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The 1878 San Stefano Treaty and the Albanians

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After the Russian military victory over the Ottoman Empire in the 1877−1878 Russo-Ottoman War it was signed the San Stefano Treaty between these two states on March 3rd, 1878. According to the treaty, a Greater “San Stefano” Bulgaria, under the direct protection by Russia, had to be established within the borders of the Ottoman Empire.

However, an idea of “San Stefano Bulgaria” directly affected three Balkan nations: the Serbs, Greeks and Albanians as some of their ethnic and historical territories had to become part of a Greater Bulgaria. The “San Stefano Bulgaria” was projected by the Russian authorities to cover territory from the Danube River to the Aegean Sea and from the present-day Albania to the Black Sea, including all of geographic-historical Macedonia, the present-day East Serbia and the present-day Southeast Albania. As a result, the Albanian nation living in the present-day Southeast Albania and the West Macedonia would become part of a Greater Bulgaria that would be governed by the Russian authorities.

It is characteristic of both the San Stefano Treaty and the Berlin Congress that they conceived parts of the Albanian-populated Balkan territories to be given to the other Balkan states according to the principle of ethnic and historical rights. The remained Albanian ethnic space would be within the borders of the Ottoman Empire but without any “special status”, i.e., autonomous rights and ethno-political privileges.

The Ottoman government itself was feeble to protect the Albanian populated territories consisted of more than 80% of the Muslim population, which showed high degree of political and ideological loyalty towards the Sultan and the Sublime Porte in Istanbul. Nevertheless, the decisions of the 1878 San Stefano Treaty resulted in the organization of the Albanian self-defence system by their (Muslim) political leadership, which considered an autonomous status of Albania, similarly to the status of Serbia, Moldavia and Wallachia, as only guarantee for a justifiable administration over the Albanians in the future.

The San Stefano Treaty accorded to the Slavic Bulgaria a portion of the following Albanian-settled lands: the district of Korçë and the Debar area. According to the same treaty, Montenegro was granted with several municipalities at the present-day North Albania and the areas of Bar and Ulcinj. The border between Ottoman Albania and Montenegro was fixed on the Bojana River and the Scodra Lake. Nevertheless, an official representative of the Principality of Montenegro, Radonjić, required in Adrianople (Edirne) the city of Scodra to be included into enlarged Montenegro.

However, what was exactly regarded at that time as Albania, and the Albanians as an ethnic identity, it was not clear to anybody in Europe. The main reason was the fact that the official Ottoman censuses became quite unreliable source to fix such problems because they were based rather on the religious identity than on strict ethno-national (i.e., ethno-linguistic) belonging. Practically, all Ottoman Islamic population, either they were the Albanians, Bosnians or Turks, were selected to one category – the Muslims. A national/ethnic differences were not marked in the Ottoman censuses at all. Nevertheless, regardless on the lack of the official statistics, it is possible to reconstruct the dispersion of the Albanian ethnicity at that time by using other historical sources. One of such sources is a report to the Austro-Hungarian authorities about the northern boundaries of the Albanian language written by the Austro-Hungarian Consul F. Lippich in the mid-1877 during the Great Eastern Crisis and the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877−1878. According to this report, a northern linguistic border of the Albanians run from the city of Bar on the Montenegrin Adriatic littoral towards the Scodra Lake, then through two Montenegrin regions of Kolašin and Vasojevićs, after that towards the Ibar River and the city of Novi Pazar in Sanjak (Raška) up to the area of the South Morava River at the present-day Serbia. The Albanian linguistic borderland was fixed on the East and South-East to be around the Ochrid Lake, the cities of Bitola (Monastir) and Debar, and the upper Vardar River. However, in many of these areas the Albanian language was spoken together with the Slavonic languages as they are today the Serbian, Montenegrin and Macedonian.

