On my first day back on the job, things were as busy as ever. I got up early to attempt to catch up on my posts and pack up for the day. Unfortunately Manga does not have any space tonight, so I am relocating to another hostel down the street; a big step down in quality and a big step up in price. I do not recommend it. More on this later.
After dropping my things off at the new hostel, I called up my contact at B92. Unfortunately she is too busy to meet today because Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief for the European Union, is in town for meetings with the Serbian Government. Here Solana is less than fondly remembered as the Secretary General of NATO during the 1999 war in Kosovo. Rumor has it he has some important good news to share. Hopefully we will hear what that news is in the next few days. My contact suggested I call her tomorrow to set up a meeting for later in the week. Will do.
My next call was with one of my contacts at the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija who informed me that she had set up a meeting for me with Assistant Minister for Sustainable Return and Subsistence, Boyan Andjelkovic, at 1:30 at the Ministry’s office. She also promised to put me in touch with the director of the Center for Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage of Kosovo and Metohija at Belgrade’s Ethnographic Museum. After calling up the Center to see if I could arrange a meeting for later this week, I called up the University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Political Science. The secretary there was very gracious and suggested that I get in touch with one of their professors, Dr. Slobodan Samardzic, former Minister for Kosovo and Metohija under the previous Kostunica government and one of the chief international Serbian negotiators on the future status of Kosovo. Hopefully he will be available to speak with me. Now is a difficult time of the year because the university term ending and most professors are going on vacation… but I have been very lucky so far, so maybe my luck will hold a little longer.
Walking from the Hostel over the aforementioned Center’s office, I happened to pass by the offices of the Democratic Party of Serbia. I stopped in briefly to introduce myself and see if anyone might be available to speak with me in the near future. After trading the obligatory business cards, I headed on my way. When I arrived at the Museum, the director was out for the day. The rest of the office staff, including a curator and an archaeologist specializing in medieval Serbian history, however, were more than happy to chat with me. We discussed Serbian history, politics, and the status of Kosovo for about an hour, and they gave me a collection of papers on the archaeology of Kosovo and Metohija to assist me in my research. They also gave me the direct contact information for the Center’s director so I could arrange another meeting.
From the museum, I hiked across Branko’s Bridge into Novi Beograd for my meeting with the Assistant Minister. The second time around, the Palace of Belgrade did not seem nearly as confusing or imposing, and I was able to find my way up to the appropriate offices without assistance. Because of Solana’s visit, I expected that the minister would not have more than a few minutes to speak with me. Much to my surprise, our meeting lasted over two and a half hours! As the Assistant Minister for Sustainable Return and Subsistence, Mr. Andjelkovic’s office is responsible for two rather difficult tasks: addressing the issues of employment and social welfare for Kosovo’s Serbian population while attempting to facilitate the return of Serbian and other non-Albanian IDPs to Kosovo and the reclamation of property taken over by Kosovo Albanians after the war.
In this task, it seems he has very little cooperation from the international community. Although having registered over 1000 families wishing to return to Kosovo with UNHCR in 2009 alone, both the government in Pristina and the international organization itself have done very little to facilitate this process. As with most issues related to Kosovo, he told me that the government is awaiting a decision by the ICJ on the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. Assuming the court decides in Serbia’s favor, he hopes that a new round of negotiations will make the task of return more feasible. Either way, he believes the problem of Kosovo’s status will remain an open issue in international and domestic Serbian politics unlikely to be resolved in the near future.
At the base of it all, he stated that Serbs will never accept the independence of Kosovo. I then asked him what the worst possible resolution to the conflict that his government would accept. His answer: Kosovo as a district of Europe. By this, he means that should Serbia and Kosovo become members of the European Union, perhaps Serbia could claim that Kosovo is still a part of Serbia with broad autonomy, while Kosovo Albanians, under European administration, could claim to be independent. This compromise by which both sides could have their cake and eat it too, however, requires that both are willing to offer a tacit compromise to the other. At this point, he feels the Albanian side has been unwilling to yield anything, even rhetorically, on the point of independence, such that even this creative solution is unlikely. Of course, Albanians would claim the same intransigence on the part of Serbia in refusing to acknowledge independence as the starting point for discussion, so the deadlock continues.
His frustration, and it seems the frustration of many Serbs, is not only rooted in the unwillingness of Pristina, international organizations, and great powers to seek compromise with Serbia. It also stems from what they perceive to be a different set of legal and moral standards applied to Serbia as opposed to the rest of the Balkans, particularly vis-a-vis Kosovo Albanians. This perception of disparity in part draws from the feeling that the whole world demands for Serbian contrition for their previous war crimes, which he readily acknowledges from the Milosevic era. At the same time, there appears to be no comparable interest in assigning responsibility for similar crimes committed against Serbs.
In terms of territorial outcomes, Mr. Andjelkovic believes that Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina is not entitled to independence even though it enjoys an overwhelmingly Serbian population and maintains great autonomy within the country. Yet Kosovo enjoys more rights in that it is apparently entitled to independence on nearly identical grounds. The counter-argument is often put forward that self-determination is more illegitimate for Republika Srpska because this Serbian entity is the result of ethnic cleansing in the mid-1990s. This position problematically ignores the reality that although Kosovo has maintained a majority Albanian population since the Second World War, its ethnic homogeneity (particularly its lack of ethnically mixed cities) today is also largely due to ethnic cleansing of non-Albanians by the KLA following NATO’s intervention in 1999. The minister fears although Serbs are currently pursuing legal avenues to resolve the Kosovo issue, that frustration over these perceived injustices may lead again to nationalist resurgence and violence in the Balkans in the next generation.
After this long, incredibly informative, and at times emotional meeting, I trudged back to Belgrade’s city center. On my way, I called back my contact at the Ethnographic Museum and set a meeting with her for next Wednesday, July 22 at ten in the morning. I made two more stops before returning to my evening’s accommodations. First, I went to one of the city’s open markets to buy vegetables for dinner. My second stop was near Belgrade’s city hall where police had barricaded the street. Apparently a car bomb threat was called in and sappers had arrived to disarm the explosive. Speaking later with journalists, I was told that police had concluded that the incident was not terrorism related. Rather, it appears to have been one element of the Belgrade underworld threatening another. Oh well.
Arriving back at my hostel, I compiled the day’s work and tried again to catch up on my posting. Eventually I was drawn into a conversation with two guys from Denmark who were studying Political Science as undergraduates. We had a very interesting discussion about politics and my research here in Serbia. To end the evening, I took them over to Bar Idiot to sample the local brews and rakiya. They continued on to sample the Belgrade nightlife and I went back to the hostel to sleep. I was also happy to get a phone call from Lina that she had finally arrived safe and sound back in Chicago. Tomorrow I will return to Manga and then spend the day ambushing the offices of Serbia’s major political parties. Hopefully it will be as productive as today.