When you read the words “Balkans” and “borders” in the same sentence, you are usually preparing to pick up an explosive mixture with which you do not know what to do, except to get rid of it as soon as possible. Slovenian President Borut Pahor took that risk, so he suggested to the leaders from the Western Balkans that at the regular annual meeting within the “Brdo-Brijuni” forum, they deal with that very flammable combination. He intended to finally kill, like the dead virus from the vaccine, the real virus, about redrawing the Balkan borders, which was released with the “non-paper” number one, according to many from Slovenian cuisine, by a joint statement that there will be no more border changes in the Balkans. Let us remind you, this is a surreal cartography of the Balkans in which Serbia, Albania and Croatia dominate, and in which Bosnia and Herzegovina is disappearing.
There is no one in Europe and the Balkans who has not rejected this new mapping of the region. And since a lot of valuable time and energy was spent on it, there are more and more attempts to erase “non paper” from the collective memory, so Oliver Varhelyi calls it “non-existent”. Borut Pahor’s attempt to remove it from the agenda once and for all, but above all to erase the Slovenian role in this problematic drawing of new borders with a big denial from Brdo near Kranj, is similar.
It seemed simple, but Aleksandar Vučić made an effort not to run into an even bigger problem because of that simplicity and superficiality. His “veto” on Pahor’s initiative has a deep political, diplomatic and legal foundation, and above all it has a pragmatic essence which convincingly protects the interests of Serbia on the international scene.
Although he did not explain his opposition to this initiative in detail, Vučić’s move shows that he had several motives in front of him. And they were all statesmanlike and principled. First of all, it is unreasonable to confirm something that already exists as an international law, as an obligation that everyone is obliged to fulfill, with one political declaration (statement of the leaders of the Balkans at an informal gathering). The inviolability of state borders is a principle from the basic documents of the UN, and especially from the 1975 Helsinki Final Act (its Chapters 3 and 4 on the inviolability of borders and the territorial integrity of states). Why would an informal meeting, even if it was attended by all the presidents themselves, deal with the confirmation of international laws that have existed for decades?
Another possible motive also comes from international diplomatic and legal decisions that have the force of law. They concern the Balkans, and are contained in ten opinions of the so-called Badinter Commission, which was established as an arbitration by the Conference on the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. We are particularly interested in Opinion number three, from January 1992, which states that the borders of the then republics, and the future independent states, can be changed only “through (their) free and mutual agreement.”
The third motive, mostly in connection with today’s, but also tomorrow’s position of Serbia in the international arena, concerns its position on Kosovo. Why would the Serbian president, in a joint statement on Brdo near Kranj, commit himself to the immutability of borders in the Balkans, if some future agreement with Pristina contains just that, a change in the existing “borders”?
With this decision, Vučić, in fact, again asked a question, to which he never received an answer on the international scene – From what moment do we adhere to the international law on immutability of borders? Since the establishment of the OSCE (CSCE) in 1975? Is it since 1992, when Yugoslavia disintegrated (the Badinter Commission says – in the process of disintegration)? If the opinions of that commission became an exception for the Balkans, and they only concerned the borders of the then republics, not the provinces, why is the secession of Kosovo from Serbia in 2008 accepted, and thus a new change of borders? And why, in the end, is a new change of borders, which could be agreed upon by both Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, considered illegal in advance and the signature of the President of Serbia is still required for that?
With his “veto” on one position of the final statement from this year’s summit “Brdo Brijuni”, Vučić primarily protected the important interests of his country. For years, Serbia has not received an answer to the question of circumventing international law, in which it has been damaged several times. And when it accepted such decisions (of the Badinter Commission), it did not receive an explanation for the new evasion, in the case of Kosovo, for example. Moreover, it is faced with the practice that the principles of not changing state borders are violated only when Serbia suffers territorial damage, and their consistent respect is required only when changing the borders could bring some benefit. This is a frustrating diplomatic position for everyone who leads Serbia, but it must not be an excuse for making bad decisions. Vučić could have signed a statement in Slovenia with a position on the immutability of borders in the Balkans, and he would have received applause on the European scene. It would be easy and pleasant, but it would not be a good state decision. He chose the harder way, without applause and congratulations, but the only correct one from the standpoint of the state interests of Serbia, which he must protect as president. And because of that, he once again deserved respect on the international scene, because respect is gained and lost only on whether you defend the interests of your country well enough.