Kosovo Calling, For New Ideas
By Goran Mijuk
For years, Europe and the U.S. have been reluctant to consider redrawing Balkan borders, fearing that such a policy may trigger more ethnic confusion and bloodshed in this war-torn region and shake global political stability.
But the current dispute between Kosovo’s Serbs and Albanians, which have been at loggerheads since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 following the war in the late 1990s, seems to have helped mellow international resistance to the idea.
The hope may be to avoid a further escalation in this Southeastern European country after violence erupted this summer when Kosovo’s government moved officials to its northern border with Serbia to enforce an import ban. Kosovo’s Serbs, which dominate the region, reacted by blocking roads, sparking clashes with Kosovo police and later with NATO-led troops. Most of the barricades and roadblocks have since been removed but the tension in the region remains high.
One of the first Westerners to flag the disputed border-change concept was Erhard Busek, the former coordinator of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, who this autumn said a partition of Kosovo may be a viable solution to solve the Kosovo standoff.
“I don’t see why the international community would not agree on the division if Belgrade and Pristina reached an agreement on the issue,” he told the Serbian press.
Following up on Busek is U.S congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who is proposing a land swap between Albanians and Serbs, basing his argument on the right for self-determination for both ethnic groups.
“One option that would be consistent with the right to self-determination and that would bolster long-term stability would be for an honorable transfer between Serbia and Kosovo of roughly equal pieces of territory and population,” Mr. Rohrabacher wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.
According to his proposal Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs could join Serbia if they want, while Albanians in Serbia’s southern Presevo valley could seek a tie-up with Kosovo should they vote so. Both ethnic groups, who have pressed for long to join their respective homelands, would most likely back such a step in a potential referendum.
But while floating such ideas may indicate that a broader international policy change may be under way, redrawing Kosovo’s border risks opening the Balkan’s Pandora’s box, as it could provoke fresh calls for land swaps and border changes elsewhere in the region.
For exactly this reason, Kosovo’s prime minister Hashim Thaci told Swiss media this week that there will “be neither a border change nor land swap” in Kosovo. In the same interview he also refuted the idea that Kosovo’s Serbs should be granted a special status or autonomy.
But while redrawing borders may seem dangerous, upholding the status quo seems equally difficult and it is most likely that Belgrade and Pristina, which both are backing continued talks to solve the issue in northern Kosovo, may have to produce new solutions.
One such idea, which has been floated by Ivica Dacic, Serbia’s interior minister, who is currently on a working visit in the U.S., is that of a federation. The concept, he told the Serbian press, originated during a lunch talk with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who thought the idea “interesting”, according to Dacic.
While the concept of a federation may neither fully please Belgrade nor Pristina and may look difficult to execute as the case of Bosnia Herzegovina and the collapse of Yugolsavia show, a federal state, under the watchful eye of the European Union, would force both sides to drop extreme positions and continually search for creative compromises, building up the region’s fragile track record of peaceful negotiations.