Dmitry Babich is a political analyst with the Voice of Russia radio station
Belgrade was given time until April 9 to agree or not to the conditions set for it at the negotiations on Serbia’s relations with its former province, Kosovo. The negotiations, which lasted 13 hours on Tuesday with representatives of Serbia, Kosovo and the EU participating, stunned even the greatest pessimists in Serbia. Conditions set by Catherine Ashton and representatives of the Kosovo Albanian quasi-state were much worse than expected.
A respected Serbian daily, Danas, reports that the Serbian delegation was told that if they did not accept the demands of Brussels until April 9, the EU would simply cancel the next round of negotiations, the ninth one, originally scheduled for April 15.
"Germany and the USA do not want to waste any more time on Kosovo. They insist that the agreement is reached immediately,” Blic quotes its diplomatic sources as saying. The European press had already started preparations for a curtain raising on the "final solution” of the Kosovo problem. In the days preceding the eighth round of talks in Brussels the European and American press filled itself with reports on "historic reconciliation” between the Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. Newspapers even reported on local Serbs agreeing to take the identification papers and license plates issued by the authorities in Pristina, the capital of the new Kosovo state, still unrecognized by Serbia, Russia, Spain and several other states in Europe. So, Belgrade is forced to accept the terms of Pristina and Brussels, since not accepting these terms would spoil the show.
But Belgrade is reticent, because accepting these terms would mean a total betrayal of the Serb minority in the north of Kosovo and a final departure of this secessionist region, which was the cradle of Serbian statehood in the Middle Ages. But refusing the EU’s terms is difficult. In return for its acquiescence to Kosovo’s statehood Serbia is promised a firm date for the start of the negotiation process on its getting a membership in the European Union. This membership is viewed as an important incentive for foreign investment and other positive economic developments. "It will be hard to develop our economy without such an agreement,” said Serbia’s president Tomislav Nikolic, the leader of the formerly nationalist Progressive party.
Serbia, on its side, wants autonomy for its 120 thousand-strong Serb minority in Kosovo, a country of 2 million people. Kosovo’s prime minister Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the guerillas in the Kosovo Liberation Army accused of a number of crimes during the Serbian-Albanian conflict in 1999 that led to the NATO’s intervention the same year, ruled out autonomy for Serbs. So, the main stumbling block at negotiations in Brussels was "the difference in views on the self-government powers of the Serb communities in Kosovo,” said the Serbian prime minister Ivica Dacic, who was the chief negotiator on Serbia’s side. Blic reports that Dacic was offered the following variant by the EU: the Serb-populated north of the town of Kosvoska Mitrovica, the largest Serb enclave in Kosovo, would be merged with its southern part into one single "province” of Kosovo. In that case, Serbs living in the town (43 thousand) would be outnumbered by ethnic Albanians from the south (70 thousand). This makes the Serbian side’s demand for Kosovo’s north to have its own police and judiciary irrelevant. Albanians would simply have more votes and more chances to form these bodies.
What is interesting, the EU, by creating a new state of Kosovo, is going against the position of many of its member states, which have not yet recognized this new "state.” Kosovo was euphemistically called a "special case” by the EU and the USA, since it has been carved out from the territory of another sovereign country, Serbia, with the help of outside powers – in a breach of the "old fashioned” norms of national sovereignty and inviolability of borders. (Kosovo formally declared its independence in 2008, but it had been de facto independent since 1999, when NATO forces evicted the Serbian army from its territory.) The justification for this action – cruel treatment of Kosovo Albanians by the Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic, which Western media described as a "genocide” – was widely reported by the Western mainstream press. New details, which show that cruelties were committed on both sides, were given much less attention after the NATO-led war of 1999.
"There was less attention paid by the global media to what happened afterwards”, said Pavel Kandel, an expert on Balkans from the Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences. "And this explains why I, for example, give little credence to reports on a sudden "reconciliation” between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs, which, if we believe certain newspapers, happened to coincide with a new round of negotiations on Kosovo’s status.”
The Serbian government’s estimates put the number of Serbs who were forced to leave Kosovo after the 1999 intervention at "100 thousand people minimum,” and local Serbs continue to complain about discrimination from local Albanians. Kosovo Serbs concentrated in several enclaves in the northern part of Serbia, with the town of Kosovska Mitrovica being the largest such enclave. The union of Serb communities in Kosovo demands that these communities should be given the right to have their own police and to be judged by their local courts. Pristina so long refused to make this concession.