A Minister Who Loves Fountain Pens

Every time I came to one of his offices, I was surprised by the neatness of the desk. In such a neat order of arranged letters, documents, confidential messages, his Montblanc fountain pens had special place. These fountain pens, with their symbol that could be read as a star or just mechanically, as a wheel, so very similar to that of the Irwin group, are practically the only decoration of the room. It seemed to me that the strictness of spatial arrangement somehow did not match its age, namely, it was ancient. However, this almost complete monotony will now again benefit him. Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčak was appointed Special Envoy of the European Union just at the time of the expectations of Catholic believers, in the days of Easter celebrations. He got an almost unsolvable problem on his new desk. To obtain a binding agreement on the complete normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. The unsolvable task that was devastating for the politicians who got their hands on it the years before. It was also unsolvable for former Yugoslav President Josip Broz, who had police and the army and secret services, including all powers. It is perhaps because of this that his friend, writer Miroslav Krleža, was accused after their death of decomposing the idea of Yugoslavia in his latest novel, Zastava (Flag). Because the hero of his novel, Kamilo Emerečki, gave the Arnauts the right to respond to Serbian terror with weapons. Furthermore, that he sent a message that, in connection with the phenomenon of the Albanian demographic explosion, the Serbs had only one possibility of solving the problem for their own people, by amputating their own territory. Otherwise, Albanians will become the majority people in Serbia. Slobodan Milošević began his political rise on this very issue. In Kosovo, he said that no one should be allowed to beat people of Serbian ethnicity. Some time afterwards, he said to the people awaiting his words at a large protest rally held in Belgrade that he would put the disobedient Kosovo politicians in jail. The response of the gathered people was only comparable to the large oratory in which the singing chorus reflects enthusiasm. Milošević directed his invitation to listeners who had political power in Yugoslavia. I am not referring here to all those from Serbia who saw the saviour in him, but precisely to those, very special, companions who took his messages as a special, historic chance. First, to his Croatian colleague in the leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party, Stipe Šuvar, and a little later to Šuvar’s new president, Dr. Franjo Tuđman. Milošević withdrew Šuvar relatively quickly, as soon as he proved unable to participate in the removal of Milan Kučan. However, Milošević and Tuđman, both absolute presidents of the republics, found a common goal. Final regulation of the Yugoslav issue by the mutual division of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The two of them understood the importance of war as a way of regulating the situation in a then unified state. The same with the Kosovo issue. When they had to make a resume, which was in 1995 already, and when, at the Dayton Peace Conference, they had to say goodbye to the idea of division, they acted in harmony. At the end of January 2003, Zoran Đinđić, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Serbia, returned to Belgrade from the new year inauguration of the new Brazilian president. At a meeting I attended, which was held in one of the state villas in Dedinje, he announced that he wanted to settle the issue of the status of Kosovo through agreement, because European Serbia must have its own state borders. He was assassinated in March of the same year.

The negotiations in Brussels followed. Most of these negotiations were led by then-new Serbian election winner Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi. Federica Mogherini, in her role as European Commissioner for Foreign Policy, negotiated the talks and managed to reach important agreements. Even though she did not know all that was agreed by the Serbian and Kosovo leaders. However, the Brussels talks actually stopped in 2018. And then, President Donald Trump entered the vacant space. Just before this year’s Easter, at the time of Miroslav Lajčak’s appointment, Congressman Eliot Engel and Senator Bob Menendez wrote to him and the administration. Both Democrats. They invited him to resolve the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo in a way that would be fair to both countries. Not to put pressure on the Kosovo government alone. But that is not a key part of the letter. More important is the added sentence that no solution to the Belgrade-Pristina relations can be achieved without the involvement of European politics. Miroslav Lajčak was appointed precisely those days. And no one in Brussels can tell him what Vučić and Thaçi agreed after 2018. The only tangible guide mark is the message from then Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton, from late August 2018, that there are quiet signs about the negotiating desire of Belgrade and Pristina for border adjustment. As well as the EU would not prevent such a solution, satisfactory for both sides.

Miroslav Lajčak is in front of two key unknowns in solving the new task. The first is a successful Trump’s envoy for Kosovo and Serbia issue, Richard Grenell. I guess they haven’t met so far. While the other is the question of with whom he will be able to talk to in Kosovo. Namely, the Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, an advocate for the unification of Kosovo and Albania, has been passed a vote of no confidence but does not want to go. Hashim Thaçi, whom Kurti marks as the president who robbed Kosovo, wants to continue talks, but with an agenda that includes the exchange of territories. Ambassador Grenell, now head of US intelligence, is a pragmatic politician who can handle tasks. And even his plan is not really far from the plan of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which is that people need to be given first a job, satisfaction and a better standard of living, and political solutions implemented only after that. And because of this, Lajčak should first meet with Grenell, perhaps even in the German capital.

The column was published in the Delo newspaper, on 16/04/2020


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