The April 19 agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, reached under the auspices of the European Union, could be a historic political development for both the Balkans and the EU. Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, brokered the talks through 10 rounds starting in March 2011, and saw the deal through to its signing by Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Daèiæ and Hashim Thaçi, the Kosovan Prime Minister. The process was fraught, and as recently as April 8 Serbia rejected the draft, saying it did not give ethnic Serbs in Kosovo enough autonomy. The signed deal means Belgrade cedes legal authority over Kosovo, but it still does not recognise Kosovan independence. Pristina’s side of the agreement involves giving the 50,000 or so ethnic Serbs who live in northern Kosovo their own police and justice representatives within the Kosovan system; about another 90,000 Serbs live elsewhere among Kosovo’s 1.8 million people. There is no doubt that the agreement opens the way for Serbia to start talks on EU membership. Belgrade has already met several conditions for accession, such as arresting and handing over the former general Ratko Mladic and former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, both of whom are now being held by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The deal will stand or fall on whether or not Kosovo upholds the Kosovan Serbs’ new rights. The genocidal wars of the 1990s have left terrible wounds among all the region’s peoples, and few of the governments and movements involved — including the erstwhile Kosovo Liberation Army — have clean hands. Secondly, both Serbia and Kosovo will find EU requirements for probity in public institutions difficult to achieve. Though the aim of some European powers is clear, the agreement does not address Kosovan sovereignty. Five EU countries are among dozens, including India, which have not recognised Kosovo, for a range of valid reasons; 99 countries, however, have recognised the autonomous region, which unilaterally declared its independence on February 17, 2008, to the fury of the then Serbian government. The underlying and too often unstated problem is that the carrot of EU membership may itself be part of a wider western strategy to force the eventual de jure secession of Kosovo. The dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia — once one of the world’s most vibrant multi-ethnic states — is proof that the pursuit of ethnic chauvinism invariably rebounds on the chauvinists.