This article was first published in Русская Мысль, March 2018 issue : « Белград и Брюссель обговаривают цену » by Алла Ярошинская.

Translation: Isabelle Bairamukova

Belgrade and Brussels are negotiating the price

Recently the European Union exhorted the Ukrainian authorities not to mope with the refusal to admit the country into its ranks in the foreseeable future, assured that in the coming years it will not invite anyone at all. It was understood that it is necessary to comprehend the situation that has developed after the accession of other countries, and also the wake up after the Brexit. Recently something happened in the « Danish kingdom »: at the beginning of February, the head of EU diplomacy, Federica Mogerini, announced that the EU intends to admit to its ranks all applicants from the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and even the self-proclaimed Kosovo. According to her, for some of these countries this may happen by 2025. It is, as it became known, about Serbia and Montenegro.

And if Montenegro has its trump cards for accelerated accession to the European Union in the form of NATO membership and sanctions against Russia, Serbia has the opposite. It (at least until recently) declared its unwillingness to join the North Atlantic alliance, as well as refused to hold sanctions against Moscow. But most importantly, the burdensome circumstances for Belgrade are the existence of a self-proclaimed Kosovo, as well as tense (to put it mildly) relations with Croatia, which could well become a stumbling block for Serbia’s accession to the EU. After all, all the members, including Croatia, should ratify Serbia’s membership in the European Union.

Commenting on the possibilities of Belgrade to move on the way to the European Union, Federica Mogerini said in early February this year that for this, Serbia should normalize relations with Kosovo. Moreover, she believes that Serbia and Kosovo must conclude a « legally binding agreement on the normalization of relations. » What does this « normalization of relations » mean ? Only one thing: in the end, Serbia should finally accept and tear off its mother’s « chest », the Kosovo region, the ancient cradle of Serb identity, by recognizing its independence. Is the leadership of Serbia and, above all, the public ready for this?

The dialogue, which was still going on between Pristina and Belgrade, was abruptly cut short after the killing of local Serb leader Oliver Ivanovich, the head of the Civil Initiative Movement « Serbia, Democracy, Justice » in Kosovo. (The politician was shot from a passing car in the town of Kosovska Mitrovica, the Kosovo police promised ten thousand euros for information about the killer which is still wanted.)

The Serbian leadership stated that it regards this as a terrorist act, and its delegation refused to participate in the scheduled round of dialogue with the Kosovo-Albanian authorities in Brussels under the aegis of the EU. On Serbian radio and television Director of the Department for Kosovo and Metohija, in the Serbian government, Marco Djuric called the murder « a criminal, malicious act to cause chaos in the north of Kosovo ». What was, in general, understandable.

Even before the assassination of the politician, President Alexander Vučić stated that Serbia does not accept the idea of ​​unconditional recognition of the independence of the self-proclaimed Kosovo and insists on dialogue. Vučić believes that the leader of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, « must compromise and agree to concessions, rather than demanding unilateral fulfillment on its terms, » ​​the Belgrade « Politika » reported. « If you are able to do this, we are ready to talk. If you say that Serbia should recognize Kosovo, then – thank you, goodbye, « Vučić quotes the Serbian TANJUG news agency at the Davos forum in late January.

It would seem that Belgrade’s position is unbreakable and more than clear. However, as soon as the European media published the first leakage of a possible « accelerated admission » of Serbia to the European Union, its leadership seems to have quickly replaced anger to mercy. (There is no doubt that Belgrade knew about the EU’s intention earlier, receiving signals through diplomatic channels.) It became known from the words of Maya Kosjancic, representative of Mogerini, who told journalists about the resumed negotiations between Serbian presidents Alexander Vucic and the self-proclaimed republic of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci. I note that just two days after the murder of Ivanovich, the mediators from the EU were required, so that the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo agreed, in her words, to continue the dialogue for the « normalization of relations ». The reason for the conversation was the murder of the leader of the Kosovo Serbs Oliver Ivanovich. Then a meeting with the two presidents followed, although, as the Balkans media say, progress has not yet been achieved.

So what does the Serbian leader Vučić mean when he says that Thaci should « compromise and agree to concessions »? What is the compromise and what concessions? In fact, we are talking about the issue price for Belgrade when it joins the European Union. Back in early February, after talks with Johannes Hahn, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and the Neighborhood Policy, Alexander Vučić said at a news conference that in a few months he could announce the possibility of a border agreement with Kosovo. So it turns out that Serbia is ready to recognize Kosovo’s independence? But, it turns out, not for nothing. The compromise is to persuade the leadership of the self-proclaimed state to exchange this recognition for Pristina’s refusal from Serbian Northern Kosovo. (It was precisely against this « simple decision » that Oliver Ivanovich spoke.)

Apparently, the most difficult political task of Belgrade is to turn around inside and find an option in which both the wolves would be fed and the sheep would be intact. Some Russian experts believe that this is a decision in which Kosovo will legally remain behind Serbia, and in fact Belgrade will lose its right to it. But it is unlikely that such a « compromise » is possible – Pristina will not agree with this uncompromisingly resolutely. Option for the Serbs, if they want to get into the European Union, whatever one may say,  is the rejection of Kosovo. However, according to the Balkans media, most Serbs, while supporting European integration, are not ready to pay such a price for it.

Alexander Vučić said at a press conference after talks with European Commissioner Johannes Khan that Serbia might hold a referendum on joining the European Union. Stressing that people must decide for themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the country’s accession to the EU. Speaking in January on Serbian television, Vučić also admitted the issue in a referendum and on the borders with Kosovo. « Serbia will not be allowed to join the EU without a resolved border issue. How we solve it is another matter. And do we want to solve it? The people must say at the referendum what they think about it. « 

The opposition has been demanding a referendum since 2012, since Serbia received the status of candidate for the EU membership. The opinion polls show that since 2011 the number of supporters of accession to the European Union is balancing on the verge or above 50 per cent. In the summer of last year, according to a survey commissioned by the European Integration Department in the Serbian government, 49 per cent of the citizens voted for joining the EU, then in January this year it was 52. However, according to the opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica, for the price not to stand up there is no more than 20 per cent of the population ready to give up Kosovo.

Does the President Vucic doubt about this ? As he said a few days ago to Reuters, Serbia is unlikely to support the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state in exchange for membership in the EU: « It (the question of recognition of Kosovo) will be decided by the people. If you think that the majority will come out in support, then I do not have such confidence.  » However, on the other hand, he believes that « if there are no compromises, we will get a » frozen conflict « for decades. We should not leave it to our children. « 

The phrase sounds like some pressure on the public opinion. Furthermore. « We must look at today’s reality and understand the relations in the world and relations in Kosovo, understand that Kosovo is not ours, as we have taught ourselves, but it is not to them, as they are trying to show it. » « Kosovo is not ours » is a somewhat strange statement: it turns out that the Serbian president believes that the originally Serbian province does not belong to Serbia. It is clear that Vučić is trying to somehow balance between public opinion, most of whom are determined not to recognize the independence of Kosovo, and their desire at all costs to bring Serbia to the EU. It’s funny, however, that with such juggling words from the leader of the Serbs, even EU countries like Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Spain do not recognize Kosovo as an independent state. That is, unlike the President of Serbia, they believe that Kosovo belongs to it.

It seems that, by offering Belgrade an accelerated entry into its ranks, the EU is thus trying to finally solve the problem of legitimizing the self-proclaimed Kosovo. With a high price for Serbia.