The European Stability Initiative (ESI), an independent think tank focusing on SEE countries, concluded in its latest report that the European Union should “immediately close the Pandora box” of redrawing borders between Kosovo and Serbia. It added that the EU should press the Serbian government to stop its “war-mongering rhetoric”, and help Kosovo’s membership in international organizations.
Exit has also warned earlier on the intensification of the harsh rhetoric by Belgrade, and the danger for the region stemming from the idea of redrawing the border between Kosovo and Serbia.
Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama has been one of the main supporters of territorial exchange – an idea primarily floated by Presidents Alexandar Vučić and Hashim Thaçi. The three leaders have been careful enough not to explain clearly what territories should be exchanged for a long-lasting peace. However, local and international media and experts have claimed that municipalities populated by an Albanian ethnic majority in southern Serbia could be exchanged with the northern part of the Mitrovica city in Kosovo where a majority of Serbians live.
When talking about Rama’s support of the idea, the report also states that he “quarrels with the prime minister of Kosovo about Kosovo’s future, and dismisses a respected foreign minister who warned against the dangers of redrawing borders along ethnic lines.” In late December 2018, Rama dismissed 7 of his 13 ministers, including the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Ditmir Bushati.
It further quotes President Alexandar Vučić and several government ministers making clear threats against Kosovo in attempts to push forward their agenda for territorial swap. The idea is often covered in a defensive rhetoric of stopping the supposed “‘Great Albania’ after a century expansion.” The report points at the extensive use of the ‘Great Albania’ ghost by Serbian politicians, as well as their nationalistic stance. They present border demarcation as the only solution to peace in the region.
The think tank explicitly urges the European Union to “immediately close the Pandora box of further talks on redrawing Balkan borders,” and to warn the Serbian government to stop the “war-mongering rhetoric” which has included direct military threats against Kosovo.
Instead, the EU should rekindle the dialogue on normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and offer all Balkan countries “the prospect of real, tangible progress” into the becoming members of the union. The report urged Germany and France to take more responsibility for security in the region, in case of a US withdrawal.
Kosovo is the only country in the Western Balkans which doesn’t have an agreement with the EU for visa-free travel in the Schengen area. The ESI report calls for a lift of the visa regime in order for the EU to remain credible in Pristina. It further urges the EU to warn Serbia against undermining Kosovo’s statehood and block its membership in international organizations.
The positive result of talks between Greece and now North Macedonia are set as an example to be followed for disputes in the Balkans.
“Finally, the EU needs to send a strong signal to those countries and leaders who refrain from destructive policies and rhetoric and reach out to their neighbours to resolve difficult issues in a true spirit of reconciliation. This is a strong reason why accession talks with North Macedonia should begin without delay in summer 2019.”
It might be worth noting in this context that despite the extensive focus on Albania, the report does not mention, let alone suggest the beginning of Albania’s accession talks with the EU.