Naming and Shaming Airports

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Flying from the recently opened Dr. Franjo Tudjman Airport in Zagreb, a building with considerable grace, so different from the dour narrow-mindedness of its name giver, to Alexander the Great airport in Skopje, I am reminded of the deliberate provocative nature airport-naming in the post-Yugoslav space.

Rather than innocent names of places, like Surčin or Petrovec, the name givers over the past decade have opted for a more confrontational style. First, there is the “heroes at home, war criminals-terrorists abroad” category of name givers, like Franjo Tudjman or Adem Jashari in Prishtina. Then there are the “provoke thy neighbor” names, like the Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje, which got its name from the previous government in 2008–conveniently located on the Alexander the Great highway. Finally, there are the more subtle nationalist names, like the airport in Belgrade named after Nikola Tesla and Mother Teresa in Tirana. Both might be accused of much, in particular the latter, but not nationalism. The names are instead rather examples of “banal nationalism.” Nikola Tesla spent a total of 31 hours (1892) of his life in Belgrade. It is only his Serb ethnic background that made him eligible. Mother Teresa visited Tirana twice and both times a bit longer than Tesla, but both visits in 1989 and 1991 are hardly enough to get an airport named after yourself. Being born in Skopje and having lived most of her life in India, here connections to Albania were rather marginal . Again, it is her national background that made her the name giver.

The only  capital city airports in the region that avoided a similar fate are Sarajevo and Podgorica. An attempt to call the airport in Sarajevo after Alija Izetbegović was only stopped by Paddy Ashdown, the High Representative at the time. And Podgorica might have to wait a while before it can carry the name of the father of the nation.

The tragedy of name giving is that these new, nationalist names were given not in the 1990s, but over the last decade, including the naming of the new Zagreb airport by the previous Social-democratic government. Instead of emphasizing national “heroes”, provoking neighbors and promoting the idea of an ethnic nations, airports would be much more aptly named after artists, scientists or just some small suburb of the regions capitals.

 

 

 

 

From Yugoslavia to Catalonia and back: Some thoughts on parallels and differences

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A few days ago, I wrote a few lines for Radio Free Europe (and a few other media, including AFP, N1 and UOL noticias) on the similarities and differences and the uses of the referendum in Catalonia and in the Balkans, which caused some lively debates. Here are these notes with a few points expanded.

 

Parallels and Differences

First, neither is Spain Yugoslavia, nor is Catalonia Slovenia or Croatia. Just like Istria, Vojvodina or Republika Srpska are not Catalonia. The reasoning, the dynamics and political process leading to any independence movement is specific, but each success is claimed by independence groups and each failure by states. One key difference between Kosovo and Catalonia is the violence. Despite the heavy-handed police response on Sunday, the independence movement in Catalonia cannot claim a recent history of repression as Kosovo did. Catalonia did experience a brutal repression in the context of the Spanish civil war, yet this is more than half a century past and four decades of democratic, decentralized rule in Spain are the reality and have been for a long time. In Kosovo, even before the war 1998-9, the revocation of autonomy in 1989 suggested that Kosovo could not rely on any autonomy arrangement with Serbia.

This is a key difference with Catalonia, which enjoys far-reaching self-government. Despite the stubborn and inflexible policies of the Rajoy government the difference are stark: Spain is a democracy, Yugoslavia and Serbia in the 1990s were not. There is a parallel in the fact that the more intransigent and heavy handed the centre is, the more likely people turn their support to independence. The pictures of the police violence during the referendum is the best advertisement for the independence movement. This stands in contrast with the approach taken by the UK or Canada, allowing for a referendum to be held unrestricted. Allowing for referenda to happen does reduce the all or nothing/now or never environment of referenda.

Only a few years before the respective referenda in Slovenia and Croatia in 1990, only a minority favored independence, but the heavy-handed policies of Milošević catapulted nationalists to power and secured support for putting a distance to Belgrade. Thus, independence movements are always the product of the relationship between the region or people seeking independence and the center. The Yugoslav cases suggest that repression and centralization efforts backfire.

