Unveiling the Complexity: Analyzing the Background of a Photograph
The photograph (courtesy of the European External Action Service) featured in this article captures the 2012 meeting between Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić, Albanian-Kosovar counterpart Hashim Thaçi, and then-European diplomat Catherine Ashton. At first glance, everything seems normal, but closer examination reveals intriguing observations that challenge the notion of «normalcy» in this context.
- Non-Verbal Language:
Gestures, attitudes, and poses hold significance in the diplomatic profession. Nothing is left to chance; everything is meticulously planned to convey crucial information. Ashton’s face exhibits a certain satisfaction, as bringing together two enemies is always a triumph for the EU (and anyone else). Dačić appears tired, with drooping shoulders and a smile reminiscent of the enigmatic Mona Lisa, far from an enthusiastic attitude towards the meeting. Thaçi, on the other hand, also looks towards the camera, but his gaze seems distant.
In summary, neither the Serbian nor the Albanian-Kosovar representatives seem comfortable, while the only one who seems «happy» with the meeting is the European high official. Dačić does not smile and appears detached from the other two, giving the impression of attending a burial (as we will soon discover, not far from the truth). In essence, this is not his thing. Meanwhile, Thaçi’s got a lot on his mind, he seems worried.
- The Background: Metadata
Now let’s delve into what can be considered the metadata of the photo—a term borrowed from the field of information technology, referring to «beyond the data»: what is not immediately visible.
Based on the aforementioned observations, the politicians’ poker-faced expressions, compelled to find common ground, are not due to a night of revelry and hangovers or the usual exhaustion associated with travel (the meeting took place in Brussels). Let’s examine the details:
Dačić represents a government that does not recognize Kosovo’s independence. Consequently, his demeanour strongly reflects that he is not participating in an international encounter but rather one in which he is dealing with a subordinate—a sort of governor—not a head of state. In subsequent discussions, we will explore how this sentiment is echoed in the Serbian institutions dedicated to normalizing relations with Kosovo (or rather, «with Pristina,» to avoid implying acceptance of Kosovo). The term «self-government» (within Serbia, of course) features prominently. Secondly, it is crucial to understand that Dačić has no personal stake in being present; he is there because the EU imposes it as a condition sine qua non for Serbia’s progress on the path to EU accession.
As for Thaçi, he represents an independent state and has no interest in negotiating with someone who denies Kosovo’s status as a country. As previously mentioned, Serbia still regards Kosovo as part of its territory, obstructing Pristina’s administration in Serbian-majority areas. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that, officially, as we will see later, this sentiment remains partially valid.
In conclusion, the photograph is far from portraying a normal scenario. Only Catherine Ashton seems to enjoy the meeting, while Dačić and Thaçi appear out of their element. These observations hint at the underlying complexities and challenges involved in the relationships between these political figures.
The Normalization of Belgrade-Pristina Relations
Serbia, along with Montenegro, is considered a frontrunner (according to EU terminology) on the path to EU accession. Both countries are theoretically the most advanced among all the candidates in the Western Balkans.
However, leading the race does not guarantee that the finish line is near. Serbia has specific requirements that make its accession process different from other candidates. These requirements include 1) cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and 2) normalization of relations with Kosovo. This entry will focus on the second requirement.
- The first obligation was the surrender of individuals involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. This chapter is now closed, with the culmination being the extradition to the ICTY of Serbian-Bosnian war criminals Radovan Karadžić (sentenced to 40 years in prison for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes), Ratko Mladić (sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, particularly for his involvement in the Srebrenica massacre in 1995), and the late, former Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, who died in the Scheveningen detention centre, under the jurisdiction of the ICTY. His case will serve as a precedent for the second head of state sought by an international tribunal: Vladimir Putin. The requirement to make war criminals available to The Hague is not exclusive to Serbia; there were also Croatian, Bosnian-Croat, and Albanian-Kosovar individuals involved (the last of them in Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office).
- Another condition for Serbia’s accession is, to put it succinctly, renunciation of Kosovo, which is translated as «the obligation to maintain good relations with its neighbours/normalize relations with Kosovo.»
The EU’s definition of «normalization» about Kosovo is that Serbia wants to mean recognize the independence of its former province. However, this is a challenging demand for any country, and the situation becomes even more complex.
Kosovo was governed by UN Resolution 1244 (1999), which established an «international presence» through the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The Rambouillet Agreement called for the establishment of a «substantial autonomous government.» Independence was not mentioned; rather, the focus was on respecting the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This is referred to as «reference standards before status» in EU terminology, indicating the period before the war and the UN administration. The EU was entrusted by the UN Security Council to implement Resolution 1244, believing that the influential neighbour could best guarantee the measures deployed and contribute to regional stability and democratization. The EU consistently emphasized that a separate Kosovo from Serbia was not considered.
