Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Who Cares about Serbian Interests in Kosovo?

Evelina Topalova, September 19, 2011

Kosovo Albanian customs officers are deployed as of September 16 on two checkpoints at the border with Serbia despite resistance of Kosovo Serbs and discontent of Serbian officials.

The EU Rule of Law mission had to use helicopters to transfer customs officers in order to avoid road barricades lifted by Kosovo Serbs. Thus control over the checkpoints Brnjak and Jarinje has been handed over from the NATO troops (KFOR) to EULEX's customs and police officers who will be technically assisted by Kosovo customs officers.

This move helped Pristina indeed to put in place its plan to establish order and control on its entire territory and especially in northern Kosovo that still slips out of the central authorities' control because of its loyalty to Belgrade and the presence of parallel Serb structures in the area.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci thanked KFOR, EULEX and the western countries for their support for the operational plan of his government to establish border control over checkpoints in the North, Vecernje Novosti daily reported.

EULEX deputy head Andy Sparks explained that the actions of the mission should not surprise anyone as Belgrade had been informed about them. The European Commission on its part said that the European mission actually implemented the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on Kosovo customs stamps and that this was a step towards establishment of a proper customs system throughout Kosovo.

A tiny detail comes to light here - the agreement on the customs stamps does not include border control or at least this was not publicly announced although it appeared to had been implicit.

Back then Belgrade boasted that it had managed to reach a status neutral agreement because the stamp is to read "Customs Kosovo" without any state insignia of the breakaway Serbian province.

The Kosovo Serbs have voiced scepticism over the deal.

Having in mind that KFOR and EULEX are determined to implement the plan to change border control, they have two options, according to the Danas daily. The first one is to implement it by force, the second - to close the border crossings which could lead to a total blockade of the Kosovo Serbs living in this part of Kosovo.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was on a visit to Kosovo on September 15 said that the alliance's forces were ready to react in case of violence and was explicit that KFOR would not allow any destabilisation of the situation.

Politicians in Belgrade keep on saying that the dialogue is the only way to find a solution to the problem and this could be achieved only by peaceful means. No specific actions, though, have been announced so far.

And while Serbian politicians are trying to figure out what to do, an unexpected attack came from the Russian ambassador to Belgrade, Aleksandr Konuzin.

Russia's diplomatic representative - the country said to be Serbia's closest ally in the battle against Kosovo's independence - has attacked harshly and with a language not typical for an ambassador the Serbs, accusing them of not defending the interests of their country regarding Kosovo. The ambassador's outburst during a Global Security Forum in Belgrade on September 15 was triggered by a statement of one of the participants in the discussion that Moscow had been defending Serbia only led by its own interests.

Very emotionally Konuzin asked in English: "Are there Serbs in this room? Do you care about destiny of your compatriots [in Kosovo]". The reaction came after not a single question was asked about the deployment of Kosovo Albanian customs officers at the border crossings. According to him this attitude shows that the Serbs do not care about the situation in Kosovo. Konuzin stressed that no one else but Russia would defend Serbia's interests [at the upcoming UN Security Council session on Kosovo] and left the forum after the audience demonstrated it did not want to hear what else he wanted to say.

Comments on Internet-forums after this statement ranged between praise (bravo, he has right, he only said what 90% of Serbs actually think, instead of criticising think how the western ambassadors have behaved so far) and criticism (outrageous behaviour, he should be declared persona non-grata, intolerable for an ambassador).

In reaction to Konuzin's words, the leader of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, Cedomir Jovanovic, said that Serbia was not a colony and as a sovereign state it should not tolerate the diplomat's insults. Jovanovic urged institutions to react immediately to this behaviour.

Serbia has repeatedly said that it should not be forced to make a choice between Kosovo and the EU but would it be forced to choose between Russia and the EU?

Western Balkans
Bakir Izetbegovic, Andrej Plenkovic | © Council of the EUBakir Izetbegovic, Andrej Plenkovic | © Council of the EU
In Sofia, EU Closed the Door to Enlargement but Left Money and Instructions
Aleksandar Vucic, Recep Tayyip Erdogan | © Serbian PresidencyAleksandar Vucic, Recep Tayyip Erdogan | © Serbian Presidency
Serbia between the Past and the Present in Its Draft National Security Strategy
Jean-Claude Juncker, Zoran Zaev | © European CommissionJean-Claude Juncker, Zoran Zaev | © European Commission
Juncker's Tour of the Western Balkans - Breaking the Ice