A land swap between Serbia and Kosovo is now “off the table” but all sides must seize on the momentum created, a Munich-based Balkans analyst told BIRN.
Serbeze Haxhiaj BIRN Pristina 9 January 2019
The European Union “should be open” to a new initiative by Kosovo’s government which reshuffles Pristina’s delegation in talks with Belgrade and explicitly rules out any land swap as the basis for a deal to settle relations, a German expert on the region says.
In an interview with BIRN, Johanna Deimel, the deputy director of the Munich-based Southeast Europe Association think-tank, said German opposition had helped sink proposals to swap territory between Serbia and Kosovo, but that all sides should seize on the “new momentum” that had been created.
Kosovo’s parliament adopted a resolution in mid-December creating a new negotiating team involving the government, the opposition and civil society, and setting down a platform that rules out any change to Kosovo’s borders.
It remains unclear where the resolution leaves President Hashim Thaci, who currently represents Kosovo in EU-mediated negotiations with his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic.
“I think that Brussels should be open to the new format and initiative,” said Deimel, describing Kosovo’s platform as “constructive” as well as supportive of multi-ethnicity and minority rights.
“I am sure that it can serve as a good basis for serious negotiations to normalise relations, which I hope Germany will support in its capacities as an EU member-state.”
Polls show people are against partition
Last year, both Thaci and Vucic made public statements that fuelled speculation they were close to a deal on changing the border between Serbia and Kosovo, reportedly by swapping the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo with Serbia’s predominantly Albanian Presevo Valley.
The United States and EU did little to dampen the speculation, until German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference in August that the borders of the Western Balkans were “inviolable”.
Deimel, who worked previously for the International Civilian Office which oversaw Kosovo in the immediate aftermath of its 2008 declaration of independence, said opposition from Berlin, London and other EU capitals meant “the ideas of border corrections and of the land swap are off the table.”
Deimel noted too recent remarks by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in which she ruled out “ethnical divisions among countries”.
“This is a very clear message,” said Deimel, “indicating that also Mogherini is stepping back and siding with the German position that whatever ‘agreement should not lead to mono-ethnic states.’”
Ethnic partition, she said, would be a throwback to the 19th century, a potential trigger for border changes elsewhere in the Balkans and a contradiction of European values.
Most importantly, it is not what people want, Deimel said, citing a recent survey by the Kosovo Democratic Institute in which more than three quarters of Kosovo Albanian respondents said they were against any exchange of territory with Serbia.
Deimel said the EU currently lacked “leadership and capacity” but that new momentum had been created. “For too long nobody knew what was on the table,” she said. “There was no informed debate possible,” Deimel told BIRN.
The Balkans expert said that Thaci lacked legitimacy and the domestic backing needed to seal a deal.
“The Kosovo government is against the Vucic-Thaci negotiations, as is the opposition in Kosovo and the majority of the people there.”