and Prizren of the Serbian Orthodox Church is functioning all over Kosovo and Metohija, in hundreds of churches and in dozens of monasteries. The office I am heading has fully or partially restored 42 monasteries and churches in Kosovo and Metohija within four years. They were destroyed during the outbreak of violence inspired in early 2000s by the current representatives of the Albanians whom you mentioned in the first part of our conversation.

It is highly significant for us to specify that our church in Kosovo and Metohija, apart from the religious nature, has a national one. The holy relics of Serbian rulers are enchased there. These are the relics of Serbian rulers who were our leaders at times when the center of the Serbian state was in Kosovo and Metohija. Prizren had long been the capital of Serbian kings. All significant events of our medieval and modern history are closely connected with Kosovo and Metohija. Since 1912, the moment when the territory was liberated, many important events took place in this territory, so, for Serbs it is not «just 13% of the territory.» Kosovo and Metohija for Serbs is a birthplace of spirituality, identity and the key binding factor for the whole Serbian people who after the collapse of former Yugoslavia turned out to be artificially divided by borders of former Yugoslav republics that were granted the status of states.

President Vucic initiated «the internal dialog on Kosovo» to hear the opinion of the Serbian public on the issue. According to his own words, most experts believe that the conflict should be kept in a frozen condition, but the president think otherwise. What will Serbia have if the Kosovo settlement is speeded up? Is this aspiration for a compromise connected to the conditions posed by the EU for Serbia to join it?

The task of the internal dialog is participation in solving of Kosovo problems of as wide as possible range of society members, because it is important that we represent the whole Serb community and that not only 120,000 of Serbs remaining in Kosovo and Metohija, but millions of those who together with Serbia are trying to preserve Kosovo and Metohija. In the framework of the internal dialog, we have heard quite different concepts of settling the issue: it was offered to use all available means the state has, there were even calls for summoning an international conference that would define the status of the whole Balkan peninsula. Within the internal dialog, we have seen a wide range of ideas and proposals. I think it increased our chances for solving this issue, because many people from the scientific community and various spheres joined the discussion. Serbia is interested in coming to a compromise on the Kosovo and Metohija issue, because it wants to guarantee a long-term peace and stability not just in Serbia, but in the region in general.

Within last 25 years, we have lost a lot in terms of economic and human resources and military strength. We are the nation that suffered incomparable losses within this period. The time has come to focus upon reviving our institutions, increasing the birth rate to let us survive as the nation and preserve our Orthodox cultural code, our Cyrillic alphabet, to let us have enough strength to withstand and preserve ties with sister and friendly nations like Russians. Because the connection of Serbia and Russia is one of the peculiarities that defines us as the nation. In order to achieve all this, we need to concentrate on recovery of the state. And for this purpose, we need to solve the Kosovo and Metohija status issue.

How do you see Russia’s role in settling the Kosovo status? Do you hope for assistance of the Russian side and what should it be?

Russia’s role in preserving Serbia as an independent and self-sufficient state in the Balkan peninsula is extremely important. We appreciate the support we have from Russia on the Kosovo and Metohija issue and on all other issues significant for protecting interests of the Serbian people in the region. That is why we jealously guard our independent domestic and foreign policy and do not allow other states decide for us who will be our friends; we are trying to act in the interests of our country. We grateful to Russia for the understanding of our effort to have an independent domestic and foreign policy activity. We are grateful to it for the support and will continue withstanding any pressure.

Does Serbia consider a referendum of the Kosovo status? Can Serbia cede part of its territory and, if yes, on what conditions? Is it what is claimed when the matter concerns the notorious «legally binding agreement» with Pristina? Will Belgrade agree to UN membership for Kosovo?

When it comes to coming to a compromise, the space for maneuver looks rather narrow these days and weeks. Nevertheless, we think it to be our obligation to the citizens of Serbia. This is needed for preserving peace and stability. Our position on Kosovo membership in international organizations is well known. Membership to the UN and other international organizations is granted only to states. For us, Kosovo and Metohija is not a state, there is nothing to do for it there. Of course, we have opted for finding a solution through dialog, but not unilateral steps. I need to remind that in 2008, when «the parliament» in Pristina illegally, contrary to the Serbian constitution, declared its so-called independence, there were no referendum. In this sense, had all Serbian citizens been questioned (those living in Kosovo and Metohija and those living in central Serbia), I am sure that Kosovo independence would have never been on the agenda.

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