Closure of Serbian ministry sparks debate

14/08/2012

Analysts said the closure of the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo does not indicate a change in Belgrade's policy.

By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 14/08/12

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"Serbia takes care of each of its parts and will certainly continue to do so," the head of the new office, Aleksandar Vulin, said. [Socialist Movement of Serbia]

The downgrading of the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo to the Office for Kosovo by the government has been met with mixed reactions. Many analysts said that the move will not effect Serbia's attention to the Kosovo issue, but some said it sends a negative message to Kosovo Serbs.

"The lowering of the institutional level of care for Kosovo sends a bad message to the Kosovo Serbs, which is why the ministry should have survived. If the new government says the Office for Kosovo will have the same jurisdiction as the ministry, the question is why some other ministries have not been reduced to offices as well," Goran Bogdanovic, opposition Democratic Party official and former minister for Kosovo, told SETimes.

Marko Jaksic, opposition Democratic Party of Serbia from Kosovo representative, also opposes the shutdown of the ministry, especially since the Kosovo Serbs were against the idea.

"That is a very bad message, because Tomislav Nikolic won by a landslide in Kosovo, where people saw that as their own victory. Unfortunately, it seems as though their joy was for nothing," Jaksic told reporters.

However, Movement of Socialists President Aleksandar Vulin, who is the head of the new office, dismissed those claims and said the office would have the same jurisdiction as the annulled ministry.

"Serbia takes care of each of its parts and will certainly continue to do so," Vulin said.

Analysts believe the change of institution's form will not lead to essential changes to Serbia's policy towards Kosovo, but does show a realistic assessment of the situation.

"That could also be the new government's message to the West -- that Belgrade acknowledges the real state of affairs in Kosovo," Dusan Janjic, president of the Forum for Interethnic Relations, told SETimes.

He said another novelty is that during the rule of former President Boris Tadic, all policy on Kosovo was directed from the president's office. The new government office transfers the focus to the government and prime minister.

However, Ian Bancroft, TransConflict founder, thinks the new office does not mean Belgrade will start leading a new policy.

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"Since the start of negotiations with Pristina, the substantive elements have been led by Borko Stefanovic, a foreign ministry representative, and his small team; hence the abolition of the ministry for Kosovo will make little difference in this regard," Bancroft told SETimes.

Janjic said there is very little room for change in policy, especially since the government has already announced it will abide by all the agreements its predecessors have made with Pristina.

"Tadic promised a lot to both the international community and the Serbian public, and ended up losing the trust of both. Tomislav Nikolic and the new government are now facing a truly difficult task, to practically abolish Serbia's institutions in Kosovo and assist in the fortification of Pristina's, which is a pretty unique situation in the world," Janjic said.

Bancroft believes the new office will also encounter practical problems. "The challenge for the new office, however, relates to the inefficiencies of many ministries in Serbia, deriving in particular from over-centralisation, insufficient co-ordination and a lack of resources. ...Thus, while Serbia's government will rhetorically be no less dedicated to Kosovo, the new office may struggle to have a practical impact -- particularly where sustainable return is concerned," Bancroft said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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