Repercussions and Echoes in the Balkans

There are repercussions of the referendum in Catalonia for the region: The tensions between the Spanish government and the region are part of the key reasons that Spain has not recognized Kosovo. Thus, the first risk is that any confrontation in Spain over Catalonia will make Spain and arguably other non-recognizers more reluctant to consider recognizing Kosovo. Thus, we need to not only consider the effect of the crisis on independence movements, but also on state policies.

The Balkan cases, as most other independence movements live off their own internal dynamics, not based on what goes on elsewhere. However, success and failure elsewhere shape debates. There are only two real potential cases in the region at the moment, the north of Kosovo and the Republika Srpska. More historical regions, Vojvodina or Istria, have a sense of identity distinct from the Croatian and Serbian nation-state and a multi-ethnic, rather than mono-ethnic narrative of difference. Both lack strong movements for independence and lack a clear cultural distinction from the rest of the country as is the case in Catalonia (see an excellent new book by Dejan Štjepanović on this). Both the political leaders in the Republika Srpska and the North of Kosovo have articulated their policies separate from Catalonia. In the North of Kosovo, the discourse is not about independence, but rather about remaining with Serbia (echoing similar arguments made by Serb secessionists in Croatia Bosnia in the early 1990).

In the case Catalonia were successful in achieving independence, it would encourage the president of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik to pursue his goal. The Parliament of the Republika Srpska already stated when Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 that it reserved the right to pursue independence for the RS if Kosovo would achieve international recognition. Already Dodik has been continuously hinting at organizing a referendum. He has recently held back from pursuing a referendum on independence, largely due to international pressure, including from Serbia and Russia.

Catalonia will not cause new independence movements, just as Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not trigger a new wave of independence movements. It will serve as argument of both states and independence movement to make old claims or to counter them. A large factor is the international environment. There is generally little support for recognizing states. This is usually done only in extraordinary circumstances, either when there is an agreement with the central government, as happened in South Sudan, or if there was massive repression and a strong, violent independence movement, as in Kosovo or when the state had already disintegrated and there was no clear path to keeping it together, as it was in Yugoslavia. When Aleksander Vučić accused the international community of hypocrisy for not recognizing Catalonia, but supporting Kosovo, he is ignoring the specificity of Kosovo, which were underlined in the submissions and arguments brought to the ICJ in preparation of the 2010 advisory opinion on Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Thus, neither Catalonia not fit any of these categories of potential countries that can make a plausible claim for independence, neither can Republika Srpska nor the North of Kosovo.

 

Small steps and (not so) great expectations. Notes from the Vienna Summit

This post was first published on the Balkans in Europe Policy Blog

The Viennese Hofburg makes for a grand setting for any summit. When Western Balkan governments met with EU officials and representative from some EU member states, most notably Germany and Austria, but also Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, the planned signal was to show that EU enlargement is alive, as is regional cooperation. In comparison to the first such summit last year in Berlin, the Vienna summit comes after a host of regional meetings that some have joked that the prime ministers of the region see each other more often than their own ministers. Regional cooperation has picked up steam, even if EU enlargement remains no closer for most of the region than a year ago. It is undeniable, however, that there is a slightly renewed dynamism. The refugee crisis might have dominated reporting and the official discussion, it also highlights the absurdity of the Western Balkans being outside the EU. We are witnessing tens of thousands of refugees crossing an EU and Schengen country to escape through two non-EU countries—Macedonia and Serbia—to get to another Schengen country—Hungary—that is building a fence like the one it dismantled at its Western border 26 years ago. The summit was unable to offer more than symbolic support to the countries where thousands of refugees are stranded in their parks and train stations.

The issue of refugees—mislabeled as migrants—overshadowed the summit, but as with any such summit, the key decisions and substances are taken in the weeks and months before. Thus the refugee crisis and the horrific death of some 70 refugees some 50 kilometers from the Hofburg on a highway overshadowed the summit, but did not drown it out.

The governments of the Western Balkans seemed mostly interested in infrastructure and money. The message was mixed as Serbian Prime Minister Vučić said that he did not consider the EU to be an ATM—discoving values to praise Serbia’s treatment of refugees in contrast to some EU members—Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama rather suggested that it is money from the EU he is after. Either way, both Prime Minsiters emphasised the need to support infrastructure.