sanstefano

Territory of the “San Stefano Bulgaria” as the Russian vassal state

Surely, the San Stefano Treaty provoked the Albanian nationalism and forged the Albanian national renaissance movement. A germ of the Albanian national movement was growing from the 1840’s to the time of the Great Eastern Crisis of 1875−1878 when the first requirements for the establishment of the Albanian-language schools and the preservation of national language were requested by the Albanian public workers in the Ottoman Empire (Naum Panajot Bredi, Engel Mashi, Josiph Kripsi, John Skiroj, Hieronim de Rada, Vincenzo Dorsa, etc). However, the Albanian national renaissance received a new impetus during the Balkan crisis of 1862 at the time of a new Montenegrin-Ottoman war when several members of the so-called “Scodra group” (Zef Ljubani, Pashko Vasa and others) propagated the uprising of the North Albanian tribes in the Mirditë region against the Montenegrin territorial pretensions on the Albanian-populated areas. They also opposed the Ottoman authorities as they relied on the support by the French Emperor Napoleon III (1852−1870). In the case of successful result of the rebellion the independent and united principality of Albania would be created at the Balkans. It would include all Albanian-populated territories in the Balkans. The main Albanian ideologist from that time was Zef Jubani, born in Scutari in 1818, who claimed that the Albanian population already became a nation at that time. However, the Albanians have not been formed as a nation in a modern European sense of the meaning of the term at that time or they are not a nation even today as the main framework of the Albanian national identity was and is primarily Islam – a religion which does not recognize existence of any ethno-linguistic identity among the Muslims who are considered to be one (confessional) “nation”. Nevertheless, his primary political goal was a creation of an autonomous united Albania within the Ottoman Empire. Others, like Thimi Mitko and Spiro Dineja, favoured Albania’s separation from the Ottoman Empire and creation of a dual Albanian-Greek confederation state similar to Austria-Hungary. During the Great Eastern Crisis of 1875−1878, the Albanian uprising in Mirditë in 1876−1877, led by the Albanian patriots from Scodra, had as its ultimate political goal a creation of an autonomous Albania in the Ottoman Empire. The leaders of the uprising visited Montenegrin court in order to obtain a financial support from the Montenegrin Prince Nikola I (1860−1910; King 1910−1918). Such support was promised to the leader of the Albanian delegation, Preng Dochi. What is important to stress is that the Montenegrin Prince stated on this occasion that Montenegro does not have any territorial aspirations towards the “Albanian” territories. At the same time, the Russian diplomat in Scodra, Ivan Jastrebov, pointed out that Europe faced the “Albanian Question”.

At the same time, the Albanian tribal chieftains from the South Albania and the North Epirus under the presidency of a prominent Muslim Albanian feudal lord Abdul-beg Frashëri convoked in 1877 a national meeting in the city of Jannina when they required from the Sublime Porte in Istanbul to recognize a separate Albanian nationality, and therefore to give them a right to form an autonomous Albanian province (vilayet) within the Ottoman Empire. They required, in addition, that all officials in such Albanian vilayet should be of the Albanian ethnic origin (but only the Muslims), the Albanian-language schools to be open and finally the Albanian-language courts to be created. The memorandum with such demands was sent to the Sublime Porte, but this supreme Ottoman governmental institution rejected to meet any of these Albanian national requirements.  

A publishing of the San Stefano Treaty’s articles caused a great unrest and dissatisfaction among the Albanian people. From that time onward, a previous Albanian movement just for improvement of the social conditions of the Albanians living in the Ottoman Empire became, however, now transfigured into the Albanian national movement (but in essence it was rooted into the Islamic tradition and political dogmatism) requiring either the creation of politically autonomous province of Albania within the Ottoman Empire or a making of an independent Albanian national state (based on the Islamic tradition).

Especially the Northeast and East Albania experienced massive unrest and protests against the San Stefano Treaty that were addressed to the Great European Powers. Thus, in April 1878 the Albanians from the city of Debar sent a telegram to the British and Austro-Hungarian ambassadors to the Ottoman Empire, Layard, Zichy respectively, protesting against the annexation of the region of Debar by a newly projected San Stefano Bulgarian principality. It was emphasized in the telegram that the people from Debar are the Albanians but not Bulgarians. Furthermore, according to the protest memo, the district of Debar encompassed 220,000 Muslims and 10,000 Christians; all of them were the ethnic Albanians. Finally, it was required that the Great European Powers would not allow Bulgaria to annex the Debar region; instead, it should be left in the Ottoman Empire (as a “national” state of all Muslim Albanians).

