Partition as an option for a solution to the Kosovo issue may be entering a new period of youth, if it has ever been rejected at all. It looks like a small, hidden exit from a labyrinth, through which all possible paths of movement have been attempted. It always somehow hits a wall, or reaches a partition, through which no one wants to go and returns to the beginning.
Three or four years have passed since its last appearance on the stage. Then it was rudely rejected as something that can return the Balkans to the cauldron of wars and self-destruction. What is most interesting is that it was not rejected by Belgrade and (then) Pristina, but by others who were involved in solving the Kosovo issue then and now. Except, to some extent, the US and we will return to it shortly.
In those three or four years that the partition was off the scene, the world changed drastically, Europe even more, the Balkans as well, even Kosovo. Things generally went from bad to worse. Of all the changes in the world, for the possible new youth of the partition of Kosovo, the retirement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel would be the most deserving. She was the most powerful and harshest opponent of this option, when it last appeared in circulation, in 2017 and 2018. With her enormous influence she decisively influenced everyone else, primarily Europeans, to remove this initiative from the table without discussing it.
Simply, in this example, Merkel demonstrated her enormous power in Europe and opposed the partition for at least two reasons. First, it was a proposal that did not come from her office, and she did not want to allow that, as a political factor that was 100% piloting the Kosovo case, including the dialogue in Brussels at that moment. In addition, the partition seemed as a concession to Serbia, which would be an acknowledgment that Germany’s strong support for the integrity and independence of Kosovo still had cracks. And as a seal on destroying partition proposal, Germany was the main promoter of bringing the radical Ramush Haradinaj to the post of Kosovo’s prime minister and then introducing an unimaginable trade blockade for goods from Serbia, which lasted a year and a half.
Regardless of the fact that Germany has not changed its policy towards Kosovo, the departure of Angela Merkel and the arrival of Olaf Scholz still means that Berlin has far less influence on the Kosovo process. Also, her departure reduced Berlin’s authority over other European capitals, which have more or less contact with the Kosovo problem.
At the same time, one of the biggest changes that have happened since the “death” of the partition until today is the strong involvement of America in the Kosovo dialogue. That further means de facto taking over the job from the Europeans, that is, from Berlin. The American entry into the Kosovo negotiations does not mean that the door to partition is wide open, because Washington was never enthusiastic about such an option. But according to the testimony of John Bolton, one of Donald Trump’s closest associates in the White House, the partition was at one point on the negotiating table. Unlike Germany under Angela Merkel, America has no need to prove its strength and authority by rejecting every proposal that it did not come up with. It is completely the opposite. The main reason for America’s entry into the Kosovo process was to speed it up, through the search for a pragmatic and only then fair solution, and to finish the job while Biden is “on shift”.
The third and perhaps the biggest change that happened since “killing” the partition as the option for Kosovo, is the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Since then, every unresolved issue in Europe has been viewed and resolved through the prism of the war in Ukraine. Kosovo is not only an exception, but it is the first priority for resolution in a way that will leave no chance for the regime in the Kremlin to take advantage of such a solution. After all, Russia is most interested in Kosovo not being resolved at all, and even better, an armed conflict breaking out there again, for which all the conditions existed in the past ten years when the “search for a solution” was managed by Europe, that is, Angela Merkel.
Finally, things changed (for the worse) in Kosovo itself. The political autism of Albin Kurti, otherwise a great European favourite, led to the dissolution of previous agreements, entering into a clinch with all international mediators, even America, and in the end increasing the pressure and violence against the Serbian community. A series of crises in the north of Kosovo due to Kurti’s desire to control that part of the territory without an agreement with anyone, only cemented the north of Kosovo as an ethnically homogeneous entity, which is further than ever from any integration into Kosovo.
The recent president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kosovo, Ilir Ibrahimi, is therefore right when he says that it is impossible to integrate the northern part of Kosovo by force if that part of the population does not want to integrate, and that therefore the exchange of territories could once again be an option.
If this really happens, and the changed international circumstances favour such a solution, we will once again hear two well-known fears as arguments against – the “domino effect in the Balkans” and of the “opening of Pandora’s box”. Never has any opponent of the partition of Kosovo, or the exchange of territories, or demarcation, gone further than repeating these platitudes that they thought were arguments, just because Berlin thinks the same.
If Serbs and Albanians agree on anything, even on partition (exchange, demarcation), it will not affect anyone else in the Balkans, nor will it cause changes anywhere else. Border changes are only possible if the two parties agree on it, and in no other way – this is the principle introduced for the former Yugoslavia 30 years ago by Robert Badinter, with his commission, on the task of the Hague Peace Conference on Yugoslavia. It was and remains the only legal, internationally accepted, source for all demarcations in the Balkans.
Not to mention that neither the “domino effect” nor the “Pandora’s box” are possible in the Balkans today, because the entire region, except for Bosnia and Herzegovina, has joined NATO in which there are no border changes. Here we don’t count Serbia as part of a possible agreement with Pristina. There was never a possibility that the Serbian-Albanian agreement on the borders would “ignite” the Balkans again. It was always just a PR-monster, created in Berlin and therefore widely accepted both in Europe and the Balkans, as an expression of submission to one policy.
It is possible that the partition of Kosovo will never happen. It will not be a pity if Belgrade and Pristina, with the help of the US above all, find a different solution that will put an end to their mutual problems. But it has a serious chance, if only to find itself on the table again as a difficult, but effective and long-term solution to the problem, for which all other options have already been attempted several times.