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Kosovo-Metohija: Serbia's top priority

Belgrade, March 7, 2003 - Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic talked to Friday's edition of Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti about the government's policy, strategy, and further steps in dealing with the Kosovo issue. The following are excerpts from the interview:

On an initiative by UNMIK chief Michael Steiner and international reactions to Belgrade's request for talks on the status of Kosovo-Metohija:

Steiner's call for talks came as a kind of reaction to our initiative and with the international community's consent (who said: "all right - let talks begin"). To the international community, it would represent proof that the issue of Kosovo is being raised. Of course, many around the world are still reluctant to discuss this issue seriously, and with implications to Kosovo Albanians' intentions and relations in the Balkans. As early as today, not in say, two, three, or five years. This is still taboo. That's why we suggest discussing everyday issues. No doubt, this is a step forward. A very significant one, since ethnic Albanian politicians have, until now, refused any kind of dialogue with Belgrade. They argue that the international community is their partner, while Serbia is a foreign country with whom they do not wish to have any relations. What has just happened, almost certainly under Steiner's and the world's pressure, is welcome as it represents an acknowledgment, albeit roundabout, of Serbia's rights. This is the first time that an invitation has been directed to the Serbian government instead of the federal authorities. For the first time, Belgrade means Serbia, not the federal state.

On possible topics in upcoming talks with representatives of the international administration and Kosovo's institutions:

It is good that in a few days we will start talking - about cross-border trade, breaking smuggling rings, energy, and transport - not as two different countries, but as constituent parts of a common region. It is also good that, among other things, fundamental questions will arise from those talks:

  1. Are we a single system or two separate systems?
  2. Who will guarantee that duties assumed will be fulfilled? All in all, even the opening of negotiations would represent a certain level of satisfaction to Serbia. However, it would be dangerous to restrict attention to the above-mentioned issues, as it would lead to the legalisation of the present circumstances. There is a real danger that those who are interested in that will start saying 'Transport, energy, and trade are the main problems. Let's resolve them and everything will be all right.' But it is by no means so. To Serbia, talks on these issues cannot be a recompense for its institutional rights in Kosovo-Metohija. Serbia's rights in the province are much more important than the rights of the Serbian power utility, the post service, and the railway company combined. At stake are the future and the destiny of Serbia, as well as the status of Kosovo-Metohija. In a way, the future of the Balkans is at stake too.
Serbia's rights in Kosovo-Metohija are not something that can just expire. Nobody has the right to tell us 'Milosevic used up all your rights, now you have to start from zero'. Our stand is that historical, legal, and statehood principles must be a basis for resolving these problems. Of course, the ethnic Albanian population also has its rights. Our approach is not one-sided, and we are not saying that Serbia should claim all the rights. No. Even UN Security Council Resolution 1244 stipulates that a compromise must be reached between the rights of Pristina and the rights of Belgrade. What is worrying is that in the past four years, everything has been running contrary to Resolution 1244 and a possible and necessary compromise. We are facing a disregard of even a chance that Belgrade should claim some rights. That's why the door opened by Steiner's initiative is too small to put an end to this process.

We propose that three sets of issues be discussed. The first set could be made up of everyday issues regarding cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina, energy, transport, trade, organised crime, etc. The second set should be the return of displaced Serbs and other non-Albanians, as well as safety in the province. This includes everything that Resolution 1244 says about the Serb population's right to return to their homes. The third set of issues must deal with statehood and institutions in Kosovo. This set of issues cannot be avoided.

We will insist on future relations between Serbia and Kosovo-Metohija. The time has come for this to be included in the agenda, as the third set is essential for any discussion on the first two, because the displaced will not return unless there is security in the province and clear relations between Belgrade and Pristina. How are we supposed to regulate transport or energy, if we do not know whether Kosovo-Metohija and Serbia are two separate countries or a single one?

