Division of Kosovo: Why Serbia is ready to abandon separatist region

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source :

According to the former Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic, the division of Kosovo will open the door for similar solutions in other countries. If we talk about Ukraine, this applies to Crimea and Donbas
21:42, 29 August 2017

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Serbian officials proposed a solution to the Kosovo problem. Serbian President of the Progressive Party Aleksandar Vučić invited Serbs and Albanians to start a dialogue on Kosovo. Vučić believes that it is useless for Serbs to expect that someone will ever return Kosovo to them, and the parties to the conflict need to make mutual concessions. The Serbian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dačić (Socialist Party), concretized the president's thoughts. He proposed dividing Kosovo and Metohija between Serbs and Albanians. Serbian communities, Orthodox churches and monasteries should receive a special status. The Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications of Serbia, Rasim Ljajić (Social Democratic Party), proposed to normalize relations with Kosovo Albanians, not hindering for Kosovo to join all international organizations with the exception of the United Nations in exchange for the provision of material compensation to Serbia by the lost private and state property. Serbia lost control of the province as a result of a military conflict with Albanian separatists in 1998-99 and the withdrawal of their armed formations from the province after the US air force operation "Union Force" and the deployment of NATO contingents on the territory of the separatist entity. In 2008, Kosovo proclaimed independence. Albanians are 93% of the region's population (1.907 million people). 125 thousand Serbs live in Kosovo, there are 14 enclaves of compact residence of Serbs. Kosovo Serbs constitute the majority in the territory of Northern Kosovo, adjacent to the border with Serbia.

Everything new is a well-forgotten old

The proposal of the Serbian authorities to delineate the province of Kosovo and Metohija between Serbs and Albanians - is not a new idea and it has existed since the 60s. The first president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Dobrica Ćosić, former Serbian President Boris Tadić, former Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić offered to share the region. At different times, the boundaries of the division of the province have changed. Before the armed conflict, the option of preserving Kosovo in Serbia and transferring Metohija to neighboring Albania was considered. This option has lost its relevance after 250 thousand Serbs and Montenegrins left Kosovo. The President of Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, proposed Kosovo Albanians to transfer the northern part of Kosovo to Belgrade. In 2012, at  an unofficial referendum, 99.74% of the population of Northern Kosovo expressed their refusal to recognize Kosovo Albanian authorities.

The idea of separating Kosovo and Metohija has never been popular. Kosovo's division was not supported by former Yugoslav President Joseph Broz Tito. Against the division is the Serbian Orthodox Church. And in various parts of Kosovo there are 1,300 Orthodox churches and monasteries run by the Serbian Orthodox Church, including the monastery of Vysoké Dečany, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Serbs perceive Kosovo as the cradle of their statehood. For many years, the Serbian leadership has adhered to the concept of "Kosovo is Serbia" and advocated the return of the entire territory of the province to the control of Belgrade. According to the Serbian constitution, the province of Kosovo and Metohija is an autonomous province of Serbia.

The current political elite of Serbia has decided to revive and modify the approach to the division of Kosovo. Serbian politicians did not draw attention to the fact that North Kosovo or any other part of the rebellious region should return to Serbia. The meaning of their proposal is reduced to a special status for the regions of Kosovo. Two years ago, as Prime Minister of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić  agreed, with the mediation of the EU, with his Kosovo counterpart, Iso Mustafa, on autonomy for Kosovo Serbs. The agreements reached included the unification of Kosovo Serb communities in an association that was supposed to have its president and vice president, a parliamentary assembly, a coat of arms and a flag, and the power to make decisions on issues of economy, education and health. In exchange, the Kosovo authorities could extend their power to Northern Kosovo, which in fact was not controlled either by Belgrade or Pristina. Vučić expects to implement the Bosnian scenario in Kosovo. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, local Serbs have an autonomous entity, the Republika Srpska, their president, parliament, government, the right to develop bilateral relations with Serbia, whike discussing their foreign policy steps with Sarajevo. The current authority in Serbia wants to create a Serbian-controlled "state in the state" in Kosovo.

The press is exaggerating information about the possibility of implementing the "Athos model" in Kosovo. Athos monastic complex, known among the Orthodox as the Holy Mountain or just Athos, has a special constitutional and legal status, which is enshrined in the constitution of Greece. In 676, the emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Constantine Pogonath, transferred Athos to monks. Since 1926, Athos lives according to its own constitution (Charter of the Holy Mountain of Athos), which has the power of law in Greece. Judicial and legislative power is exercised by the Extraordinary Twenty-member Assembly, which includes the abbots of all 20 monasteries. The executive power is in the hands of the Holy Council, which consists of representatives from each monastery. Greek authority in the territory of Athos is represented by the Governor in the subordination of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A similar Orthodox territorial entity Belgrade could offer Kosovo, in the management of which will be all the Orthodox shrines and monuments of Serbian history in Kosovo. Education can be managed jointly by local clerics, a diplomat from Belgrade, and a representative from Pristina.

