How different was Vučić’s visit to Kosovo than his former president’s?
“I think that it makes sense to say this here in Kosovo, where disunity that once upon a time tragically pushed Serbia back for centuries and endangered it, and where renewed unity may advance it and may return dignity to it. Such awareness about mutual relations constitutes an elementary necessity for Yugoslavia, too, for its fate is in the joined hands of all its peoples.”
These were the words that, inter alia, Slobodan Milošević said almost three decades ago in the Field of the Blackbirds, near the town of Fushë Kosovë, where 600 years earlier medieval Serbian princes allied with other Balkan peoples, including Albanians, to unsuccessfully try to withstand an Ottoman invasion.
Only three months and five days had passed since Belgrade had stripped the autonomy of what was then called the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs from across Yugoslavia were gathered in the field to commemorate this lost battle, which had become the cornerstone of the national and nationalist Serbian myth.
On the podium, right there, was Slobodan Milošević, a young, Serb communist leader, who with a Machiavellian sense had realized that the feeling of victimization evoked in everyday Serbs may one day be hypothetically translated into a lot of votes. Carpe diem. And Milošević did seize the moment, transforming himself from a socialist bureaucrat into a standard-bearer for the Serbian nation’s salvation.
But character transformations in the Serbian political scene are not unusual. Current president, Aleksandar Vučić started his political career as a fierce nationalist who sought to follow the dream of his radical leader, Vojislav Šešelj, to expand the borders and create Greater Serbia along the Virovitica-Karlovac-Ogulin-Karlobag line — a distant remembrance of the famous London Treaty of 1915, when the Allied Powers promised Serbia an extension to the west.
Vučić was the Minister of Information in one of Milošević’s governments during the war in Kosovo and while the NATO bombing against Yugoslavia took place. It was then that he was accused of introducing fines for journalists who opposed the government and banned foreign TV networks.
This character trait of contempt for the media seems to have continued up until his own visit to Kosovo over the weekend. On Sunday (Sept. 9), one of the producers of the “Rikošet” series, Saša Mirković, was reportedly attacked in Mitrovica after trying to ask President Vučić a question about why Oliver Ivanović was killed. Rikošet writes that Mirković was then suddenly and without warning hit in the head with a pistol from behind by “some of Vučić’s bandits,” adding that Vučić along with the group quickly fled. In a statement, Mirković said that Vučić “is such a coward that he is always surrounded by at least ten gorillas.”
Together with Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi, Vučić has pledged to bring a final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, but while one talks about taking every possible inch of Kosovo, the other talks of how the Presheva Valley should join it.
Ten years ago, after a clash with Radical Party leader Šešelj, Vučić, along with Tomislav Nikolić — then party vice president and later president of Serbia — decided to abandon the party and create a new one, the Serbian Progressive Party. With the departure, Vučić claims to have also abandoned nationalist beliefs and said he was not ashamed to confess all his political mistakes.
After the transformation came the victory. In 2012 the party entered the government, and after elections in 2014 became the largest in the Serbian National Assembly. Vučić himself has been declared to be in favor of balancing foreign policy, aiming for good relations with both NATO and Russia.
But in recent months he has also begun to talk about a historic solution in relation to Kosovo. Together with Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi, Vučić has pledged to bring a final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, but while one talks about taking every possible inch of Kosovo, the other talks of how the Presheva Valley should join it.
Analysts are now talking about the possibility of territorial exchange between the two states. It is an idea that has been opposed by the political opposition in both countries as well as some powerful European states, like Germany and the U.K., but has not faced the same opposition from the U.S., the EU or the UN.
It was against this backdrop that the visit of President Vučić to Kosovo took place. Initially, it was said that the Kosovo Government would allow his visit, but would not give permission to visit the Gazivoda Lake (Ujmani Lake), which in the event of a territorial swap would be a disputable location between two states.
The President of the Kosovo Assembly, Kadri Veseli, said that going to Gazivoda is none of Vučić’s business. Later it was reported that Prishtina, as a result of international pressure, had decided to give Vučić permission to visit the lake.
Kosovo Serbs remain a group who often find themselves at the mercy of destiny, between the slight and disdain of Belgrade on the one hand, and the paranoia and prejudice of Prishtina on the other.
President Vučić entered Kosovo on the morning of Sept. 8 at the border crossing point in Brnjak. Symbolically alongside him, as part of the entourage, were the head of the so-called Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko Đurić and the Head of Serbia’s Security Intelligence Agency (BIA), Bratislav Gašić.
Vučić visited many locations. He made many promises. He got a lot of applause. But in his speech to local Serbs he also said: “I know what you would like to hear, but I cannot tell you that, not because I do not want to, but because I’m responsible for knowing when it’s the appropriate time.”
However, Vučić did not forget to emphasize the change of method in the path to victory in this ‘war’: “My intent is that we win, that Serbia wins, for the first time in I do not know how many years, without blood, without deaths, without horror and graves, but with work, knowledge and with children.”
But while he talked about Serbia’s victory, Vučić did not explain what Kosovo Serbs would win in this victory. They remain a group who often find themselves at the mercy of destiny, between the slight and disdain of Belgrade on the one hand, and the paranoia and prejudice of Prishtina on the other.
“It is not going to be easy to reach an agreement,” Vučić said, referring to the conclusion of long-lasting negotiations with Kosovo that is a prerequisite for Serbia entering the EU, before adding: “Do we have any draft solutions in Brussels? We do not, we are not even close to it.”
After Kosovo war veterans blocked roads leading to the village of Banja in the Drenica region, the Kosovo government cancelled Vučić’s visit to the village, but seemingly had no issues with him holding the rally in North Mitrovica.
The two presidents and father figures’ trips to Kosovo are beginning to resemble a quote from Karl Marx, the first a tragedy, the second a farce.
In fact, Vučić’s vain attempt to visit Banja seems like a provocation to enter into a win-win situation: Either I enter Drenica and tell the Serbian opposition ‘this is what we call courage,’ or the protesters will attack me and the Serbian people will see who is the hero, as well as the sacrifice to the Albanians.
Vučić underlined that his idea was to keep the peace and try to “build bridges toward Albanians.” He added that Serbs should “strive for an agreement [with Kosovo Albanians], even when we know it is almost impossible, because everything else leads us into an abyss and a catastrophe.”
Generally, Vučić maintained a moderate discourse, despite many thinking that he would come and bang the drums of patriotism in order to consolidate his electorate in Serbia by playing the Kosovo card. Instead, he said that he feels powerless in front of Merkel and that her words should be taken into account.
He spoke of an agreement that would calm the blood of long-standing hostility between the two nations: Albanians and Serbs. He also said that Thaçi is neither his companion nor do they like each other, but that responsibility for negotiating the final agreement with Kosovo must be taken by one of the Serbian leadership.
Still, the rally in Mitrovica was not entirely without controversy. During his speech — as if to illustrate the title of this article — he said that the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević was a great Serbian leader but that Serbia’s intentions at the time were unrealistic and that Serbia did not realize that it was not alone in the world and that no country can live without the rest of the world, and that is why it paid the price.
One could say that Milošević’s visit to Gazimestan in 1989 and Vučić’s visit to Gazivoda in 2018 are not comparable, since the former had committed atrocities against the civilian population. But the point is that both of them, during their speeches, tried to merge the figure of father of the nation with a mature discourse.
Both presidents simultaneously spoke to the national electorate and the international decision-making centers; but while the first speech was followed by war, after the second speech it seems that only the rhetoric of war might follow. The two presidents and father figures’ trips to Kosovo are beginning to resemble a quote from Karl Marx, the first a tragedy, the second a farce.K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.