PRISTINA, KOSOVO - Kosovo’s president on Thursday reiterated his idea of “a correction” of the border with Serbia, which is widely seen as a territorial swap, as part of a strategy to stabilize relations between both EU-aspirant nations.
“Kosovo’s border with Serbia needs to be redefined, or corrected,” President Hashim Thaci told VOA’s Albanian Service on Thursday, largely repeating comments he made online Wednesday.
Thaci was responding to an idea floated by some Serbian government officials that Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority but also a Serb minority, should be divided as a possible solution to settle a long-running dispute that is hindering both sides’ ambitions to join the European Union.
No divided Kosovo
Ostensibly dismissing the idea of a divided Kosovo along ethnic lines as unacceptable, Thaci instead proposed the concept of a “redefined” or “corrected” border with its Serbian neighbor to the north.
“It means that in the process of our future dialogue with Belgrade, we will work together with the international community to define the Kosovo-Serbia border,” he said. “I want to emphasize that Kosovo will not be divided; I want to forcefully stress it: Belgrade cannot bring to the table the division of Kosovo, a thing that they have asked for in the past.
“In the context of border correction, I met with the representatives of [Serbia’s] Presevo Valley, who want to have the right to join Kosovo,” he added. “I will officially present their request at the next round of talks with Belgrade.”
Thaci is to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels after the summer break under an EU-sponsored dialogue that has made little progress in normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina since it was launched in 2013.
A partition described
Experts and former diplomats have warned that rethinking borders in the Balkans would pose a risk to the stability in a region still struggling to come to terms with the wars of the 1990s, which tore apart Yugoslavia in Europe’s deadliest post-World War II conflict.
Although Thaci told VOA his idea would not amount to a land swap, Daniel Serwer, director of conflict management at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said what Thaci describes is nonetheless a partition, not a correction of borders.
“It’s a bad idea because it could be destabilizing for the Balkan region, [and it could] enhance political support for those inside Kosovo who oppose Kosovo statehood and want union with Albania,” Serwer, a former U.S. special envoy to the Balkans, told VOA.
“It could also hurt moderates in Serbia,” he added. “It would also have a bad impact more broadly than that, on Macedonia, on Bosnia and Herzegovina … and then you have Russian ambitions to control South Ossetia in Georgia and other territories, so it opens a Pandora’s box.”
It was earlier this week that some Serbian government officials informally broached the idea of a land swap based on geographic concentrations of ethnic Serb and Albanian minorities — Kosovo’s northern Mitrovica region for Serbia’s Presevo Valley — as a possible solution to the Kosovo issue.
“I did not talk about a land swap or division, I talked about correction of borders, and a solution can be reached if there is a will on both sides,” Thaci told VOA on Thursday. “Kosovo cannot join EU or NATO without an agreement with Serbia. Serbia, too, cannot join EU without the agreement with Kosovo.”
In 1999, NATO intervened to stop a bloody Serb crackdown on Albanian separatists in Kosovo. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognized as a separate nation by more than 100 countries, but not by Serbia.
Tensions remain high after seven years of negotiations, even though the EU has made it clear to the governments in Pristina and Belgrade that they must normalize relations to advance toward membership in the bloc.
This story originated in VOA’s Albanian Service. Some information is from AP and Reuters.