Serbia’s President Vucic and Kosovo’s President Thaci seemingly close to a deal on land swap

Tue 4 Sep 2018

Serbia’s President Vucic and Kosovo’s President Thaci seemingly close to a deal on land swap

The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vucic (Serbian Progressive Party, SNS) and Hashim Thaci (Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK), will have a meeting on the 7th of September to arrange normalization between the two countries. A border correction, or a so-called land swap is the expected result of this meeting. A possible deal has resulted in heated discussion about the possible consequences of changing borders on ethnic basis for the stability in the region. The US, and some EU leaders as well, have provided more space for a deal that could enhance the Euro Atlantic integration of both countries.  

Kosovo independence

With Western support Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008. Serbia, supported by Russia and China,  as well as five EU member states – mainly due to issues with minorities and separatist movements in their own countries – do  not recognize Kosovo.

After the independence declaration of 2008 and reorganization by many countries, tensions and violence were still present in Kosovo, especially in the north which is controlled by organized crime groups. This area might be added to Serb territory; the new possible border correction. Thaci argues that the possible border correction is not about the ethnicity of that area, but about a peaceful border, mutual recognition and EU integration. The land swap along ethnic lines is, however, highly controversial in Serbia and Kosovo and in the neighboring countries.  

Internal pressures

The opposition in Kosovo is strongly against a land swap, proposing  a resolution in the parliament concerning the borders of Kosovo and that nobody can negotiate about Kosovo territory. In addition, President Thaci’s mandate to negotiate with Serbia is extremely weak: EU has insisted on working with Thaci as progress was made in normalizing relation with Belgrade while Thaci was prime minister. Civil society groups and the opposition are calling for a mass protest on the 5th of September against the potential change of the borders. In Serbia the influential Orthodox church as well as Serbs living in enclaves in southern Kosovo are strongly against potential division. President Vucic, however, has a very strong mandate and position in Serbia and is perceived as the only one who can politically survive a deal with Kosovo. Vucic has announced a visit to Kosovo during which he will deliver the “most important speech of his life”.       
             

External pressure

The sphere in the world capitals about a a possible deal is diverse. Washington has become less interested and left the strong position on territorial integrity of Kosovo. Germany is concerned that new tensions will rise because old wounds are being opened again, a concern shared by many EU countries. Critics argue that an ethic based border shift would undermine all post-conflict efforts of the international community in the region to create stable multi-ethnic societies. It would also lead to resettlement of population and instability in the region: Serb-dominated Republika Srpska in Bosnia, the Albanian minorities in Macedonia and Montenegro and the talks about a greater Albania would open a Pandora box.EU Foreign Affairs Chief Mogherini stated that the EU would support any deal that is in line with EU and international law, not excluding a land swap.

Ethnics would continue to be the base for resolving conflicts in the Western Balkans which can be a dangerous thing and can evolve in a new drama. Overall the EU supports the dialogue, even though there is a risk of developing new conflicts. So far both the EU and US ignore the call from more than 50 experts and organizations to not support any land swap. In the signed letter the experts warn for the ethnic homogeneity and the consequences for Kosovo and surroundings. Other analysts think that in the end there will be no correction of the border at all. They consider the meeting as a preparation for a deal for autonomy within Kosovo. One thing is clear, change is around the corner with possible consequences for the whole region.

Sources: Balkan insight, Balkan insight, The Economist and The Guardian

Photo: Flickr