There is little doubt that regional infrastructure is in need of updrading and joint projects, such as a highway linking Albanian, Kosovo and Serbia, can have a great impact. The risk is that the physical infrastructure overshadows other forms of cooperation. Here, lengthy preparation have yielded two encouraging results at the Vienna summit. The governments signed an agreement to establish a regional youth exchange system based on the German-French youth office. By next year’s summit in Paris there should be a treaty and structure ready for the formal establishment. Whith the involvements of youth ministries, committment for European and government funding, this project holds some promise for enhaning cooperation of citizens. Key will be not to crowd out already existing youth exchanges and cooperation.

Similarly the summit was unusual as civil society was involvement for the first time in such an event. Over 50 representative from regional NGOs, media, trade unions and civic activitsts meet on the eve of the conference and presented recommendations on job creation, mediea freedom and regional cooperation at the summit itself (BiEPAG and I were involved in the preperation of these events which were supported by the Erste Foundation, the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation and the Karl-Renner-Foundation). The involvement of civil society was challenging as politicial leaders in the region are still not used to talking to civil society at eye level and civil society has come under pressure in several countries, such as Montenegro, Serbia or Macedonia. Not a single summit can change this dynamic, but at least the involvement of civil society by the Austrian Foreign ministry sent the signal that they should not be ignored.

Another important signal was the signing of a declaration on biltareral issues (BiEPAG prepared a study on bilateral issues for the Austrian Foreign Ministry and drafted the declaration). In the declaration, the Foreign Ministers committed themselves not to let bilateral issues stop the European initgration process of other countries in the region. This committment echos a similar one in the Brussels agreement between Serbia and Kosovo and a declaration of the Croatian parliament from 2011. However, for the first time, all countries of the Western Balkans signed up and also invited neighboring EU countries to join them (the message is clear, even if they are unlikely to join the committment). Furthermore, they agreed to report back on progress made at next years summit in Paris. This declaration came as Montenegro signed a border agreement with Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the eve of the sumit and Serbia and Kosovo agreed on key outstanding issues. The most serious bilateral issues involve EU and non-EU members (especially between Macedonia and Greece, but also the borders between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia remain a potential source of tension) and there is no immedeate perspective of resolving them, but the declaration and the agreements signal that at least some potential sources of tensions can be settled.

The stars of the summit were Serbian and Albanian PMs Vučić and Rama who appeared together at a debate with civil society and the talk show «Okruženje». Demonstrably on a first name basis, Edi and Aleksandar played up their good ties to put pressure on the EU to deliver. This is a great shift from less than year ago when it took German intervention to get the two meet first and the abandonded Serbian-Albanian soccer game led to a war of words. However, now it appears like an elaborate game the two play in which regional cooperation is working as a distraction, especially for Vučić. As long as he delivers on regional cooperation and Kosovo, the EU and also Germany seem to avoid a second, more critcially look at how he is controling and micro-managing Serbia.

The Vienna summit could not address the creeping authoritarianism in the region, but when Gruevski scored two goals in the football game of politicians from the Western Balkans against the EU, there is certain irony and maybe symptomatic that somebody who was under strong pressure a few months ago and who clearly appears to have stretched democratic principles and rule of law can be leisurly kick a ball in the goal of the EU team in Vienna.

For a list of the final documents from the summit see here.

10 Things I learned on the Balkans in 2014

1. The revolution is not dead

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Even though the protests in Bosnia in February did not last and few (if any) of the demands were met, smaller protests have continued and recent large student protests in Macedonia demonstrate that even the regime in Macedonia is not immune from popular discontent after years of small-scale protests. The protests show that representative democracy in recent years has not served citizens in the Western Balkans very well. Strong control by incumbents has made change difficult.

2. A one man show remains the best show in town

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Aleksandar Vučić saved children from snow storms, commanded thousands of volunteers to save Šabac and other heroic deeds, like not sleeping and work while other slack. This brought his party an unprecedented victory for any party in post-1990 Serbian politics. However, any regime relying so much on one person will be fragile. A recent poll (not sure how reliable, but surely indicative) suggests that 80 percent of potential voters for SNS for the party because of Vučić.

