Not the same, but nothing new either

Dušan Janjić u kolumni +381 sa Bljerimom Šaljom na portalu "KoSSev"
Dušan Janjić u kolumni +381

By Dušan Janjić

It is a commonly accepted adage that so much history is produced in the Balkans that its citizens cannot digest it. In principle, this understanding could be applied to the latest events, but also to the editors’ decision to continue the years-long correspondence between Shala and me – „Na +38…“.

Be that as it may, KoSSev, Shala, and I are returning to the old – new year of 2023 in the hope that it is the „Third Time’s A Charm“ and that this will not be a return to the future. I would like to paraphrase a few messages from the „Happy Return to the New Year (2023)“ column, dated December 17, 2022:

First of all, our correspondence confirms that hope springs eternal. The hope that the leaders will hear, that is, read the call not to subjugate their citizens to the frenzied war paint, with which the „big“ mark the lines of their spheres of interest;

Secondly, what we called an „emergency“ at the end of 2022, and at the end of 2023 is a visible result of the policies applied so far in the management of the normalization process;

In the end, unfortunately, the absence of „a little (political) will and sand“ that was necessary and sufficient to put out the „small fires“ of dissatisfaction and conflict was confirmed. The „already seen dangerous game“ continued to be played. The game that preceded the wars on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, and the last act, for now, took place in Banjska.

Inspiringly and accurately, this act was reviewed by Misha Glenny with the following sentence: „Absurd affair in Banjska I think could bring the two sides closer.“

This attitude indicates the possibility of new hope that effective security management will be established and that the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is possible, and this also means that the normalization of Serbia and Kosovo is also possible.

If we focus on the detail of the „Banjska crossroads“, we can see and understand that it indicates the following:

Firstly, it is dangerous for health, life, and political destiny to be stuck and indecisive at a crossroads, thereby blocking traffic. Especially if it is done on Corridor VIII – Black Sea – Adriatic and Ionian Sea. On the only corridor in the Western Balkans where Russia and China have not situated themselves so far;

Secondly, the status of Kosovo, and the status of the Serbian community, as well as the issue of the territorial integrity of Serbia cannot be resolved with weapons. The existential needs, the interest of the people are at stake, and thus the nation and the state, which can only be realized by policies that respect those needs. From this emerges the age-old lesson: It is better to negotiate for a thousand days than to fight for one day!

Thirdly, the key topic of negotiations, and even better, political and social dialogue, should be how to avoid further security escalation. Within this topic lies the question of whether the authorities from Belgrade and Pristina have a monopoly over the lives, freedom and rights of members of the Serbian community in Kosovo, and thus all citizens of Kosovo and Serbia.

Fourthly, do the leaderships of Kosovo and Serbia falsely swear to membership in the „European family“ or do they act in the interests of other goals:

Fifthly, it is up to the leadership of the EU and the countries of the Quint Group, as well as the upcoming elections, to evaluate the (un) successfulness of „conflict management“ in relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which was announced by Borrell in the spring of 2022. It seems to me that so far it has not yielded tangible results in turning sides towards the Brussels dialogue.

Sixthly, NATO is showing signs of rising to a situation in which it still has to pass „peacekeeping“ tests. It is possible to remind the politicians and diplomats of the Quint group that there is also an obligation to build peace, that is, to be a shield for them for not making a visible contribution to overcoming the existing institutional and security vacuum, which was produced by the withdrawal of representatives of the Serbian community from the institutions of Kosovo and the response of the government of Kosovo to this challenge.

By doing so, they encouraged the authorities from Belgrade and Pristina to continue with contradictory and conflicting narratives and policies. For example, the government of Kosovo, citing laws and regulations, fills „vacancies“ and seeks to strengthen police control of the North; Belgrade does not show any new initiative but persistently disputes everything that the Kosovo government does and complements its narrative with the view of „Nazi-like persecution of Serbs“, which coerces recourse to the right to revolt. By „introducing“ the mayor into office, a „buffer zone“ was created, and the new mayors will not be able to perform their functions on the one hand, while, on the other hand, tensions on the ground will increase.

If we look at the „Banjska crossroads“ in the wider picture of the reality of Kosovo and Serbia, we can recognize the spread of social discontent, the increase of economic, security and political instability. In both societies, as well as in their neighborhood, the fuse that once led to the „Arab Spring“, that is, which led to rebellion around the world, is burning: The price of food and energy has risen so much that food and energy are unaffordable to the wider strata of society. The ruling elites, in principle and in the specific case, respond to this by spreading fear and conflict, for the sake of survival or taking over power. On this basis, a completely new dynamic is unfolding on the social and political map of Serbia.

The culmination of peer violence, on May 5, 2023, in the elementary school „Vladislav Ribnikar“ in downtown Belgrade, in which eight students and one security guard were killed, and a day later, twenty residents of the villages of Dubona and Malo Orasje, in the Belgrade municipality of Mladenovac, were killed and wounded, triggered the change in political dynamics. The dissatisfaction of citizens due to the feeling of insecurity and fear spilled over into internal division. In this division, on the public stage are those who believe that the government and the system of government, which it established, must be changed, as well as those for whom this government made Serbia a country of progress and wealth. Every day, the number of those who waver decreases.

This movement by citizens is also affected by security risks in the North of Kosovo. Especially Banjska, i.e. anxiety about the possibility of repeated clashes with NATO. The specter of the culmination of Milošević’s Serbia is spreading among the citizens of Serbia. One thing is certain, the political and public scene of Serbia is no longer what it was in the spring. In three weeks, extraordinary parliamentary elections, elections in Belgrade, Vojvodina and 60 local elections will show whether Serbia will embark on something new – the transfer of power.

