Bor­der plan sparks fear in Kosovo’s Serb en­claves

Kuwait Times - - International -

GRACANICA: A pos­si­ble land swap be­tween Ser­bia and Kosovo, sug­gested by their lead­ers to end one of Europe’s most volatile ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes, has sparked con­cerns that the bor­der could be re­drawn along eth­nic lines and reignite fes­ter­ing com­mu­nal eth­nic an­i­mosi­ties. With few de­tails yet made pub­lic, me­dia re­ports say that the Serb ma­jor­ity north­ern bor­der re­gion around the city of Mitro­vica would be in­cor­po­rated into Ser­bia un­der the plan, which would also see Bel­grade hand over a mainly eth­nic Al­ba­nian re­gion in Ser­bia.

The trade-off would also see Bel­grade fi­nally rec­og­nize its for­mer prov­ince as an in­de­pen­dent state, 20 years after a bit­ter war be­tween Ser­bia’s forces and proin­de­pen­dence eth­nic Al­ba­nian guer­ril­las that led to Kosovo break­ing away from Ser­bia in 2008. Kosovo’s Pres­i­dent Hashim Thaci, who along with Ser­bian coun­ter­part Alek­san­dar Vu­cic last year raised the pos­si­bil­ity of re­draw­ing the bor­der, has in­sisted a re­vised ver­sion would not be drawn along eth­nic lines.

‘Clear eth­nic divi­sion’

But the plan has sent rip­ples of alarm through mi­nori­ties in these re­gions, no­tably among eth­nic Serbs liv­ing in en­claves dis­persed in Kosovo who would be un­af­fected by such a deal. A ter­ri­tory swap would mean “clear eth­nic divi­sion so that within decades there will be no Serbs left in Kosovo,” said Ste­fan Filipovic, a 24-year-old Koso­van Serb ac­tivist in Gracanica, one of those en­claves and a short drive south of the cap­i­tal, Pristina.

There are an es­ti­mated 120,000 Serbs liv­ing in Kosovo in to­tal. Of those some 40,000 are thought to live around Mitro­vica — and are likely set to be part of the land swap — while a fur­ther 80,000 live deeper in Kosovo and would re­main un­der Pristina. Gracanica, home to one of Kosovo’s main Ortho­dox monas­ter­ies, is one of six mainly Ser­bian mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that are like is­lands sur­rounded by Kosovo Al­ba­nian neigh­bor­hoods.

For Rada Tra­jkovic, an eth­nic Serb politi­cian in his 60s liv­ing in Gracanica, the bor­der change would amount to cre­at­ing “two mono-eth­nic spa­ces” and lead to Serbs leav­ing Koso­van en­claves. Tra­jkovic is one of few Koso­var Serbs will­ing pub­licly to crit­i­cize Srp­ska Lista, or Ser­bian List, the mi­nor­ity’s main po­lit­i­cal out­let. Most of Tra­jkovic’s fel­low Serb col­leagues back the Bel­grade line of Pres­i­dent Vu­cic.

‘Aban­doned by Bel­grade’

Long a taboo sub­ject, a ter­ri­to­rial ex­change has the back­ing of the United States as well as sev­eral EU of­fi­cials. Ger­many, how­ever, is op­posed, warn­ing of the po­ten­tial for a re­newed flare-up of the hard­line na­tion­al­ism which has marked the still frag­ile Balkans in the past. A NATOled peace­keep­ing force has guarded Kosovo since it broke away from Ser­bia in a bloody war in 1998-99 that left more than 13,000 dead. Bor­der re­vi­sion “is a very dan­ger­ous, par­tic­u­larly dra­matic idea,” says Filipovic, who feels “aban­doned by Bel­grade”. For Tra­jkovic, “if they cede the north of Kosovo to Ser­bia, I don’t see why the (Koso­var) Al­ba­ni­ans would show em­pa­thy with those (Serbs) liv­ing” in the en­claves. — AFP

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