Belgrade’s Dilemma: Kosovo or “Europe”

A month has passed since the parliamentary election of May 11, and Serbia is still without a new government. The new National Assembly was convened briefly on May 10, while the Municipal Council of Belgrade remains paralyzed for at least another month. A new general election, some time in early fall, may prove to be the only way out of the current imbroglio, although no major political party or leader wants to admit that much in public.

For a country like Italy in the 1960s and 1970s, it was perfectly tolerable to have weak and unstable governments that rise and fall every other month because the society could continue to function regardless of what happened in Rome. For Serbia, pressured from all sides, effectively bankrupt, and saddled with the unresolved crisis over Kosovo’s status, a protracted political imbroglio is an unaffordable luxury.

Another election seems to be the preferred scenario of the “pro-European” coalition let by the Democratic Party (Demokratska stranka, DS) of President Boris Tadic. The DS and its foreign handlers in Brussels and Washington are pleased with its election results. They expect that in another election the DS would increase its share of the vote and thereby create conditions to take power all by itself, or perhaps in coalition with the like-minded, stridently anti-nationalist, pro-Western Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by the NED favorite, Cedomir Jovanovic. This may explain the refusal of President Tadic and his allies even to contemplate the possibility of any alternative outcome—such as a “national” government led by the outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica—to the current political and constitutional paralysis gripping Serbia.

The outcome of ongoing negotiations aimed at forming the new government is still in doubt, although it looks like the Socialist Party (SPS) and its two smaller allies will join the DS camp, contrary to the wishes of their voters and party rank-and-file. Tadic knows, however, that even if he woos the Socialist Party into his camp, the resulting coalition would not be a stable and enduring one. Tadic is still trying hard to win over to his side the Socialist leader, Ivica Dacic, and—especially—his two smaller allies, Dragan Marković a.k.a. “Palma” (JS) and the party of retirees (PUPS). But if the ploy does not work, the alternative DS scenario is to engineer a protracted political and constitutional crisis that would last through the summer. and result in another election in late September or early October.

The Radicals (SRS), led by Tomislav Nikolic, and the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of the current Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, appear unable to develop a counter-strategy that would preempt Tadic’s win-win scenario. They have reached an agreement with the Socialists on sharing power in the City of Belgrade, but even there the outgoing DS-controlled administration has imposed insurmountable roadblocks: the acting DS mayor has set the date for the constitutive City assembly for July 14, obviously hoping that the putative governing coalition in the City Hall can be somehow subverted or sabotaged in the meantime.

It is noteworthy that these games, deeply detrimental to the democratic process, are being played by the party that had spent years demanding “democratic reforms”—although such games are far more reminiscent of the style of governance of Slobodan Milosevic and his cohorts in the 1990s. The ability to accept peaceful change of government in accordance with the clearly defined and universally accepted rules of the game is the basic test of democratic maturity. Over the past month the Democratic Party, and President Boris Tadic personally, have flunked it.

“EUROPE” OR KOSOVO?—The main point of contention is the attitude of different parties to the issue of “European integration” in the light of Kosovo’s unilateral proclamation of independence on February 17 and the subsequent recognition of that illegal act by 20 of the 27 member countries of the European Union. The proponents of Euro-integration at any cost claim that this process is not connected with the issue of Kosovo, that a “dual-track” policy is both possible and desirable. The issue came to a head over the ratification of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between Serbia and the EU that was signed by Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic (DS) in Luxembourg just before the election, and is now due for parliamentary ratification.

Legal experts belonging to the DSS published a lengthy analysis of the Agreement on May 5, and concluded that the SAA cannot be given to parliament for ratification in its current form. According to Simic, one of the authors of the legal analysis of the SAA, ” in this form, and at this phase of adoption, the Agreement cannot even be annulled because it is devoid of the fundamental premise” for a contract to exist in a legally binding form—an agreement of intent and an agreement on the meaning of terms between the signatories.

What this means is that Serbian officials believe the agreement with the EU it relates to the whole country—even though it does not apply to Kosovo, at least for the time being—while 20 EU member-states that have recognized Kosovo’s unilateral independence believe that the SAA relates to the Republic of Serbia, that is, rump Serbia without Kosovo. Therefore, according to Simic, “there is no agreement as to who the sides are in the agreement or what they represent: we consider Serbia to mean its entire territory as defined by the UN Charter and the Constitution, while 20 EU countries believe that Serbia is a country without Kosovo.”

Article 135 of the SAA that referred to Kosovo’s status in terms of Resolution 1244 had not been problematic until Kosovo declared independence, and until that illegal act was recognized by 20 EU member-states. Now it presents a huge problem, because Article 135 of the Agreement states that the SAA does not apply to Kosovo, which is under international administration under Resolution 1244, and furthermore that “Kosovo’s current status is not brought into question.” From the legal point of view, it is evident that there is no “harmony of intent” between the parties and that, subsequently, the SAA is legally invalid.

If the SAA were sent to the National Assembly for ratification, Serbia would thereby effectively recognize Kosovo’s independence. Each vote for ratification of the SAA would be in flagrant violation of the fundamental provisions of the country’s Constitution which relate to the protection of Serbia’s territorial integrity—which would be a serious crime: a blatant violation of the Constitution. On the other hand, Serbia would have to violate the SAA in its present form in order to respect its own Constitution.

One of the key pillars of the SAA is the insistence on “regional cooperation.” If Serbia were to ratify the SAA in its current form, it would have to cooperate with all independent countries in the region and that means even Kosovo, according to the thinking of the 20 EU countries that have recognized that putative state. And if a government in Belgrade agrees to cooperate with an independent Kosovo, it would be violating a fundamental provision of its Constitution and disqualify itself from the right to govern.

The rhetoric of President Boris Tadic and his allies continues to promise the squaring of the circle: maintaining Serbia’s claim Kosovo on the one hand, but getting ever closer to the European Union on the other. This is, by now, palpably an impossibility. All key EU leaders have stated, in one form or another, that Serbia would have to chose between retaining its assertion of sovereignty over Kosovo and continuing the process of European integration.

Most Serbs believe that European integration would be good for the country, and generally speaking, the majority look favourably on the EU. At the same time, an even greater majority still believe that Kosovo is an inalienable part of Serbia and that there can be no compromise on this fundamental issue. In various polls, most Serbs have said that they would not give up the title to Kosovo in return for the accelerated prospect of EU membership. This is confirmed in the results of the latest general election: the parties that have campaigned on the “sovereignist” platform (SRS, DSS-NS, SPS and its allies) have polled the majority of seats, subsequent games and shinenigans notwithstanding.

Even if there is yet another election in late September or early October, the voters’ dilemma will remain fundamentally the same: Serbia is forced by Brussels and Washington to choose between preserving the valid title to Kosovo, and joining “Europe” on Western terms—which demands the quiet acceptance of the amputation of Kosovo at first, followed by explicit recognition later. If the EU persists in replacing the United Nations in Kosovo with its own illegal EULEX mission—and Brussels will continue the pressure to that end after June 15—we’ll have another clear sign that the conditions for Serbia’s EU aspirations are not only futile but also demeaning and degrading.

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