Kosovo Phone Number Not Enough
The modest steps brokered by the EU between Serbia and Kosovo are to be welcomed but the fact remains that more than 15 years since the fighting stopped in Kosovo and 20 years since the Katyn style massacres in Srebrenica took place, the Western Balkans is unable to move forward.
Calling Kosovo no longer means using a Monaco prefix but it is hardly the massive step towards Belgrade recognising Kosovo as a full international state. Indeed, for those not expert in the workings of international telephony it must be a puzzle how a foreign power can dictate what phone numbers a neighbouring state can use.
It is also a modest step forward that the great heap of rubble placed by Serb bull-dozers across the bridge at Mitrovica that divides the town will now be dismantled. But a ‘landmark’ breakthrough it isn’t.
The plain fact is that Belgrade still cannot come to terms with the fact that the glory days of a unified state under largely Serb control have gone and will never come back.
It is as if twenty years after 1945, France still refused diplomatic recognition to Germany or endless courts were still sitting to go over the crimes committed by Germans and the French resistance in the brutality of the war.
Instead leaders like Robert Schumann and General de Gaulle turned the page and within a very short period created a new Franco-German comity that allowed economic and social growth to take off.
For inexplicable reasons Serbia, a decade and half after losing its suzerainty over Kosovo, is incapable of producing a political leadership capable of a Balkans resolution similar to the settlement after other such conflicts.
Ireland was wrested from British control after a short bloody war in 1920-21 with its attendant murders, revenge atrocities. Many in Britain thought that Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom but accepted the Irish would have their own identity.
Kosovans lived unhappily under control of the former Yugoslavia but when Slobodan Milosevic made his famous speech near Pristina in 1989 raising the banner of ultra Serb nationalism, he opened the gates of hell of the 10 year-long Balkan conflict. Slovenia was the first country to say Adieu to Belgrade rule and Kosovo was the last.
115 nations now have diplomatic relations with Kosovo but Belgrade insists that the country is just a break-away province that one day will see the light and gratefully accept re-integration into Serbia.
It isn’t going to happen but the longer Belgrade refuses a final settlement the longer Kosovo also has its politics dominated by the liberation fighter politicians who emerged from the short, sharp war at the end of the last century.
The lack of full international status – membership of the UN, Council of Europe, and international financial institutions – makes it very hard for Kosovo to access external investment, the key to economic success.
The EU reported that in July 47,000 Kosovans were the single largest national group joining the migrant trafficking exodus from poverty. The Serbs may say “Told you so!” just as the British looked down their noses at the Irish who emigrated in their millions even after their country become independent.
But it is the Western Balkans as a whole from Greece to the Alps that suffers as membership of the EU remains a distant dream as along as Belgrade cannot deal with Pristina as an equal nation-state.
Frederica Mogherini, the chief EU diplomat, is to be congratulated on continuing the arduous step-by-step work of her predecessor, Cathy Ashton, in getting the Serbs and Kosovans around the same table.
But an international phone prefix while welcome is not where Belgrade needs to be if it really wants to move from the 20th to 21st century.
Denis MacShane was the UK’s Minister of the Balkans 2001-2005