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Dialogue and reconciliation

Nebojsa Covic

The following are excerpts from a text written by Nebojsa Covic, the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and head of the Coordinating Centre for Kosovo-Metohija, published in the Nov. 22 issue of the Belgrade daily Politika:

Many analysts of the political situation in the Balkans believe that the Kosovo-Metohija issue is irresolvable. I do not agree...

The issue of Kosovo-Metohija has indeed been neglected; it has been additionally complicated by old and new ethnic conflicts; it has been made difficult by long delays; and it has become a nightmare for European political leaders and a threat to both regional and continental peace, but we will see a way out if there is political and diplomatic wisdom. I have long said that what happened in Kosovo-Metohija is a conflict of two claims - the Serbian historical claim and the Albanian ethnic claim. The reconciliation of the two claims will bring peace to Serbs and Albanians, and all other nations in Southeast Europe.

I believe that a framework for the solution can be found in previous conflict resolutions on the ruins of the former Yugoslavia. The case of Bosnia-Herzegovina thus becomes a model, and the way that the conflict there was settled becomes an unavoidable solution.

I believe that the international community cannot offer Kosovo Albanians anything more or anything less than it gave Bosnia-Herzegovina Serbs. Kosovo Albanians can have - as they already have - wide autonomy, and can establish special ties with their motherland, the Republic of Albania. Albanian nationalists cannot realise their project. They cannot accomplish all-Albanian unification. They cannot create "the greater" Albania.

Serbs cannot unite without harming the national and state interests of their neighbours. They have figured that out and they have accepted it. Proof number one: political parties with anti-democratic ideas and policies suffered an overwhelming defeat in Serbia's elections. Proof number two: there are no retaliatory, conquering or other retrograde ideas and opinions in the Serbian media. Serbs, who have not forgotten NATO bombs, mostly declared themselves in favour of accession of the union of Serbia and Montenegro to the very Organisation itself.

The Albanians also cannot unite into a single state without causing war and harm to the national and state interests of their neigbours. Unfortunately, the majority of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo-Metohija have not realised and accepted that yet.

It is imperative that the international community handle Albanian nationalism and extremism in the same way it handled Serbian nationalism and extremism. The Hague Tribunal now prosecutes Serbs who violated laws and conventions in the Bosnia-Herzegovina war, who acted brutally and inhumanly. Only when the Hague Tribunal starts prosecuting Albanians who acted brutally and inhumanly in the Kosovo-Metohija war will the majority of people in Kosovo-Metohija realise that no single culprit has been pardoned and that no one sides' crimes have been forgiven.

Nothing can be definitely solved in a short period, and solutions that are superficial, thoughtless and wrong can be worse than any postponing and waiting.

Of course, I don't advocate postponing and waiting. I know that many of our fears, doubts and questions will disappear the day when all the countries in the region become EU members. The day all Serbs and Albanians will live in a single state, borders will lose their present divisive character.

I suggest that both Belgrade and Pristina, with the help of UNMIK and European institutions, immediately draft a sound and feasible program for the reconciliation of Serbs and Albanians.

I suggest that experts immediately launch talks on the possibility for reconciliation of Serbian historic and Albanian ethnic claims.

I suggest that the European Union increase its aid to the democratic streams of every Balkan country. Weakening of these streams would seriously strengthen the nationalists and significantly decrease the possibilities for harmonisation of interethnic relations in multiethnic states.

Only the stalemate position can save the Balkans - the position where no one has won or lost and where there is no triumph of nationalism or cancellation of national interests.

Good analysts no doubt notice that people in the Balkans continuously live with a feeling of guilt. Serbs are guilty to some for having created Yugoslavia. Croats are guilty to some for having crashed Yugoslavia. Albanians are guilty to some for having allowed the conflict of democracy and numbers, and establishing the tyranny of numbers. And everyone is guilty among other things because they have kept repeating for decades that their side is wholly right. As the old Jewish saying goes: Repeat too often that you are right and you'll be guilty!

Before there is reconciliation of Serbs and Albanians, there will be no sense in arguing over the final status of Kosovo-Metohija. This stand has also been firmly supported by representatives of the international community.

The leadership of Kosovo-Metohija Albanians gave a public statement that they have given up on the idea of 'Greater Albania.' One public statement cannot annul the interethnic, religious, and intercultural intolerance, but it can serve as an introduction to a dialogue without prejudices and dangerous and humiliating hatreds.

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