In October 2008, the Montenegrin authorities recognized Kosovo’s independence. The Minister of Foreign Affairs for Montenegro, Milan Rocen, said that the government’s decision was based on protecting the interests of the Montenegrin state and that it was in Podgorica’s best interest to ensure stability around its border.
It didn’t take long for the border demarcation process between Montenegro and Kosovo to get underway. The first set of talks between Podgorica and Prishtina took place in 2009, although state commissions for demarcation between Montenegro and Kosovo didn’t begin meeting for another three years, starting in November 2012. After another three years of intensive negotiations, a meeting on July 17 of this year seems to have finally paved the way for the process to be completed. However, up until a few days ago, Prishtina was the only side taking steps to inform the public.
At the beginning of August, the Kosovar government published an initiative for signing an Agreement on the Border with Montenegro. OnAugust 12, they adopted a report from the State Commission for Border Demarcation with Montenegro. The government went on to makestatements confirming the border demarcation was finalized in accordance with the Yugoslav Constitution of 1974, the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement (more commonly referred to as the Marti Ahtisaari plan) and the Constitution of Kosovo.
Podgorica, on the other hand, had maintained a long period of silence during the process. That silence was finally broken three days ago (August 24) when the Montenegrin Minister of Internal Affairs, Rasko Konjevic, gave a statement. He told TV Vijesti that delegations from Montenegro and Kosovo would sign the Agreement on Demarcation on Wednesday (August 26) in Vienna and that it establishes a state border based on the 1974 constitution.
“The two governments are consenting to the hard work of the respective commissions and we have agreed upon the questions regarding the demarcation between Montenegro and Kosovo,” Konjevic said.
As well as the Agreement with Kosovo, Montenegro also signed an Agreement on Demarcation with Bosnia and Herzegovina yesterday, ahead of the EU Summit on West Balkans in Vienna.
However, neither of these demarcation processes ran completely smoothly. Talks between BiH and Montenegro were complicated by issues regarding Sutorina, a contested area close to Herceg Novi whilst Kosovar and Montenegrin discussions struggled due to influential political opposition in Kosovo, as well as dissent from citizens in the contested area from both sides.
So, what exactly has been the subject of these intensive discussions over the past three years?
The line which separates the uplands of Montenegro and Kosovo is 79 kilometers in length. It passes through areas that are rich in pastures and forests, and which connect Plav and Rozaje on the Montenegrin side, and Peja, Decan and Istog on the Kosovar side. However, talks between Podgorica and Prishtina slowed down when the negotiations focused on the area around Kula and in the Rugova Gorge, close to Cakora.
Ramush Haradinaj, the leader of a Kosovar opposition party (Alliance for the Future of Kosovo), claimed that Montenegro had usurped these areas and that their neighbors were not respecting the border established in 1974. Haradinaj alleged that Montenegro had extended into Kosovar land by at least 12 thousand hectares of land; most members of the public have speculated that the contested area was around two and a half hectares.
In order to oppose this alleged usurpation, Haradinaj’s party proposed a resolution to the Kosovar parliament, which was adopted by a majority on June 29, 2015. The resolution requested that the border should be the one defined by the constitution that was adopted 41 years ago; and that the contested area be part of Kosovo. Two weeks later, a Podgorica newspaper, Vijesti, published allegations that this document was adopted in the Parliament of Kosovo just a few days after Podgorica and Prishtina had reached an agreement, which envisioned that the contested territory remained in Montenegro.
The head of the Montenegrin Ministry of Internal Affairs, Rasko Konjevic,told TV Vijesti on Monday that nobody loses. “We have not taken anything, not a single inch of any other territory, nor have we allowed anybody to take an inch of our territory which, according to official acts passed in the former Yugoslavia, belongs to Montenegro,” Konjevic said.
Whether it’s due to these revelations, or perhaps the desire to promote himself politically, Haradinaj has not quietened his dissenting voice in this matter. Even though he is in broad agreement with the government’s position of adopting the 1974 border line — a position which the government suggests does not mean that Kosovo is at a loss — Haradinaj has appeared unable to let the issue go.
In his presentation of the Report on Demarcation to the Kosovar government, chairman Murat Meha stated that his Committee (for marking and maintaining the border line between Kosovo and Montenegro) takes “full responsibility for documenting that the territory of the Republic of Kosovo is not altered by even a square inch.” Meha added that the demarcation line was established on the basis of documentation of the Parliament of the Autonomous Kosovo, the Provincial Directorate of Geodesy, Department of Geodesy of Serbia and other documents from the time of former Yugoslavia.
This was not to the satisfaction of Haradinaj. After he had accused the authorities in power of corruption in the process, he ordered the institutions of Kosovo to halt the marking of the border. Directing his message towards the president of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Hashim Thaci, Haradinaj invoked the will of the people, stating: “Stop it, you are mistaken! Halt yourselves, or the people will stop you! My message is very simple. If they desire to see the real situation, the truth, let them come to the site, with or without me, let them be convinced on their own.”
Since the people have been mentioned, we must remind the reader that in 2009 the population from Peja, Istog and Decan, the municipalities bordering Montenegro, complained about the alleged usurpation of their properties and the impossibility of reaching them. Protests occurred in the following years.
Seeking insight into the local population’s views on the issue, we spoke to 40-year-old Avdi Grvava, an actor from Dubovik, close to Decan, Kosovo. He owns property close to the Stedim Mountains, as do other members of his family. He says that that area encompasses 50 villages, which belong to his compatriots and is their own, Kosovan, territory. “We have been using this mountain for centuries. My grandfather and great-grandfather resided there up until the last war. But after that, the villages were burned down, so we lost them. Now we have trouble building them, we have trouble being owners of our own land. I believe that the proposed demarcation is not fair. This is Kosovan territory,” he said for Kosovo 2.0.
Grvava is clear that nobody living in the contested area will peacefully accept that their land becomes part of Montenegro. “There will be protests, and a lot! The graves of our loved ones have been located here for centuries,” he said.
On the other side, in Humci, near Kula, Rahman Ljaic, a citizen of Montenegro, fears possible protests. That is why he warns politicians to be “mature,” because this narrative “might be problematic.”
“If they do not come to terms based on joint interests, it will not be a no man’s land, but a land of conflict,” Ljaic told Kosovo 2.0. He was a delegate of the Federal Parliament in 1974 when the border was last established. He believes that an agreement that does not satisfy both sides should not be reached, and suggests that the local population of the contested area should be more involved in the process. He says that dialogue would lead to a solution. “Until where did you mow the grass? Here. Until where did your livestock feed? Here. That’s the best solution,” he said.
Is an agreed upon border line the best solution? We may find out after both parliaments have ratified the agreement. It is certain that the Agreement on Demarcation will pass through the Montenegrin Parliament without issue and the same is likely to happen in Kosovo. If, however, a miracle happened, and the parliament refused the agreed upon border, it is realistic to assume that another arbitration will follow regarding the Montenegrin borders, this time with Croats in the Prevlaka area. On the other hand, if the border in Kosovo is accepted, and fails to satisfy the citizens of the contested area, and Haradinaj, then protests seems inevitable.
In any case, the citizens of Montenegro and Kosovo — especially those in the border region, including Rahman from Humci and Avdi from Dubovik — are carefully observing and listening to how the narrative of a 79-kilometer-long border will come to an end.K