Serbia plans to implement all the agreements it has made with Kosovo, but does not intend to recognise Kosovo’s independence. EURACTIV Serbia reports.
The position was disclosed after a public debate raged about alleged demands the EU was making of Belgrade over Kosovo. Although there was a lot of speculation about whether there would be a U-turn in Serbia’s strategic priorities, or if a snap general election would be called, nothing happened.
‘Highly unfavorable conditions’
In early October, information appeared in the press that the EU negotiating platform for Chapter 35 (Other issues: Relations with Kosovo), which is not yet an official document or available to the public, contained conditions highly unfavourable to Serbia.
Fierce reactions by top state officials followed, who claimed that EU membership had ceased to be a viable option for Serbia, that there were new terms, and that Serbia’s cooperation and attitude towards European integration had been subject to question.
Media close to the authorities listed several items in the EU’s position on the Serbia-Kosovo issue: the transformation of administrative crossings between Kosovo and Serbia into full border crossings with state symbols, and the dismantling of 28 Kosovo municipalities that still exist at the administrative level in Serbia.
Another alleged novelty is that management of the Gazivode hydropower system in northern Kosovo should be handed over to the Kosovo authorities, and that the talks in Brussels will in there future be treated as a dialog between Serbia and Kosovo, rather than euphemistically, as the case has been so far, between Belgrade and Pristina.
Tensions were raised by Germany, which, with support from the UK and Croatia, had submitted an amendment to the EU platform for Chapter 35. Belgrade interpreted the German move as a demand that Serbia recognise Kosovo.
According to Serbian officials, Belgrade was notified of the amendment on 13 October, ahead of a meeting between the Serbian and Kosovar prime ministers, Aleksandar Vu?i? and Isa Mustafa, in Brussels.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikoli? compared the demands from Brussels with the 1914 Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia.
The ultimatum, which came nearly one month after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a young Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, is known to be written in such a way that it excludes the possibility of being accepted.
“If the price is to recognise the independence of Kosovo, I am against us being in the European Union,” Nikoli? said in an interview with Ve?ernje Novosti, on 16 October.
The Serbian leader, who has a more hardline nationalistic attitude than the government, was particularly surprised by a statement by Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) President Vladimir Kosti?, that Kosovo was practically lost to Serbia.
Kosti? told Radio Belgrade that at this moment, the only political wisdom was how to abandon Kosovo with dignity, because it was no longer in Serbia’s hands either de facto or de iure, and someone had to tell the people that.
The prime minister’s reaction to the statement by the president of SANU, an institution which has, over the past several decades, been considered a bastion of Serbian nationalist policy, was more moderate.
Vu?i? said that Kosti? was entitled to his own opinion on what should be done with Kosovo, but that he disagreed with it. A portion of the public believes that Vu?i? officially advocates more moderate positions, while at the same time, the cabinet members who argue for a more hardline stance do so with his approval.
Berlin: No new demands
On 14 October, Axel Dittmann, Germany’s Ambassador to Belgrade, denied that Berlin had made the recognition of Kosovo a condition for opening the negotiation chapters.
It is well-known that within the European Union, it is Germany that is advocating the idea that Chapter 35 in Serbia’s accession talks should be opened now, and not at the end of the negotiating process, as is the custom.
The comments that Germany wants Serbia to recognise Kosovo in this context are ungrounded. There are no additional requirements, Dittmann said in an interview with B92.
Marko Djuri?, the head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, then said that it was true that Serbia was not being formally asked to recognise Kosovo’s independence, but that it was being asked to shut down its interim bodies and cease financing its institutions.
According to Djuri?, the German amendment states that after the opening of Chapters 35, 32, 23 and 24, Serbia cannot open any other chapter until all these “impossible elements contained in the draft platform are fulfilled.” [see list of the chapters here]
Dittman also said that the draft for the negotiation Chapter 35, which is the joint negotiation position of the European Union, formulated the interim steps pertaining to the implementation of the agreements reached in dialogue with Kosovo.
Officials in Brussels told Beta that it was too early to talk about the draft platform for Chapter 35, because it would be in the works for another two months.
Milovan Božinovi?, Serbia’s former ambassador to Berlin and Vienna, said that Germany perhaps would not insist on tying the opening of the other negotiation chapters to Serbia’s full implementation of the Brussels Agreement on the normalisation of relations, if senior officials from Belgrade had not been sending messages lately that may have targeted the domestic public, but had caused damage internationally.
“When you launch an intense, orchestrated political and media campaign against Kosovo’s accession to UNESCO, despite having previously pledged, by signing the Brussels Agreement, that you wouldn’t prevent that same Kosovo’s membership in international organizations, then it is natural for the partners from Berlin to ask, “Didn’t you promise not to do that?” Božinovi? told the Novi Sad-based Dnevnik newspaper on 18 October.
Vu?i?: I don’t want to spoil friendship with Germany
Matters soon settled regarding criticism of the EU and Germany, which had created an atmosphere where Serbia had to make some very important decisions related to European integration and the position on Kosovo, and there was no U-turn either at home or on the foreign policy plane.
Upon returning from the meeting with his Kosovo counterpart in Brussels, the Serbian premier did not address the public, but rather initiated consultations with top officials, including the president and heads of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as with foreign ambassadors, including EU Delegation to Serbia head Michael Davenport.
In his first reaction to the situation, Vu?i? told the daily Kurir on 15 October that he would sooner leave the cabinet than spoil Belgrade’s friendship with Germany. He then pointed out that he would not abandon the European path, but would not let Serbia be blackmailed either.
Serbian officials confirmed that Serbia planned to carry out the agreements made in the dialogue with Pristina, and Belgrade is confident that the EU’s draft platform for Chapter 35 may still be changed.
Vu?i? said on 18 October that he believed there would be no German amendment after all, and that the platform for Chapter 35 on Kosovo would be more favourable for Serbia.
No election, battle in UNESCO coming up
There was also a debate among the Serbian public on whether the newly created situation would lead to an early parliamentary election, which had been mentioned as an option for a while, regardless of the Kosovo issue.
Vu?i? said on 18 October that no election would be called in the next three months.
“I believe that would be irresponsible at a moment when we have UNESCO [the issue of Kosovo’s admission] and when we have the opening of chapters ahead of us,” Vu?i? told Pink TV.
Serbia is fighting a diplomatic battle in order to prevent Kosovo’s admission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO, using cases of destruction of churches and monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo as its chief argument.
The Executive Board of UNESCO will review Kosovo’s admission application on 21 October. The chances of its rejection are slim.