Why the rush?

By Daniel Serwer

March 6, 2019 – I spoke this morning via Skype to a conference in Prishtina on the Kosova-Serbia Dialogue: Nomalization or an Aggravated Status Quo. These were my speaking notes, which I did not follow religiously:

1. Thank you all for accommodating me by Skype. I’ll miss the pleasure of your company but appreciate the opportunity for my views to be heard.

2. As I hope you all know, I am an opponent of land and people swaps in the Balkans, for many reasons:

They would be an admission that neither Belgrade nor Prishtina is able to treat all their citizens properly and equally under the law, which is the main requirement of NATO and EU membership.
They would lead, sooner or later, to massive displacement of Serbs from south of the Ibar River and Albanians from Serbia proper.
Germany, the Netherlands, and other EU members will not approve accession for partitioned countries.
I don’t believe any of the deals I’ve seen could be welcomed by Presidents Vucic and Thaci or approved in parliament in either Belgrade or Prishtina, and certainly not in a referendum in Kosova.
A land swap would destabilize Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Milorad Dodik has been clear about his intention to lead Republika Srpska to secession if Kosova is partitioned.
A land swap in the Balkans would strengthen Russian claims to the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the secession of Transnistria, Donetsk and Luhansk as well as the annexation of Crimea.
UN membership for Kosova would only be possible if Washington were to concede on those issues, which it has no interest in doing.

3. Land and people swaps are a zombie idea: it wanders the earth looking for its next victim and is difficult to kill because it is dead already.

4. So why so much attention to a zombie idea and so much urgency about concluding an agreement?

5.Presidents Thaci and Vucic are both ethnic nationalists, not liberal democrats. Ethnic nationalists have a hard time dealing with numerical minorities. If they are equal, what use is being part of the supposedly privileged minority?

6. But President Thaci long resisted the idea of partitioning Kosova. Why did he change his mind?

7. Best to ask him of course, but my explanation is this: he saw that Belgrade was making progress with the idea in Washington, where there is also an ethnic nationalist administration.

8. John Bolton was opposed to Kosova independence and would be pleased to wreck a Clinton protégé, which Kosova certainly is.

9. So when Bolton said he would entertain partition ideas if Vucic and Thaci could agree, President Thaci became concerned that he would be outflanked and end up with a one-sided proposition: northern Kosova would go to Serbia without any gain for the Albanians.

10. So he invited the Presevo Albanians to Prishtina and made it clear that no one-sided proposition would pass muster. It would have to be reciprocal.

11. That was a reasonable thing to do, but it does not mean that there really is an acceptable proposition, even a reciprocal one.

12. How can Vucic give up the territory in southern Serbia that Thaci wants, in defiance of concerns about the security of Serbia’s main route to the sea? How can he survive abandonment of Serb communities and religious sites south of the Ibar?

13. How can Thaci give up North Mitrovica, which was majority Albanian before the war, as well as Trepca and Gazivoda, his country’s main natural resources and water supply respectively?

14. So people come up with fantasies about 99 year leases, foreign management, and extra-territorial status that are simply too elaborate and risky to convince a serious person that they would last. The zombie emperor is wearing no clothes.

15. I’d like to finish with a question: why the urgency? I understand why Belgrade might feel some pressure for an early solution, as its EU accession is fewer years in the future than Kosova’s.

16. But Kosova should know that once Serbia enters the final stages of accession it will have to do whatever the EU member states ask. And one of the things they are certain to ask is complete normalization of relations with Prishtina.

17. I fear, however, that some people in Belgrade and Prishtina may feel some urgency because of President Trump’s promise of a Rose Garden ceremony.

18. They are unquestionably a nice occasion but let me be clear: a Rose Garden ceremony does not ensure impunity.

19. I’d be happy to see Presidents Vucic and Thaci cut a deal sooner rather than later. Kosova might even want to offer concessions on payment of World Bank debts and the planned roles of the Kosova army, as well as protection for the Serbs south of the Ibar.

20. But to sell your sovereignty for a bowl of porridge, or a Rose Garden ceremony, would be a historic and unforgivable mistake. (Peacefare.net)