"Brussels meeting to show president's position on Kosovo"

If in his talks with Atifete Jahjaga Tomislav Nikolić continues with the current policy toward Kosovo, he will be continuing on a road to perdition - but still Serbia has room "for something else", Leon Kojen believes.

Leon Kojen (B92)
Leon Kojen (B92)

Kojen, who served as head of Serbia's negotiating team in the Vienna talks and as adviser to former President Boris Tadić, told B92 in Belgrade ahead of the meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that the "space" he had in mind was "a referendum on Kosovo and Metohija and a new Constitution".

"This meeting is more a matter of formality than historic, but it could be historic for the further course of the negotiations. For all of us in Serbia it is important above all to see how the president will act," this professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Philosophy said.

According to him, Serbia had "great chances" for a positive outcome only twice - when the Kosovo issue was opened by Zoran Đinđić - who was shortly after assassinated - and when during the "Ahtisaari negotiations" Serbia managed to block western countries from taking Kosovo to the UN "through the front door".

As for the present situation and policy, Kojen believes that it is one "inaugurated by Tadić":

"The platform on Kosovo and Metohija in fact only reaffirms the desire of the country to continue toward the EU (membership)."

Nikolić, as a more qualified negotiator and person with more political authority than Ivica Dačič, "will now finally position himself", Kojen said, but was unsure whether significant steps or policy turning points would be made:

"This is the first in a series of meetings that the EU envisages, it will show what exactly is Nikolić's position on Kosovo. He has spoken about the subject more than others after elections, but there have been greatest amplitudes as well in his statements. At the UN, he expressed himself in a far more radical manner than what is now written in the (parliament) resolution. He hinted at breaking, or at least partially breaking with the policy of Boris Tadić and the previous authorities. Unfortunately, none of that came to pass, and a resolution has been adopted that is in line with a continuation of the Tadić and DS policy."

Kojen stressed that Nikolić with him to Brussels took two frameworks: the resolution, but also the Serbian Constitution, which in itself rejects "some things that the EU is demanding from Serbia".

Asked about the fact he was speaking about "the president of a self-proclaimed state of Kosovo", while this formulation was "no longer mentioned by Serbian officials", he said that the EU had constantly been directing all processes toward "a recognition of Kosovo":

"This meeting is not in violation of the Constitution, even if the framework made by the EU for the conversation is leading toward that. We'll see what Nikolić will make of it. Europe has made a series of steps toward informal, and then formal recognition of Kosovo, even if some of its (EU) members do not recognize it. The EU is still saying and sending messages from its representative office in Belgrade that it is status-neutral, but that, unfortunately, is no longer true. EU's official documents say that it will approach the signing of an SAA with Kosovo, and also that Serbia and Kosovo should not impede one another in their steps to join the EU."

Kojen believes that Nikolić should take on a greater portion of the work and that Dačić has lost his credibility - in the EU to a lesser degree because of the Šarić clan connections affair, and more because of some shocking statements, such as that the Constitution "did not impress him".

"Still, these talks should not merely be a continuation of what Dačić and Thaci are doing, and that would be a continuation of a bad, perhaps even fatal policy for Serbia. People must realize that by defending Kosovo we defend not only our history or the Constitution. We are defending the state, Serbia's survival," the former presidential adviser said, and explain that there were "no guarantees" that if Serbia were to concede now, ethnic Hungarians or some other minority would not say, "well, Serbia doesn't belong here either".

For this reason, he thinks that the political elite, like that in Britain, should ask itself another question - whether the EU path was what the country really needed:

"A minimum of rationality for any government at this point would be to change the Constitution and hold a referendum on Kosovo and Metohija and the EU. There's always space, nobody's attacking Serbia, nobody is threatening militarily or sanctions. How can a country go against its vital interests, against its Constitution, all because somebody said they had 'great expectations'?"

Serbia would have better chances "for something more" if it returned the Kosovo talks under the UN umbrella, said Kojen, but, according to him, "Tadić made a fatal move when he agreed to transfer the talks to the context of the EU".