3. The crisis is not over
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After more than six years of economic crisis, the situation is become more dire as there are no immediate prospects of improvement and governments in the regions have not been able to set a clear path for economic development after the crisis. Nowhere is this more visible than in Croatia, where the current government seems to  have hoped on EU membership to solve the economic ills, with few effects.

4. A good press is a bad press

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A free press has not fared well this year. Instead, slander and insulation are doing well. Informer and others like it are good to find out whom the governments want to target, but make for bad news. Reading between the lines is getting to be more important again, as the main news are not written in the lines.

5. Silly incidents matter, because political elites make them matter

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While the flag carrying drone added a new dimension to provocations in football stadiums, but it could have been managed and calmed by political elites. However, neither in Serbia and Albania did governments manage the incident well. The result became a crisis of relations that had been rather marked by their absence.

6. Anniversaries are great moments for posturing and nationalist rediscovery

 
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World War One did not figure prominently in national narratives in recent year. World War Two, wars of Independence or the most recent wars overshadowed the “Great War” in terms of public interest. However, this did not stop for a lot of nationalist posturing during this year. This functioned in symbiotic relationship with the generally strongly national commemorations across Europe and rather patronizing efforts to commemorate the war in Sarajevo this year.

7. Do not discount new friends from faraway places

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Businessmen from China, sheiks from the Emirates have become more visible in the Balkans. These are promising new rail links, new urban developments and air links. Much of what has failed to come from Western assistance seems like it could be accomplished from elsewhere. On what terms and whether the wild dreams will materialize remains to be seen.

8. Some old friends are not really such good friends
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Russia began as a good friend to Serbia (and the RS) 2014, but after (surely not because) Putin got rained on his parade, he dropped South Stream, notifying his friends via the media.

9. Engagement continues, wedding postponed

 
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While Germany recommitted itself to the Balkan enlargement, the EU approach is lukewarm. With mixed signals, enlargement is being pushed down the agenda in the EU and the region. Yes, the process continues, but whether it will remain on track remains uncertain.

10. Borders change, war in Europe
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The latest war in Europe is not in the Balkans. The newest border changes are neither. They both draw attention away, yet also cast a shadow. What the repercussions might be for the region is uncertain, but is hard to imagine that it will pass it by.

The good past and the bad past: Two Belgrade exhibits

A family tree

A family tree

Picturing the past

Picturing the past

Belgrade is hosting two very different exhibits these days, just a few meters apart: The exhibition Bogujevci—A Virtual History was opened with much public attention, it was less the few protesters who opposed the exhibit, but rather the visit of Ivica Dačić. Even now, a few policemen in front of the exhibit and out on the street keep a watchful eye. Otherwise, there is a steady trickle of visitors… just down the road another exhibit just opened, called Živeo život, a second exhibition about “what we lost and brought with us from Jugo”. Here, unsurprisingly, a much larger number of visitors listens to Yu-Music, marvels at sports stars of Yugoslavia or looks through the Yugoslav supermarket.

A painful reminder of the past

A nostalgic couch

A nostalgic couch

Both exhibits give a central place to a living room, complete with couches, TV, dark brown wall unit and kitschy decoration. In both, they are reminders of the past. The first represents the home of the Bogujevci family in Podujevo before most family members were killed in 1999, the second is generic living room of Yugoslavia. Both exhibits try to take historic events out of the larger political narrative of grand events and big politics to a personal level–literally into the living rooms. The exhibit about the Bogujevci family is neither pathetic, nor does it provides for a grand narrative of the wars. It simply shows the consequence of a war crime on a family and the very personal efforts of the family to see some of the perpetrators punished. The exhibit is testament to their effort to remind the public of the crimes. The “Live your life” exhibit instead offers an escape from the present. It puts the red Yugoslav passport into a golden frame, and presents the glories of Yugoslav life and consumerism with little irony or critical narrative.

For visitors, this is the opportunity to put on the pioneers’ cap and scarf, step on a vespa and listen to Yu-music. There is no mention of the inflation, the shortages, poverty, or the absurdities of the political system. Where the House of Terror in Budapest and similar exhibits  try to paint a picture of Communism as a period of pure horror, this exhibit does the opposite by mixing personal nostalgia with the memories of a country gone by. These two exhibits shed two very different perspectives on the past and how large events effected everyday life.

