Kosovo, a Frozen Conflict
Until a week ago it appeared that the government in Belgrade would give up the last vestiges of its claim to Kosovo for the sake of some indeterminate date in the future when Serbia may join the European Union. A series of unreciprocated concessions over the past few months have encouraged the KLA regime’s mentors in Washington and their European backers to expect the final capitulation. In the end they overplayed their hand by demanding everything and offering nothing.
The demands have been escalating for years. The final objective was stated in December 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel came to Serbia to declare that the “path of Serbia into the EU can only lead through the normalization of its relations with Kosovo”—i.e., Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo. This precondition was stated with her customary subtlety and diplomatic tact, but at least it had the quality of candor which made it difficult for Boris Tadić and his eurofanatical Democrats to pretend that “the European path” did not entail eventual surrender.
The defeat of Tadić last May and the subsequent establishment of a new, allegedly nationalist coalition government in July did not result in any change of course. Quite the contrary: Washington and Brussels were surprisingly comfortable dealing with Šešelj’s former No. 2, Tomislav Nikolić, as president, and a former Milošević loyalist, Ivica Dačić, as prime minister. The key “Westerner” in the triumvirate is Aleksandar Vučić, known for his embarrassingly groveling statements on visits to Germany and the U.S.
There were no dividends, however. Last October Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Serbs must accept that they cannot change Kosovo’s borders. “We oppose any discussion of territorial changes or reopening Kosovo’s independent status,” Mrs. Clinton declared in Priština after meeting with Kosovo’s self-styled prime minister, Hashim Thaci. “These matters are not up for discussion. The boundaries of an independent, sovereign Kosovo are clear and set.”
Last December, under EU pressure, Serbia agreed to the establishment of a fully-fledged border management system. It provided a visible symbol of Belgrade’s loss of nerve. Furthermore, Dačić was forced to agree to joint passport and customs controls, with equal numbers of Serbian and “Kosovar” officials on duty. Accepting Priština’s right to collect customs duties on goods coming from central Serbia was a significant milestone on what seemed like a terminal slide. Unsurprisingly, the Albanians saw the border as another step toward international recognition.
Serbia’s government policy guidelines made public last January no longer focused on the claim of sovereign rights over the entire province, but on the modest demand for an autonomous status for some 60,000 Serbs living in four northern municipalities. Prime Minister Ivica Dačić even hinted that Serbia could agree to a UN seat for Kosovo, which caused a political storm in Belgrade, although he later withdrew the statement. But as Ted Carpenter noted in The National Interest, both U.S. and EU leaders had reacted to previous conciliatory gestures from Serbia with intransigence bordering on contempt:
A majority of countries in the European Union, most crucially Germany, have adopted a similar rigid stance. U.S. and EU leaders assume that Serbia wants membership in the European Union so badly that Serb leaders will ultimately adopt a policy of unconditional surrender regarding the Kosovo issue. That may well be a dangerous miscalculation. The current government … has already moved far beyond Serbian public opinion in offering possible diplomatic compromises.
True to form, during the latest round of negotiations the EU managed to break the camel’s back by refusing to offer even a fig leaf to the Belgrade troika, not even on the minimal demand that the Serbs be allowed to form an association of municipalities in the north.
There was no “deal” on offer from Brussels, and at the same time Germany’s lawmakers presented an incredible list of seven demands which Serbia has to complete if she is to be granted… no, not the EU membership, but a date for the commencement of negotiations that may eventually lead to membership:
- To fulfill all 96 points presented by the European Commission in early 2011;
- To find and prosecute the demonstrators who attacked the German embassy in Belgrade; in February 2008, a day after Berlin recognized Kosovo’s independence;
- To accept, and not deny, that a “genocide” was committed in Srebrenica;
- To make visible progress in resolving all open issues in direct dialogue with Kosovo.
- To abolish all Serbian “parallel institutions” in northern Kosovo (such as schools and hospitals), and to stop financing them;
- To apply pressure on northern Kosovo Serbs to “actively cooperate” with EULEX and Kfor;
- To display visible readiness for legally binding normalization of relations with Kosovo.
The only logical explanation for this piece of 1930’s-style diplomatic brutality is that the Germans want to push Serbia into Russia’s arms as part of establishing an elaborate geopolitical partnership with Moscow. Putin has already responded with $500m soft loan to Belgrade, with the promise of more to come. He would not have done it had Nikolić and Dačić not accepted that the long, futile quest for Serbia’s place under the Western sun is over. One likely consequence is that the dispute over Kosovo will remain frozen for years to come, as it should.