Since the North Kosovo Serbs unequivocally refused to recognize the institutions of the self-proclaimed independent Kosovo in the Sretenje Referendum, a democratic expression the official Belgrade condemned in a very undemocratic manner, there is a question of legitimacy of Serbia’s further involvement in negotiations with the Kosovo Albanian representatives. It is very unclear whom Borislav Stefanović, Serbia’s representative in the negotiations that resume tomorrow in Brussels, actually represents. Not Serbia’s interests in Kosovo, that much is understood. The Kosovo Serbs said so in the Sretenje Referendum on February 14 and 15. The interest of Serbia in its province of Kosovo naturally corresponds with the best interest of the Serbs living in Kosovo, and if they, in areas where they still enjoy a semblance of physical and political freedom, decided to democratically express their disagreement with the agenda Boris Tadić’s government continues to pursue, there could be only one interpretation of such an action: Serbia’s president is working against the interest and wishes of Serbia’s citizens in Kosovo whose very existence as a free community holding onto their ancestral homes hangs in balance. In no way can Tadić’s stance be more justified than the stance of the very people who are directly affected.
Stefanović and Edita Tahiri will meet and continue to negotiate the best and the least painful way – the least obvious way, that is - for Serbia to surrender Kosovo, finally and officially. No one expects this to be the last round of the talks that solidify the surrender, but the signs of intent are posted all over and the only trouble is in selling it to the Serbs in as veiled a form as possible. Any negotiation with a party whom one doesn’t recognize in the form that party represents itself must be about the basic terms of the recognition, i.e. the adjustment of that representation that is acceptable to the counterpart. Following this logic, if Serbia didn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence, the subject of the conversation could only be the very framework under which Serbia would agree to even talk to the Kosovo Albanians. This would be logical, but straying away from logic wouldn’t be isolated to this particular case when it comes to Serbia’s national politics. Serbia did not recognize the independence of its southern province, yet it engaged in bilateral talks with it, not about the nature in which such an entity would come to the negotiating table, but about its international functionality, thus effectively recognizing its separate political existence and aiming to find ways to ease its own province into the international relations. This is not all - Stefanović has already all but transferred over the border control authorities at crossings which Serbia controlled and the birth registers that are the exclusive property of Serbia’s government, thus effectively binding the North Kosovo Serbs to the Albanian separatist authorities’ administrative functions. We all remember the failed status talks and the reality that Brussels never wanted to negotiate Kosovo’s status as it masterminded Kosovo’s current de facto separation from Serbia. This reality makes the logic moot, but it doesn’t make it non-existent.
However, a new reality has hit home on Serbia’s Statehood Day: the North Kosovo Serbs have used their democratic right to freely chose not to recognize either Priština’s authority over them or Stefanović’s concessions to the Albanian separatists. They effectively abandoned the line imposed on them by the Tadić government as they realized that the official Belgrade was not working to preserve their status as a free community under the sovereignty of Serbia. If the Albanian separatism in Kosovo is a reality that has to be reckoned with, why would the will of the Kosovo Serbs be seen as anything less than that? Why would their free and democratic expression be ignored? Can any expression be more democratically viable than the 99% representation in the rejection of the separatist Kosovo institutions by the North Kosovo Serbs, accompanied by a 75% popular response to the referendum in spite of extraneous circumstances created by weather elements?
Kosovo’s independence is not a done deal. Most of the world did not recognize it, including two permanent UN Security Council members, five EU member-states, Israel and the majority of Islamic countries, and new recognitions came to a standstill or a trickle at best. Serbia’s government in all actuality appears more than willing to give in to the Albanian separatists if the reward is to be the EU candidacy it longed for. On that front, nothing has happened between the December Ninth rejection (the emphasis is due to the date’s potential significance to the Serbian history as a modern-day Vidovdan) to encourage the hope of the smaller part of Serbia’s public that placed all their eggs in the EU-acceptance basket.
Sure, Wolfram Maas, the German ambassador in Serbia, continued the best tradition of the “warm” German-Serb relations by openly meddling in Serbia’s party politics via a personal attack on Vojislav Koštunica, the former Prime Minister who is not even a major opposition leader anymore, betraying frustration and impatience. Koštunica was not a random target; he recently published a manifest of what I called the Koštunica Doctrine, an in-depth articulation of his matured political philosophy that advocated a political and military neutrality of Serbia between the East and the West and elaborated on the position he’s held for some time that it is against the interests of Serbia to move towards joining the European Union, not only because of the Confederation’s economic failure, the uncertain future, and the traditional hostility towards the Serbian people by some key EU members, but also because of Serbia’s natural opposition to losing its independence to a foreign, undemocratic super-state. The war of words expanded onto other points, but the larger point shouldn’t be missed: Germany’s increasing colonialist tendencies do not tolerate opposition, especially such an eloquent one and especially at the moment in which such ideas can undermine the German consolidation of power in EU countries with an already considerable political and philosophical opposition to what many perceive as the Fourth Reich. Democracy is but a collateral in this German onslaught.
While Maas has been engaging Koštunica, other EU diplomats have been cajoling Serbia’s leaders into believing that the EU candidacy is within reach, at the fingertips, and that all Belgrade has to do is let Kosovo go. Of course, no one in Brussels and Berlin is asking Serbia to recognize Kosovo, and after Serbia agrees to unblock Kosovo’s participation in regional conferences and helps remove the barricades in the North, no new demands will be set. Maybe just the annulment or an adjustment of the trade agreement with Russia, a demand that the EU Ambassador in Serbia, Vincent Degert, hinted at several times, but that is all. While Maas said there will not be any new demands, Laszlo Surjan, the vice-president of the European Parliament, all but guaranteed Serbia will become a candidate by March 1. Nicolai Wammen, the Danish EU Minister, on the other hand, insisted that Serbia will only win the candidacy on March 1 if it showed progress in fulfilling demands in the interim. In the interim? The only thing happening in the interim is the Brussels meeting between Stefanović and Tahiri.
The common denominator is that the pressures, hard and subtle, are mounting in the run-up to the talks and especially in the light of the Sretenje Referendum. Even Hashim Thaci is playing nice these days, showing willingness to accept the crazy arrangement of subtitles and asterisks under Kosovo’s name in the regional conference representations. At the same time, Serbian news media report on an alleged communication sent by the Albanian separatist authorities to certain EU destinations, urging them to deny Serbia a candidacy. Only Vuk Jeremić "inexplicably" insists on a hard stance – Wammen’s warning came after a meeting with Jeremić. A coincidence? Jeremić is Stefanović’s boss, believe it or not, and one who doesn’t have any control over his underlink, apparently. You can’t make this stuff up.
And in the same interim, the North Kosovo Serbs have to be reckoned with. The referendum showed they will not bow to Stefanović’s concessions. The entire premise of Belgrade negotiating on their behalf has fallen. They know it and Boris Tadić knows it. That is why he did not even mention Kosovo in his Statehood Day remarks on the day of the Sretenje Referendum. The Sretenje Referendum was the day his Presidency hit the rock bottom and he knows that too. If he recovers from that embarrassment, Serbia will not recover from him.
As for the Kosovo Serbs, there are no guarantees that KFOR will not simply expel them from their homes if they decide to disobey the Brussels’ marching orders Stefanović and Tadić most definitely will have accepted on their behalf. There are no guarantees the Albanian separatists will not attempt another pogrom of Serbs of the March 2004 variety, out of a “justified” frustration their “legitimate” desires have not been fulfilled. There are simply no guarantees for the Serbs; not even life and liberty, let alone a pursuit of happiness.