On starting talks on the final status of Kosovo-Metohija, and the intention to shift the jurisdiction over security in the province from UNMIK to Kosovo's institutions:

Whether Mr. Steiner wants to admit it or not, the issue of the status of Kosovo has been dealt with in the past four years: through giving local Albanian institutions the powers of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Statehood, as we all know, has four attributes: legislative, executive, and judicial authorities, and jurisdiction over security. The first three have already been shifted to Kosovo's parliament, government, and judiciary. These are monitored by the international community. But, this cannot last forever. The process of handing over the fourth attribute, security, to the Kosovo Albanians has already begun. I reacted to what is going on the moment it was declared that the number of KFOR troops will be reduced to 5,000 by 2004 or 2005. Such an announcement meant that powers would be shifted to the Albanians, i.e. the Kosovo Protection Corpus. Had this happened, it would have been sensible to ask the following question: What will there be left to discuss when we begin talks on the "final" status of Kosovo? All the more since it is easy to realise that the Kosovo Albanians would not be willing to give up what the international community had given them. This would surely have been the worst-case scenario, which we have had to thwart and avoid. And I can say that we have managed to avert that danger. This is particularly important since there was a risk, in light of the Iraqi crisis and the deterioration of the West's relations with the Arab world - that Serbia be used as small change - to show that the West is not the enemy of Islam as a whole, but only of Saddam Hussein. So I have done everything I could to draw attention to the Kosovo issue at the same time as the Iraq issue. My intention is to tell the world 'We are nobody's coin for settling bills.'

On possible solutions for the status of Kosovo that would be unacceptable to Serbia:

Although I do not have proof for everything, I am afraid that such a "tacit plan" already exists and that its integral part is the intention to promise Belgrade that there will be no separation of the already de facto independent Kosovo-Metohija. Then, I am afraid, we would be told 'now you have to harmonise relations with Pristina.' Unfortunately, it is easy to predict that in such a situation we would not be in a position to influence developments in Kosovo and that it would take us decades to harmonise relations with Pristina, with Belgrade shouldering the bulk of responsibility for the process. At the same time, Belgrade would be asked to understand relations on the world political scene and the fact that the international community cannot deal with ethnic Albanians. This would jeopardise stability in Serbia and the entire region. Since the beginning of January, when I launched this diplomatic offensive, not much has changed, but the momentum of transferring Serbia's sovereignty to local ethnic Albanian authorities has slowed down. This is not a minor accomplishment, but is still not enough. For the same reasons, Steiner's initiative is not enough either. Things will start changing only when the international community says 'the solution lies in the compromise required in Resolution 1244. The solution is in the essential autonomy of Kosovo-Metohija, the return of expelled Serbs and a certain number of our police officers, and in strict and literal implementation of Resolution 1244.' Only when New York and Brussels start sending such messages will the situation start changing for the better.

On Serbia's forthcoming request to the international community and "The White Book" on what has been done in Kosovo-Metohija since international peacekeeping forces arrived in the province:

We shall - and that is our official request - demand that a study be made on what has been done since the [UN] mission arrived in Kosovo-Metohija. We shall demand that experts of the UN Security Council, the EU, Belgrade and conduct the analysis together and set up a team to prepare "The White Book" on the past four years. "The White Book" should show what has not been done, how many people returned to the province, why the provisions on the return of our army and the police are not realised, what happened with the "basic autonomy", the normalisation of relations, the standards that Steiner often talks about? []

We shall demand that everything stipulated in Resolution 1244 be merited on a scale of one to five. I think that the "the return of the army and the police" provision must be marked one; "the return of Serbs", plus one; "independence of Kosovo", plus four; "standards", minus two I am not exaggerating at all. Albanians can do business and move around freely, whereas Serbs are mostly not given these chances.

On the sequence of steps that Belgrade will undertake:

I assume we will have to wait for the outcome of the Iraqi crisis. There is an international formula for these things. We will first have to table a suggestion and assure the relevant international that it is important and urgent. The second phase would be the solution to the problem. Nothing, however, will come easy; not even if the world accepts our raising of the topic and acknowledges its importance and seriousness. Had someone been able to solve the Kosovo knot, he would have done it by now. And we are in the first phase, which is still not finished. Therefore it is necessary that we create another few concentric circles so that when one says "Kosovo" no one in the world would say 'Well, that's solved,' but rather 'Oh, that's a problem, some dangerous things are happening there.'

