Kosovo-Serbia relations in 2018: The Vučić-Thaçi agreement for two million new refugees?
The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Following the initiative taken by Kosovo's and Serbia's Presidents to redraft the borders and in view of the alleged conclusion of the Belgrade-Priština dialogue under the auspices of the European Union, IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation and its repercussions on the region and the international community. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “Kosovo-Serbia relations in 2018: The Vučić-Thaçi agreement for two million new refugees?” are published below.
Kosovo-Serbia relations in 2018:
The Vučić-Thaçi agreement for two million new refugees?
In the aftermath of World War II, the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia was declared.
The winning states created the new world order, which was implemented with the establishment of the United Nations (UN). New countries were established and new borders were created. Thus, the external borders of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia were determined on the basis of the outcome or WW2 and the consent given by the great powers. By analogy, internal borders between Yugoslav republics and provinces were drawn and recognised.
A few years later, the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia was renamed into the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). Following the disintegration of SFRY in 1992 its republics soon became independent and sovereign states, while the province of Kosovo proclaimed independence only in 2008. This represented the conclusion of border formation in the former Yugoslav territory and the end of the Yugoslav crisis.
The Arbitration Commission of the Conference on Yugoslavia (commonly known as Badinter Arbitration Committee) expressed the legal opinion that the borders between former federal units (republic and provinces) were regarded as the borders between the newly formed states. Even after four wars (in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo) were fought with the aim to redefine the borders, none of the borders within the territory of the former SFRY were changed by an inch. Surely a few border disputes have arisen, but they are in the process of resolving, while some of them have already been resolved.
The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue with a clear goal
The proclamation of Kosovo's independence in 2008 intensified the problems between the newly formed Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. Therefore, in 2011, the international community launched the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština under the auspices of the European Union. So far the dialogue has shown only modest results due to obstructions caused by the participating parties in their attempts to achieve certain goals. The prolongation of the dialogue has enabled political survival to certain politicians. That is why the deadline has been set to end the dialogue and reach the legally binding agreement between Serbia and Kosovo in the first half of 2019. The problem occurred when the Brussels dialogue provided for the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) in northern Kosovo which is mostly populated by majority Serbian population. The Kosovo Constitutional Court decided that the proposed Statute on the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities is contrary to certain provisions of the Kosovo Constitution. Besides the disputable provisions in the Statute there was a very strong political opposition against the formation of ZSO expressed by certain political parties, notably the Self-Determination movement (Lëvizja Vetëvendosje – LVV), which estimated that the formation of ZSO would cause irreparable damage to the statehood of the Republic of Kosovo as it would represent a kind of an entity within the state of Kosovo closely resembling the Republika Srpska entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina. After some other political parties also pointed to that risk, the project of forming ZSO was halted. However, the official Belgrade insists on the formation of ZSO which it believes to be crucial for the preservation of the Serbian community in Kosovo. This is only partly true, since ZSO would include about one third of all Serbs in Kosovo, while the remaining two thirds would still live in other parts of Kosovo. ZSO would be institutionally connected with the Belgrade authorities. This creates a model of special and parallel connections between ZSO and Serbia, similar to those between Serbia and the Republika Srpska entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the meanwhile, the special war crimes court has started to try crimes allegedly committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK). Its task is to prosecute some key Albanian politicians in Kosovo, including Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's Parliament Speaker Kadri Veseli, possibly also Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and many other high officials. The special court represents a kind of a mono-ethnic court since it was established to try only Albanians, which is a legal nonsense. Kosovo political leaders took the initiative to abolish the special court, but it was withdrawn under strong international pressures. It is through the Brussels dialogue that the Kosovo political leaders are actually trying to postpone the operation of the special court.
The ultimate goal of the Brussels dialogue between Belgrade and Priština was to normalise the relations between the two states and reach mutual recognition, which would enable Serbia to accelerate its EU membership process and gain numerous financial benefits, while for Kosovo it would open the door to UN membership. Nevertheless, there are some other obstacles that may be encountered on Kosovo's road to UN membership, such as the veto imposed by UN permanent members – the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China. Since Kosovo has still not been recognised by two thirds of UN member states, it can not gain the support for membership from the UN General Assembly.
