David L. Phillips, Director of the Programme on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights and former senior adviser to the State Department, writes in an opinion piece published in Balkan Insight that a possible secret deal for swapping territories is reached between Kosovo and Serbian presidents it could lead to further polarisation of Kosovo’s politics, exacerbate social divisions, alienate international allies and cause inter-ethnic unrest.
Phillips says it is rumoured that President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci Thaci and President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic plan to announce a deal to swap territories just prior to their next meeting in Paris on July 1. According to sources, this would include: Serbia recognising Kosovo; Kosovo ceding north Mitrovica and four northern municipalities to Serbia; Kosovo would get four to seven villages in the Presevo Valley; Gazivoda Lake would become a trust territory under the supervision of an international organisation; an Association of Serbian Minority Communities (ASM) would be established in other parts of Kosovo where Serbs reside and would be responsible for urban and rural planning.
Phillips warns against an agreement for swapping territories saying it would “institutionalise instability, isolating Albanian villages in Presevo and in the north of Kosovo, thus creating Gaza-like ghettos” while “the Association of Serbian Minority Communities for Kosovo Serbs in the south of the country would cause unrest and ultimately fuel their demands for withdrawal from Kosovo.” It also risks leading to deepening of social divisions and even interethnic violence. “Bosnia may also experience a renewal of violence if Republika Srpska seeks to unify with Serbia,” Phillips cautions.
In the international aspect, the deal would also be bad for Kosovo as any agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, without the consent of Germany and the United States, will fail. “Germany and the US are critical to Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic integration,” he writes.
“There is an alternative to partition: state-building and the creation of a shared society in which the interests of all communities in Kosovo are protected and promoted. Instead of focusing on the details of border adjustment, Thaci and the international community should take a long term view and insist on Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo without conditions. Anything less makes Thaci an accomplice to betrayal and Belgrade’s bullying,” Phillips concludes.