Serb President Vows to Push for Kosovo Deal Despite Risks

  • Failure to compromise with Kosovo may hurt Serb EU path: Vucic
  • Vucic sees pressure on Serbia over its East-West balancing act

Aleksandar Vucic

Photographer: Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg

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Serbia’s president vowed to start a nationwide debate next month on unresolved relations with Kosovo and Albania, saying a “compromise” would fix most of his country’s political problems for a century and open the way to European Union membership.

Aleksandar Vucic, speaking on Pink TV late Wednesday, said he was ready for the process despite political challenges it may create for him at home, where most of Serbia’s 7.1 million citizens oppose accepting Kosovo as a sovereign country. Political parties that have called for its recognition have done poorly in elections.

“I know, whichever compromise you make, Serbia will not forgive you, and I know what the personal and political consequences can be for those who take part,” Vucic said. “If we create an axis of peace and stability along the north-south line in the western Balkans, between the two biggest peoples, Serbs and Albanians, we will have solved 80 percent of our political problems for the next 100 years.”

In the past few weeks, Vucic and other Serbian politicians have increasingly spoken of their desire to move forward as EU-mediated talks between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians are expected to resume following months of little visible progress. Finding a solution is a key EU condition for Serbia before it can join the bloc. A resolution would also unlock greater cooperation with Albania, Vucic said. Unlike Serbia and Russia, most EU member states have recognized Kosovo’s independence, which it declared in 2008 following the 1998-99 war.

‘Frozen Conflict’

Serbia’s most popular politician, Vucic became president in May after three years of serving as premier. He has burnished his image as a pro-EU administrator who’s trying to modernize the largest former Yugoslav republic’s economy, a departure from when he was information minister for war-time leader Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. Vucic said it was “important to have good relations with Albanians and to sort them out once and forever, instead of keeping a frozen conflict.”

Debate within Serbia would help outline the negotiating position before talks begin. Changes that need to be addressed include amending Serbia’s constitution, which says that Kosovo must remain part of the country, Vucic said. A two-thirds majority in parliament would be needed to do so. Out of 250 lawmakers, Vucic’s party controls 131.

“Unless we have the strength to change the Constitution, and at this moment it seems we don’t, then our European path will be stopped,” he said.

The president’s initiative is a “great marketing move to feel the pulse of the nation and to challenge the opposition parties to come forward with proposals, if they have any,” Bosko Jaksic, an independent foreign policy analyst at the New Policy Center in Belgrade, said by phone. “It’s a question how far Vucic is ready to go -- he’s seeking a dialogue without saying what his platform is.”

Balancing Act

Vucic said Serbia, which has tried to juggle its EU hopes with keeping good ties with Russia, is under international pressure over the balancing act.

“It’s impossible to show up anywhere in the West without being asked about Russians, or Russians finding fault that we haven’t done something that they consider to be in their interest, and which the West is opposed to,” he said.

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