Similarly to the Albanians from Debar, their compatriots from the city of Scodra and the Northwest Albania asked the Austro-Hungarian authority to foil inclusion of the Albanian territories into Montenegro (whose independence was recognized by the Berlin Congress in 1878). The Albanians from several districts in Kosovo-Metochia (Prizren, Đakovica, Peć) protested in a memorandum to Vienna against partition of their lands between Serbia and Montenegro. On May 8th, 1878 when “…today, we learned from the newspapers that the Ottoman government, unable to resist the pressure of Russia, has been obliged to accept our annexation by the Montenegrins…” a protest of Albanian population of Scodra, Podgorica, Spuž, Žabljak, Tivat, Ulcinj, Gruda, Kelmend, Hot and Kastrat was addressed to the ambassador of France in Istanbul against the annexation of the Albanian lands by the Principality of Montenegro. The Albanian people from the North Albania and Kosovo-Metochia, either the Muslims or the Roman Catholics, started to organize their own self-defence detachments (a territorial militia) and the local committees against incorporation of these territories into either Serbia or Montenegro. Another task of those numerous committees was to help to the Albanian refugees from the areas already taken by the Serbs and Montenegrins according to the San Stefano Treaty. Thus, for example, on June 26th, 1878 from Priština was issued a protest of 6,200 Albanian emigrants allegedly „expelled“ from the districts of Niš, Leskovac, Prokuplje and Kuršumlija, addressed to the Berlin Congress against the „mass murders“ and „rapes“ committed by Serbia’s army and the Bulgarian military units.

However, such official protests by the Albanians were much more a way of a propaganda work but not the reality on the ground at least not to such extend as preseted. The fact was that majority of the (Muslim) Albanian „refugees“ in fact voluntary left those lands ascribed by the Russian-Ottoman Treaty of San Stefano to a Greter Bulgaria for the reason that the Muslims can not, in principle, to leave under non-Muslim government – i.e., the government of the „infidels“.

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EU-Republic of Korea Summit: Building on a well-established partnership

MD Staff

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The 9th EU-Republic of Korea Summit took place on 19 October in Brussels. It marked the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the EU and the Republic of Korea and set the stage for a further strengthening of bilateral ties.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. The Republic of Korea was represented by its President, Moon Jae-in. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from the Republic of Korea.

“In 2011, the EU agreed its first Free Trade Agreement with an Asian country. That country was the Republic of Korea”, said President Jean-Claude Juncker. “The beneficiaries of this agreement have been our citizens and our businesses, but if our trade relationship is to reach its full potential, we need to ensure that it is being implemented properly. At the same time, we must continue to dispel the notion that protectionism protects, continue to invest in multilateralism, and continue to increase our cooperation in sustainable development and the implementation of the Paris climate agreement. I am confident that in the years to come, our relations will be even more dynamic and our ties even stronger than now.”

Presidents Juncker, Tusk and Moon committed to further develop the EU-Republic of Korea Strategic Partnership, which is underpinned by three concrete pillars: an enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement; an ambitious Free Trade Agreement; and a Framework Participation Agreement for EU crisis management operations. The Summit provided an opportunity to explore further areas for cooperation within the Strategic Partnership.

Discussions focused on the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the broader situation in the world, and trade relations. The Summit also provided an opportunity for the initialling, by the European Commission and the Republic of Korea, of a Horizontal Aviation agreement and the signing of a Joint Statement committing to work closely together to fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing.

Jointly addressing global challenges

The EU and Korea are united by common values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The Leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment to multilateralism and the international rules-based order, politically and economically, while also supporting global action on climate change and the environment. The EU and Korea will continue promoting free, fair and rules-based trade, modernising the WTO-based multilateral trading system, and maintaining international cooperation against protectionism.

