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BALKANS: Serbia Promoting Partition of Kosovo

Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE, Jun 15 2011 (IPS) - For most of the world the issue of Kosovo is long over. The nation declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has gained recognition from 76 out of 192 U.N. member states.

In the Balkans, however, the issues of Kosovo continue. Pristina and Belgrade began a series of successful direct talks, under the auspices of the European Union (EU) in Brussels, in March. They deal with remaining unsolved issues, including: recognition of documents, return of archives from Serbia to Kosovo, free flow of goods, and movement of people from Kosovo through Serbia, and rights of the remaining 120,000 Serbs among two million ethnic Albanians in the country.

But Belgrade has opened a new, apparently confusing chapter on Kosovo, with top officials such as Interior Minister Ivica Dacic suggesting the partition of Kosovo into an ethnic Albanian and a Serb part. A demarcation line should divide Serbs, who mostly live in the north, close to Serbia, and Albanians in remaining areas, he said.

In an interview with the Pristina daily ‘Zeri’, Dacic said that such a move could help “peacefully resolve tensions” and “political deadlock” that still exists. He also said that if former Yugoslavia was peacefully partitioned in the 1990s, “there would have been no wars” that killed more than 130,000 people and left millions homeless.

“If everyone is against [the partition], I would like to hear what the solution is,” Dacic said. “My job is not to recount fairy tales to the people, but to see how Serbia could progress.”

Belgrade has vowed never to recognise the independence of Kosovo, which is regarded as the model Serbian medieval state though history has changed its ethnic composition – now ethnic Albanians make up its majority. Despite living in Kosovo, many local Serbs continue to recognise Belgrade as their capital, and disregard all connections with Pristina.

“Maybe it’s too late to talk about partition now, after the entity proclaimed independence,” former Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told IPS. “The EU, the U.S. and others strongly stand against it. But any mutually agreed solution without violence is good,” he added.

Dacic’s interview provoked harsh reactions both at home and abroad that are continuing. Serbian nationalists sharply criticised him, as they consider the former Serbian province as an integral part of the country. Serbian President Boris Tadić said the idea was not bad at all, while Kosovo politicians rejected it completely.

According to Tadić, who met journalists last week in Belgrade, “it’s our job to change reality in the field… and to respect [ethnic] Albanians.” He added that “the model of two Germanys” could be appropriate. Until the unification of Germany in 1990, the two states – the Democratic Republic (Eastern) and the Federal Republic (Western) did not recognise each other, but they held meetings at high levels in the 80s.

An EU source in Belgrade, who insisted on anonymity, told IPS that such a model “is something between two opposites” – Kosovo’s independence and Serbia’s unwillingness to recognise it. “In practice, that means Belgrade would not have to recognise Kosovo – five EU states do not – but would not block Kosovo’s participation at international meetings or boycott them,” the source added. “Kosovo would have to give maximum rights, like a kind of autonomy to Serbs, in return.” Kosovo still does not have sufficient international recognition to become a member of the United Nations, the source reminded.

A delegation of European parliamentarians that recently visited Belgrade stressed that “partition [of Kosovo] is something the EU would not like to see, particularly if Serbia begins the access talks some time next year”. The EU had a problem with this in the case of Cyprus, an MP from the group told IPS on condition of anonymity.

The head of the Belgrade team negotiating with Kosovo, Borko Stefanovic, refused to comment on the idea, saying, “for the time being this looks like a lunch with entrée, main course and desert, and we’re jumping right to desert.” Meanwhile, Kosovo team head Edita Tahiri told Pristina reporters that “Belgrade should find its Charles de Gaulle… a statesman that would bravely recognise reality – an independent and sovereign state of Kosovo – like de Gaulle recognised Algiers’ status long time ago.”

Other Kosovo officials stood strongly against the idea as well. “Partition is not something we’ll discuss,” Deputy Prime Minister Hayreddin Kuci told Belgrade media earlier this week. “That would mean a lasting crisis that will be hard to manage,” he said.

For many ordinary Serbs however, the Kosovo issue is not so important anymore. Belgrade teacher Milena Stokic (44) summed up the feelings of many, saying that “it’s hard to listen to that talk about Kosovo any more. We lost it. It’s high time we looked forward.”

This month will mark 20 years since the disintegration of former Yugoslavia and “we still feel effects of belligerency, territorial disputes, war crimes,” Stokic said. “It’s a stalemate 20 years long instead of prosperous life. It’s high time we closed the chapter – with or without Kosovo – people want to live normal lives.”

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