Why partition of Kosovo is bad for Serbs

Today I spent a couple of hours at the Serbian orthodox monastery in Dečani, a 14th century beauty of enormous historical and religious significance to the Serbian Church.  There is only one Serb living in the town, which lies in a cradle of the Kosovo Liberation Army.  The monastery currently houses 24 monks and is building a guest house to handle an increased flow of visitors.

I heard no flag-waving Serb nationalism at the monastery.  The mood there is contemplative and reflective.  No one there wanted Kosovo independence, but political frameworks are transitory.  The Church needs to ensure its own permanence.

Its primary concerns are two:  the welfare of its flock and the protection of its churches, monasteries and other property.  Most of these are south of the Ibar river, which is often proposed as the dividing line for a partition between the Serb-majority population of the north and the Albanian-majority population of the south.  The Church opposes partition.  It would lead to the loss of the Serb population south of the Ibar and most of the precious churches, monasteries and property.

But that view does not carry much weight in Belgrade, where the politicians simply want to hold onto something in Kosovo so that they can claim they have not lost everything.  Nor is the Church particularly influential in northern Kosovo, where it has nevertheless tried to convince Serbs not to use violence.

It hasn’t been entirely successful at that either.  Serbs in the north have erected barricades–including a large cross–on an important road.  KFOR, the NATO-led force that is entrusted by the UN Security Council with ensuring a safe and secure environment in Kosovo, tried to remove them yesterday morning, leading to a clash in which two German soldiers and one American were reportedly injured.  The Church is unhappy when such clashes occur, since they increase ethnic tension throughout Kosovo and raise doubts about whether the majority of Serbs who live south of the Ibar can continue to do so.

Kosovo’s government is currently completing the process of adopting constitutional amendments and laws to implement all aspects of the Ahtisaari plan, a proposal for settlement of the Kosovo dispute that was rejected by Belgrade because it entailed Kosovo independence.  It provides extensive protection for Serbs and Church property.  But the Church worries that constitutional amendments and laws are not sufficient.  It wants international guarantees, since there are Albanian political parties that would seek to reverse anything done now to offer protection, should they come to power in the future.

The Western-educated elite that runs many Kosovo institutions today has good intentions.  But this elite has little to do with the more traditional clan structures that hold power at the local level.  The Church wants the international community to ensure that guarantees will last, no matter who comes to power in Pristina.

All of this sounds to me well grounded and rational.  Unfortunately, it is not what we are hearing out of President-elect Tomislav Nikolić in Belgrade.  He is still attached to partition ideas that would destabilize a large part of the Balkans.

It is high time Europe as a whole minced no words about this.  I doubt Angela Merkel will:  her message on a visit last summer to Belgrade was unequivocally against partition.  She presumably won’t hesitate to reiterate that message now that two more Germans have been injured.  But more is needed:  Greece and Cyprus in particular need to recognize that their refusal to recognize Kosovo is encouraging partition proposals that, if adopted, would end with the partition of their favorite island.

Not to mention the loss of this spectacular monastery:


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6 thoughts on “Why partition of Kosovo is bad for Serbs”

  1. Again, I must repeat that Kosovo political elite has not been sincere when comes to important issues aimed at making Kosovo a functional place. Kosovo Albanians agreed and warmly accepted Ahtisaari plan – because it ensures the independence – but, on the other hand, did not want to accept parts of the plan aimed at protecting the rights of Serbian minority and the Orthodox Church heritage. There have been problems with adopting the law on protection of Historical center of Prizren as well as about the law on Hoca e Madhe/Velika Hoca. The draft law on TV station in Serbian language was also rejected by Serb journalists and public, since it could not satisfy the basic requirements for media freedom. There have also been problems with official usage of Serbian language in official documents, institutions, and media as well as in day-to-day life. The security situation has improved but there are still ethnic incidents from time to time, including the attacks on returnees and their property. These are the things that would ensure certain level of “multiethnic society” but obviously this “elite” does not want that. Now, what is that they want? A mono-ethnic state? But that would go beyond the values of civilized world and the EU principles, which Kosovo desires to join so passionately, isn’t it? And remember, “Quod ab initio vitiosum est non potest tractu temporis convalescere”, meaning once things are done wrong from the beginning, they could never be set right int the future. So beware!