The Leaders discussed a number of pressing issues on the global agenda, chief among them prospects for achieving lasting peace and security on a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons and finding a comprehensive solution through diplomacy, while fully implementing the relevant UNSC Resolutions. The EU supports the Republic of Korea’s efforts and diplomatic initiatives, in particular the three inter-Korean Summits and the US-DPRK Summit, and the implementation of their outcomes. The EU sees the development of inter-Korean relations, the denuclearisation of, and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula as vital for peace and security not only in East Asia, but for the entire world. In this context, the EU stressed the requirement for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle all its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and related programmes and facilities.

The EU and the Republic of Korea reiterated their commitment to maintaining close coordination on foreign and security issues. In the field of crisis management, the EU and the Republic of Korea will continue the good cooperation under the EU-Republic of Korea Framework Participation Agreement, through which the Republic of Korea has regularly contributed to the EU’s naval counter-piracy operation off the coast of the Horn of Africa, EU NAVFOR Atalanta. Similarly, they discussed and agreed to cooperate more closely on implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving its Sustainable Development Goals, and will bolster their bilateral policy dialogue on international development issues and promote joint cooperation in areas and third countries of mutual interest, notably in Asia and Africa.

Expanding the bilateral agenda to bring further benefits to citizens

The leaders recalled that the EU-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement has been an economic success that has increased wealth on both sides. The EU is Korea’s 3rd largest trading partner and Korea the EU’s 8th largest; annual trade in goods between the EU and Korea is now worth about €100 billion. With that in mind, the leaders exchanged views on how to ensure that our citizens and businesses can reap the full benefits of the agreement. The EU highlighted several important issues: for example, ensuring the full implementation of the long-standing, binding labour commitments under the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter; opening the Korean market to EU beef from all EU Member States; and fully implementing commitments in the area of intellectual property rights, including protecting new Geographical Indications.

The Summit also provided an opportunity for the European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, and Kim Young-Choon, Minister for Oceans and Fisheries of the Republic of Korea to sign a joint statement committing to work closely together to fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing.  The Republic of Korea is the fourth country with whom the EU signs such a joint statement as part of its efforts to tackle the most serious threats to sustainable fishing and to marine biodiversity in the world’s oceans, with devastating environmental and socio-economic consequences. The new partnership, in line with the objectives of the EU’s Ocean Governance strategy, will help exchange information about suspected Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated activities, enhance traceability of fishery products and promote sustainable fishing through education and training.

Excellent progress has been made in the area of transport, where this week the European Commission and the Republic of Korea initialled a Horizontal Aviation Agreement on certain aspects of air services. The agreement will restore legal certainty to all 22 bilateral air services agreements that the Republic of Korea has with EU Member States by bringing these into conformity with EU law. The number of passengers travelling directly between the Republic of Korea and the EU has grown on average 10.1% over the past five years, totalling 3.4 million passengers in 2017. Currently, direct passenger flights are operated between 10 EU Member States and the Republic of Korea. The Horizontal Aviation Agreement reflects this growth in the EU-Republic of Korea aviation market and should serve as a catalyst for increased flows.

Leaders also stressed their commitment to implementing the Paris climate agreement. To translate this political commitment into concrete projects, the EU has set up a platform to exchange best practice on climate action and support the implementation of the Korean Government’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. The EU’s Partnership Instrument also financially supports exchanges of cultural practitioners and artists from both the EU and Korea, economic cooperation between companies, as well as the promotion of research and teaching on EU-related issues in Korea, adding to the overall breadth of the relationship.

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ASEM Summit: Europe and Asia – Global Partners for Global Challenges

MD Staff

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The 12th ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Summit took place on 18-19 October in Brussels, bringing together 51 countries, as well as EU and Asian institutions. Under the title “Global Partners for Global Challenges”, leaders addressed some of the world’s most pressing issues.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. Heads of State or Government of the 28 EU Member States, Switzerland and Norway, in addition to 21 Heads of State or Government from Asian countries, as well as the Secretary General of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), were also invited. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, and the Vice-President of the European Commission for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, also participated at the Summit.

