“Europe has an intense and understandable fear of changing national boundaries. But discussions about a land swap between Kosovo and Serbia, which have been in a simmering conflict for two decades, deserve careful support”, writes Marko Prelec, a professor at the School of Public Policy at Central European University, for Politico.
In an article titled “A Balkan Border Change that West Should Welcome”, Prelec says that, despite the risks associated with the land swap between Serbia and Kosovo, these two sides would both benefit from it, as would the EU.
“There is no solution to the Kosovo conundrum without an agreement both sides genuinely support, and a land swap is the key to such a deal”, Prelec argues.
The land swap entails Kosovo exchanging its northern municipalities, with mostly Serb population, for the Southwest regions in Serbia, with the mostly Albanian population.
Prelec also gives Serbia’s rationale for this kind of swap.
“Because it represents an acknowledgement that American and European policy toward them has failed. Kosovo broke away under international supervision and on the assumption Serbia would eventually have to recognize its independence and territorial integrity. A land swap lets Serbia say: “You tried to do this without us and it didn’t work.” Admissions like that are potent, especially when countries grapple with emotionally charged issues like history, identity, and territory”, he adds.
On the other hand, Kosovo would become a full member of the international community, would have a clearer path to EU membership, and could immediately join the Council of Europe, adds Prelec.
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He states that, as long as the situation remains unresolved, neither Kosovo nor Serbia has a real chance to join the EU.
“Brussels has made clear to Belgrade that it must settle its dispute with Kosovo before it can become an EU member”, Prelec goes on to say.
He then asks why there is so much opposition to such a solution and recalls the recent statement by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel who said that “there are attempts to talk about borders, and we cannot do that”.
He also recalls the statement made by Carl Bildt (who served as a mediator in the Yugoslav wars and the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Balkans), who called the idea of land swap “a recipe for geopolitical instability”
“The main objection is that changing a border anywhere threatens borders everywhere in the region”, Prelec argues and mentions the examples of Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As for the situation in those two countries, he says:” Macedonia has a large ethnic Albanian minority that dominates a swath of territory extending to the outskirts of the capital, Skopje; a breakaway would mean an awful war. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Serb-dominated region routinely threatens to secede”.
“Glance at a map. Their region comprises of two halves: a poor, small east along the Serbian border and a larger, richer west abutting Croatia. The Serbs could declare independence tomorrow, but two-thirds or more of their people would be cut off in the west, with no land route to friendly territory. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitution already gives their region extremely broad autonomy, which would probably be lost in the aftermath of a failed secession”, Prelec concludes.
This post is also available in: Italiano