New Realism on the Kosovo Question? On 24 July an article by Aleksandar Vucic, the newly elected Serbian President and leader of the governing Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, was published in the popular Serbian daily newspaper Blic. In this article Aleksandar Vucic called for the Serbs to conduct an ‘internal dialogue’ over the Kosovo question and adopt a new realism in their approach to the issue. The article stated that: ‘it is time for us as a nation to stop burying our heads in the sand and to be realistic…We need if nothing else at least to try to resolve the Gordian knot of Kosovo and not to hide and leave the burden to our children. To live means to love the country on which our children are walking and not just to boast about the victories of our grandfathers.’ Aleksandar Vucic stated that this process of intra-Serb dialogue would be initiated in September 2017.
A Movement Towards Recognition? Vucic’s article prompted an immediate and widespread both in Serbia and beyond. Enver Hozhaj, the Kosovan Foreign Minister, reacted positively to Vucic’s article saying that: ‘Breaking the silence and accepting the truth about independence and sovereignty will open the way for societal reconciliation, regional co-operation, European integration and international affirmation.’ Edi Rama, the Albanian Prime Minister, also welcomed the article stating: ‘This op-ed from the newly elected Serbian President could not have been imagined a few years back. Both of these observers from Kosovo and Albania appeared convinced that Vucic’s words heralded a move by Serbia towards the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Kosovo had declared itself to be independent in February 2008. Since then, however, Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s independence and has lobbied vigorously, although with limited success, on the international stage in order to persuade other countries not to recognise Kosovo. An EU mediated dialogue has produced agreements between Serbia and Kosovo in April 2013 and September 2015, but this process had specifically avoided discussion of sovereignty and independence. Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, a prominent political since the 1990s who although now relatively marginal in political terms retains a high public profile, was explicit in his support for Vucic’s call for a new approach to Kosovo on the part of the Serbs. He said that: ‘The reality is that Kosovo is recognised by the vast majority of the members of the UN and the EU…around ninety percent of Kosovo’s inhabitants are Albanians and less than six percent are Serbs.The sovereignty of Serbia over Kosovo’s independence exists only in the preamble of its constitution. By being a slave to this norm outside of reality the state suffers huge, political, developmental, democratic, demographic and monetary losses.’ While Vuk Draskovic did not fully endorse recognition for Kosovo, preferring instead a proposal for ‘supervised independence’ dating back to 2007, the logic of his argument certainly ran contrary to the Serbian line that Kosovo remained part of Serbia. Vojislav Seselj, the hard line nationalist leader of the Serbian Radical Party, apparently fearing a move towards recognition by Vucic, stated that: ‘If Vucic is imagining that he should sharehis Nobel Prize with Hashim Thaci (the President of Kosovo) – he should consider what the Serbian people think of that.’ On 31 July, however, Aleksandar Vucic stated that ‘My call to dialogue does not mean the recognition of Kosovo’ apparently contradicting the idea that he might be ready to discuss issues of Kosovan sovereignty and independence.
A Partition Option? Vucic’s call for internal dialogue, however, also prompted contributions from other prominent Serbs who looked to some form of partition to provide the basis of a settlement of the Kosovo issue. Ivica Dacic, the Serbian Foreign Minister and leader of the Serbian Socialist Party, called for a ‘solution’ to the issue of Kosovo based on ‘delineation’ of Serbian and Albanian spheres of influence within Kosovo. Dacic set out his ideas for Kosovo in article on 14 August in the Serbian daily newspaper Vecernje Novosti. He stated that his proposal would ‘remove the causes of war between Serbs and Albanians.’ Ivica Dacic’s ideas were, however, swiftly rejected by the authorities in Pristina. Dacic’s statements on the ‘delineation’ of Kosovo were followed on 15 August by his claiming that Richard Holbrooke, the United States diplomat and Kosovo negotiator, had in 1999 signed a letter to Slobodan Milosevic stating that the US government would not recognise the independence of Kosovo. The existence of this letter was subsequently denied by the US State Department. The meeting of the United States Security Council (UNSC) was marked by fractious exchanges between Ivica Dacic and Vlora Citaku, Kosovo’s ambassador in the US. Ivica Dacic appears to be intent on carving out a niche for himself as an unyielding defender of the established Serbian line on Kosovo.
On 15 August Oliver Ivanovic, an influential Kosovo Serb leader from the northern town of Mitrovica, gave an interview to N1 TV, in which he suggested a settlement for the issue of Kosovo which would involve ‘neither partition nor recognition.’ This would he said be modelled on the situation currently existing in Cyprus. Aleksandar Vucic, speaking during a visit to the Serbian town of Vladicin Han appeared to dismiss the idea of a ‘Cypriot model’ for Kosovo stating that it would result in ‘a frozen conflict for the next 100 to 200 years.’
What Does it All Mean? It its most minimal Vucic’s call for ‘internal dialogue’ may be interpreted as an eye catching initiative designed to retain control of the media/political agenda over the summer months. It is notable that Vucic’s call for internal dialogue n Kosovo was followed on 4 August by announcement of another initiative aimed at promoting the survival of Serbian language and culture. Other critical, mainly Albanian, observers have suggested that Vucic’s call for dialogue was intended a means of putting the possibility of partition back on the agenda. A more maximalist and positive interpretation sees this as Aleksandar Vucic’s ‘De Gaulle moment’ when he finally sets out to persuade the Serbs that they need to face up to the loss of Kosovo. While this latter interpretation is possibly premature it may be that Vucic intends to use the proposed dialogue as a means of testing the water with regard to recognition and seeing whether it might be acceptable to Serbian public opinion if it could be presented as an overall settlement of the Kosovo issue. A move to recognise Kosovo would mark a significant shift in Serbia’s international position removing potential obstacles to EU accession, and improving relations with the United States. It would also decrease Russian diplomatic leverage in Serbia.