“We want to give our relationship with Asia, which is already very dynamic – as illustrated by the numerous trade and cooperation agreements we have, fresh impetus“, said President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Summit’s plenary session this morning. “Only a multilateral approach will enable us to confront global challenges. This is why I reiterate our commitment to support multilateral organisations in all their efforts, including the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation – a World Trade Organisation that we have to reform together, so that its rules correspond better to the new realities. It is by acting together that we will be able to preserve our planet […], contribute to resolving conflicts, eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, […] and that we can better manage migration flows and develop free and fair trade.”

“What Europe and Asia agree together matters not only for the two of us, but for the entire world. Together we represent 55% of global trade, 60% of global population, 65% of global economy and 75% of global tourism; together we represent a real global power“, said the High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini at the Summit’s press conference. “We come out of this two-day Summit with a reinforced global partnership between Europe and Asia. It has allowed us to translate our global weight into concrete policy initiatives – on regional and international security, foreign policy issues, climate change action, free and fair trade, and the digital agenda to name a few. Together, we can make a real difference for the world.”

A Chair’s Statement, covering the wide range of areas discussed and focussing on ASEM’s three pillars – namely political, economic and financial, and social and cultural – has also been issued.

Sustainable connectivity between Europe and Asia

In his address at the Summit’s plenary session, President Juncker highlighted the importance of investing in more sustainable connectivity between the European Union and Asia. The European Union has this week adopted a new strategy on connecting Europe and Asia, building on the proposal of the European Commission and the High Representative in September. With financial, environmental, and social sustainability at the core of the EU’s approach to connectivity, the EU’s objective is to develop sustainable connectivity networks across the digital, transport, energy and human dimensions, as well as to strengthen partnerships at the bilateral, regional and international levels, in particular to ensure a rules-based approach and interoperability of standards.

As a contribution to enhancing Euro-Asian connectivity, as well as to demonstrate the huge potential of the relationship, the European Commission has this week launched the ASEM Sustainable Connectivity Portal, offering policymakers, researchers, businesses and other stakeholders alike a wealth of data on the political, economic and societal relationships between the two continents. A full press release and factsheet are available online. In parallel to the Summit, a number of events to bring Europeans and Asians together are taking place in Belgium, such as the ASEM Cultural Festival, the Young Leaders’ Summit, the Business Forum, the People’s Forum for civil society, the Labour Forum and the Parliamentary Partnership Meeting.

Strengthening EU-Asia bilateral ties

In the margins of the ASEM Summit, the European Union signed a number of bilateral agreements to deepen and expand its relations with Singapore and Vietnam respectively.

President Juncker,President Tusk and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz signed, together with the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Long, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. In the presence of the leaders, EU High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Vivian Balakrishnan signed the EU-Singapore Framework Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation and Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström and Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, and Trade Relations of Singapore signed the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement. These agreements represent a significant step forward for a more comprehensive and mutually-beneficial relationship between the EU and Singapore, opening new opportunities for European producers, farmers, service providers and investments, as well as strengthening political and sectoral cooperation through more formal and intensive exchanges for example in environment, climate change and counter-terrorism.

The European Union is also stepping up its relations with Vietnam. Earlier this week, the European Commission adopted the EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements, paving the way for their signature and conclusion. The trade agreement will eliminate virtually all tariffs on goods traded between the two sides. The agreement also includes a strong, legally binding commitment to sustainable development, including the respect of human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and the fight against climate change, with an explicit reference to the Paris Agreement. Today, the EU and Vietnam signed a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement. The Agreement will help improve forest governance, address illegal logging and promote trade in verified legal timber products from Vietnam to the EU, and other markets. In addition to the variety of social, economic and environmental benefits associated with better management of the forestry sector in Vietnam, the licensing will simplify business for timber traders.

EU-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting

Following the ASEM Summit, a Leaders’ Meeting between the European Union and ASEAN took place. President Jean-Claude Juncker and President Donald Tusk, accompanied by EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini represented the European Union, whilst the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was represented by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, as the country holding the ASEAN Chairmanship for 2018, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, as the country which will hold the Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2019, and the ASEAN Secretary General, Lim Jock Hoi.

