The merchant Mitar was rich and respected, he was a pillar of the house, an unquestionable authority both as a father and as a husband. Until his devilish passion for gambling threatened to destroy his entire world, and the world of his family. You recognize, I am sure, in this, summary of the classic of Serbian literature, the short story “Prvi put s ocem na jutrenje” by Laza Lazarević, a work whose strength and value we can confirm both today and in a hundred years. Mitar’s passion, and today it could be said – addiction, to gambling, is no different from the passion or addiction of any other gambler, rich or poor, educated or illiterate. The problem with gambling is that the gambler, especially when he loses, thinks that the next hand will be his, that in the next round luck will come to his table and that he will be able to breathe a sigh of relief, with full pockets. Unfortunately, it won’t. The psychology of a gambler is the psychology of an irrational man, because he thinks that the profit will surely come, and that it is enough just to persistently repeat the same action, without changing anything, convinced that this will reach the desired result. This is, at the same time, a simplified description of the psychology of an anxious, crazy man.
Unfortunately, it is not difficult to recognize in this illustration the tragedy of Serbian politics in relation to Kosovo for decades. Our state policy during those decades has a losing logic of gamblers. We have been losing game after game for years, one hand after another, but we believe that the very next hand, with the same losing cards, will miraculously bring us a turnaround. Our desire for good cards blinds the reality that says we have to change something in our own behavior, in order to avoid the same, losing result.
We repeat over and over again that Kosovo is part of Serbia and that it is unchangeable. Even when the last Serbian soldier and policeman were banished from Kosovo, and together with them the last Serbian postman, tax collector, customs officer, surveyor, forester, everyone to whom the state of Serbia paid a salary and certified a health card. We repeated that Kosovo is Serbia even when an ID card or passport had to be shown to enter Kosovo, when Serbian ministers needed to ask for written permission from Pristina if they wanted to visit the yesterday’s province…
Impotent policies pursued in Belgrade and their MPs for years thought it good to stay at the table, bet chips and wait for strong cards to be dealt. Just like Mitar did. Strong cards, of course, never came, and during that time the wealth melted away, the house and the family reached the edge of the abyss. Serbia has never come to a more favorable position on Kosovo, because its only policy was not to accept anything but full sovereignty over Kosovo, as an integral part of Serbia (just as it is written in the Constitution). Neither when the Albanians were led by the moderate Ibrahim Rugova, with whom we could talk, nor when the whole world warned us to stop violence against Albanians (three UN Security Council resolutions before the bombing), nor in Rambouillet, nor when they bombed us, nor when Ahtisaari brought a plan with very strong protection of Kosovo Serbs and churches and monasteries… We gambled all the chances, not wanting to change our attitudes and behavior, we expected ONE hand and strong cards!
Even today, a large number of people believe that we should not change anything in our behavior, that we should just wait and that Serbia will one day be given good cards. You will easily recognize them, they are looking for the so-called “freezing of the conflict”, they do not want an agreement with the Albanians, they are opposed to seeking compromise through the Brussels process, they do not even want to think about correcting borders. We are convinced that the Serbian position is so correct and stable, that it is only a matter of time before it will receive full recognition. They may even expect an apology. Their plan and only idea are no different from the disastrous, infernal Mitar’s strategy.
Let’s go back, for a moment, to Lazarević’s Mitar. Broken, bringing himself, his house and family to ruin, he realizes that there is no way out, he intends to hurt himself, but the love of his wife Marica helps him return from the edge of the abyss. Catharsis is described in the title, when Mitar takes his eldest son to church for the first morning prayer.
Aleksandar Vučić decided to change the “game” with Kosovo, he decided to get out of the whirlpool of wrong policies, because that whirlpool led Serbia only in one direction – to the bottom. It is very difficult to change the established pattern, the resistances are terrible, the power of the vortex is enormous. To change the losing, useless policy of Serbia in relation to Kosovo means to put all strength, knowledge and perseverance to the test. It is also a terrible risk, because Vučić is the one who has to announce that Serbia has only been sitting at the gambling table for years, hoping for a strong hand, without wanting to change anything about itself. He must announce that the compromise is difficult, painful, that we will give up many things that we convinced ourselves was ours, but that this compromise is the only catharsis that can take us further, to a normal and healthy family life, facing the future. Not without scars from the past, but that is the price we have been paying for too long. That is the price that Serbia has not been able to pay for a long time.
