There are many answers to the question – when, in fact, the Kosovo problem began, but none of them is convincing and reliable enough. However, there will be only one answer to the question – when is the Kosovo problem closed. All of us who were not even born when the problem was opened, will witness its conclusion. The question is no longer – whether the Kosovo problem will be solved, but – when. And even if we are approaching that day, we in Serbia should not be trusted much, nor the Albanians in Kosovo, because we are directly interested parties. Americans and Europeans should be trusted, because both no longer use the word “if” in the context of Kosovo, but “when”.
That is why it is time to try to imagine that “Day After”, at least to assess who will be satisfied and who will not, regardless of what the future solution for Kosovo will look like. It seems that there will be many more who will be sincerely dissatisfied with the end of the longest-lasting and most explosive Balkan crisis. It may sound paradoxical, but almost all of them today are publicly advocating for a solution to the problem, they are even actively participating in it, although they will be deeply unhappy on the “Day After” that the problem has been solved.
Here we are talking about an army of individuals, groups, organizations, and even states, who intimately do not want the Kosovo issue to get a final answer, or at least to seek that answer for as long as possible. Not because they are destructive by nature, but simply because it is in their interest. This is a politically and ideologically extremely diverse society, which may have no other point of contact, except that the Kosovo problem should be left open for as long as possible.
Many members of the European Union, for example, are aware that immediately after reaching an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, both sides must be granted concessions in the form of speeding up the path to full membership. Serbia, for example, guarantees that it will join the EU within a specific deadline, and Kosovo, for example, the abolition of visas. However, the enlargement of the Union is extremely unpopular in almost all EU member states, so few people are in favor of accepting (bringing closer) new members, because they are certainly losing votes. This is especially pronounced in the richest and most influential EU countries, such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy. It is true that the same countries are also conducting the negotiation process on Kosovo, but let’s ask ourselves whether they are really determined to finish the job quickly, or whether they will still follow their basic interest, which is to keep the Balkans out of the zone of imminent entry into the EU.
At that point, the interests of the greats in the EU coincide with the interests of Russia, for example, no matter how much they are opposed on all other issues. Although officially it has nothing against Serbia’s membership in the EU, Russia still wants that day to come as late as possible, and a sure way to such a result is to prolong the resolution of the Kosovo conflict for as long as possible. In addition, Russia has a “local” motive for this matter to remain unresolved, because Kosovo and with it Resolution 1244 are the only points of influence that still keep it attached to the Balkans, more precisely to Serbia. It is not economic, technological and cultural exchange, not strong interpersonal ties (diaspora, students, tourists…), and especially not common perceptions of the future. In all these aspects, Serbia is already firmly tied to Western Europe and wants to formalize those ties with membership in the European Union, while Russia has completely different expectations.
Hundreds, maybe even thousands of bureaucrats, experts, journalists, activists across Europe, who have built influence, reputation and even entire careers over the years and decades, dealing with the most complicated Balkan problem will not be happy with the solution for Kosovo. If Kosovo soon ceases to be a problem, and there is every chance to move towards it, there is no need for all those NGOs, portals, analytical texts, research, expert conferences, as well as positions in the systematization of jobs in the EU, which had studying and solving this problem as a subject. Small in numbers, but huge by influence and interconnected apparatus, which for years has tied its existence and professional affirmation to the issue of Kosovo will remain on the street. They all want the “Kosovo case” to remain open for as long as possible, just like the “Bosnia case”, which the same army of “well-meaning” experts and bureaucrats has been dealing with for a quarter of a century, but without results.
Many in Serbia want the Kosovo “Day After” to come as late as possible, even never, but certainly not “on their shift”. The political opposition neither has nor wants to produce a concept solution for Kosovo, they did not have that even when they were in power. They are convinced that Vučić will “break his back” on the Kosovo issue and that they just need to wait with their arms crossed for that to happen. And when that happens, and they come to power, they will continue not to deal with that issue, so as not to “break their back”, no matter how long it takes. Both conservative and liberal intellectuals hope for a non-solution, without distinction, because by putting Kosovo ad acta, the interest ceases, but also the financing of their efforts to convince the public of their version of the Kosovo story. Whether it is the “status quo” or its opposite – let’s recognize Kosovo immediately. This colorful front opposed to the Kosovo solution is far more numerous and influential than its promoters. Opposite that front are, in addition to the Serbian president, the (current) US president and his administration, a handful of European intellectuals, mostly British and Eastern European, a convincing minority within the Serbian intellectual elite, such as SANU President Vladimir Kostic, for example… Over time, this circle will be narrower and the solution further, so the time aspect is just as important as the content of the future agreement. They recognized that in Washington, and despite the obstructions from the EU, they insist on a strong pace in the dialogue, correctly estimating that the slowness so far has actually been a simple simulation of the negotiation process. In this race against time, “minority” undoubtedly has a much better chance than the more influential brakemen on the Kosovo process. Their advantage is essential, because they advocate a qualitatively new solution and a permanent end to the long-standing conflict. In short, they dictate the game by making it fast and its outcome positive for everyone. And that is the root of their future victory, the “Day After”, when Serbia and the Balkans will be incomparably better than they were decades before.