Dear Rada Trajkovic,
First of all, we are grateful to you for your attendance to our seminar as a speaker in İstanbul. It was our honour and pleasure to meet with you and listen your fruitful and constructive insights about the Balkans and especially the relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
1 – President of Republic of Serbia, Alexander Vucic claimed that opposition leaders such as Bosko Obradovic and Dragan Djilas are cooperating with PM of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj. As one of the speakers in the protests you are very close to 1od5miliona protests, do you believe that there are links between opposition in Serbia and Kosovo administration?
That claim is completely untrue and is part of Vuicic’s propaganda and his attempt to avoid taking responsibility for his own actions. It is in fact Vucic who cooperates quite closely with Haradinaj: there is a strong line of communication between these two men that is not transparent and goes via controversial local actors in Kosovo who many believe are involved in criminal activity.
Neither Haradinaj nor any other Kosovo politician currently in power is even attempting to establish a line of communication with the Serbian opposition. Remember that the Kosovo government is dependent on the support of its Serbian coalition partner – the so-called “Srpska lista” [Serbian list], which is directly controlled by Vucic. Therefore, any communication with the Serbian opposition could endanger stability of the current Kosovo government, and the current Kosovo leaders are aware of that.
2- There is another perspective about the protests in Serbia. It has accused that President Vucic punished by the global actors by the protests because he could not reach the deal with Kosovo as he promised? Same circles also commented like Soros and Otpor are behind the protests. Is that possible?
No, the protests are an authentic expression of popular discontent against Vucic’s bad rule. We do not need any outside intervention to be angry, as there are many reasons for the Serbian people to be dissatisfied with the current government: from the poorly performing economy to the crisis of our education system, and many other issues of national importance.
In fact, Soros’s Open Society Foundation has – on the contrary – been quite actively supporting Vucic, with the deputy chairman of the foundation, Alexander Soros (George Soros’s son) frequently flying into Belgrade for private meetings with Vucic. Furthermore, several NGOs affiliated with Soros’s foundation have been very vocal in their support for Vucic’s idea of ethnic partition of Kosovo as the final settlement. These NGOs have been helping Vucic’s public relation efforts on this issue and actively gathering support for this idea both in Serbia and abroad.
3- Nationalist emotions are likely higher in minorities and President Vucic stated that Serbs are the first nation who got damaged from Serb nationalism when he was in Mitrovica on 09.09.2018. He further criticised the politics of Slobodan Milosevic as he was making self-criticism on the same occasion. We all know that during the war Vucic was in the mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina and his famous saying was “we will kill 100 Muslims for 1 Serb”. What do you think of Vucic’s statements in Kosovo Mitrovica?
I do not believe in his self-criticism or him ever being truly self-reflexive. You have to understand that Vucic is politically instable: he is an opportunist. Politically, he is almost a split personality – a person of two extremes. I do not know if the statements he made in Mitrovica were his momentary opinion or a sign of his wider strategic direction. However, one is certain: as an opportunist, Vucic constantly adapts his public statements to whatever would win him support from the most powerful international actors and keep him in power. He has no true conviction. So if the world was to ever again favour extreme nationalists, I am afraid that he would quite possibly revert to his former extreme nationalist, islamophobic persona.
4- Of course there is another side in the relations and do you think that Pristina does take enough initiative and responsibility in order to come up solution with Serbia?
Unfortunately, Pristina does only as much as it wants to do – no more, no less. In essence, Pristina has maximalist expectations: they want to get everything without giving anything in return. So far, Pristina has lacked tact in its rapport with Belgrade, failing to realise that only a balanced approach will result in long-term stability and lead to a sustainable solution to conflict.
For example, Pristina continues to speak only of the crimes committed by Serbs against Albanians, but completely denies the post-war crimes committed by Albanians against Serbs. They, however, have to understand that they cannot monopolise the status of the victim and that both sides need to be held responsible for crimes they committed so that true reconciliation and breakthrough in relations can happen.