In such circumstances, the multi-day mission of the NATO Secretary General in the Western Balkans gained importance. This mission aims to review NATO’s military presence in the Western Balkans, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, as well as consultations with all NATO members from the Western Balkans.

The general findings, announced in Skopje, is that NATO in the Western Balkans is not threatened by a direct military threat (it is not said, but it is supposed, that they mean threat from Russia and of the conflict from Ukraine and Gaza transferring over); that the security situation in the region is fragile and new security challenges are possible; as special points were determined: Milorad Dodik’s secessionist policy as well as instability in the North of Kosovo. A series of activities will certainly follow from this assessment, as well as a revision of the adopted plans, as well as many operational decisions (for example, increasing or decreasing the number of deployed troops and other NATO resources).

The Secretary-General also defined the most important criteria for measuring the effects of future NATO involvement:

First, the „events“ in Zvecan, in May of this year, when, in a conflict between a group of militant Serbs and KFOR soldiers, 93 NATO soldiers were injured, some of them with permanent health issues, as well as a „security incident“, i.e. a armed clash in Banjska between a group of armed Serbs and members of the Kosovo Police, are „unacceptable and those responsible for them should be held accountable“;

Second, the KSF cannot be deployed in the North without the concurrence of KFOR, and the Kosovo authorities should consult with KFOR promptly about the activities of the KSF and the Kosovo Police that could affect regional security;

Third, NATO’s response after the „security incident“ in Banjska was to station 1,000 additional troops in Kosovo, equipped with „heavier weapons,“ and increase the number of patrols in the North of Kosovo. It is the biggest reinforcement of KFOR in the last decade, and NATO will do everything else that is necessary to ensure that KFOR’s mandate is carried out smoothly;

Fourth, the Serbian authorities are called on not to build up military forces near the border with Kosovo;

Fifth, the Serbian authorities were recommended to revive cooperation with NATO, which had been brought to a halt in recent years;

Sixth, it is necessary to conduct a transparent and comprehensive investigation as well as establish the responsibility of all participants in the attack on NATO soldiers, including those who are in Serbia, together with Milan Radoičić.

While the performance of the Secretary-General of NATO is appropriate to the state of affairs and encourages hope for the stabilization of peace and security, the same cannot be said for the performances of his local interlocutors in Pristina and Belgrade. On this occasion, they repeated their mutually exclusive narratives. Of course, with the usual „appropriate“ vows of cooperation, dialogue, and peace.

According to the president and prime minister of Kosovo: Serbia is the only and most serious threat to the security of Kosovo and the region; the Serbian authorities are behind the attack in Banjska and on KFOR soldiers (both in terms of organization and supply of weapons and equipment, as well as in terms of financing and training in military bases in Serbia).

At the same time, all forms of protest are led by „Serbian criminal gangs“. The following conclusion is thus reached: „If Serbia does not face any measure for these continuous attacks, it will be a new incentive for it to attack Kosovo again and to destabilize the region again“. At the same time, they emphasize that Kosovo has „proved itself to be a reliable partner of NATO“, and that it is expected that Kosovo will be included in the Partnership for Peace, and then membership in NATO.

For his part, the President of Serbia enriches his narrative about the general vulnerability of Serbs with the following statement: „When Stoltenberg says that KFOR ensures peace and security for all communities in Kosovo – there was no need to ensure it for anyone else but Serbs. Only the Serbs were threatened and attacked. Albanians have never been attacked, but only Serbs have been attacked since 2001, 2004, especially after 2008, and particularly since Albin Kurti came to power“.

Of course, it is followed by the statement „that Serbia certainly does not agree with that incident, and that in accordance with domestic law and legislation – it will hold responsible those who participated in the commission of criminal acts in Banjska“. But also, „reminding the world public“ that this „happened a year after some people deceived Serbia, and signed a declaration in December, I’m specifically talking about representatives of the USA and the EU – that the people who participated in the barricades will not be persecuted and prosecuted“.

„And then the Albanian policemen, who per the Brussels Agreement have no business in the North, as well as the members of the Kosovo security forces, in the meantime shot Serbian children for carrying a Badnjak tree. Well, that produced such a situation which culminated in Banjska“.

And on another occasion, the president of Serbia, in his own way, repeated his legendary statement: „You can count on us“. First of all, he reminded, just in case, that Serbia is a militarily neutral country and that „one knows who governs it“. Then he made a promise: „As the supreme commander of the armed forces, I will send a request to the Government of Serbia to consider in the coming period to once again hold joint exercises with NATO and other important partners“.

When and how all the promises will be fulfilled remains unclear. As for the president of Serbia, it can be said that he is facing more serious challenges. Therefore, most likely, the political dialogue on normalization, as well as on the ASM, which the Quint Group and the General Secretary declare is „the key to the normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade“, as well as the trials, will have to wait after December 17 and for a new government in Serbia to be formed, probably in the spring of 2024.

This conclusion is also supported by Vučić’s pre-election (mis)use at the joint media conference with the Secretary-General, who asked the guest the following question: Will KFOR create a safe environment and enable Serbs in Kosovo to vote in the elections on December 17 for National Assembly of Serbia.

No doubt, Vučić welcomed the guest’s answer that KFOR does not have the authority to enforce the laws of Kosovo. After all, the Serbian authorities have already started numerous activities, not only towards the OSCE and other international institutions, to enable Serbian citizens to vote in Kosovo.

The authorities’ and ruling coalition’s activities towards Serb voters from Kosovo and of course in Serbia itself, are particularly political. Therefore, the reason for asking the question was not to miss a „handy opportunity“ to shift the responsibility to the Other Party and to the already reliable address of Kurti „because he wants to help some people in the election process, he will say no, there will be no elections in the north or the south…“

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