Veteran Balkan envoy Miroslav Lajcak warns any possible land swap between Serbia and Kosovo along ethnic lines would have broad ramifications for the region.

Antonia Battaglia BIRN

A land swap between Serbia and Kosovo along ethnic lines – as a way to bury their differences and clear a path to European Union – goes against “the spirit of democracy” and the very foundations of the EU, Slovak Foreign Minister and veteran Balkan envoy Miroslav Lajcak says.

The presidents of Serbia and its former Kosovo province have both mooted the possibility of redrawing borders as a route to a settlement that Kosovo hopes would see it join the United Nations and, eventually, the EU.

Such a deal could see Serbia, which needs to settle relations with Kosovo if it too is to move closer to EU accession, cede its mainly ethnic Albanian Presevo Valley and Kosovo give up a predominantly ethnic Serb slice of territory north of the Ibar river.

But the possibility, which would require the West to abandon a long-held principle that Kosovo cannot be partitioned, has unsettled many in the region who warn it may have a domino effect in Bosnia and Macedonia.

Lajcak, a former ambassador to Belgrade and international envoy in Bosnia, warned such a solution would have broad ramifications.

“The creation of territories along ethnic lines is in clear contradiction to the spirit of democracy, the foundations of the EU and the processes of Euro-Atlantic integration,” he told BIRN in an interview.

‘Public may demand divisions’

While every international event is sui generis, he said, Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence over the objections of Serbia had echoes years later, and such a land swap may too. Slovakia is one of five of the EU’s 28 member states that do not recognise Kosovo as independent.

“One may argue that in the course of the last 10 years since the unilateral declaration of independence we have had more attempts to create statehood and Kosovo’s unilateral declaration serves as a case,” Lajcak said.

A land swap between Kosovo and Serbia, he said, may redirect the focus of other Balkan states away from reforms and back towards issues of blood and nationality, under the rallying cry ‘if it was possible there it must be feasible here.’

“In the region, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia are countries where in time the public may demand divisions according to ethnicity,” he told BIRN. “And as I have just said, that would go against the processes of integration into the Euro-Atlantic society.”

Bosnian Serb leaders do not hide their wish to secede from Bosnia, while some ethnic Croat parties are also agitating for even greater decentralisation and their own Croat entity within Bosnia. In Macedonia, roughly one third of the population are ethnic Albanians who are still seeking greater rights since a 2001 insurgency took the country to the brink of civil war.

Standards sidelined

Lajcak cautioned against any hasty moves with regards Kosovo.

In business, “time is money,” he said, but in diplomacy, “there is only the right time.

Lajcak noted that the West had originally insisted that mainly ethnic Albanian Kosovo meet a number of benchmarks of democracy and minority rights, particularly regarding protections for the Serb minority, before its status could be settled, the so-called ‘Standards before Status’ approach.

Lajcak said the policy had been “abandoned” as Western powers moved to cool growing Kosovo Albanian discontent over years of political and economic limbo and pressed for independence in 2008.

“More than 10 years have passed and look where we are,” he said. “We are still focused on status and the standards have been sidelined.”