The Berlin funeral of the idea of change of borders

The Berlin funeral of the idea of change of borders
Photo: БГНЕС

Serbia’s President Alexander Vucic declared the idea of changing the borders as his official policy. His Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci also used this rhetoric. But on April 29th in Berlin the two politicians will have to explain their views to an important person who is absolutely against any border changes. And this is Angela Merkel.

The German chancellor and the president of France Emanuel Macron summoned to Berlin the presidents and prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo (as well as the leaders of Albania, Croatia and Slovenia) in order to confirm their interest in the Western Balkans and to defreeze the negotiation process in Brussels between Belgrade and Pristina, which is needed for “the stability and free movement in the region”.

The only thing diplomats do not mention is that Merkel and Macron will try to persuade Vucic and Thaci to give up the idea of border changes, which they discussed with EU foreign policy commissioner Federica Mogerini, and which is part of the plan supported by the US and Russia.

Vucic says the upcoming negotiations with representatives of Kosovo Albanians at the initiative of Germany and France “have no bearing on any solution” and that the topic of the meeting will be 100% for the duties on the import of Serbian goods which the Pristina authorities introduced last year, and whose abolition is Belgrade’s condition for a possible continuation of the dialogue.

Unlike the Serbian public that is in a permanent blackout on everything that relates to Kosovo, the media in Pristina say that at the meeting in Berlin of the representatives of Serbia and Kosovo a draft will be presented, which will not mention any change of borders

With the support of the West for the abolition of customs duties and the resumption of German and French pressure on the representatives of Pristina, Vucic can expect success on this “technical” front, but not on the political.

“So far, there are no prospects for a solution. This is just another lie that I would not like to comment on”, Vucic said, responding pessimistically to everyone who expects the problem of Kosovo to be resolved in the near future.

But unlike the Serbian public that is in a permanent blackout on everything that relates to Kosovo, the media in Pristina say that at the meeting in Berlin of the representatives of Serbia and Kosovo a draft will be presented, which will not mention any change of borders.

Meanwhile, rumors are circulating in the diplomatic circles that Serbia might agree for Kosovo to get a seat at the UN. In return Pristina will accept greater sovereignty for the Serbs in Kosovo in the territories they inhabit, and will give them the right to a referendum on self-determination after 20-30 years.

All indications are that the decisive political dialogue, initiated by Serbia’s foreign minister Ivica Dacic in August 2018, will lead to the burying of the idea of “border adjustments”

While the Belgrade delegation is united in its position, which is dictated by Vucic, the partners from Kosovo are divided. Only Thaci is talking about changing borders, while prime minister Ramush Haradinaj is strongly opposing this and in fact supports Merkel. According to Haradinaj, Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn have lost one year in declarations about border changes on the Balkans, instead of using the opportunity to reach an agreement.

All indications are that the decisive political dialogue, initiated by Serbia’s foreign minister Ivica Dacic in August 2018, will lead to the burying of the idea of “border adjustments”.

Two months later, in October 2018, John Bolton – president Donald Trump’s advisor on national security, said after meeting the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov that the Americans agree that the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo is “the most important on the Balkans”. This was a change of 180 degrees from the position of the previous government.

Belgrade media began to circulate speculative reports that Washington and Moscow “have agreed to speed up the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina for reaching a deal to which both sides (USA and Russia) would be guarantors.”

The Trump administration did not hide that it approves the idea of border changes while Moscow repeatedly reiterated its position that it would support every decision made by Serbia and that it would receive the full support of president Vladimir Putin. In October Russian MP Alexei Pushkov confirmed in an interview with the Belgrade newspaper Politika that Moscow is not opposed to border changes. “If Serbia agrees to a correction (of the border), I do not see the slightest reason why Russia should be against”, he said.

President Vucic has recently made the idea of changing borders an official policy, and president Thaci has also started talking about it.

There are opinions that, actually, the idea of demarcation is not bad. If borders do not provide security for the country, they should be changed. Is not former Yugoslavia divided according to this principle? There is also a discrepancy in the opinions on the assumption that post-Yugoslav experiments with multinational countries have failed. According to some views, clean or predominantly clean ethnic states provide stability.

It was a hint that the Americans have taken over the baton from the hands of the weary Europeans in order to resolve the conflict, while the sides in the conflict continued to exchange rhetorical messages accompanied by provocative threats.

The question arises: is it possible to reach an agreement this year, as the Americans claimed in 2017, when they were engaged with defusing the political tensions in Albania. They promised then that the Athens-Skopje dispute would be resolved in 2018, and the conflict between Belgrade and Pristina – in 2019.

Resistance to the idea of changing borders comes from Berlin. Chancellor Merkel is her main adversary, referring to the practices in Yugoslavia that led to war.

When the chancellor’s advisers visited Belgrade in March, Vucic said that Germany expects restraint from Serbia. Then the German ambassador to Belgrade Thomas Shib said quite clearly: “We think that by changing the borders, however one may call that – demarcation, division or something else, it is impossible to solve all existing problems in one go. Changing borders can have consequences for the whole region as well as for other regions. This is why we are against it.”

Since then, Vucic says that Serbia needs to understand clearly how far it can go and that it should not set goals that are incomprehensible to everyone. This is a tacit demonstration of weaker enthusiasm for the idea of demarcation and the president of Serbia no longer mentions this.

Is it not a sign that, following Trump’s letter to Vucic and Thaci, calling on them to conclude a “historic treaty,” the United States is conveying leadership of the region to the European Union, as some people suggest? “This is a kind of quiet return to reality,” says a recent Washington Post interview with commissioner Hahn, which leaves open the possibility of “border correction” but only as “the last part of the bigger picture”.

Hahn reminds us that in the 1990s the United States and not Brussels played a leading role, adding: “I think they are very pleased that we are now taking over the leading role the region.”

By the way, before leaving for Berlin, Vucic will visit Beijing for consultations with Putin, who officially repeats the old Moscow mantra: What is good for Serbia, is good for Russia as well. Unofficially, there will be much more than diplomatic consent.

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