Helsinki Committee report: Cutting the Kosovo knot

In the light of the strained relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and the stalemate in the dialogue between the two, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia has compiled the report about the current situation and possible solutions.

In the report, the Committee says: “The dynamics unusual in the season marked the region of the Western Balkans these months. It was triggered off, as it seems, at the foreign policy arena: by newly elected President Alexander Vučić’s visit to Washington and his meetings with US Vice-president Michael Pence, the third round of the Berlin process in Trieste, the regional Summit meeting in Dubrovnik, the Adriatic Charter adopted in Podgorica in the presence of the above-mentioned high American official, Michael Pence, etc. All this indicates that the Western community, after almost two-year “stall,” wants to reactivate its presence and role in the region wherein other powers, Russia and Turkey in the first place, have been active in the meantime.

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Their contradictory and controversial moves followed all foreign policy encouragements meant to relax regional relations and assist the countries moving towards proclaimed Euro-(Atlantic) course. This mostly refers to Serbia that always (and with good reason) associates political instability in the region – from Macedonia to Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. While opening “internal dialogue” about Kosovo, supposed, according to most observers, to speed up normalization with Prishtina, Belgrade is intensifying a campaign against Kosovo’s admission to Interpol and UNESCO.

In late July Serbia’s political and social scene was agitated by President Vučić’s invitation for opening up “internal dialogue about Kosovo.” The topic itself shook Serbia’s tree though planned to be opened in September and though the initiative brimmed with many dilemmas and missing links.

First the format of the dialogue was an unknown (with opposition parties, in the parliament, at public debates, etc.), alike its purpose, duration, whether or not it would be an overture to constitutional amendment (the Constitution’s preamble lays down Kosovo as a part of Serbia), etc. Some take that its (the initiative’s) biggest deficiency is that the President himself had not articulated his stance while buying time until others publicized theirs. It remained unclear, therefore, whether President Vučić planned to cut the Kosovo knot by accepting the realities in this form or the other – acknowledging Kosovo’s independence without a formal recognition; or, whether this was all about an attempt to place, once again, the topic of Kosovo’s partition at the negotiating table.

If he truly wants to settle Serbian-Albanian relationship in a way not characteristic to Serbia in the past 100 years, that would be a breakthrough in pouring water on ethnic passions in the region.

The other side of Serbia’s political spectrum criticized him for his tendency toward monologues instead of dialogues, intolerance to others’ opinions and chocking every public debate – all of which is fundamentally true but actually a bad alibi for saying nothing about prospects for the settlement of the Kosovo issue.

It should be noted, however, that the regime and especially the media close to the President behave quite the opposite to the proclaimed wish for “a dialogue on a specific topic.” For instance, when President of the Social Democratic Party /SDS/ Boris Tadić said that Kosovo should be given a chair in UN, tabloids close to Vučić promptly accused him of high treason.

Some Kosovo intellectuals such as Azem Vllasi, former politician and now a lawyer, and Agon Bajrami, editor-in-chief of the “Koha Ditore” say that Vučić made the first step towards renunciation of the delusion about Kosovo being a part of Serbia.23 Referring to Serbia’s mostly mainstream belief that future negotiations should satisfy both Serbian and Albanian interests, Agon Bajrami argues that it is too late for an arrangement as such and that Serbia should reconcile with having lost Kosovo for good. However, this means not, as he put it, that “Kosovo Serbs have lost it too, given that today’s Kosovo is their independent state as well.

Another prominent Serbian politician who is also the Foreign Minister, Ivica Dacic says that the problem lies in drawing a final border between the Serbs and Albanians. This was neither for the first time that he spoke about it nor was it his original idea.

It was advocated back in 1960s by writer Dobrica Ćosić and, from the 1990s onwards by many Serbia’s politicians including Zoran Đinđić, Boris Tadić, Nebojša Čović, historian Du- šan Bataković, etc. Though probably Dačić himself is well aware that partition is an option (no longer), he came public with a concrete, 5-point plan on division: the territory north of the Ibar River should be integrated into Serbia; Serbian churches and monasteries should get the status of the Mt. Athos monasteries; the Serbs living south of the Ibar River should form an association of Serbian communities; and, Belgrade should be given something “in cash” (financial compensation for appropriated lands). “That is an idea for a compromise between historical and ethnic right”, Dačić said.

Not a single Kosovo politician would says yes to the talks on partition, given that, as Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hodjai put it, “Kosovo borders are internationally recognized” and the ideas coming from Belgrade are “dangerous and unacceptable.”


Considering that Kosovo’s partition is actually a mission impossible – as more than 100 countries have already recognized Kosovo within its present borders – revival of the issue is probably just a smoke screen for something else.

Mainstream stance on Kosovo by Serbia’s political and intellectual elite, but the general public as well, is that it would not be fair if the Albanians get everything and the Serbs nothing. If it cannot have four municipalities in the north with Serb majority population, Serbia could probably be compensated with Republika Srpska / RS/, the smallest Bosnian entity. President of RS Milorad Dodik often speaks of (and works on) independence for RS. Belgrade is cautious about mentioning it openly. Officially, it supports Bosnia-Herzegovina and its integrity on the grounds of the Dayton Accords.

However, columnist and historian Dragomir Anđelković, close to the present regime, joint in the public discussion on the President’s invitation. Eager to formulate a platform Serbia should propose to the international community “with a view to peaceful resolution of the disputes in our national-statehood territory,” he says, “The minimum could accept should be multilayered.” “A solution to Kosovo and Metohija Serbia should propose or accept, under the condition it is defined and agreed with Banjaluka, could be workable only if and when an analogue solution is bestowed to RS.


Appearing as a guest at the Adriatic Charter meeting in Podgorica American Vice-president Michael Pence said that “Russia continues to draw new borders by force.”40 Response came to Pence from several addresses in Belgrade. The first one from Foreign Minister Dačić who said that “speaking of drawing borders, that’s exactly what the West did in the case of Serbia.”41 The former foreign minister, Vladislav Jovanović, argued, “It is an undisputable fact that US and Western countries have not only designed new borders but also erased the existing ones.

Vučić again, more and more frequently, complains of the pressures from the East and the West he is exposed to. “We are under great pressure from the big powers…It is no longer possible to go anywhere in the West and not to be asked about the Russians, and have the Russians not blame you for not having done something they see as their interest, while the West is against it,” he told the TV Pink.45 Russian plans for the Balkans – largely supported in Serbia – are not to be disregarded. Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, one of Putin’s closest advisers, has been advocating an Eastern Orthodox alliance. According to him, “a new geostrategic order” in the Balkans should be established through encouragement of North-South integrative processes.


President Vućić’s invitation for an “internal dialogue on Kosovo” in an unavoidable phase in the process of Serbia’s giving up the warring policy by other means. The question is, however, what is it that the President plans – does he want to share the responsibility for major decision or just maneuvering to buy the time for making these decisions. The latest tensions with Macedonia testify that only at eleventh hour does Serbia abandon the legacy of bad relations with its neighbours. Normalization with Kosovo, therefore, would send a good signal to the entire region.

Unless he plays on his present popularity and makes a decision leading toward normalization with Kosovo, Vučić will be losing the support he now has for the European option and be growingly exposed to Russia’s influence. In such case the initiative will be in the hand of foreign factors, which is far from being in Serbia’s national interest”, – the report concludes.

(August 2017)




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