Red passport--golden frame

What the Belgrade-Prishtina Agreement means for Bosnia

The agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina, even if its implementation will surely hit some snags has repercussions beyond the two countries themselves. In particular Bosnia is going to be affected, being the other country in a continuous major political crisis.

First, the ability of the Serbian and the Kosovo government to find a compromise should put the current political elite of Bosnia to shame for not agreeing on some basic reforms, ranging from the implementation of Sejdić-Finci verdict to ensuring that Bosnian farmers can continue to export their dairy products to Croatia after it joins the EU on 1st July.

The second major consequence of the agreement will be for Republika Srpska and Milorad Dodik. Lately, he and his associates from the SNSD seem out of step with reality.When Tomislav Nikolić apologized the other day for Serbian war crimes, Dodik only commented that the interview (for BHT) was aggressive and that because he wants “good relations with Serbia and its leadership, there is no sense nor need to go into public comments and polemics“–hardly an endorsement for Nikolićs apology. Relations with Serbia have deteriorated after Dodik placed all his bets on Boris Tadić during the elections last year and thus is clearly not in favor with the current government, especially Aleksandar Vučić. The corruption investigations in Serbia that involve good “friends” of Dodik also did not help to improve relations.

Now with the deal between Serbia and Kosovo, Dodik has also lost his ability to evoke a credible alternative to Bosnia. His continuous suggestions that Republika Srpska might eventually become independent  has received a serious blow. While he never talked about the RS joining Serbia, it is clear that the RS could only leave Bosnia with Serbian support. The RS is too small and isolated to achieve this without a supportive neighbor, especially as few other countries in the region and in Europe are likely to take a favorable view. It never seemed particularly plausible that Serbia would support the RS in independence (instead of supporting it as an at least formal part of Bosnia) at the price of EU accession and worsening relations with its neighbors, but it has now become even less credible. The Serbian government has shown a degree of pragmatism and willingness to not pursue the idea of partition in Kosovo. So why would a government of Serbia “give up” on Kosovo, despite it being still part of Serbia according to its constitution and turn around and support the RS. As Dodik’s ally in Serbia, the DS also supports the agreement, Dodik seems rather isolted with his more critical view of the agreement. In fact, he is now closer to Koštunica and thus without strong allies in Serbia. Even if the DS were to return to power in Serbia (unlikely any time soon), it would be without Tadić as a friend and without the same ambiguity he displayed over the RS and Kosovo. Just a few days ago, Nebojša Radmanović, the Serbian member of the Bosnian presidency, evoked  in an interview the RS assembly resolution from 2008 that claimed if half of the UN members recognized Kosovo, the RS would also have the right to declare independence. Now, the count is over half with 98 (of 193) UN members recognizing Kosovo and a referendum on independence of the RS seems increasingly unlikely and evoking its might just start sounding a lot holler in next year’s electoral campaign.

Kosovo Lies and Dacic’s good cop/bad cop Routine

May the real Dačić please stand up?

 

In my home country Luxembourg, there is a traditional hopping procession (Sprangprëssioun) in the town of Echternach Tuesdays after Pentecost. It involves more than 10,000 people in a slow procession with  that takes two steps forward and one back.
Ivica Dačić’s statements in recent weeks about about Kosovo remind a lot of this dance–Two steps forward, one back. Last week, Dačić stated that “[f]or 10 years, Kosovo was taboo. No one could officially tell the truth…  Tales were told; lies were told that Kosovo is ours…the Serbian president cannot go to Kosovo, nor the prime minister, nor ministers, nor the police or army. Serbs can only leave Kosovo. That’s how much Kosovo is ours and what our constitution and laws mean there.” Just later the same day he noted that Serbia would not give up Kosovo for a date to begin EU accession talks: “Serbia showed the will for a compromise in the talks with Priština authorities. We don`t have anything else to propose except the Kosovo independence and we will never do it. Everyone must know one thing: we won`t give up on our legitimate interests just to get a date for the start of EU membership. Don`t count on it”  Of course, such contradictory statements did evoke some comments and questions about what Dačić really meant.