“The EU’s partnership with ASEAN is founded on common interests across many areas. We share common values – in the European Union and in the founding charter of ASEAN – which need to be respected by all”, said President Juncker at the opening of the Leaders’ Meeting. “Proof of our intense cooperation is the number of agreements with Singapore that we have just signed. These, I hope, will be the first in a long series of such agreements with ASEAN countries, and will eventually result in a region-to-region agreement.”

At the Leaders’ Meeting, alongside matters of trade, connectivity and transport, leaders addressed global peace and security challenges, including climate change, non-proliferation, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism, maritime security and migration. They agreed to strengthen the EU-ASEAN relationship, in particular to address global challenges and to work together to reinforce the rules-based international order and multilateralism.

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A New Redrawing of Balkan Borders: A Road to Hell

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More than a decade after Kosovo region’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, the issue of redrawing borders is back on the agenda. The ongoing negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina on the settlement of bilateral relations under the auspices of the European Union may lead to an unexpected result – the breakaway of Serbia’s three predominantly Albanian-populated southern Serbian regions of the Presevo Valley and their accession to Kosovo – which, in turn, will be carved up into Serbian and Albanian parts. Such a scenario, in turn, can set off disintegration processes in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and even Greece (with Albanians enclaves in the north).

The Pesident of the self-proclaimed Kosovo Republic, Hasim Thaci, said that in the event of an agreement signed between Belgrade and Pristina, the Presevo Valley adjacent to the Kosovo border, would likewise join Kosovo.

According to him, “the requests of the Albanian population of the Presevo Valley for joining Kosovo are institutionalized,” and if an agreement is reached between Belgrade and Pristina, neither the EU, nor NATO or the US would be able to interfere with its implementation. Moreover, he said that the problem of Presevo will soon be discussed in Brussels anyway.

However, he once again ruled out the possibility of Kosovo proper being divided into Serbian and Albanian parts (which is increasingly being discussed in Serbian political and public circles), although he was rather vague about the possibility of “adjusting the Kosovo-Serbian border.” For his part, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic supports the idea of carving up Kosovo, which he argues would help avoid a new conflict.

“A territory, if you don’t know how to treat it or who it belongs to, is always a source of potential conflicts and problems.” “I am foursquare behind this [separation] and this my policy, whether people like it or not. I am holding out for separation with Albanians,” Vucic stated. rts.rs.

Serbia’s current Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic was the first top-level politician to come up with the idea of dividing Kosovo, describing it as a long-term compromise solution to the Kosovo conflict. In an interview with the Pristina-based Albanian-language newspaper Zeri, Ivica Dacic, who was then First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, said that “the only real solution is to leave the Serbs in Serbia and separate the other part where Albanians live. It will be a working mechanism to quickly solve the problem. Other options will be just a waste of time.”

However, the idea of partitioning Kosovo can now become part of a broader “package” agreement on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The European Commission makes Serbia’s admission to the European Union, which in this case could come in 2025, strictly conditional on a legally binding agreement signed by Belgrade and Pristina.

Many media outlets consider the division of Kosovo and a territorial exchange a very likely scenario. The Croatian newspaper Jutarnji List even claims that the matter is already a “done deal,” and warns of possible negative consequences: “In fact, it’s not just Kosovo. Pandora’s box may be thrown open. This could have a knock-on effect. Just imagine the worst possible scenario the partition of Kosovo could lead to. Bosnia and Herzegovina would immediately follow suit, followed by Macedonia. Montenegro could possibly come next.” jutarnji.hr

The Albanian leaders of southern Serbian Presevo Valley, which is home to three mixed Serbian-Albanian communities, admitted the possibility of a “territorial exchange” as envisaged by pertinent agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, as early as in 2012. The leader of the Presevo community, Ragmi Mustafa, emphasized that the three communities (Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac) “must join Kosovo,” while “northern Kosovo must join Serbia.” He believes that a pertinent proposal should be discussed in Brussels.

