Belgrade has said many times it will not recognize
Kosovo’s “unilateral declaration of independence.” But no one
“recognizes” independence, which is declared by those wanting it, in
this case not unilaterally but rather in close coordination with
both Europe and the United States. Britain never “recognized”
America’s independence, which was a dramatic and important political
rather than a legal act.
Belgrade has already accepted, in the agreement it
reached with Pristina last year, the legitimacy of the Kosovo
constitutional and legal order on the whole territory of Kosovo. It
is not a great leap from there to recognizing Kosovo’s territorial
integrity and legitimate authority.
Kosovo is now starting to build its armed forces.
They will be designed with Serbia as the main potential threat,
since Belgrade does not accept Kosovo as sovereign and continues,
despite the Belgrade/Pristina agreement, to say it claims
sovereignty over Kosovo’s entire territory. If Belgrade were to
recognize, Pristina would be able to reduce its future military
commitments and reorient them towards participation in international
peacekeeping deployments. That would enable Serbia to do likewise.
Kosovo will eventually become a NATO member. Recognition would
enable Serbia to become one as well, if it decides to move in that
If Serbia does not want to recognize Kosovo in the
near term, the easy way out for now is to allow it to enter the
United Nations. That will not be fully satisfactory, as it will not
necessarily lead to diplomatic relations, but it would certainly be
a step in the right direction. The Kosovars often point to the “two
Germanys” precedent. I don’t really think that applies, since on the
Pristina side there is no intention whatsoever of reunification, but
from Belgrade’s point of view the “two Germanys” precedent should be
seen as an attractive one.
How will recognition help the region enter
The big benefit to Belgrade of recognition,
followed by establishment of diplomatic relations with it and border
demarcation, would be closing one of the few remaining war and peace
issues in the Balkans and thereby removing a major barrier to
Serbia’s EU membership. I don’t know two neighboring states without
mutual recognition, diplomatic relations and a demarcated border who
have good neighborly relations, which are required for EU
The 23 members of the EU that have recognized
Kosovo will not accept Serbia as a member without Belgrade
recognition and diplomatic relations. Only one EU member taking that
position is needed to impose the policy on the rest. I’ve spoken
with diplomats from half dozen of those countries who assure me that
is their policy. Moreover, even if the governments were tempted
their parliaments won’t ratify Serbia’s membership in the EU without
How will it help economic development in
Kosovo, even under current adverse economic
conditions in Europe, is still a relatively dynamic economy, in part
due to its young and still growing population. Serbia is aging
rapidly and declining in numbers. It would benefit enormously from
increased trade with and through Kosovo, which in recent years has
relied far more on Macedonia and Albania, to Serbia’s detriment.
Completion of the Durres/Pristina road to Nis would bring enormous
benefits to both Kosovo and Serbia, but this is unlikely to happen
without recognition and diplomatic relations.
Serbia is central not only to the geography of the
Balkans but also to its fate. But it cannot stand in the way of
Kosovo’s progress without hurting its own EU prospects. Leaving this
issue unresolved for another four years will mean less growth, fewer
jobs, lower investment and reduced pensions for Serbia and its
citizens. Recognition and establishment of diplomatic relations are
bitter pills for Serbian politicians, but accompanied by protection
of Serbs and Serbian sites in Kosovo they are needed to cure what
ails the region. The sooner, the better.
PS: For analysis of the Serbian election campaign
and results, try NDI’s
Letter from Belgrade.