As if it wasn’t enough to face issues such as unemployment (which stands at around 30 percent according to the Kosovo Statistics Agency) and corruption and organised crime — the fight against which was set as a condition for the last decade by the European Union in order to achieve visa liberalization — Kosovars now also face issues related to the state’s territory.
So far, talks held in Brussels between Kosovo and Serbia have unlocked the way for new negotiations over territory. A study report published in October 2014 by the Kosovar Initiative for Stability reached the following conclusion: “Kosovo’s acceptance of Serbia’s neutral stance regarding its political status is an additional compromise which comes with a high price, and the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities has set the foundation for further contribution to ethnic divisions beyond the northern part of the country.”
Now, the idea of border correction has produced results, the most significant and most dangerous being that it has opened the way for Serbian officials to openly demand the partition of Kosovo — something they’ve sought after for a long time.
In addition to this, Serbia has another objective: the inclusion of Albania in the game. Serbia’s objective to include Albania in a final solution for the Kosovo issue has continuously been necessary, because it brings the concept of changing borders into play.
The Serbian party is interested to negotiate territory with Albania, or more concretely, borders that segregate Albanians on one side and Serbs on the other. As a result of this, it is important for the Serbian party to control a few strategic elements such as the Trepça industrial complex or the Ujman artificial lake. By controlling these elements, their political influence is increased, and as such they are allowed to demand more.
In a situation in which the other part of Kosovo is no longer a political entity, but is instead a part of Albania’s territory, Serbia would be able to demand more rights using Ujman in particular as a means and a form of influence, as a significant part of Kosovo is supplied with water through this lake.
To a certain point, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has achieved this objective of putting Albania in the game. This was made possible by the desire of Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama to be a protagonist in regional politics. The intensification of meetings between Rama and Vučić is being utilised by the former to make Albania a stakeholder in the process of solving the issue of Kosovo.
In a televised debate between Ilir Deda and Ivica Dačić in May 2011, at the end of the show, the Serb politician stated “the border issue must be discussed with Tirana.” Moving on. Before his meeting with Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi on Sept. 7, 2018 in Brussels, and even after the meeting, which he ultimately cancelled, Vučić stated among other things that he is interested in making peace with the Albanians.
We must highlight that Kosovo is not mentioned as a political entity in the political discourse of Serbian officials. This proves that they are interested in a solution over the issue with Albanians, only if Albania is a stakeholder in the negotiations.
However, even Kosovo’s local powers have continuously invested energy to convince people that their political proposals, including exchanging territories, is just and that opposition against it comprises a kind of blasphemy. The utilisation of mass communication channels through information technology has facilitated their message, and has enabled power structures to successfully amortise any social reactions so that citizens are as indifferent as possible towards issues of primary importance such as state territory, sovereignty and the unitary character of the state.
This indifference has enabled governance by a political class that connect the fate of the people to what is beneficial for them individually. This is exactly what German sociologist Robert Michels labelled as ‘the Iron Law of Oligarchy.’ It implies that the interests of a people are reduced to the interests of a sub-structure of the political party that is in power.
Kosovo, the biggest loser
Negotiating over “border correction” according to one version, or “exchange of territory” according to another, would have consequences which for Kosovo citizens, especially those of Albanian nationality, would be damaging.
Firstly, borders remaining unchanged were one of the principles on Kosovo set by the Contact Group, an informal group of ‘great powers’ with interests in developments in the Balkans that includes the U.S., Russia, Germany, the U.K., France, and Italy. Other principles set by the group were: no unification with other countries and no return to the situation before 1999.
As we can notice from these principles, at the time the great powers heavily supported the idea of solving Kosovo’s political status by excluding discussions about territorial integrity. Kosovo’s allies — such as the U.S., the U.K., and Germany — continue to officially support this stance. In fact, Germany, or more concretely its Chancellor Angela Merkel, recently stated that they support attempts to find a solution, only if it takes into consideration territorial integrity.
It turns out that the international context in the attempts to find a political solution for the issue between Kosovo and Serbia is very unfavourable for the Kosovar party, which advocates border correction. For an idea such as this one, there is a lack of official international support. Furthermore, Kosovo has no capacity to impose such a solution.
Another element which comprises President Hashim Thaçi’s statement for “border correction,” which implies the unification of the Presheva Valley with Kosovo, is that this represents territorial claims of a sovereign state towards another, also sovereign, state. Our politicians have forgotten something important: that they represent an independent state, not a group of rebels, the declarations of which are not taken seriously by anyone.
The fact that Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations does not imply that Kosovo is a quasi-state, because it is recognized by a considerable part of this organization, which does not recognize states, but only accepts members. The presence of NATO in Kosovo emboldens our politicians to make such proposals, which in other circumstances could have been considered as direct threats toward another country.
In a report published on Sept. 5, 2017, by researcher David Phillips of Columbia University about the Brussels discussions, it is recommended to find a solution which is inspired by the model of East and West Germany: a temporary agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. It is very politically pragmatic, and perhaps it would also receive international support if the Kosovar party were to demand such a solution, which is inspired by the German model, instead of advocating border correction.
According to an agreement of this kind, the two states would de facto recognise each other, pledge to have good neighbourly relations and recognise state attributions in accordance with the United Nations Charter — such as independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity — but without formal recognition.
Kosovo’s political representatives have sufficient arguments to defend the option of Kosovo’s independence. Any other option would be a dangerous social experiment with destabilising consequences for the country. As a compromise, Kosovo would have to offer an advanced model of minority rights in the Brussels negotiations. Changing borders would imply less territory for Kosovo in any variant.
Renowned 20th century philosopher and political scientist Hannah Arendt concluded in her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism” that territory and population exchange and the exclusion of minorities was a political standard of Europe between the two World Wars.
This standard resulted in unforeseen bloodshed. With the idea of border correction, Kosovo’s President could have perhaps integrated the country in Europe between the two World Wars, but he can hardly integrate it into the European Union of today, which in its main criteria for admission includes respect for territorial integrity of neighbouring countries and guarantees of equal rights for all minorities.
Border correction in essence comprises drawing up borders on an ethnic basis. These compromises and many others that cannot be mentioned in this process, in any discussions over territorial entirety, would make Kosovo the biggest loser.
Feature image: Besnik Bajrami / K2.0.