The visit to Belgrade by the three members of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s presidency was expected to warm up relations between the two countries, which had soured after the Bosniak presidency member said his country should recognise Kosovo, Serbia’s former province.
That statement hit a raw nerve in Serbia, which refuses to acknowledge the independence Kosovo declared in 2008, although the two sides have in recent years turned to dialogue under EU guidance. All the more reason to look to the high-level visit to thaw the ice.
But the visit of the three presidency members (Croat, Serb and Bosniak/Muslim) achieved few concrete results, with the spotlight once again on the disagreement over Kosovo.
Bakir Izetbegović, the Bosniak member, said in a recent interview with Deutsche Welle that Bosnia-Herzegovina should have recognised Kosovo a long time ago if it were up to him, but that it was not possible without the consent of the Serb presidency member.
The statement provoked unusually heated reactions in Serbia and Republika Srpska, the Serb entity of Bosnia. Officials in Belgrade said it was an attack on the country’s territorial integrity and the National Security Council also held a session.
The start of a new joint conference of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Bosnian Presidency head Dragan Čović on 6 December seemed promising – it looked like previous disagreements had been overcome and a joint stand on Kosovo had been reached.
Vučić told reporters he had received a pledge from the Bosnian presidency members that they would not recognise Kosovo until Serbia changed its own stand. “We are very grateful for that stance,” Vučić said.
Čović, the Croat member of the Bosnian presidency, added: “And when it comes to any internal issue concerning Serbia, our position, precisely the position of the three members of the presidency, is that we will adjust those open issues in leading our foreign policy to those of the government in Belgrade, regarding any issue.”
But Izetbegović, who had not been scheduled to speak, took the floor to say that he disagreed and that Bosnia’s foreign policy should be formed by the country itself, though it can take into account the “positions of neighbouring countries”.
When a reporter asked Izetbegović to elaborate, Vučić replied instead of him: “Here, I’ll explain it to you: I quoted what I had received during the official talks. That’s what’s it’s like regarding the border and everything.”
The Serb member of the Bosnian presidency did not speak at the press conference but he later told the media that Izetbegović’s stance indicated internal problems in Bosnia.
On a positive note, Vučić said the Serbian government had made a proposal to solve the remaining border issue and voiced the belief that there was an agreement to “exchange square meter for square meter” parts of the territory near the municipalities of Priboj and Rudo.
In the section of the border near the Zvornik and Bajina Bašta hydropower plants, which Serbia has asked to be wholly included in Serbian territory, an agreement was reached to grant Serbia the right of international servitude for the next 99 years.
“Due to the complexity of relations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it’s more difficult for us to agree. Give us more room to harmonise our positions,” said Čović.
The Bosnian delegation’s visit to Serbia wrapped up with a meeting of the foreign ministers of Serbia, Bosnia and Turkey, where Ivica Dačić, Igor Crnadak and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu agreed that the three countries’ political ties were excellent but there was room to improve economic cooperation.
“Our three countries want to become members of the EU and in that sense, Serbia supports the European integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey,” said the Serbian foreign minister.
The three ministers also announced that the next trilateral meeting would be held in the first half of 2018 in Turkey.
Turkey and Serbia are EU candidate countries, while Bosnia-Herzegovina is a potential candidate.