It mostly means that Dačić seems to be well in tune with public opinion or at least is following them closely. Just as he made is flip-flopping statements, B92 published a new survey that suggest that his position is a good reflection of popular opinion. Not only does a majority consider him to be the best negotiator (61% approve and only 26% think a different negotiator would do a better job. Among the alternatives only Vučić is able to have some support), they also seem to share his views. A clear majority of 63% think Kosovo is independent, mirroring Dačić first statement. At the same time, most (65%) would be willing to forgo EU membership if a return of Kosovo to Serbian rule were possible (28% take the opposite view), reflecting Dačić’s second position.

Of course, the latter options seems like a misleading choice: While EU membership is realistic, if far off, a return of Kosovo under Serbian rule sounds completely impossible. Thus, the choice given is between a far off goal and an impossibility. So does this mean that Serbs prefer Kosovo over the EU? Not exactly, there is a different meaning to this number. First, EU and Kosovo have been discussed as a pair for the past six years: first as parallel tracks and more recently increasingly as alternatives. The numbers suggest that citizens do not like to be forced to make a choice or if they do, they might choose Kosovo.  Second, if the alternative is between material benefits (the primary association with EU membership) and “patriotic duty”, Kosovo wins as a hypothetical patriotic-political correct answer. It would be hard to opt for the EU, as long as it is framed as a ‘selfish’ economic choice over the self-sacrifice choice of Kosovo. This is even more so  as choosing Kosovo in an opinion poll has no practical costs or consequences. As a consequence, I would consider the poll as a reflection of pragmaticism backed up with a bit of hypothetical nationalist self-sacrifice. Citizens can live with Kosovo as an independent country, but appear not willing to give up the symbol of the possible return of Kosovo to Serbia, i.e. full recognition.

So what does this mean for Serbian government policy? Dačić’s contradictory statements suggest that he understands public opinion better than any of his predecessors. Opinion polls over the past decade in Serbia have often pointed to similar conclusion as the latest poll. However, his predecessors were unwilling or unable to pick up on the pragmaticism and emphasized the desired and unrealist goal of keeping Kosovo part of Serbia. When Dačić called the Serbian government policies a lie, he also clearly shifted the blame for loosing Kosovo to his predecessors. The opportunity for making such an argument was missed first by Djindjić and then his successors. Of course it take a considerable Chutzpah to make this statement, considering that Dačić has not only been in government since 2008, but also supported Koštunica’s minority government 2004-7, but Dačić has managed to steer clear of Kosovo to have sufficient credibility in making such a statement.

This leaves Serbia in a more pragmatic and realistic position than any time in the last decade. Dačić’s good cop/bad cop routine is clearly intended to satisfy public opinion, but also to move Serbia towards living with this new reality. This does not mean that he will not bargain hard and that finding a modus vivendi for Serbia and Kosovo will be difficult, but his statements suggest that the optimism of EU diplomats over the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations might be justified.

 

 

 

Notes from Ditchley

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I returned a few ago from a very interesting conference at Ditchley on the Western Balkans. The discussions with policy makers and analysts did not raise any radical new ideas, but it was good opportunity to take the temperature on thinking about and from the region. It was also a lesson in bad metaphors. Many felt that carrots and sticks are not working, but theories why differed: People in the Balkans prefer meat to carrots or the carrot is actually a stick. Either way, the days of carrots and sticks seems to be over (nobody mentioned that the metaphor implies that the person in question is either a horse or a donkey).

