Politicians Speak Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths in Serbia, Too

Kosovo has local elections scheduled for November 3rd. This will be the second set of local elections in the nascent state, but the first since Serbia began to dismantle its parallel structures in the largely Serb-populated districts north of the Ibar River and in Metohija. With that as the backdrop, BalkanInsight has an article wondering, “Is Serbia Concealing its Agenda in Kosovo?”

In short, no. Or at least, I very much doubt it. What I am much more sure of is that the issue of Kosovo remains, shall we say, controversial in Serbia, despite enormous progress in the last year in normalizing relations between the two entities.* And that, like politicians in any country, Serbia’s have gotten quite good at telling people what they want to hear without obviously contradicting themselves.

So it need not be a sign of unusual perfidy, policy confusion, or anything other than politics as normal, to see Prime Minister Dacic calling for Kosovo Serbs to vote, “for those who would run a common political agenda with Belgrade,” telling CNN, “We have always made it clear that we cannot and will not try to bring our problems to the EU with us. This is another reason why we are conducting this open dialogue in order to normalize the relationship [with Kosovo] and solve our problems before accession,” and pledging to never recognize Kosovo’s independence. The middle statement calms EU nerves, while the first and third let Dacic prove to nationalists at home that he won’t sell off Serbia’s hallowed ancient homeland.

The real question (which to be fair, the author obliquely acknowledges), is, how long will Serbia persist with the rhetorical fiction that Kosovo is not an independent country and will never be recognized by Serbia as such?

The three links in the preceding paragraph show a political leadership that is committed to joining the European Union, but unwilling to tell some of its more hard-line constituents to shut up and deal with what such a project entails. Right now, both sides of the mouth can do the talking without sounding toooo ridiculous.

But at some point the mental gymnastics required to conceive of a situation in which Serbia joins the EU, still claims sovereignty over Kosovo, and refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, despite having pledged not to block Kosovo’s own progress towards EU membership, are just too taxing.**

I suppose none of those things absolutely must be mutually exclusive, but the safe bet is that either Serbia recognizes Kosovo as an independent state (or at least relinquishes its territorial claims there), or it fails to join the EU. It would be odd for Serbian politicians to have spent so much political capital on EU accession and not be fully aware of the trade-offs the process requires, so one can only imagine there is a broad, albeit unspoken, consensus that understands what will have to be conceded at some point in the future.

*I hate linking to Russia Today, but it gets the point across, and I didn’t feel like looking for the Reuters equivalent. Also, I use the word entity because if I call Kosovo a country, then I’m taking sides. And this blog has a blind commitment to maintaining a veneer of impartiality
**Since it would be awfully strange for Kosovo to apply for EU membership if it weren’t an independent country, it’s hard not to see the pledge as de facto recognition