A Tough Week For President Aleksandar Vučić

As a rule, photographs from political events should not only be looked at, but also read, as they usually tell us more than the official statements. An excellent example of this was when the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte, was photographed wearing her large dark sunglasses as she spoke with the Croatian Prime Minister, Ivica Račan. The prosecutor’s photographs clearly showed that her conversation with Račan was unsuccessful and the Croatian government’s official statement became instantly irrelevant. Something similar happened during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s last visit in Serbia. The official statements described Russian plans for large projects and investments in the Balkan country. The photographs told a different story. Namely, that all sorts of things were going on during the event, except the business. The events therefore leave very few traces for understanding conversations. Last week’s meeting in Belgrade was no different. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent two envoys to meet with the Serbian president. Jan Hecker, the new head of the cabinet for foreign and security policy, and Matthias Lutemberg, a consultant for the Balkans. They delivered two messages. The first was phrased as a question, why Belgrade is not preparing the conclusion of negotiations on the full normalization of relations with the Republic of Kosovo. The second message was that the Belgrade-Pristina-Brussels negotiation time is expiring. The European authorities are at the end of their mandate, Angela Merkel’s time as Chancellor is running out, and furthermore the US political apparatus is preparing for the new presidential elections.

Cameras and other photographic appliances were not used during Vučić’s conversation with both Hecker and Lutemberg. However, the president himself mentioned it on Serbian national television the day after. It was enough to discard the official statements and, at the same time, not enough for the political, financial and banking analysts. The first were struggling to connect the current political situation and Vučić’s references to former Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Đinđić, and writer Dobrica Ćosić. While the rest did not get a clear roadmap for monitoring their investments in the region, on where and when to invest the new money.

Vučić said that time is of the essence both in politics and in the life of an individual; if Serbia does not solve the problem with Kosovo, there will be a high price to pay – another lost generation. He then added the key point, that Serbia is not in the position to wish for more today, since it has less negotiating space than in Đinđić’s and Ćosić’s time. Vučić also explained that if Đinđić’s and Ćosić’s demarcation proposal with the Albanians had been accepted, Serbia would now be a member of the European Union. This is probably true. However, the current President forgot to add that these proposals were one of the reasons that got Đinđić killed on March 12, 2003.

Now let’s go back to Vučić’s reference to Ćosić and Đinđić…

On 15 March 1999 Ćosić, former President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, wrote a special letter to the Government of the Republic of France, more precisely to President Jacques Chirac. The letter was titled, unequivocally, as the Proposal for a Historical Compromise in Kosovo. It became clear to me, while watching the Paris talks a few weeks ago, that Vučić’s advisers have rediscovered this more or less forgotten letter. First of all, Ćosić’s letter contained the following evaluations. The Albanian and Serbian people are the most divided Balkan peoples since the Berlin Congress, that is, since 1878. The Albanians want to unite their ethnic space in one state and this is a historically legitimate goal. However, Ćosić writes, Kosovo is also the cradle of Serbian statehood and the core of Serbian spirituality and religion. After the Second World War, Serbia and Yugoslavia built the modern cities in Kosovo, as well as the factories, huge thermal power plants, complete infrastructure and communications. Ćosić assessed that the share of Serbian capital in these large investments amounted to about 18 billion US dollars. Following this introduction, he wrote that the territorial borders of the province of Kosovo (in 1999) are not ethnic borders, but the result of pragmatic administrative decisions and thus the border areas are predominantly inhabited by people of Serbian nationality. Ćosić therefore concludes that Kosovo was and will continue to be the space of conflicting national interests and offers President Chirac a permanent solution to the centuries old Albanian-Serbian conflict, which, as he writes, shakes the foundations of the Balkans. The historical compromise would be the territorial demarcation between Serbs and Albanians – the partition of Kosovo. Ćosić operationalized the proposal. Small independent states similar to Andorra, San Marino, the Vatican or Liechtenstein should be formed around the great Serbian monasteries and Serbian ethnic enclaves in Kosovo. The Serb territories in northern Kosovo would join Serbia, where they belonged since the “liberation from the Turks until 1958”.

Ćosić did not write the letter by chance. Less than a year before, in September 1989, the American diplomat and mediator in the then Belgrade-Pristina negotiations, Christopher R. Hill, delivered a special message to the first Kosovo President, Ibrahim Rugova. It was the so-called US proposal to resolve the status of Kosovo. The document was far from Ćosić’s historical compromise. However, it already set out some autonomous solutions and was a sort of test, to what extent the authorities in Pristina were willing to go in the negotiation process.

A year after Ćosić’s letter, Zoran Đinđić becomes Primer Minister of Serbia. The time was right. Đinđić would say that the state had Europe’s full support for the first time in its history. It is now or never, he kept repeating at meetings. He estimated that Serbia could only be saved by making big and rapid changes, especially in the habits, ways of life and mentality of people. Therefore, he also wanted to resolve the issue of the status of Kosovo immediately. He believed that Kosovo was becoming independent in a spontaneous way. Đinđić knew that such a decisive act would require political allies outside the government coalition. On January 12, 2003 he began talks with Ćosić on the prospect of full normalization of relations with Kosovo.

Finding the widest possible consensus on the normalization of relations with Kosovo is the only option for the current Serbian president as well. He will have to search for allies outside his ruling party and coalition. He will have to start talks with all the political options in Serbia, which recognize that the time for the final decision on Serbia and Kosovo is now.

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