There was broad consensus that overall things were heading in the right direction, but there were a number of warnings: many (but not all) thought that the state of democracy & rule of law and lack of deep rooted reforms in the economy will continue to be a source of difficulties in the years to come. There was a bit of a divide between a number of Western policy makers who felt that the EU and its member states were doing enough to bring the countries of the region into the EU and that it was up to political elites to make an extra effort and a number of analysts who thought the EU should do more and make the membership perspective more realistic. A specific suggestion was for the EU to begin accession talks with all countries of the region as soon as possible rather than wait for each country on their own to fulfill the specific conditions. Once talks begin–the symbolic year of 2014 was mentioned as start date–the negotiation process will force countries to shape up and carry out reforms in a manner that is unrealistic prior to the beginning of talks. It seemed clear that such a scenario is unrealistic at the moment with a many member states skeptical about enlargement and afraid (although unjustifiably so–see Turkey) that accession talks would lead to membership ‘on the sneak’. A problem that has become more pronounced in recent years is the use of individual member states to use the accession process to set additional conditions. This has made the accession process less predictable as the Commission cannot guarantee the next step in the process as individual countries might block whatever comes next for unexpected reasons that have little to do with accession. Of course, this also undermines the credibility of EU accession. The current approach of the Commission to launch dialogues with countries without accession talks has been a good way forward but without beefing up the DG Enlargement this cannot be expanded more broadly.

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The most encouraging signals came over the Serbia-Kosovo talks which are expected to lead to some tangible conclusions before the summer and when the current window of opportunity might close. On the other hand, Bosnia was much discussed, but there were few new ideas on how to help the country out of its current deadlock.

I found it encouraging that there is a clear sense that incrementalism is the way forward, there is not going to be a big bang, but rather small steps that will change the region and resolve the open questions. For this to be successful, one needs to overcome the dynamics of what one participants aptly called the EU member states pretending to enlarge and elites in the Western Balkans pretending to reform.

Republika Srpska for Kosovo?

A few days ago the platform of the Serbian government for talks with leaked in the Belgrade press and Daniel Serwer made the non-paper of the Serbian government available on his blog. Serwer called the proposal Fantasyland and Hashim Thaci rejected it as a 19th century plan. Of course in negotations there is no reason for the other side to respond positively to a proposal that presumably outlines the starting position for talks. So what does the platform actually propose?

Press in RS is drawing maps of the “new RS in Kosovo” according to the government plan

Observers have likend the structures that would be set up in it to Republika Srpska in Bosnia (mostly positive in Serbia and negatively outside). The platform itself explictly only refers to Katalonia as a model rather then to the RS, but some feature seem to evoke the RS.

In brief ,the platform proposes establishing an “Autonomous Community of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo and Metohija,” with the nice-sounding abbrevision ZSO KiM  This would constitute a territorial autonomy of Serb majority municipalities in the North and in the South (including Štrpce, Gračanica) and would have competences in education, health care, sports, culture, public Information, environmental protection, urban planning, agriculture, as well as their own police and judiciary under formal authority of Kosovo and the ability to maintain direct ties to Serbia including funding and finally the use of own symbols.

In terms of institutions, this autonomous unit would have an assembly and government, liking it to an autonomous region. Although the plan calls this autonomous region “community” the plan does not contain any non-territorial forms of autonomy or feature of cultural autonomy (except for some semi-autonomous status of sub-municipal Serb settlements, but even they are understood territorially).

When looking back at the Ahtisaari plan, the differences between the decentralisation proposed therin and the competences requested by the Serbian government do not differ fundamentally. The plan forsees that municipal competences include “education at the pre-primary, primary and secondary levels; public primary health care; local economic development; urban and rural planning; public housing; naming of roads, streets and other public places; and the provision of public services and utilities, among others.” In addition some Serb municipalities received the right to organise higher education, hospital and secondary health care, cultural and religions affairs and an “enhanced role in the appointment of police station comanders. Furthermore, the plan does forsee the formation of “associations and partnerships with other municipalities in Kosovo to carry out functions of mutual interest” and the possiblity of “to cooperate with municipalities and institutions in Serbia, including the right to receive financial and technical assistance from Serbia, within certain clear parameters set by the Settlement.”

The main differences between the competences outlined in the Serbian government non-paper and the Ahtisaari Plan are the control over the police and judiciary and the establishment of seperate institutions, both of course substantial.

More significant are the differences in terms of the overall proposed structures of Kosovo in the non-paper. It suggests a bi-cameral parliament with an upper house called the “House of Regions and Religious Communities” and a lower house with guaranteed seats for Serbs. The idea of a “House of Regions and Religious Communities” does seem rather odd for a number of reasons: First, religion is a not a relevant category in the politicial divisions of Kosovo, ethnicity is. Thus, such a house, if at all, should represent national communities, not religions. The term might be a way to bring the Serbian Orthodox Church into the institutions, which in itself would be very problematic. Second, it might be a term to avoid the obvious parallels with the House of Peoples in Bosnia.

