Politicians In Serbia Speak Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths, Part II

Last October I wrote about the seeming oddity of Serbia being on track for EU membership while also continuing to insist it would never recognize Kosovo’s independence. In short, both Serbia and Kosovo have pledged not to interfere with each other’s EU accession negotiations, and one of the prerequisites for EU accession will almost certainly be the full resolution of any outstanding border issues.

King Vučić seems to think Serbia will be an EU member by 2020, but just the other day President Tomislav Nikolić was reported to have reiterated to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that, “recognizing the self-declared independence of Kosovo is unacceptable.”

You will forgive my naivete if I admit that I fail to see how, in the long run, Serbia and Kosovo can both join the European Union and fulfill their promise to avoid inhibiting the other’s ability to do so, while still allowing Serbia to persist with the fiction that Kosovo is not a sovereign state in its own right. For the moment, at least, one imagines this is still a case of outright political pandering rather than an indication that all parties have grossly miscalculated. And with 63% of Serbians accepting as of 2013, “that Kosovo is in practice an independent state,” perhaps it won’t be too much longer before politicians like Nikolić feel they can admit in public what the majority seems to know in private.

One certainly hopes so; if Serbia is going to successfully join by 2020, that’s not actually such an enormously long time within which to shift Kosovo’s rhetorical position in public discourse from that of unrecognized state/Serbian province to fully-recognized state/future co-member in the European Union. Maybe the hope is that if they talk loudly enough about the unacceptability of recognizing Kosovo’s independence, nobody will really notice that’s in fact exactly what they’ve done. But if you’re Štefan Füle or Catherine Ashton some part of you has to cringe every single time a Serbian politician in government publicly says something about the impossibility of recognizing an independent Kosovo. For now, they grin and bear it, but in a few years’ time they might not be so sanguine.