Kosovo and Serbia: The strong, the weak and all that

“Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” As far as the social sciences and the dark arts of international relations go, this quote of Thucydides’, written some 24 centuries ago, is the closest thing to a law of motion. Thus the recent developments in Kosovo, from the embargo on Serbian imports to its attempts of forcefully gaining control of its northern territories (which are predominantly ethnically Serbian and loyal to Belgrade) should come as no surprise to anybody, especially Serbia, when one realises that Priština has quite a strong backing from the US and those who matter the most in the EU. In that sense Serbia’s appeals to justice in resolution of this hopefully last painful historical problem, although founded, considering Priština government’s rather poor track record in protecting the remaining Kosovo Serbs, seem rather feeble in the grand scheme of things, especially as they will be broadcast in full on exactly 0 global media outlets and as even the ICTY does not seem to care much about the (alleged) Kosovo-Albanian war-crimes and rather blatant ways of covering them up. Equally so, the appeals to regional instability that would arise from not giving Serbia part of the territory of a breakaway region that is actually loyal to it, although logical if one wants pragmatic solutions, fall flat when one realises that the government in Priština simply does not want to allow the North to join Serbia for two very powerful reason: it can easily afford to keep it for itself now and what happens in 15 to 30 year’s time is not really predictable.

This is not to say that official Belgrade is not to blame for the unappetising position it found itself in. The blame predominantly falls on it. Serbia should have put forward a less maximalist plan for the resolution of the Kosovo issue as soon as Milošević was deposed and it should have tried to gain allies in the EU (if not the US) before Kosovo declared independence by, say, catching its war criminals earlier and being more willing to negotiate. Instead, the Serbian Kosovo policy over the past 11 years was a mixture of trying the same tactics (mostly grandiloquent statements and attempts to increase autonomy of the North) over and over again hoping they would work once and crisis management when they failed to change anything.

Alas, being smart about the past is easy, but finding a good (or at least non-catastrophic) solution from Belgrade’s perspective isn’t. The newly re-started dialogue with Priština is a step in the right direction as at least it will enable some control over the outcomes. Trying to use good relationships with some smaller EU countries to try to make the bigger ones more understanding is OK, but can only take one so far. However, as many commentators agree, the sine qua non is for Belgrade to have a solid and communicable idea of what Belgrade sees as a good and feasible solution to the current stand-still and to try to get all the stakeholders, and especially the powerful foreign ones who call all the shots, to see merit in it. That proposal would probably include preservation of the current power structures (if not their Belgrade ties) in the North and (at least) a sufficiently expansive autonomy, probably underwritten by the UN, covering the North and all other Serbian enclaves and monasteries. Even if the proposal fails (and it probably will), at least Serbia will have been able to have some say over the setting of the agenda and try to push for something concrete, rather than pinch whatever falls from the table of the Athenians of our era.

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