The Kosovo Chronicles, Volume III

Today we bring you yet another installment (see here and here for previous iterations) chronicling Serbian politicians’ refusal to acknowledge to the Serbian population that Kosovo is, in fact, an independent country and that it will never again be part of Serbia. Here‘s Ivica Dačić, Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, saying in December of last year that Serbia has not changed its attitude towards not recognizing Kosovo, nor has the EU “officially” sought that it do so. Dačić was also keen to emphasize that, according to the Brussels Agreement, talks with Kosovo are status-neutral and Serbia simply has an obligation to “achieve progress” in the dialogue.

Certainly when measured against the platonic ideal of Dačić coming out and saying, “Kosovo is gone and y’all must deal with it,” this is not encouraging – instead he continues to perpetuate the myth that Serbia will be able to achieve EU membership while simultaneously claiming sovereignty over a sizable swathe of territory it does not, in fact, govern. But perhaps if you squint you can kind of see a shift in rhetoric?

First, there is that suspicious “officially” in Dačić’s phrasing. That he explicitly points out the EU has not officially sought Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo rather suggests such a step is implicitly understood as necessary, no? Second, at the article’s conclusion President Tomislav Nikolić is paraphrased as saying that he knows the EU will seek from Serbia that it recognize Kosovo, and that a national consensus must first be reached about this. I suppose it is possible to read that as suggesting that Serbia must reach a national consensus on recognizing Kosovo so that, depending on what is decided, it can then proceed with or abandon the EU accession process. But that seems…unlikely? I think a more plausible reading is that Nikolić understands recognizing Kosovo will be an implicit, if not  explicit, condition of Serbia’s EU accession process, and he also knows that recognition won’t be politically viable until as a polity Serbia comes to accept this.

Of course, everything written so far takes the Vučić government at its word that EU accession is the actual desired end of all this. But it is also possible Serbia becomes another Turkey and finds itself in a state of suspended EU animation – an official candidate for accession but a horrible delinquent in actually making any progress towards that goal. In this scenario, Serbian politicians could blather indefinitely about Kosovo’s status as part of Serbia more or less without consequence. I rate such a result as unlikely – the benefits of EU membership are clear and tangible – but you can tell a plausible story in which successive Serbian governments calculate that the optimal immediate state of affairs is one in which they can simultaneously reap the benefits of claiming to advance the country towards the European Union and to ensure its territorial integrity, Kosovo included.