In the events commemorating the 100 years since the end of the WWI in Paris, Serbia suffered two successive blows that have transformed the feeling of euphoria that prevailed in public opinion about the event into dissatisfaction and reflection.
Everyone expected that at the ceremony, in front of the Arc de Triomphe, Serbia would have held a prominent position having lost 1/3 of its total population in the Great War, while 62% of men died in battle. However, this was not the case. There was no place for Aleksandar Vucic, who organizers sat in the second stand and in the back row.
Disgrace…! Awful…! Humiliation…! Every sentence of reaction from Serbia began with one of these words.
France never officially apologized, even though its ambassador to Belgrade did so, but on a personal level and during a television show. Those Serbs who managed to stifle their feelings attributed the fact to an oversight or error regarding the protocol. This is, of course, an interpretation for the naïve, since it is common knowledge that the French protocol is world-famous for its rigor and respect to procedure.
On what criteria, therefore, was Serbia excluded from the main platform? How did Kosovo President Hassim Thaci (second row just behind Putin) and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (first row on the central platform) get a prominent place?
Could it be that via the seating arrangement Emmanuel Macron was sending a message as to who he considers his allies in the former Yugoslavia? The answer to these questions may be given by the French President himself in December when he visits Belgrade. The answer, however, regarding the significance of circumstances was given long ago by the Italian philosopher Umberto Eco who taught that semiotics has substance.
A second blow to Serbia was the meeting in Paris between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci. This encounter seems to have “hurt” the citizens of Serbia more, causing embarrassment to the country’s leadership.
Nobody expected Putin to shake Thaci’s hand, let alone talk to him. Ironically, just before this meeting, Alexandar Vucic claimed that Russia only had contacts with Serbia on the issue of Kosovo and that Putin would never be visiting Pristina.
Following the initial shock, Vucic tried to downgrade the incident by saying ironically that “Thaci was chasing Putin in the corridors”. However, this isn’t the case as pictures show the two leaders were relatively left alone. The meeting does not appear to have happened randomly in a room full of leaders, as is regularly the case when leaders of smaller states interpret their shoulders brushing with those of the leader of a superpower as a one-on-one meeting.
Thaci said that specific issues were discussed regarding talks with Serbia and the resolution of the Kosovo issue. He also claimed that Putin promised him to withdraw the veto against Kosovo’s accession to the UN if an agreement with Serbia is reached. The meeting was also confirmed by the Russian presidency’s press office, which said that it took place on the sidelines of the WWI commemoration events in Paris.
The meeting was short but it had a semantic value and substance. It was the first time that Putin spoke to Thaci, which may mean more direct involvement by Russia in resolving the Kosovo issue.
For Putin, Kosovo is a tool that allows Russia to maintain its influence in the region, especially in Serbia. On the other hand, it also has a wider significance for Moscow, as it could serves as a model for similar cases. It is no coincidence that Putin, referred to the example of Kosovo when he tried to justify the annexation of Crimea.
A possible land-swap or partition solution may be used by Moscow in the cases of Moldova, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. For Russia, a solution that was the result of compromise and entail the exchange of land would be ideal. It would maintain presence in Serbia while at the same time border change would be a strong political trump card to justify similar border change it imposed by use of arms./IBNA