However, the events unfolded differently. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence, causing a renewed division and a lack of a common position within the EU. For sure, Serbian diplomats were likely shocked when a cascade of international recognitions followed from almost all EU member states, with the exceptions of Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania, and Greece. Beyond the EU, significant opponents to recognition included Russia, China, and Brazil. In 2010, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law, a controversial decision that remains debated. In reality, the ICJ’s ruling did not address the independence process of Kosovo significantly.
The EU’s efforts to establish an effective negotiation framework and fulfil expectations did not materialize. Both Serbia and Kosovo played a role in this outcome. Serbia may have been more inclined to negotiate initially, but it retreated, feeling betrayed by a significant portion of the international community, as a part of its territory was being amputated despite assurances of Serbia’s territorial integrity in Resolution 1244. On the other hand, Kosovo logically and consistently boycotted, as they were not interested in re-establishing Resolution 1244 which made no mention of independence. They also feared, with valid reasons, losing what they had achieved.
In my opinion, irrespective of the deplorable situation of Albanians in Kosovo under Milošević’s Serbia, recognizing Kosovo’s independence has questionable utility:
- Firstly, the normalization process between Belgrade and Pristina has radicalized the positions, making them irreconcilable. Serbia feels betrayed, while Kosovo believes it can aspire to more.
- Secondly, the situation in Kosovo is precarious, with a strong division between states that recognize its independence and those that do not. This leads to diplomatic balancing acts that could have been avoided with better and unanimous consensus on recognizing Kosovo. Discussions between the parties at European forums lack a common basis, as they differ on essential questions such as negotiating between two countries or between a country and a territory. This wastes valuable time and makes difficult the conversation, especially if countries outside the EU have different perspectives on Kosovo’s status.
- Thirdly, an opportunity was missed to reverse the trend toward ethnically homogeneous states as an unquestionable premise of the Yugoslav Wars. The international community focused more on secessionism rather than exploring other options to address the economic and political challenges in Yugoslavia during the 1980s. Ignoring the desire for a multiethnic Yugoslavia enabled the slide into war. The perception of a «logic of the Yugoslav war» reinforced the notion of ethnically homogeneous nation-states, despite the complex ethnic makeup of the Balkans.
The promotion of an autonomous Kosovo within Serbia could have helped undo the consequences of the destruction of multiethnic Yugoslavia and provided a model for other states. Instead, the international community inadvertently justifies ethnic homogeneity, perpetuating the war and prior ethnic cleansing. The Dayton Accords, while imperfect, should remain intact as altering borders, particularly when ethnic factors are involved, leads to failure and extreme violence.
It is better not to touch existing arrangements, and proposals to «redraw» borders, particularly towards ethnically homogeneous states, should be rejected. Discussing borders, especially with an ethnic component involved, is a recipe for failure and conflict. Proposals to redraw borders, like the one put forward by Slovenian President Borut Pahor in 2021, which suggested dissolving Bosnia and reallocating territories based on ethnicity, could be a significant danger and undermine the stability and viability of the region. This plan would isolate and fragment the Bosniak population, creating further divisions and potentially fueling conflicts. Such proposals are highly problematic and do not contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution in the region.
Overall, the normalization process has faced significant challenges, with deeply entrenched positions, divisions among states, and missed opportunities for a more inclusive and sustainable approach.
Serbia and the Double Standards of Dayton’s «Untouchability»
Returning to Serbia, we encounter a contradiction, or perhaps two, regarding the international community’s stance on Kosovo:
- Let’s set aside the discussions on the Rambouillet Agreement, which aimed to organize and manage a Kosovo without Serbian police forces and their corresponding indiscriminate repression. The same can be said, albeit to a lesser extent, about the practices of the Albanian-Kosovar side.
The assertion that Dayton is untouchable and its borders should not be altered has become meaningless, as Kosovo’s independence contradicts this notion. Kosovo can separate from Serbia, but it was not accepted when there was a certain agreement in 2019 to exchange territories populated by Serb-Kosovars in Kosovo and Albanians in Serbia. This solution, as mentioned before, is always risky but logical. For Kosovo, it is a real headache to deal with «Serbian» areas (especially Mitrovica, among others) that escape its de facto control. On the other hand, Serbia gets rid of a problem. Dayton can be changed, but only if it benefits Serbia; otherwise, it remains untouchable. This ambiguous message is ideal for exploitation by Serbian President Vučić, who is by no means pro-European. The leader is not well-liked in the EU, but it seems that this attitude empowers him.
In summary, the essence of the discussion can be condensed into an old adage: «Why should I be an ethnic minority in your state when you can be one in mine?»
In the next post, we will delve into the topic of normalizing relations with Kosovo itself.
This postis part of my article…
expanded and updated.
Title: «Accession of Serbia to the EU as the spearhead of the integration process of the western Balkans: current situation» (original: Spanish)
The purpose of this article is to study and analyze the integration process of the Republic of Serbia into the European Union, taking into account the historical background that sets it apart from the rest of the Western Balkans. It also examines the significant importance of this issue for the European Union and its enlargement policy in the region.
The study is structured into five sections, addressing the different stages of accession with a particular focus on the current state of negotiations, which is the core of the study