  2. I couldn’t find many arguments against partition in this article.

    The main argument in favor of partition is that independence for Kosovo is already partition and a nationalist partition at add as it clear that Kosovo is an Albanian nationalist project. Nationalistic separatists don’t like ethnic enclaves where their say doesn’t hold and for that reason newly independent states are infamous for their treatment of minorities. Slovenia had its “erased”, Croatia cleansed the Krajna and it is well known how the arrogant behavior of Bosnia’s Muslims contributed to the war. The attitude of the Kosovo Albanians towards the North is similar. On the one hand there is the impulse not to give up territory, but on the other hand there is distrust and unease about a “foreign” enclave that is seen as a threat towards the nationalistic project.

    In my opinion Westerners are projecting their view on border changes on the Balkans. By forgetting that in a situation of fluid borders things are different they have already caused and they keep causing a tremendous amount of damage.

    An ethnic border between Kosovo and Serbia would solve this anguish. It would also provide something what both sides can see as a fair deal and with that bring the situation to rest for the future. Far from endangering the Serbs in Southern Kosovo this would strengthen their position as it would clarify that they are a minority with the accompanying rights and duties.

    I was surprised by the legalistic tone of the article. The biggest threat for Kosovo’s Serbs is not some Kosovo Albanian politician changing some laws. It is that those laws will simply be ignored. The march 2004 riots – for which no one was held responsible – are a good illustration of how little laws mean in a climate of nationalistic fever.

    Merkel has already caused severely increased tension in Kosovo. This lady is behaving more and more like an empress – arrogant and convinced that she knows things better than anybody else. Many people in Europe will be very relieved when she finally leaves. Her place in the history books seems assured: as the person who blew up the euro.

    As for Cyprus. My impression is that the Greek have long ago given up on the Turkish part. They just want a better deal than the present partition – where the Turks (18% of the population) occupy a third of the island – provides.

    1. “I couldn’t find many arguments against partition in this article.”

      Aren’t the lose of the churches and monasteries and most of the Serbian population of “KiM” enough of an argument?

      1. How exactly are these going to be any more lost than they already are?

        I keep hearing about how partition will destabilise the region without any arguments to support that claim, and all evidence pointing to the opposite being true. Partition is the only realistic solution. And those who now worry about setting dangerous precedents should have thought of that when they ripped off a piece of a sovereign state in blatant defiance of international law, claiming some sort of “unique status” that always remained as vague and unsupported as this destabilisation nonsense. If things are ever going to calm down over there, a border must be drawn along ethnic lines. Neither side will be happy, but both will be able to move on.

  3. using the monk’s implacable opposition to independence (and by implication partition) to justify your own arguments for independence (and against partition) is a shameful misrepresentation of their views

  4. Let us cut the nonsense. There will be no partition of Kosovo. As soon as we realize that we can act for the benefit of the people who live there. In my case rule of law, respect of civil rights, proper engagement of Serbs from Kosovo in Kosovo’s government so they can act in their best interest. There is so much job do be done and too little time to be wasted on stupidity, from both sides, Belgrade and Pristina. Perhaps some form of mild autonomy might be required for Kosovo’s Serbs, but not as north/south, but in places south of the River Ibar small regional governments in places where that is prudent to establish could be in hands of Serbs. In order for Kosovo to join the rank of serious countries this is just beginning. Let alone that in order for Kosovo to gain fully recognized independence they will need to accept Serbs from Kosovo as more or less equal partners. I see no other way in speeding this up.

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