When it comes to voting the platform suggests that Serbs should not be outvoted “in matters that directly impact the competencies of the autonomous region and the rights of Serbs and other minorities. This is considerably less than voting rights of the RS in Bosnia where MPs from either entity can block any decision by a 2/3 majority, a power the RS has made extensive use of.

It would thus be misleading to equate the autonomy for Serb municipalities with the RS in Bosnia. First, the competences are large but less than those of the RS, secondly and more importantly, the ability of the Serb municipalities to block decision-making in Kosovo would be extremely limited in comparsion to the blockages the RS can and has been causing in Bosnia. This difference is of course not surprising considering that Serbs make up less than 10% of Kosovos population and the municipalities make up not much more of the territory of Kosovo.

The proposal could thus be considered to ask for an autonomy between a full entity-like structure in Bosnia and the propose Ahtisaari plan. This is not to say that there are some problems with the platform. First, the idea of a tw0-chamber parliament and the representation of religious communities seems unreasonble considering the size of minorities and the limited competences such an upper chamber would have. Considering cases like South Tyrol or the Aaland islands, both enjoy territorial autonomy, but no specific parliamentary representation in Italy or Finland respecitvely. Instead there are other mechanisms in the relationship between the autonomous region and the central government to protect the autonomy of the region.

The second problem which Dan Serwer in his comment mostly focused on is the idea in the platform that the entirety of Kosovo would remain part of Serbia and the constant references to the “Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija” seems rather anachronistic and is definetly detached from reality. The platform does not outline what Serbia would be willing to offer Kosovo in exchange for agreeing to establishment of the autonomy arrangement. The platform suggests that the Kosovo authorities could receive the official authorisation by the Serbian government, but within the framework of the Serbian constitution, i.e. without recognition of independence. There are two ways of looking at this. If this reflects the substance of the Serbian position, this platform offers little for Kosovo to agree to any of it: The proposal largely formalised the status-quo and thus Kosovo would have no incentive to accept any part of the propsal without a clear Serbian accepetance of Kosovo’s independence, if not outright recognition. However, if the platform is also made for domestic consumption and about the symbolic assertation of sovereignty over Kosovo, then it has better prospects.

The suggestion that the Serbian government could formally transfer the competences of the autonomous province to the institutions of Kosovo might sound absurd, but they would constitute a way for the Serbian government to argue that the current Kosovo institutions are authorised by the Serbian constitution  and thus provide for a manner to official and formally cooperate with Kosovo institutions while maintaining the legal fiction that Kosovo is part of Serbia. Although it would be preferable for the Serbian government to fully acknowledge the reality of Kosovo’s independence, this opening might provide for the tool to live with Kosovo’s independence. A second positive feature of the agreement is the apparant abandonment of partition as a goal. By linking the municipalities in the North and in the South into one unit, partition would be less likely and presumably the more numerous Serbs in the South would dominate such an institution.

The platform of the Serbian government is, as I have argued above, far from ideal and as any negotiating position per definition not a compromise, but the goal of one party. Still, I would take it is a reflection of the more pragmatic line of the Serbian government, rather than as just an effort to create a new Republika Srpska in Kosovo.

Oxford also in Kosovo, Bossi in Albania

Thanks to a colleague, I just found out that not only the Paneuropean University Apeiron, Slobomir University, Euro College and Megatrend, as I  noted  in my previous post, have been honored with an award from Oxford, i.e. the European Business Assembly, but also the Iliria Royal University in Kosovo received a recognition in “a solemn ceremony organized in the European Summit of Leaders in the Oxford University, nominated by the European Club of Rectors, University Iliria won the European Prize for Quality.” This means that of the ten universities I commented on last year, four received this honor.

Another university of list, Crystal University, got some attention in Italy (and here) recently for granting the son of Umberto Bossi, former head of the Lega Nord,  Renzo Bossi a university degree in just one year.

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