Serb PM calls for acknowledgment that control of Kosovo has been lost
The Serb prime minister Ivica Dacic has called on his compatriots to accept “the reality” in Kosovo and acknowledge that Belgrade has lost control of its former province, in a significant shift in Serbia’s position on relations with its mostly ethnic Albanian neighbour.
Mr Dacic spoke as Serbia’s parliament adopted new guidelines for negotiations with Pristina on a range of practical issues, which Belgrade hopes will convince the EU to give it a formal date for the start of accession talks during Ireland’s presidency.
The resolution reiterates that Serbia will not recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty, but calls for broad autonomy for Serbs living in Kosovo’s borders and under its laws – clearly indicating an acceptance that Kosovo is now a country operating independently.
Until now, Belgrade has funded “parallel” institutions in mostly Serb northern Kosovo, undermining the authority of state institutions run from Pristina and creating a de-facto split in the fledgling country of 1.7 million people, about 120,000 of whom are ethnic Serbs.
“We must take into consideration the reality in Kosovo,” Mr Dacic told parliament. “Serbia’s sovereignty [there] is almost non-existent.” Defying criticism from hardline nationalist deputies, Mr Dacic said Serbia had to be pragmatic and pursue its priority of EU membership. It was time to abandon “myths and fairytales” about Kosovo and to set about trying to “create a strong basis to save something” there.
“If Serbia keeps its head in the sand, it will have nothing to negotiate about,” he said. “People need results and responsibility, not a policy of honourable failures and lost battles.”
The resolution empowers Serb negotiators who are engaged in regular EU-mediated talks with counterparts from Kosovo to pursue autonomy for Kosovo’s Serbs over areas including local courts, police, finance, education and energy.
It is not clear how much autonomy Kosovo’s leaders are willing to give, but Belgrade’s shift from flatly rejecting the legitimacy of Pristina’s control over Kosovo and funding parallel institutions, to negotiating special powers for the Serb minority there, is significant.
“We talk about the institutions of Serbia, but what we need are Serb institutions that are recognised by all participants in the process,” Mr Dacic said of the EU-mediated talks with Kosovo, which are expected to resume on Thursday.
“That’s the big difference. Those who perhaps view this differently are forgetting that Serbia has for the first time suggested a way for institutions to be acceptable to Serbia, to Serbs in Kosovo and to Pristina.”
Mr Dacic also underlined that Serbia’s “aim is not to split up Kosovo as a territory”, amid concerns that Belgrade may seek full control of the north.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, nine years after Nato bombing ended a bloody Serb crackdown on separatist rebels and the United Nations took over administration of Kosovo.
More than 90 countries now recognise Kosovo’s independence, including the US and most EU members. Russia, China and India have not recognised its sovereignty, nor have EU states Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Greece and Cyprus.
EU officials have offered no comment on the Serb resolution, but they will be relieved that Belgrade’s new leaders appear to be taking a pragmatic stand on Kosovo rather than repeating the tough rhetoric that they used while in opposition.
President Tomislav Nikolic and Mr Dacic came to power last year by ousting pro-EU liberals. The two were allies in the 1990s of Slobodan Milosevic, but have since moved away from extreme nationalism, although some of Mr Nikolic’s comments still irk Serbia’s neighbours.