Under the present circumstances, Serbia – being a self-proclaimed neutral state – is carrying out intensive armament, while the Kosovo Government only enjoys minority support in the Parliament and Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi lacks public support. Analysts believe that the solution for the present situation would be to carry out an early election in Kosovo, which would show the real relations between political forces in this country.
The Vučić-Thaçi agreement for two million new refugees?
After Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaçi, by arbitrary action, took over the dialogue which should be led by prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo, they took the initiative to correct and redefine state borders, which in their own language represents the historical borderline between the Serbs and Albanians. Vučić and Thaçi suspended the constitutional role of prime ministers, stole the state institutions and unconstitutionally established the presidential system in their countries. They received support from certain states for their borderline initiative, according to which the two countries would exchange territories and inhabitants so that the northern Kosovo would belong to Serbia (thus it would no longer be necessary to form ZSO), while most of the Preševo valley (Preševo, Medvedja and Bujanovac – regarded as“east Kosovo”) would belong to Kosovo (to which it had actually belonged till 1956). The realisation of such an agreement would lead to massive resettlement of inhabitants and the formation of ethnic borders. According to Vučić and Thaçi this would solve the problem by enabling permanent demarcation of borders between Serbs and Albanians. However, analysts warn that this would not solve the problem but instead cause new conflicts, victims, tragedies and at least two million new refugees. Another figure involved in this initiative is Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. He is surrounded by advisers from Kosovo who had strong connections with Milošević regime in 1990s – just like Vučić and Dačić, who now symbolise that regime. Kosovo opposition strongly rejects the borderline initiative, demanding President Thaçi to abandon the idea that may have devastating repercussions for Kosovo and calling for an emergency meeting of the Parliament to discuss the issue. Even Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj opposed the initiative, stating that “Any change to the borders and exchange of the territories will trigger new tragedies in the Balkans and may lead to instability and undermine long-term political and security efforts for peace in Kosovo and the region”.
Although all previous wars in the territory of SFRY were fought in order to change the borders, those borders were never changed. The wars only brought new problems. The question is whether this would be the right way to resolve problems for the countries whose ambition is to gain EU membership. The EU is based on diversity, and many EU states are multiethnic, multicultural and multiconfessional, which makes the Vučić-Thaçi initiative anti-civilisational and anti-European. However, the initiative veils Vučić's attempts to save at least some of the failed Greater Serbia project designed by Slobodan Milošević. Aleksandar Vučić and Ivica Dačić actually symbolise Milošević's politics from 1990s, and according to that plan the loss of a part of the territory in Kosovo would be compensated by annexation of a part of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, i.e. Republika Srpska. The Greater Serbia project even includes parts of Montenegro and Croatia. Pro-Serbian political parties in Montenegro which are members of the Democratic Front (DF) opposition have together with the Serbian national council already started to create the atmosphere by launching the activities for gathering the signatures for the petition to annul Montenegro's decision to recognize Kosovo's independence.
The realisation of the Vučić-Thaçi agreement would cause tectonic changes in the region, leading to new conflicts, victims, tragedies and a new wave of at least two million refugees who would have to seek shelter in EU states, notably Germany and Austria. Therefore, those who support such an agreement will have to take responsibility for its consequences.
Nevertheless, Macedonia is of an even greater importance for Vučić's project at the moment. Since Aleksandar (Vučić) arrived too late to Kosovo to resolve the Kosovo issue, he will have to redirect his activities to Macedonia.
Aleksandar (Vučić) arrived too late also to Macedonia?
Macedonia has always been a part of the Greater Serbia project. It is not surprising that Serbia only recognised Macedonia on 8 April 1996, that is after the wars ended and Milošević's Greater Serbia project collapsed.