Revival of EU’s trust

Alexandar Vučić believes that a compromise between the Serbs and Albanians over Kosovo will open up the EU prospects for the country. Serbia's accession to the EU is one of the priorities of Vučić's foreign policy, which maintains a balance in relations with Russia, America and Europe. The frozen conflict in Kosovo is a stumbling block in relations between Serbia and the EU. For 9 years, Kosovo has been recognized by 114 of the world's 195 countries. The region's independence was recognized by 23 of the 28 EU member states, including Germany and France, which set the trend for European integration. At the same time, only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Vanuatu recognized Russia-sponsored separatist entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.


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Former EU representative in Kosovo, Wolfgang Ischinger believes that Serbia will not be able to join the EU until the Kosovo conflict is resolved. In exchange for broad autonomy for local Serbs, the current Serbian government allows the normalization of relations with Kosovo. Perhaps Serbia will support Kosovo's accession to some international organizations. Belgrade looks forward to the favor of Brussels regarding accession to the EU. In the eyes of the EU Serbia will have the image of the country that first made a step towards the settlement of the Kosovo conflict.

It is desirable for Serbia to join the EU earlier than Albania, which also sets such an objective. Otherwise, the doors to the EU will be closed forever for Serbia. Albanians will block the entry of Serbs or blackmail them. Albania is interested in granting broad autonomy to Albanians residing in the south of Serbia. If Belgrade joins the EU first, it will be able to block the entry of Albania and incline Kosovo to unite with Serbia in a confederative or federal state for the sake of participating in the EU.

New tactics of collecting Serbian lands

Vučić criticized Serbian politicians who oppose a dialogue with Kosovo Albanians. Against the partition of Kosovo stands the ultra-right Serbian radical party of Voјislav Šešelj. Radicals are convinced that Serbia should abandon the prospect of joining the EU, rely on Russia's help in returning Kosovo under its control. For 14 years Vučić led the Serbian Radical Party and intends to act more flexibly than Šešelj. He is trying to realize the geopolitical idea of Serbian ultranationalists about the unification of all Serb lands by non-military means. It is impossible to achieve the withdrawal of territories inhabited by Serbs from the border states under conditions of US and NATO domination in the Balkans.

The distinction between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo can be a convenient precedent for Belgrade in order to demand a special status for the Serb communities in other former Yugoslav republics in order to strengthen their political and economic influence there. This scenario may take place in Croatia, where on the border with Serbia in 1991-95 there was an unrecognized separatist entity Serbian Krajina Republic. With the support of the United States, Croatian troops were able to successfully carry out operations "Lightning" and "Storm", as a result of which the Serbian Krajina was liquidated, and managed to preserve the territorial integrity of the country. Up to 250 thousand Krajina Serbs left Croatia. In Croatia there is a branch of the Radical Serbian Party, the Danube Serb Party, the Independent Democratic Serb Party, which defends the right of the Krajina Serbs to return to their homes. A special status is hypothetically possible for the Serb community in Macedonia, where 35,000 Serbs live and there is the Ohrid Archdiocese with its parishes, which, like the Orthodox shrines in Kosovo, are connected with the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Kosovo Albanians are familiar with the ambitions of Serbian ultranationalists. Kosovo's Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj rejected the plan to delineate Kosovo. He drew attention to the fact that Kosovo is a "multinational" country and is not going to turn 1/5 of its country into autonomy, hostile to Pristina. It is not profitable for Kosovo Albanians to grant autonomy to the Serbs in the economic sphere. Nobody will pay compensation for the rejected Serbian enterprises. The Kosovo authorities do not want to return the Trepcha ore mining and processing enterprise in northern Kosovo to Serbia. Last year, the Kosovo parliament approved the transfer of the enterprise to local authorities. Before the conflict, the plant provided two-thirds of the GDP of Kosovo. At the mines in the north of Kosovo there are 60.5 million tons of ore with lead, zinc, and silver.

The Kosovo division is not supported by Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro. According to the former Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Đukanović, the division of Kosovo will open the door for similar solutions in other countries. Wolfgang Ischinger also does not support this idea. Ethnic groups exist in almost all European countries, not to mention territorial disputes. If the initiative of Serbian politicians is implemented in Kosovo, then every village inhabited by national minorities will require a special status. Europe will plunge into the new Middle Ages in a state of fragmentation.

Unwanted precedent for Ukraine

Ivica Dačić is confident that Russia will support Serbia if the idea of Kosovo's delimitation becomes the official position of Serbia. Despite the fact that in the Russian press the idea of dividing Kosovo is perceived as acting in favor of the EU, Russia can learn certain lessons from the Serbian initiative on Kosovo to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia could undermine Ukraine's efforts to return the Crimea. According to the leader of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar people Refat Chubarov, after the annexation of the peninsula, the Crimean Tatars split into supporters of Ukraine and those who sold themselves to Russia.

The Kremlin can organize fictitious autonomy for Crimean Tatars in the territory of a separate region of Crimea with some attributes of the state: the constitution, the flag, the president, the parliament and the government among the pro-Russian Crimean Tatars. This territorial formation can be presented by the Russian authorities and local collaborators as a form of self-determination of the Crimean-Tatar people, who allegedly wants to remain part of Russia. The Kremlin will try to get rid of accusations of violating the rights of Crimean Tatars and discredit Ukrainian patriots among the autochthonous population of Crimea who want to return to Ukraine.

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