No one can blame EU diplomats for building up expectations of a “historic breakthrough” before Sunday’s crunch meeting in Ohrid between Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s PM Albin Kurti.
The air was thick with talk of windows about to close and opportunities about to be seized. If the wider world wasn’t that interested, the Balkan region was – gripped by a fantasy that one of the region’s hottest and longest-running conflicts was about to be dramatically cooled down via an artfully nuanced EU normalization plan that offered a morsel to everyone.
The Serbs would get an autonomous municipal association in Kosovo, giving Belgrade an informal but definite say in Kosovo’s internal governance.
Serbia would not give Kosovo diplomatic recognition, which its 2006 constitution excludes, but would be bound by an agreement not to try to represent Kosovo internationally, a de facto admission that it is a separate country, not a temporarily lost province.
EU diplomats were just doing their job in the run-up to Ohrid, which was to act like the professional US football cheerleading groups that stand on the touchlines, priming fans and players with synchronised joyful victory chants.
The actual results of Ohrid after all this hoopla were meagre, however. The EU’s diplomacy chief, Josep Borrell, bravely tweeted after a day of talks: “We have a deal” – but where were the all-important signatures?
Perhaps more importantly, the two leaders both put contradictory spins on what this agreement comprised, Kurti claiming he’d won recognition for Kosovo and Vucic saying Kosovo had given in on the long-running question of the municipal association.
The only real concession from Vucic was an admission that at the next meeting, whenever it takes place, Serbia would be obliged to give something, even if hadn’t budged this time. “When we meet next time, in a month, two, three, we will talk about some of our obligations”, he said, vaguely, not listing any of those obligations.
The almost complete silence from Kosovo and Serbia, as well as from the EU, since Ohrid, is also telling.
Will Kurti, who has spent his whole political life attacking previous Kosovo governments for conceding too much to Belgrade now preside over the creation of a municipal association, without Serbia doing anything significant in return?
Albin Kurti. Photo: BIRN
Will Vucic, who has also spent his political life peddling a soft version of Slobodan Milosevic’s greater Serbian nationalism be the man who “gave away” Kosovo? The odds aren’t great.
Both leaders will likely hide behind their own voters and their own countries’ courts, wringing their hands to the EU and saying with regret that they can do nothing. Expect delaying tactics on all sides.
None of this is a surprise. Summit only succeed either when both sides are desperate for a breakthrough, as in the various US-Soviet talks on nuclear disarmament, or when one of the two sides is desperate to exit the situation they are in. That’s not the case for Vucic or Kurti.
The historic Evian meeting of 1962, which ended the Franco-Algerian war, ended in a breakthrough because France was exhausted with the war in in its then colony. Its leader, de Gaulle, wanted out. The result wasn’t a true compromise; France conceded Algerian independence.
The Anglo-Irish agreement that wound down the Irish republican insurrection in Northern Ireland likewise ended because one side, the UK, made big concessions in the form of granting the Republic of Ireland a formal say in the running of Northern Ireland’s affairs. One side came to the table ready to budge.
In both cases, governments also budged because public opinion at home was divided and support for a continued hard line had ebbed away.
Vucic and Kurti are not in that position. Fierce opposition to recognising Kosovo’s independence is the glue holding Serbian nationalism together.
Without it, Vucic faces the prospect of ending up like his former political master, Milosevic, whose political base fell apart after Serbia withdrew its forces from Kosovo following the NATO air war.
Milosevic’s attempt to spin this defeat by claiming he had saved Serbia from NATO occupation cut no ice with Serbian nationalists, the powerful Church – or with assorted liberals who now saw their chance to form a strategic alliance with nationalists and oust him.
Vucic doesn’t refer much to Milosevic these days but does compare himself to Nikola Pasic, the Serbian prime minister who oversaw Serbia’s expansion into a powerful Serb-dominated Yugoslav state after World War I. And Pasic was not a man who specialised in making concessions to Albanians, Croats, or anyone else outside his tribe.
Kurti will also be giving up his “brand image” as the man who took a tough line with the Serbs if he gives way to Belgrade without Serbian recognition, a UN seat, or anything else tanglible.
His Vetevendosje party has delivered little in the way of economic or political reform. The nationalist card is the only one left.
Perhaps both men believe they have at least softened up their voters to the possibility of compromise at some later date – if not too soon. That may be the best we can hope for.
Source : BalkanInsight