By Daniel Serwer
Kosovo President Thaci has made it clear he intends to discuss changing Kosovo’s borders with Serbian President Vucic. He denies this means ethnic partition of Kosovo and calls it a correction of the border, a euphemism intended to mean an exchange of territory:
If the Kosovo-Serbia border correction and the final agreement on mutual recognition are achieved, if such an agreement is of bilateral and balanced, meaning a win-win for both parties, then no one would be against it.
Presumably he is open to trading some or all of Kosovo’s Serb-majority northern municipalities for Albanian-majority territory in southern Serbia. The deal would of course have to include, prior to the land swap, mutual diplomatic recognition. Only sovereign states can exchange territory.
This idea has been widely circulated in recent weeks, but Thaci’s remarks are the first clear confirmation from the Albanian side of the equation. It would not be happening without US and European concurrence. Brussels and Washington have apparently decided that integrating the northern Serb municipalities with the rest of Kosovo is just too difficult, so they have dropped their previous firm opposition.
The border correction, or whatever you call it, is a bad idea, for many reasons:
The majority of the Serbs in Kosovo as well as the more important Serb monasteries and other religious sites are not in the north. Those south of the Ibar River will be at risk, both short term and long term, if territory is exchanged.
The exchange would increase support for those Albanians in Kosovo who favor union with Albanian and for those in Macedonia who would like to join such a Greater Albania, potentially destabilizing Macedonia as well.
Republika Srpska, the Serb-controlled 49% of Bosnia and Herzegovina, will want to follow suit, declaring independence and seeking to join Serbia. That will precipitate a comparable Croat move to have the Croat-majority cantons of Bosnia join Croatia.
The Russians will point to this correction of borders as precedent for what they would like to do with South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and Donbas as well as Crimea in Ukraine.
They may even like the idea enough to allow Kosovo into the United Nations, which would be a Pyrrhic victory if it then joins Greater Albania, or if China decides still to veto Kosovo membership.
I am still hoping agreement on this bad idea will prove difficult to achieve. Serbia has good security reasons not to give up territory in southern Serbia that lies adjacent to its main outlet to the sea. The Serb Orthodox Church stands to a big loser if this “correction” proceeds. Kosovo has good reason not to precipitate a series of claims to international border corrections that are unlikely to be peaceful. Nor will Pristina’s current politicians thrive in an environment in which Kosovo’s population is anticipating the end of the country’s statehood by merger into Albania. Vetevendosje, a movement that has advocated the option to join Albania, will be the big winner.
A democratic Kosovo and a democratic Serbia should be able to come to terms on protection of their respective minority populations without this perilous exchange of territory and populations. Of course that is precisely the problem: neither is a consolidated democracy and both are run by ethnic nationalists who still lack adequate respect for minorities. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that an ethnic nationalist administration in the US and an EU in which ethnic nationalism has gained lots of ground weaken in their commitment to democracy and the rule of law, but it is not a welcome development. This is a bad idea whose time should not come.