Notably, Serbian security and intelligence structures participated in the obstructions carried out during the formation of the new government of the Republic of Macedonia led by Zoran Zaev (SDSM), and the officials of the Serbian Security Information Agency (BIA) were involved in the incident in the Sobranie (Macedonian Parliament) when Zoran Zaev and some of his colleagues were attacked in an assassination attempt. Former security adviser at Serbia's Embassy in Skopje and BIA's deputy director Goran Živaljević was present in the Sobranie during the incident . The regime of Nikola Gruevski and Saša Mijalkov closely cooperated with the Belgrade regime. Moreover, numerous transactions and the pulling of money out of Macedonia were carried out through Serbia and with the assistance of Serbian authorities. Serbia was one of a few countries that did not support the Macedonia-Greece agreement which resolved the decades-long dispute about the constitutional name of Macedonia. The agreement with Greece was even supported by Russia and the controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, while Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić announced that Serbia would withdraw its recognition of the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name. The meetings between Serbian and Macedonian governments have been called off several times, while bilateral meetings between high officials and ministers are a true rarity. Serbia appointed the controversial diplomat and former BIA director Rade Bulatović as its new ambassador to Macedonia. At the same time, Serbia has strengthened its (para)intelligence activities in Macedonia. The media controlled by Aleksandar Vučić constantly spread disinformation and lies about Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his closest co-workers.
In only one year, the new government of the Republic of Macedonia consolidated the internal situation in the country and achieved significant foreign political results. A significant contribution to this achievements was made by Macedonia's Minister of Interior Oliver Spasovski, who managed to strengthen the country's security-intelligence system and its capacity to resist security-intelligence attacks from abroad. Serbia has increased the presence of its (para)intelligence apparatus in Macedonia in view of the referendum scheduled for 30 September 2018. Once the agreement with Greece is finally approved at the referendum, no one can stop Macedonia on its way to NATO and EU membership. Serbia disapproves Macedonia's accession to NATO, believing it would jeopardise its national interests. On the other hand, it allows open functioning of the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre in Niš, which actually represents the first Russian military base in the territory of Serbia and thus a direct threat to Macedonia and Kosovo.
Nevertheless, the key reason why Serbia has increased the presence of its (para)intelligence apparatus in Macedonia it to prevent the positive outcome of the referendum, since a successful referendum will be followed by the canonical recognition of Macedonian Orthodox Church. This year, theArchbishopric of Ohrid celebrates the 1000th anniversary of its founding. Since orthodox churches are national churches, Macedonian Orthodox Church will be recognised once the name of the country is confirmed at the referendum. Serbian authorities act in symbiosis with Serbian Orthodox Church, so it is obvious why they are trying to prevent canonical recognition of Macedonian Orthodox Church.
Perfidy of Vučić's politics towards Macedonia
While at first sight it may seem that Vučić's current activities are focused on Kosovo and Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina), he harbours secret ambitions towards Macedonia. On 2 September 2018, Vučić met Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev at the Preševo -Tabanovce border crossing to announce the implementation of joint border management, while at the same time he carries out activities with the goal to disintegrate Macedonia. This clearly shows the perfidy of Vučić's politics towards Macedonia.
Therefore it is of crucial importance to stop the Vučić-Thaçi initiative and their intentions to change the borders. At the special parliamentary session Kosovo Parliament is expected to adopt a resolution that would ban Kosovo President Hashim Thaci from further negotiating with Belgrade about changing the territory of Kosovo and resettling its inhabitants. The Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo is also expected to consider a motion of impeachment of President Thaçi due to his unconstitutional activities that are undermining Kosovo's territorial integrity. The best answer to Vučić's attempts will be given by Macedonian citizens who will support the referendum and confirm the agreement signed on 18 June 2018 between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece. This will accelerate Macedonia's accession to NATO and EU and open the door to canonical recognition of Macedonian Orthodox Church and correction of historical injustice it has suffered. The Republic of Macedonia will thus consolidate its statehood and ensure a better future for all its citizens.
Ljubljana, 6 September 2018
 Translator's note: The saying “Too late Marko to Kosovo arrives” (Serbian: Kasno Marko na Kosovo stiže) stems from the national epic poem that mentions how Prince Marko, who was regarded as the Slavic national hero, arrived too late to Kosovo where the Ottoman Empire army had already won the battle. The saying is often used to denote an action or reaction that is too late.