Despite the gravity of the current situation and the assurances from various sides that a definitive solution must be found as soon as possible, I think the evolution of the overall situation regarding the Kosovo problem suggests that it is not advisable to rush and accept the imposition of anybody’s deadlines
Darko Tanasković is a Serbian Islamologist, Orientalist-philologist, university professor, writer, translator, a Yugoslav diplomat and the Serbian ambassador to UNESCO. In an interview for Diplo-macy&Commerce, he talks about Serbia’s foreign policy, relations between Serbia and Turkey and the situation in Kosovo and Metohija.
You were the Serbian ambassador to Turkey. What do you think of the current relations between the two countries and Erdogan’s recent visit?
— For some time, the relations between Serbia and Turkey have been on an upward trajectory, especially in economic terms. On the one hand, Serbia’s consistent openness to comprehensive and constructive cooperation with all neighbouring and regional countries, regardless of certain political differences, contributes the most to this. On the other hand, Turkey’s current commitment to pursuing its interests more in the economic, communication and cultural segments in the Balkans, and less through intrusive political action, is essential. This new course of official Ankara implies an appreciation of Serbia’s position as a central state in an area for which Turkey has been traditionally interested, both in the present time and in the future. Even while I was the ambassador of Yugoslavia to Turkey during the difficult period of the 1990s, Ankara was viewing our country as a significant factor in the Balkans. However, the way they viewed Serbia’s importance, considering the then regional and international context, regardless of diplomatic rhetoric and the attempt not to completely disrupt the relations, was, objectively speaking, negative since they supported all enemies of Serbia. Even then, just like Erdo-gan today, senior Turkish officials used to say that they considered Yugoslavia “a neighbouring state, although Turkey had no common border with it.” Back then, Bel-grade perceived that as a pretext for malicious interference in our internal affairs, and today, we tend to interpret it as an expression of friendly closeness. There is a lesson to be learned here. And not to be forgotten!
While being the Serbian ambassador to UNESCO, you said that “Turkey is among the most aggressive countries lobbying for Kosovo and Metohija’s membership in UNESCO”. Has anything changed in the meantime?
— Turkey was among the first countries to recognize the self-proclaimed independence of “Kosovo”, establish full diplomatic relations with Priština at the embassy level and begin implementing a plan to assist Kosovo in all areas – from political, economic and military-security to cultural. In this respect, the Turkish factor is significantly present in Kosovo today. You just need to walk the streets in Priština or Prizren and see how many Turk-ish companies have opened their offices in this so-called country. At the political level, in the international community, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in international organizations, Turkish diplomacy has wholeheartedly advocated the affirmation of Kosovo’s international legal subjectivity. Official Ankara has been at the forefront of lobbying for Kosovo’s membership in international organizations, including UNESCO. In the course of a major campaign to support Albania’s proposal for Kosovo to be accepted into this specialized UN organization for education, science and culture in 2015, Turkey’s political leadership became involved in the effort to secure the required number of votes for Priština.Official Ankara continues to support “Kosovo” even today, which is part of Turkey’s neo-Ottomanist and Erdogan’s deeply Islamist foreign policy doctrine. This is a lasting strategy, for which the Muslim communities in the Balkans are the main, but not the only, pillar of regional positioning. Given the current commitment to acting primarily through soft pow-er in the Balkans and developing constructive and comprehensive relations with Serbia, with mutual acceptance of “the double track” when it comes to Kosovo, Ankara has become less vocal in publicly supporting Priština and is now behaving in a much more discreet manner, which is certainly a positive development as it creates more room for bilateral cooperation.
What do you think of Kosovo in-vesting such a huge effort into becoming a UNESCO member?
— The affirmation of independence, state sovereignty and international law subjectivity is a priority for Priština and its patrons at the international level. This goal is being pursued through “Koso-vo’s” membership in as many international organizations as possible, with a particular emphasis on those operating within the UN system. “Kosovo’s” desire to join UNESCO should be viewed in this general context. As the UN’s unique specialized agency for education, science and culture, UNES-CO has a special place and enjoys a special reputation in the world, so membership in this organization greatly contributes to the prestige of each country. It also allows for equal participation in principally non-political spheres of education, science and culture. Although Kosovo’s request for admission is largely explained by the need to “provide unimpeded access to education, science and culture to this young state and its young population”, there is no doubt that the motives behind Priština’s effortsto enter the organization, to which it doesn’t belong in any shape or form, are primarily political. There is another special and very strong reason for “Kosovo” longing for the UNESCO membership, that is the rich Serbian, Orthodox cultural and spiritual heritage in the province. These are the Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries and other sacral objects in Kosovo. The Kosovo authorities would like to acquire a legal position, under the coordinates of the international order, that would enable them to manage the destiny of our cultural and spiritual heritage and monuments of universal civilizational value. The best illustration of what their management and counterfeit claim to this property would look like is best documented by the fact that four significant sacral sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church are included in the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in danger. Whom is this danger coming from? Certainly not from climate change!
