Kosovo’s former President Fatmir Sejdiu told BIRN that redrawing the country’s borders in a deal with Serbia would contravene the constitution and could spark trouble across the Balkan region.
Perparim Isufi BIRN Pristina, 28/8/2018/
Sejdiu was elected leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo party in 2006 after the death of its founder, former President Ibrahim Rugova, who he also succeeded to the presidency.
As president, Sejdiu led status talks with Serbia, facilitated by the international community in Vienna, which resulted in the declaration of independence.
Speaking in his university office, Sejdiu maintained that all the issues connected to Kosovo’s political status were closed when that declaration was made in 2008.
Ten years ago, after Kosovo declared independence, Fatmir Sejdiu received dozens of letters from various different countries saying that they recognised this new state with its current borders.
A decade later, the former president said he never imagined that these borders would ever be brought to the table for discussion.
In an interview with BIRN, Sejdiu – now 67 and a law professor at Pristina University – said that the recent idea of a ‘correction of borders’ advocated by his successor, Hashim Thaci, as part of a final deal with Serbia, has surprised many people.
“We have this development which has actually opened up many dilemmas and concerns among citizens. Concerns are evident even among international institutions and the international community, especially those that have helped Kosovo in the process of freedom and independence as well as during the state-building period,” said Sejdiu.
As well as being controversial, any potential redrawing of Kosovo’s borders in a territorial exchange with Serbia would be unconstitutional, Sejdiu argued.
“The idea which was introduced by President Thaci contradicts the principle of territorial integrity of Kosovo that was confirmed by the declaration of independence and embedded in our constitution,” he insisted.
Opening Pandora’s box?
Thaci raised his idea of a ‘border correction’ while parliament was on its summer leave. Several attempts by opposition representatives to cut MPs’ holidays short have failed. “Kosovo’s constitution does not allow such possibilities to be discussed without a prior mandate given by parliament,” Sejdiu argued.
The idea of the partition of Kosovo or an exchange of territories were considered ‘non-negotiable’ by the international community, along with the idea of Kosovo having claims on other states’ territories. Changing the borders could open Pandora’s box in the region, it was thought.
In Sejdiu’s opinion, Kosovo’s independence within its current borders was powered by the verdict handed down by the International Court of Justice in 2010 which rejected Belgrade’s claim that Pristina had contravened international law by declaring independence.
Now, as President Thaci pushes for a final deal with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic, Sejdiu believes that redrawing the borders could trigger unpredictable reactions.
“This issue could open up many other topics… Kosovo represents one of the most sensitive points in this area because it is an important geostrategic crossroads for east and west,” he warned.
Thaci raised his idea of a ‘border correction’ while parliament was on its summer leave. Several attempts by opposition representatives to cut MPs’ holidays short have failed.
“Kosovo’s constitution does not allow such possibilities to be discussed without a prior mandate given by parliament,” Sejdiu argued.
Despite an initial silence from the international community about the land swap proposal, there has recently been some important backing for the idea, with US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton’s reaction seen as the most encouraging for Thaci and Vucic’s pursuit of a solution.
“The US policy is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments,” Bolton said last week.
But Sejdiu is unsure that there is real progress towards a final deal because of entrenched attitudes in Belgrade, which consistently refuses to recognise its former province’s independence.
“I think that this this was a statement [by Bolton] which, in a way, encourages the parties to see what they can achieve, but it is difficult, absolutely impossible, because we know Serbia’s constant approach towards Kosovo’s independence and the freedom of Albanians,” he said.
“Serbia has constantly dragged its feet in various negotiation processes in the [internationally-mediated] dialogue process, including the current dialogue which is being held in Brussels,” he added.