Feature

Kosovo and Serbia: Forced into an uneasy accord

The European Union’s foreign policy chief has persuaded the leaders of Serbia and its former province Kosovo to normalize relations.

After an excruciating two years of talks, we can chalk up a win for European diplomacy, said The Independent(U.K.) in an editorial. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has persuaded the leaders of Serbia and its former province Kosovo to normalize relations. Populated mostly by ethnic Albanians, Kosovo broke free of Belgrade in 1999, after a NATO bombing campaign loosened the brutal grip of Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic. It declared independence in 2008, but there is still an ethnic Serb minority, mostly in the north, and the territory has remained partitioned. Now, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic “has agreed to cede Serbia’s claim of legal authority” in return for Kosovo’s granting some autonomy to the Serb-populated areas of the north. The deal has infuriated hard-liners on both sides—particularly nationalist Serbs, who see Kosovo as the historic heart of Serbia.

Dacic deserves respect for publicly standing up for this unpopular decision, said Blic (Serbia) in an editorial. He and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic have been getting death threats—Vucic even said his son was being bullied mercilessly on Facebook. Yet Dacic faced up to a frustrated crowd at the Belgrade Marathon, and even responded civilly to a heckler who asked him “how he could sleep at night after selling out Kosovo.” Dacic’s pretense is that he had no choice but to sign, said Politika (Serbia). He has apologized for the agreement, saying that being pressured into negotiations was “a grave injustice that I resented greatly” and lamenting that Serbia had to capitulate because it “has no allies in the West.” Dacic has even insisted that we were not really negotiating with Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a notorious criminal who once led the Kosovo Liberation Army against Serbia, but rather with the West as a whole.

Without Western pressure there would have been no agreement, said Vili Einspieler in Delo (Slovenia). Kosovo has had nearly “unconditional support” from Brussels and Washington until the past few months, when they began leaning heavily on the Kosovars to cut a deal with the Serbs. For their part, the Serbs wouldn’t have come to the table without the carrot of EU membership dangling before them. Unfortunately, forcing two parties to sign a pact doesn’t guarantee peace, said Martin Ellerich in the Westfälische Nachrichten (Germany). “Just how far from normality the two neighbors were” could be seen not only in the furious protests against the accord on both sides, but also in the negotiations, where Vucic “made a point of refusing to shake the hand” of Kosovo’s Thaci. They looked like two boys who had been slugging it out in the schoolyard until the teacher forced them to make nice—“hardly the picture of genuine conflict resolution.”

The lack of goodwill bodes ill for Kosovo’s Serbs, said Simeon Pobulic in Politika. Sure, they no longer face the “mass terrorism” of the early 2000s, but they still suffer attacks on homes and even murders. Such “low-intensity terror” is enough to keep many displaced Serbs from returning to their homes. With Pristina, not Belgrade, now formally in charge of the Serb-populated areas, I fear for Kosovo’s Serbs and their future.

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