Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic has announced he is gearing up to "take historic responsibility" and try to achieve a consensus in Serbia on the issue of Kosovo.
By Igor Jovanovic and Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Pristina -- 24/07/12
"I will gather all who matter in Serbia to finally reach a platform ... Only then can talks [with Pristina] resume," Nikolic said. [Reuters]
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said he will try to reach a consensus in the state on the matter of Kosovo, because he believes it is not a problem one man, one party or just one government can handle.
"I will gladly take that historic responsibility. I will gather all who matter in Serbia – politicians, intellectuals, businesspeople and church dignitaries -- to finally reach a platform, based on the constitution and the interests of Serbian citizens ... Only then can talks [with Pristina] resume," Nikolic said in an interview with Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti last week.
Although Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo's independence, good relations with Pristina are a condition for Belgrade's European integration, which is a "personal priority" for Nikolic.
He said, however, that Serbia would never acknowledge Kosovo's independence and, if Brussels sets up the recognition of Pristina as a formal condition for Belgrade, Serbia will have to seek roads away from the EU.
"The European Union is the first, but just one of our options," Nikolic said.
Aleksandar Mitic, Compromise for Kosovo project director, lauded the president's initiative.
"Up until now only former president Boris Tadic and the people closest to him have decided on the matter. That is why the announcement that the issue will be resolved in competent state institutions, primarily the Serbian parliament, is good," Mitic told SETimes.
For the time being, though, it is impossible to say whether Nikolic will take a more hard-line stance than his predecessor on Kosovo. "I think Nikolic will soon realise that a 'both Kosovo and the EU' policy is difficult to implement. After all, even the former president broke his teeth on it," Mitic added.
The co-founder of the organization TransConflict, Ian Bancroft, thinks that Nikolic's politics "provides a stronger basis from which to deal decisively with the issue of Kosovo than Tadic and the DS, who constantly feared being politically outflanked by more nationalist voices."
"This will enable Nikolic -- or other members of the new government -- to meet publicly with their elected counterparts in Kosovo; something the previous government would never have considered," Bancroft told SETimes.
He believes Nikolic is likely to secure a great deal of consensus amongst Serbia's political elite. "This could provide Nikolic with greater authority to reach compromises -- and to define the very terms of those compromises -- which will put greater pressure on Pristina's own negotiating stance and willingness to make concessions," he said.
Officials in Pristina did not seem overly concerned with Nikolic's announcement.
"It is good when people take responsibility. It is good above all when they show to their people the future path and the truth. In this case, it [the path] would be to give up from Kosovo," Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci told SETimes.
But Seb Bytyci, the executive director of the Balkan Policy Institute, said Nikolic's taking "historical responsibility" for Kosovo, could mean that he might be ready "to engage in a process that recognises Kosovo outside Serbia's sovereignty -- although [Belgrade] hopes to achieve that without recognizing Kosovo as an independent state."
"If there is an understanding that the status quo is untenable and a deal must be made, we could see an agreement along the lines of the one between two Germanys --something like 'agreeing to disagree'. Nikolic is well placed to lead this process because of his nationalist credentials. Also, he has the trust of most Kosovo Serbs," Bytyci told SETimes.