Capital Belgrade
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 381
Mobile Codes 60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67
ccTLD .rs
Currency Dinar (1EUR = 101RSD)
Land Area 88,361 sq km
Population 7.3 million (excl. Kosovo)
Language Serbian
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

The Kosovo Border Dispute: How Will It Affect Serbia’s European Future?

By Lana Pasic

Since the Democratic Party, with its leader Boris Tadic, came to power in Serbia, the country has been moving towards EU membership, but many ask: at what cost? The pro-European party is losing the support of the people it represents, though its politics have brought visa liberalization for Serbian citizens and closer relations with the Union. The Stabilisation and Accession Agreement between Serbia and the EU was signed in 2008 and the country has this year returned the last set of answers to the Union’s questions before the preparation of the avis for membership (Government of the Republic of Serbia).

In addition to other conditions, which the neighbouring countries also had to fulfil in order to ask for EU membership, two issues were considered of fundamental importance for the Serbian bid: cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY), and the resolution of the question of Kosovo. Two years ago, Serbian police found and extradited to the ICTY the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic. During the past year, General Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, have also been arrested. With these arrests, Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY has been assessed as satisfying and a positive development towards the country’s EU future. The reforms and laws required to achieve candidate status were implemented. However, Kosovo remains the unresolved question.

The independence of Kosovo is a complicated issue. Historically, the area has been a cradle of the Serbian state, since the 12th century. Considering the role history plays in the politics of the Balkans, this is of utmost importance for the Serbs. Serbian religious and cultural monuments and churches are all located there. However, throughout modern history, due to migrations and wars, Serbs in Kosovo have become a minority. Today, 60 000 Serbs live there (BBC News).

Kosovo officially declared its independence in 2008, but the territory has been run by NATO (now supported by an EU law-and-order mission) since 1999. Although Serbia has maintained that the unanimous declaration of independence has never been accepted, it is taking part in the EU-administered talks in order to help resolve the situation to some extent and to deal with the urgent issues, which would facilitate the lives of the people in the area and allow for the movement of both people and goods.

The negotiations have resolved many of the contested issues, but the status of northern Kosovo is still problematic. The majority of the citizens are Serbs, who refuse to accept the jurisdiction of the new state. The most recent problem arose regarding the question of so-called ‘parallel institutions’ (Serbian institutions still in place in the north of Kosovo), border control and imposition of trade ban on goods from Serbia (which was done in response to a Serbian ban on products from Kosovo). The roadblocks set by the Serbs in the north, as a sign of protest of Kosovar border controls, are still in place, though there has been no violence (The National Interest).

Serbia insists that anything but negotiations leading to a diplomatic solution is out of question. The government is torn between the promise of EU membership and fighting for its territorial integrity. So, what can Serbia do in order to satisfy both demands? The status quo of northern Kosovo cannot be maintained for much longer. According to local media, Serbia has proposed a plan to the EU to resolve the disputed situation, however, the details of the plan have not been disclosed to the public. It is clear that the situation will have to be solved in order for both Serbia and Kosovo to join the Union.

This August, during her visit to Serbia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that working out the problems in Kosovo is the fundamental step before Serbia can join the EU. She made it clear that no Serbian claims for the northern Kosovo territory will be accepted by the Union. Although officials from Serbia insist that the country does not need to choose between the EU and Kosovo, Ms Merkel’s visit suggested otherwise (The Economist).

It still remains to be seen how the situation will develop and what impact will the question of Kosovo and Serbia’s territorial integrity have on the country’s future within the Union. The possibility of Serbia giving up on the EU and fighting for Kosovo instead is unlikely. Although the EU is having internal problems with its currency and financial stability, Serbia has done too much to just turn its back on the Union now and blow the chance to get candidate status in December. Additionally, the fight for Kosovo would have to involve a military conflict, the possibility of which the government has ruled out. It must also be taken into account that the presence of EU troops in Kosovo would make any kind of military action from the Serbian side irrational.

The results of the Serbian parliamentary elections early next year will reflect the way in which this situation is handled. In case President Tadic decides to trade Kosovo for the EU, his party is very likely to lose the next elections. Mostly, the general public in Serbia sees the issue as one to which there should be no negotiations. Many Serbs are unwilling to succumb to ‘blackmail’ and trade Kosovo for the promise of EU membership, and often accuse the government of doing exactly that. There is a general feeling that they have been treated unfairly by the international community in the recent past, and believe that the question of Kosovo is no different. And with 22 EU member states recognising Kosovo’s independence, they don’t see how they stand a chance in any negotiations. Russian representatives in the UN agree with this view, stating that the international forces are taking sides with the Albanians, which further complicates an already grave situation (RT News).

The problem of Kosovo can either result in a mutually satisfactory solution or will be forcefully implemented by the EU’s local representative, EULEX, in which case violence remains a possibility. That would make it difficult to establish good relations between the two states in the future and to appease the Serbian minority in Kosovo, which is likely to either protest or feel forced to emigrate to Serbia, causing a complete ethnic exodus from the region. And, whatever Serbia decides might well not mirror the wishes of Serb in Kosovo. Can the government in Belgrade control their actions? They could decide to act against the imposition of the new state’s institutions, riot, engage in military conflict or even declare their own independence (TransConflict).

The EU is supposed to grant Serbia the status of candidate country this December, which would improve the ruling party’s chances of winning the parliamentary elections in 2012. However, Chancellor Merkel’s blunt message and the current crisis on the Kosovar border might not result in candidacy just yet. In the next few weeks, President Tadic’s diplomacy could still offer some surprises on how to appease the European integration and the Serbian territorial integrity.