Kosovo the Day After

Balkan Diplomats’ React to Kosovo Independence

Just over 24 hours after Kosovo declared its independence, five diplomats and ambassadors from the Balkan region, gathered for a panel discussion on Kosovo and the European Union at Webster University. And amid all the traditional politesse, it was clear that the continuing tensions and disagreements would be difficult to resolve any time soon.

Sitting on the hot seat was Mira Beham, Ambassador of Serbia to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and United Nation (UN). Unlike some of her colleagues, she was extremely serious, the epitome of grace under pressure.

“Yesterday the provisional… government in Kosovo proclaimed unilaterally independence; Serbia immediately reacted and proclaimed that this declaration is not valid,” said Beham, and warned, “This is a crisis that will not be contained in the province… It is one that is likely to spread throughout the region.”

Serbia is demanding from the UN that it should annul the independence based on resolution 1244, where it is stated that all disputes should be settled by negotiations and by agreement. ”This is not the case in the Kosovo issue,” Beham continued: ”We regret that very much and we think we are facing now very critical situation.”

She cited the fact that Serbia had been in negotiations on this topic for two years without an agreement. Later she reiterated statements made by Serbia’s foreign minister, stating that there was “no military option” on the table in regards to Kosovo. The Serbian ambassador emphasized: “We will use all political, diplomatic and economic means but no military.”

Now regional co-operation is one of Serbia’s main priorities, according to Beham. “Our common goal is the integration into the EU and we can do that only in a way of co-operation.”

Most of the questions were directed at her, or at the very least she had something to say in regards to almost all of the questions posed to the panel. In addition to Beham were four other diplomats related to the Balkan region: Stanislav Rašcan, Slovenian Representative to the OSCE, Edin Dilberovic, Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ian Cliff, Ambassador of the UK to the OSCE and former UK Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Vesko Garcevic, Ambassador of Montenegro to the OSCE and UN and bilateral Ambassador of Montenegro to Austria.

Rašcan took the time to hand out OSCE press packs, which broke some of the tension right away. He called for greater cooperation between the states of the Balkans, so the region could have greater representation and political power. “Slovenia’s first priority as EU’s president is enlargement towards the Western Balkans.”

Rašcan expressed his disappointment over the Slovenian embassy in Belgrade being fire bombed, due to insufficient security forces provided by the Serbian government. Beham responded with regret that the arson had happened, but stated that the Serbian government was not responsible for the actions of bunch of “hooligans” and extremists.

Ian Cliff took a more practical approach and compared the situation to that of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with regards to membership in the EU. He thinks that if Serbia and Kosovo were both in the EU that many of the problems they now have would go away.

Cliff also remarked on the “visa ghetto,” Balkan countries now exist in. He pointed out that people in most Balkan countries now need a visa to simply leave their own countries, whereas under Tito this wasn’t a problem.

Rašcan pointed out that 80% of the region wants to join the EU and that would make it easier for the Balkans. “We see this as a way to stabilize the region.”

“There is always a question of what the region can do for the EU. Lets presume that EU is a house,” explained Dilberovic, comparing their region Balkan to a balcony. “As a real estate agent you can put a house with a much higher price if a balcony is on it.” To Dilberovic, like many others, there is more value to EU with more member states.

Dilberovic also challenged Ambassador Petric’s formulation that were Bosnia-Herzogovina to join the EU, it would be the union’s first Muslim member state.

“Bosnia-Hersigovina would enter as a laic state,” he insisted, rejecting “the theory that this would be a ‘clash of civilizations,’” between Muslim and Christian, or that it would serve as an open door to applicants from the Middle East.

From the EU to Kosovo, one thing was certain, that co-operation and communication were the best way to forward the negotiations.

“I was in Bosnia during the summer and one thing that is very striking is that everyone is talking about the desire to be taken seriously as part of Europe,” said Cliff. ”People talk to me more about that than the Kosovo issue.”

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