Instead of the Republic Electoral Commission and the Parliament, the main news for Serbia in these first, post-election days, will come from the world capitals. President Vučić’s foreign policy calendar is tailored to clearly show that none of the world leaders questioned his convincing victory in the parliamentary elections in Serbia. He remained a key and irreplaceable interlocutor for the leaders of Russia, the United States and the European Union, and the outcome of the elections in Serbia for them too, was obviously, completely known.
It is extremely important for Serbia that Vučić’s international tour these days will be cemented with fresh, huge support for his policy in the country. He will travel to Moscow and Washington, and probably to Brussels, with a legitimacy that no Serbian leader, who has negotiated the preservation of his country’s national interests, has had so far. Perhaps more importantly, the decisions in which Vučić will participate in the coming days will require just such, almost unanimous support from home, because the importance of these decisions goes beyond each party and each politician individually.
In addition to securing internal support at home, President Vučić received full support for future negotiations and decisions regarding the Kosovo issue, it is increasingly obvious that international circumstances work in Serbia’s favor and give it a great chance to achieve the maximum possible through wise negotiations. Since Richard Grenell’s announcement that a meeting on the Kosovo issue will be held in the White House on June 27, which will be attended by President Vučić and Hashim Thaçi, there is a growing belief that this process, undermined by the EU for years, has gained momentum, and is nearing its end.
What is more interesting for us is the widespread belief that Serbia is much better off in this development than ever before in similar circumstances, and even that its chances of satisfaction at the end of the process are much higher than the chances of Kosovo, so favored in recent years when Pristina was a real favorite of the United States and the West as a whole. “We have forgotten who our client was. It is not Serbia, but Kosovo, a country whose formation we have helped, served and protected”, said David L. Phillips, a longtime American expert on Kosovo, in the governments of Clinton, Bush Jr. and Obama because of Serbia’s current treatment in Washington. A treatment that respects it as an unavoidable interlocutor and a factor without which a solution cannot be achieved. He is disappointed, because the United States has changed exactly what was a long-term mistake of American policy in the Balkans, and what is contained in Phillips’ complaint. And that is its attitude towards Kosovo as a client and Serbia as an opponent. Such a policy did not bring results in the Balkans, it only prolonged instability and left the conflict unfinished.
The New York Times, for which David L. Phillips also spoke before the talks in Washington were scheduled, concludes that these talks were scheduled “behind the back of the European Union”, which is a remark that is most often heard in Europe, more than in America. This is not surprising either, because with the speed they are imposing, the United States is trying to end the Kosovo negotiating agony, which was sponsored by the European Union itself, by keeping the problem on the table for seven or eight years, without a visible solution. After the first steps of the new administration in Brussels, there is no chance that they would want to change anything in their casualness towards the problem. Not only has it allowed the Kosovo dialogue to stretch all these years, the EU has proven to be a mediator that allows the agreement not to be implemented, as it has allowed Pristina to fulfill nothing of the Brussels agreement, especially to form the Union of Serbian Municipalities. And as it allowed and even encouraged Albanians to impose the unheard of trade sanctions against central Serbia and to keep them in force for more than a year and a half!
The Trump administration’s effort to solve the problem therefore seems quite fair, precisely due to the fact that it turned its back on its current policy towards the Balkans, stopped treating some as “clients” and others as opponents, but gave all sides the opportunity to fight in a more or less fair fight and to try to pursue their interests.
Serbia has never had such a position (in relation to the USA and the West) in the last few decades. Partly because of the mentioned attitude of the West, but also because of its own behavior on the international scene, which was rigid, not at all wise, unreliable, shifty, and ultimately catastrophic for the interests of Serbia until the arrival of Vučić and Ivica Dačić as negotiators. Serbia rejected everything that ever appeared on the table, naively expecting that every following offer (plan, solution) would be more favorable than the previous one, not realizing that in negotiations with great powers it never goes that way, but that the first offer is also the most favorable one.
In Europe, too, they estimate that the process led by Washington has a chance of success, because the United States will consider as its own success only the solution that both Belgrade and Pristina agree on. Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, says these days, on a possible solution with the demarcation of Serbia and Kosovo, that Europe “cannot be the one that will prevent them from sitting at the table and raising all issues, if both sides agree.” Even Albin Kurti, in his radical rejection of any agreement with Belgrade, notes, prior to the talks in Washington, that “Kosovo has gone downhill, denying its subjectivity”, and that Serbia is strengthening its positions.
In international relations, and especially in resolving complicated and long-term problems, such as the Kosovo issue, reversals happen very rarely, and solutions are never found overnight. The end result is always the product of long-term and smart planning, with full openness and cooperation of all stakeholders. Maybe this intense Vučić’s foreign policy week will seem to some like a turnaround, a positive turnaround for Serbia, or, at least, the days when things suddenly got better for Serbia. Of course, we expect such a direction, with full attention and support, but here, too, there will be no question of any reversal or turn.
This is a great, perhaps the only chance for Serbia after so much missed opportunities, to participate in creating solutions that will affect it. And not only to participate, but to give that solution an important, perhaps decisive tone and shape. At this moment, for such an outcome, internal circumstances coincided with huge support for the policy pursued by Aleksandar Vučić and, on the other hand, international circumstances in which the most influential factors, especially the United States, are interested in a solution and well-intentioned towards Serbia and its interests. At least they opened the possibility for Serbia to say what it wants, and not just what it doesn’t want, which was its only negotiating position for decades.
Such circumstances are a huge negotiating resource for Serbia and President Vučić, as its main representative, but like any other resource, it does not have an unlimited duration. What seems to some to be an unnecessary rush (part of the European Union, for example), for America, Serbia, Pristina, but also a good part of the EU, it means the will to end as soon as possible and to the same satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) a problem that has lasted for decades and whose consequences were bad for the whole region. Germany is especially opposed to the fast pace dictated by Washington, it is nervous about the possibility that in a process, over which it has no control, Serbia will not be forced to recognize Kosovo within the existing borders, which is the only outcome that Berlin recognizes for years. Naturally, Germany transmits this attitude to everyone else in the European Union, which ultimately makes negotiations impossible for Belgrade. Hence, the “window” that opens in Washington is a huge opportunity for Serbia to take the path that can bring it the defense of its interests and a way out with which it will be able to stand honorably in front of all its citizens, especially those in Kosovo.
Such international circumstances, therefore, will not last indefinitely. The world is now showing good will and energy to commit to resolving our vital issue, but if our wisdom and interest are lacking, it will quickly turn to other global issues.
The speed at which they insist in Washington must suit Serbia. Time is now an equally important factor, as is the quality of the future solution. The current administration in Washington has been showing for more than a year that it is open to an agreement and wants to support it, but such a willingness to compromise can change in a few months, and thus Belgrade’s favorable positions will never return. There is no doubt that some future US presidential administration, led by the Democrats, would re-adjust its Balkan policy to the old relationship between “clients” and “opponents”, and we have watched it and its effects for too long. Without any chance to influence it, let alone change it. And at the same time, watching Kosovo irreversibly go within the framework of full independence, whether we want to accept it or not.
Leaving us with our unresolved historical traumas as we look back at others in our surroundings, interesting only to those who see their chance in the Balkans if it is trapped in the past, poor, unstable and always ready to fight to extinction.