Kosovo had election recently, with political forces regrouping. Will that affect our relations in any way?
— I am not that familiar with the political scene in “Kosovo”. In any case, regardless of differences and conflicts, all stakeholders on that scene agree that they will continue with their unwavering commitment to “Kosovo’s” independence and the hostility towards Serbs and Serbia. The only thing they are interested in is forcing or making Serbia agree to recognize the independence of a part of its national territory, which they illegally usurped with the help of the part of the international community. The regrouping that you have mentioned has occurred within the same general political option, which is an indivertible framework for all relations with Belgrade. This is the most important and fundamental constant of the Albanian position in relation to Serbs and Serbia. Of course, the upcoming political processes will lead to the formation of some kind of government in Priština which will be pressured from the centres of international power, especially those in the West, to return to the dialogue with Belgrade, without any illusions as to the final outcome the dialogue that both these centres and Priština consider to be the only possible, which is “mutual recognition of the two countries”. As if Serbia needed “Kosovo” to recognize it! There will be various tactical maneuvers, promises and threats, made both to Belgrade and Priština, and to certain politicians, i.e. unacceptable proposals camouflaged in apparent concessions, steps forward and back… It is hard to believe, however, that these, in many respects, farcical elections could change anything in the basic determinants of the “quadrature of the circle” that is “Kosovo”, and especially with regard to the quality of Serbian-Albanian relations.
President Aleksandar Vučić brought up the idea of demarcation. What do you think of that? Can, in that case, the Albanians take ownership over some of our cultural monuments?
— Considering all the current real circumstances, geo-strategic, political and demographic factors, as well as the strength and depth of animosity between the Serbs and the Albanians, it would be illogical for the idea of the demarcation of Kosovo and Metohija not to emerge. And this is nothing new! President Vučić was not the first person to come up with this idea. It was Dobrica Ćosić who formulated the idea of partitioning Kosovo and Metohija in the early 1990s but Kosovo and Metohija that would remain in Serbia, with “a positive discrimination” in terms of the status of the Albanian part of the territory. A well-known lawyer and academician Miodrag Jovičić also advocated this idea in his proposal for regionalization. In the book “Kosovo between Historical and Ethnic Law (1994)”, a spatial planning expert and a great expert on the situation in Kosovo, Branislav Krstić, suggested that the parts of Kosovo, with majority Albanian population, should be given the status of “peacekeeping area”. In 1996, the then President of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Aleksandar Despić, spoke about the inevitability of demarcation. Cantonization, as conceived by historian and diplomat Dušan Bat-aković, had the elements of factual demarcation. The demarcation, as the worst and the last solution, was also mentioned by Nebojša Čović, Zoran Djindjić, Boris Tadić and, more recently, Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić. Were possible all these people traitors, as a segment of the Serbi-an population calls anybody who speaks out about demarcation as a possible solution to the Kosovo problem?! I, personally, am not fond of the idea of demarcation if it entails the formal recognition of “Kosovo’s” independence. Despite the gravity of the current situation and the assurances from various sides, accompanied even by threats, that a definitive solution must be found as soon as possible, I think the evolution of the overall situation regarding the Kosovo problem suggests that it is not advisable to rush and accept the imposition of anybody’s deadlines and calendars. Kosovo and Metohija belong to a different Serbian ‘calendar’ in which time is not measured by political measures. This is the time to which our sanctities in Kosovo and Metohija belong. No-one can take them away through physical and legal violence, as well as by forging history.
SERBIAN FOREIGN POLICY TODAY
What do you think of the activities conducted by Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić in relation to Kosovo? Do withdrawals of recognition by some countries matter symbolically or substantially?
— The actions of our diplomacy, led by Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, in relation to the entirety of the problem called “Kosovo”, in all its dimensions, have been well-planned, well-thought-out, adequately organized and persistent in recent years which yielded results. “Kosovo” has, so far, failed to break into any major international organization, and the number of states withdrawing or suspending the recognition of its independence has been growing. This is important both essentially and practically, in a political sense, because every state has one vote when voting in international organizations. This is also important symbolically because it materializes the failure to make false “arguments” stronger than reality through the use of force, hypocrisy, double standards and insane propaganda.