The Serbian Prime Minister rejects the suggestion of a confederacy
between Belgrade and Pristina as “absolute nonsense.”
Russia and Serbia have a “common policy on Kosovo”
Interview by Srdja Trifkovic
“Compared to the expectations and predictions made a few years ago, the position of Serbia regarding the future of Kosovo looks much better now,” Dr. Vojislav Kostunica says with a slight smile at the beginning of our interview. Some battles have been won—he says referring to the fact that UN Security Council resolution 1244 remains in force—but the end-game is not yet in sight.
Serbia’s prime minister has one of the most challenging jobs in the world, but he appears to be at ease with that burden and looks more self-assured than while he was Yugoslavia’s last president (2000- 2003). Back then he had occasionally agonized about the magnitude and complexity of challenges facing him, but today he treats them as facts of life that neither intimidate nor depress him.
It may be telling that in appearance Kostunica has hardly aged over the past decade and a half that we have known each other, although in substance he has been the key figure on Serbia’s political scene.
THE FORCE OF LAW
He sees the consensus that has been established within Serbia on Kosovo as one of his main political achievements. That consensus was possible, he adds matter-of-factly, because Serbia is in the right, while those who advocate independence are simply wrong:
The strongest weapon in the struggle to keep Kosovo within Serbia is, of course, international law—above all the UN Charter and its fundamental principle of sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of states. There can be no exception to that principle. This is the foundation of the legal argument, and it has been stated many times. Regarding the rights of national minorities, Albanians of Kosovo included, it is clear that creating a state of their own is not one of those rights. They cannot create another Albanian state on the territory of Serbia. It is enough to have one Albania.
It is therefore unsurprising that Kostunica categorically rejects the suggestion floated recently at the EU headquarters and in some European capitals that Serbia should form a confederation of sovereign states with Kosovo. He describes that idea as “absolute nonsense.” His government is ready to begin “real and meaningful talks on autonomy for the Albanian ethnic minority” in Kosovo on the basis of the UNSC Resolution 1244, he says, but adds that “we can reach a solution only if we put things in their proper context: the status of the Albanian ethnic minority can be resolved through the best form and degree of autonomy for the province.”
RUSSIA AND SERBIA HAVE “A COMMON POLICY ON KOSOVO”
The weapon of international legality and legitimacy would not have been sufficient, Kostunica admits, were it not for the pivotal role of Russia. “Russian leaders insist on the respect for those same principles,” he says, but Moscow made its position fully known only after it had ascertained that the political consensus in Belgrade was firm:
“That has ensured that a new Security Council resolution, based on Ahtisaari’s plan and supported by the United States and some European countries, has finally failed.”
Before Ahtisaari embarked on his failed mission to create an independent “Kosova,” many Serbs had expected that Russia would again go along with the Western dictate yet again—just as it had done repeatedly under Yeltsin.
Kostunica says that the turning point in Moscow’s position apparently came in the winter of 2005-2006:
For me the decisive moment came with President Putin’s statements in early 2006, just before the beginning of the negotiations in Vienna on the future status of Kosovo, to the effect that international norms and principles should be respected and that Serbia should be no exception. It was highly indicative that he warned against treating Serbia as some kind of unique case, case sui generis. It was more than clearly stated, and for me that was the most important moment. After that came the two meetings I’ve had with President Putin, both at St. Petersburg’s economic forum, in June 2006 and 2007, by which time we were completely sure that Russia would stick to the respect for those principles. By now we can say that Russia and Serbia have a common policy on Kosovo.
UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF NEW NEGOTIATIONS
Kostunica is emphatic that the new Contact Group “troika” that will conduct negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina has to proceed on the basis of a clear authorization from the UN Security Council.
What is going to be the methodology of negotiations? What are the terms of reference? Everything must start with the Security Council and everything must end there—even if that “end” means failure of some supporters of Kosovo’s independence to achieve that goal.
While acknowledging that it is possible for the United States and some other countries to proceed with unilateral recognition bypassing the UN, Kostunica is still hopeful that this will not happen:
After the failure of the UNSC resolution based on the Ahtisaari proposal, one has reason for optimism. We should not think about that outcome [unilateral recognition] because the UN Charter would be blatantly violated if this were to happen. Even if that happens, Serbian authorities would immediately make clear that they regard such decision as invalid, and that they will continue to treat Kosovo as a part of Serbia. We would also establish even closer relations with the Serb population in Kosovo.
Kostunica adds that unilateral recognition would be unacceptable to many countries in the European Union—and the EU in any event only maintains “the appearance of unity” on the issue of Kosovo.
According to Kostunica, the issues of all ethnic minorities—whether in Europe or anywhere else in the world—are resolved exclusively through various forms of autonomy, and “that universal rule must also be held valid for the Albanian ethnic minority.” The Albanian minority “may not be a special and only minority to which universal rules of international law do not apply,” and in the same vein “Serbia cannot be treated as the only state in the world on whose territory an ethnic minority is allowed to form its own state.”
It is not an overstatement to say that global peace and stability rest on respect of these rules, Kostunica concludes, “which is why they must be respected during renewed negotiations on establishing substantial autonomy for the Albanian ethnic minority in Kosovo- Metohija.” He is emphatic that “this is the only path which leads us to lasting peace and a sustainable solution that guarantees long-term peace and stability in the entire region.”