On Serbia's position should the international community recognise Kosovo's independence:

We shall not accept that. If the international community, which is stronger than we are, has the intention of saying, 'Kosovo should be independent,' I would like to hear that. I would like someone to state that officially. Double standards are the worst ones: talking about unchangeable borders, sovereignty, Resolution 1244, while on the hand, they do the opposite. No one complains, some are forced into silence, others play dumb. []

We shall use different mechanisms to draw the attention of certain governments and countries and do all we can to make our position acceptable to the international community. I am completely aware that there is a long battle ahead of us in protecting our interests. But, all the same, we will not lose anything should we start protecting these interests as early as today. In the past year, we thought that time was on our side. [] That proved to be wrong. I am afraid that certain things have not changed since the time I said at a lecture in the United States, seven or eight years ago, that the then American policy resembled Tito's to us: weak Serbia, strong Yugoslavia.

On 'compromise' solutions:

The solution can and must be a compromise. I think it needs to be achieved step by step, but talks must begin immediately. The solution must not be radical. For the sake of the Serbs, for the sake of the international community, for the sake of the Albanians. The solution, however, must not be based on unrealistic assumptions. Personally, I can hardly picture ethnic Albanians who are loyal to the state of Serbia. When I say that, I do not think about southern Serbia's municipalities. A country with a large number of non-loyal citizens cannot function normally. Creating that kind of a country would not be in our national interest. But on the other hand, Serbia has a state right in Kosovo-Metohija. Regardless of where the quest for compromise solutions will lead to - toward this or that kind of autonomy or something else. Independently from my personal views, we shall discuss it with political structures in the country and abroad - whether co-existing with Albanians is the Serbian nation's interest and how much can Serbia's state interests be worked out in Kosovo-Metohija. The overview that is ahead of us means an estimation of our national history in the next 20, 30 to 50 years. We must have a picture of Serbia till at least 2050, to foresee trends and say what are our national and state interests when it comes to borders, sovereignty, state relations, union. The condition for this is for us to be accepted as a partner in the search for a solution. We must not let someone say: 'Here is Kosovo. It must not separate, but it is independent.' Or it should separate, not asking us.

On the federalisation of Kosovo-Metohija

The first thing is that the international community recognise the collective rights of the Serbian people and provide conditions for the institutionalisation of those rights. [Serbs] must not be treated as a national minority. I think that we will win that right after "the white book" has been prepared. The interim constitutional framework did not provide conditions for the self-defence of Serbs and non-Albanians. That is why they are afraid to return to Kosovo. We have to discuss this issue first with the United Nations Security Council, and not with ethnic Albanians, because it is clear that they will reject the proposal.

In June we will demand that "the white book" be prepared. We expect that the Security Council launch talks on the federalisation of Kosovo-Metohija and granting collective rights to Serbs in autumn this year.

If this model fails, we will probably have to consider the possibility of dividing Kosovo according to the Cyprus paradigm, with a civilised form of population transfer. If Serbs cannot exercise their rights in a province with an Albanian majority, they will naturally move to a region where they constitute an ethnic majority. Just as it has been the case so far. After all, Serbs and Albanians never lived together in Kosovo. They lived next to one another. Creation of a multiethnic society in Kosovo is a grand illusion. It has never existed. It was a society of ethnic co-existence. I would like Kosovo to be a federation, which would have "asymmetrical ties" with the rest of Serbia. Serbs and ethnic Albanians should live in their separate entities.

If this model fails to give the expected results, then we would have to make some type of internal division. Belgrade has to have a solution if both models prove to be unsuccessful. But in any case, Serbia must know what its bottom line is and how to defend it. I also have to say that I am surprised that Serbian analysts are mostly against my initiative of dividing Kosovo on the Cyprus paradigm. They think that it is only a part of a pre-election campaign. But I am glad to see that my ideas are supported by Serbia's citizens who want to see this problem resolved. The Kosovo issue is a disease that is killing us.



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