Friday, 21 December 2007

Balkan tinderbox: West strikes a light

As expected, Serbs and Kosovo Albanians have failed to come to an agreement on the future status of the South Serb province during three days of negotiations which were billed as offering one last chance for a solution. The negotiations took place in Austria and ended without an agreement on 28 November. The stage is now set for a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo and possible recognition of this by the EU and the United States. The Western troops in Kosovo are preparing for war: the Albanians are well armed and everyone fears a renewed outbreak of violence. President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic told the Serbian President, Boris Tadić, in September, that any such recognition by the West of an independent Kosovo – effectively a truncation of Serbian territory – would be “a second Munich agreement”. Klaus was of course referring to the agreement between Britain, France and Germany, signed with Hitler in Munich in September 1938, according to which the Western powers agreed to allow the Sudeten Germans to secede from Czechoslovakia. This agreement, now universally condemned as an act of appeasement, is widely seen as having marked the beginning of the Second World War.

The president of Kosovo, Fatmir Sejdiu, said on 28 November that the differences between Belgrade and Pristina remained as great as ever. “Independence is the beginning and the end for the people of Kosovo,” he said. “We cannot say exactly when it will come about but it happen be very quickly.” The Serbian President, Boris Tadić, has said that he will “annul” any decision in favour of independence taken by the Kosovo authorities. “We will use all legal and diplomatic measures to annul any such decision,” he said. The European mediator, Wolfgang Ischinger, has said that it is “regrettable” that the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement. His American counterpart, Frank Wisner, said that the peace of the region was at stake. He called on both sides not to move towards violence. “We are not expecting violence immediately but we are entering a very difficult period,” he said.

Slovenia takes over the presidency of the EU in January and it has warned against a precipitate recognition of Kosovo’s independence. The Foreign Minister of Slovenia, Dimitrij Rupel, has said, “The move to independence must under all circumstances be coordinated internationally. We need a little more time for that.” Rupel demanded from the Kosovo Albanians more guarantees about the protection of the Serbian minority in Kosovo and of its cultural heritage there. “These are jewels of European culture,” he said, “we can take no risks with them.” On the other hand, Rupel said that he did not accept the Russian position, which would lead to a further blockage of the resolution of Kosovo’s status. “The Kosovars should not have to wait another year,” he said. The minister said that Slovenia could be an honest broker on Kosovo since it is an ex-Yugoslav state and has good relations with Russia while of course being a member of the EU. [Handelsblatt, 2 December 2007.]

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