“I think that this holds the future for our region,” he said. A year before that – in the summer of 2011 – representatives of Albanians living in Kosovo and Presevo Valley, including Ragmi Mustafa, met in Gnilan and adopted a resolution on “facilitating the return” of Presevo Valley communities to “independent Kosovo Republic,” including with the participation of the international community. The latter, according to the participants, would help deter the Serbian government from “obstructing the free will of the Presevo Valley population.”

Accurate and reliable data on the ethnic composition of the three communities is not available. However, if we compare the estimates, we will see that 90 percent of Albanians and 10 percent of Serbs live in Presevo, 60 percent of Albanians and 30 percent of Serbs live in Bujanovac and 30 percent of Albanians and 60 percent of Serbs live in Medvedja. Thus, Albanians now constitute an absolute majority in  Presevo and Bujanovac.

Just as the President of the Turkish International Cooperation Agency in Ankara, Umut Arik, warned as early as in the mid-1990s, all talk about creating a security system in the Balkans makes no sense until “decisions relating to nation-states can be made and revised unilaterally”. This is exactly what has recently been happening around Kosovo. What is also evident is the interrelated development of disintegration processes going on in the Balkans. This may force the leading world powers and international institutions to abandon what they have professed all these years – “a policy focused on the state, rather than territory” as the University of Pristina professor of public law Enver Hasani puts it.

Such a policy provides for solving the problems of each Balkan country separately from one another. This approach was at the heart of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, devised by the European Union and introduced in 1999.

The unilateral declaration of independence for Kosovo in 2008 embedded in this concept a provision about the “uniqueness of the Kosovo case.”

However, amid the current impasse around Kosovo Serbs and the growing activity of Albanian nationalists, the international curators of the Balkan settlement, above all the most business-minded and openly cynical of them in the form of the administration of the US President Donald Trump, could switch to a “territory-focused policy,” which views a region not as an combination of already established states, but as a system of territories in dynamic equilibrium and, therefore, capable of reformatting.

“For some Balkan politicians, talk about territorial division and redrawing of maps is like adrenaline,” the Croatian newspaper “Jutarnji list” rightly wrote.

“The question is, what will happen to the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Will this catastrophic disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina affect Croatia, or will a peaceful Bosnia finally emerge taking in “parts of Croatia”!? Another question is, how would the Bosnians and their defenders, such as Turkey, react to this?! Perhaps, for Serbia, the matter would not be limited to Presevo, and the processes would affect both Sandzak and the very north of Serbia. On the other hand, the exchange of territories with Kosovo could raise the issue of ‘consolidating the Albanian nation,’ which would revive old ideas of dividing Macedonia. And with the process of Albanian consolidation on and with the Republika Srpska already  part of Serbia, this would whet Serbian appetite, if not for the whole of Montenegro, then at least for its ‘Serbian parts,’” the newspaper forecasts and makes a sad conclusion: “Despite the seeming simplicity (“we give you, you give us”), this decision leads to hell.” jutarnji.hr

In all fairness, any new changes in the situation in the Balkans – and above all, the delineation of borders – will raise the discussion to a higher international level and may potentially bring them back to the floor of the UN and the UN Security Council where Russia  wields a veto power.

Simultaneously, such scenarios are forcing Belgrade to work more closely together with Moscow, which is one of its key international allies.

The Serbian political class is aware that it cannot move forward without progress toward resolving the long-standing Kosovo issue. But in order to save face with its constituents, the Serbian leadership has to come up with some settlement in which Serbia will not be perceived as the total loser of the Kosovo dispute. To that end, Serbia must have a great power backer in the negotiating process, and as Serbia lacks a patron in the West, Russia is useful in that role. As long as Kosovo remains in play and as long as Serbian leadership lacks a settlement acceptable to public opinion, Russia will have a high place in Serbian foreign policy considerations. The West should be cognizant of this. For their part, both the European Union and the United States need to be aware that close ties between Russia and Serbia are in large part the result of taking Serbia and the Balkans for granted,” The American Interest emphasizes.

Given the situation at hand, Russia needs to figure out the possible options of such a reformatting of the Balkans and choose the ones, which are best suited to its geopolitical interests and those of its allies and partners in the Balkans region and beyond.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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