That is why, with the long-rejected losing (Mitar’s) strategy, he will continue to talk, looking for a solution. This time and after a long break, again under the auspices of the EU and its current leaders – Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron. On Friday, they will “host” President Vučić and the new Prime Minister of Kosovo Hoti in cyberspace, on the “Zoom” application or some similar popular and free platform, expecting that in this way they will clearly show that the EU is determined to continue the process, and even bring it to an end. Can we trust them?
The current European attempt to reactivate the Kosovo dialogue comes after the European degradation, and even the destruction of that dialogue. Under the auspices of the EU, it lasted for too long six years, without any special fruits, only to be mined again with the blessing of the top of the EU – France and Germany – by introducing Kosovo taxes on goods from central Serbia. And that, again thanks to the EU’s lack of interest due to its work on the election and constitution of the Brussels administration, it was on the ice for more than a year. And only when someone else, not anyone, but the White House, took over this futile conduct of the process from the Europeans, and moved a lot further, sabotage followed in the form of publishing an indictment against the main negotiator from the Kosovo side – Hashim Thaci.
Can Merkel and Macron be expected to be the real leaders in this process, when little remains of their leadership at home? Merkel has been leaving for a long time, Macron loses everywhere, in the local elections, changes the government… What is the strength of their authority today, what can they do to “force” the negotiators to reach the goal and, most importantly – what do they consider the goal of these negotiations ? If the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia is within the current borders, which is an undisguised German goal, then nothing is gained from this dialogue, whether it was held in real or in cyberspace. And finally, their attempt to banish Americans from the process is something that works directly against the process, not in its favor. There is every chance that Europeans, or at least Merkel and Macron, do not worry much about whether a solution will be found, and they are especially not interested in it being quick. No matter how much they talk about “providing good services”, their slowness and one-sidedness are not good services for Serbia. Serbia has been clearly showing for a long time that it wants a solution and wants it quickly. In that, its interests coincided with the interests of the United States, for the first time in many decades.
This fact is crucial for the position of Serbia, because the United States, despite everything, is today the only power in the world, and the Albanians in Kosovo know that very well. On the other hand, for the United States, Kosovo is not a problem but an independent state that they have recognized in full capacity. But despite that fact, Washington is showing a serious readiness to reach a final solution through negotiations, which will be acceptable for Serbia as well, a solution that will not leave Serbia without anything when it comes to Kosovo. This readiness of the USA is real and sincere, however, it will not last indefinitely.
But what is our reaction to the readiness of the United States to, despite recognizing Kosovo as an independent state, accept the negotiations and agreement that should be reached by the leaders from Belgrade and Pristina, which will result in a final status agreement and a lasting solution? Instead of using this readiness of the USA, emphasize the importance of renewing friendship and alliance with them that has lasted for more than a century, to try in every way to improve our relations (because their hands are extended to us), we call on Russia to join as a negotiator on Kosovo!? Is Russia really the protector of Serbia’s interests at this moment, and should it really be our main representative on the international scene, when the issue of the highest state and national importance is being resolved?
Today, on the big international stage, Russia is a rather isolated country, which suffers severely because of that isolation. Russia’s influence on the international scene is far from the “first league”, it is no longer able to solve problems even in its nearest yard. In its closest zone of interest, it persistently repeats one and the same recipe for preserving influence, and that is to start a conflict and keep that conflict in a “frozen” status. A similar recipe is persistently applied in the Balkans, although from failure to failure, in Montenegro, for example, or in Northern Macedonia, Republika Srpska… Clearly, this strategy is persistently repeated in the case of Kosovo.
Serbia has a great opportunity to give up the loser, who sweetly convinces it that they are the only ones on its side, with whom it went from defeat to defeat. It has a chance to regroup and make rational and pragmatic moves for the first time, because it is made possible by very favorable circumstances on the international scene, which, again, will not last forever. Serbia must find the protection of its vital interests, and Kosovo is that, above all in itself and the strength of its arguments and the wisdom and pragmatism of its political leaders. The state policy so far, led by Aleksandar Vučić, has shown that it has already fulfilled that key precondition. But that is not enough for the final success.
It is necessary for them to win over, for their legitimate goals, those who can lead to their realization on the international scene. Like it or not, it is only the United States and only in the short term ahead of us. Aleksandar Vučić knows that, he speaks clearly and bravely about it, attacked because of it from all sides of the political and public spectrum. There is no doubt, the stars in the political sky over the Balkans will not coincide like this for a long time, and if we do not use that, we will have a lot of time to regret once again in a long series of missed opportunities.