The self-declared independent country of Kosovo has a turbulent past for the past 30 years. Whilst the United States and the majority of the EU members have recognized its independence in 2008, Serbia did not. Countries such as China, Russia and India have not recognized Kosovo as an independent country, as well as countries that have their own separatist minorities such as Spain.
There is mounting speculation that Kosovo and Serbia plan on a territorial swap, exchanging ethnic enclaves and heading towards Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo and even possible accession into the EU. An idea that has already been supported by the United States earlier in August 2018.
The border shared by Kosovo and Serbia has been a long-standing dispute between the two countries. Talks are underway between the countries leaders, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, in regards to border correction. It is suggested that the border correction involves a trade of Kosovo’s majority Serb territory for Serbia’s majority-Albanian area of Presevo. Mutual distrust is still present between Kosovo’s Albanian majority and the minority Serbs. The northern part of Kosovo is mainly inhabited by Serbs who rejected independence and live in separation from the rest of Kosovo.
Fresh off the back of the recent deal between Greece and Macedonia to settle the dispute over Macedonia’s name, Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Chancellor and current EU presidency holder, facilitated the talks.
All being well, Serbia could accept Kosovo’s independence and potentially lead to full recognition in the international community.
There have been many objections to the border correction, primarily from both parliamentary oppositions as well as the Serbian Orthodox Church. Germany in particular raised concerns about border swap and fanning ethnic tensions. All of which are well founded as border disputes are dangerous, especially when ethnically motivated.
Following the Yugoslav conflicts, it was hoped that the nations emerging would learn to respect their minorities. Dividing land along ethnic lines is essentially an admission that it did not work and the bigger fear would be the temptation for other minorities in the Balkans do follow suit. The danger would be Albanian nationalists in neighbouring countries such as Macedonia and Kosovo to try for a ‘Greater Albania’.
Russia poses another threat; Russia has consistently supported Serbia, refusing to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence or even allowing it to join the United Nations. However, Russia suggested that they would support any deal occurring naturally between Serbia and Kosovo. Potentially paving the way Russia’s own disputes between Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to raise their head.
It is also important to note that border changes in former Yugoslavia have been successful in the past. For example, earlier this year the Kosovo parliament approved a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. Whilst Kosovo nationalists opposed the decision, it went ahead without issue. The agreement came about due to EU regulations as a condition of allowing Kosovo free travel.
If Kosovo and Serbia could reach an agreement, it would be a step in the right direction for accession into the EU. Looking ahead, once all countries of the former Yugoslavia are in the EU, the issues of borders will eventually be much less relevant.
Whilst there remains a lot of discussion around this topic and many opposing the idea of land swapping, it must be said that there is little offered in the way of an alternative solution. If many minorities already feel abandoned by their governments, then surely it can only get better a border correction can be peacefully agreed upon.