So far, the international community has allowed Pristina to behave in this way, which resulted in disenchantment among the Serbs with the international community and its standards of justice. However, I am happy to see that this is now changing and that there are more and more mainstream Western voices talking about the need to address issues such as responsibility for war crimes with equal urgency on both sides.
5- When you were in İstanbul, you mentioned that Thaci and Vucic is trying to find the solution in order to save themselves. Can you please explain it in details, what do you mean by stating “save themselves”?
If Vucic and Thaci were to embark on border change and ethnic division of Kosovo as means of the final settlement, the process to implement this agreement would not be instantaneous but would, in fact, likely take a very long time. This process would very likely involve further destabilisation of Kosovo – including the outbreak of a low intensity, possibly violent, conflict – as populations stuck on the “wrong side” of the border would be forced to move and ethnic composition of Kosovo would come in flux. This process would, therefore, keep both Vucic and Thaci in power, with them simultaneously becoming the instigators of instability and those who stabilise processes on the ground.
Such situation would benefit them greatly, as they are both looking to escape the arm of justice each in their own way: Thaci is in fear of the Specialist Chamber in the Hague that is examining post-war crimes in Kosovo, while Vucic is afraid of the mounting evidence of his corruption and links to organised crime. Both of them are hoping that the international community would grant them abolition for these crimes, at least while they are implementing the “solution” for Kosovo.
6- Pristina put custom tariffs %100 on Serbian goods and it attracted interest not only from the region but also the US started to make pressure on Kosovo to lift this decision. What is your opinion about the custom tariffs?
Custom tariffs are primarily endangering Kosovo Albanian businessmen, who have for years held a monopoly on trade in Serbian goods, such as flour, sunflower oil, milk, and many other crucial – mainly food – supplies. The Kosovo Albanian consumers now need to buy these products at higher prices, which negatively affects their budget and impacts their overall quality of life. On the other hand, Serbia is using the tariffs as the reason to stop the negotiations – which has, in turn, slowed down the conversation about the possible partition of Kosovo.
In my opinion, any breakdown in communication between Pristina and Belgrade is very harmful as it slows down processes of reconciliation and normalisation of relations. It also alienates Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo and complicates our everyday relations. But as far as the impact on the economy is concerned, I am less worried, as everyone is finding their answers to this situation through proliferation of the “grey economy” and smuggling activities.
7- We know that you were very close friend of Late Oliver Ivanovic whose murderer has not been clarified yet. You told us that even you said him it is not good to be outside the jail and unfortunately he killed in front of his office. It is emotional for you but can you please explain us is there any relation between the murder of Zoran Djindjic and Oliver Ivanovic in terms of the aims of two murdering?
I wouldn’t say that there is a similarity in the aims of these two assassinations. One common thread, however, is that both assassinations were politically motivated and that they were both organised and executed by members of organised crime gangs – at least judging from what we know so far.
8- Recently Radovan Karadzic was sentenced for a life prison and a terrorist attacked Mosques in New Zealand’s Christ church city. Also there was a pride of Chetniks in Visegrad Bosnia and Herzegovina. Having in mind three different events, can we say that the Chetnik Ideology is uprising? Are there any plans to trigger some conflicts in the Balkans?
I do not think that Chetnik ideology is on the rise. Perhaps the idea is surviving among some marginal members of our societies, but I doubt that it can grow into anything more than that. Of course, we can’t rule our individuals being led astray or radicalised by such ideas, but I doubt that they can mobilise people in bigger numbers.
Perhaps if borders were to be changed in Kosovo along ethnic lines, this could act as motivation to some individuals who adhere to dangerous ethnic ideologies, inspiring them to call for the independence of Republika Srpska, for example. I am unsure how successful they would be in this, but it is possible that partition of Kosovo would embolden such destabilising forces.
9- There is ongoing process in Kosovo about the higher education law amendments. Branch of University of Pristina in Mitrovica is willing to be part of Kosovo Education System. How do you evaluate this process?
As you know, Serbs are still lacking solutions and guarantees for sustainable survival in Kosovo. Therefore, our community would be severely negatively affected if our only University were to become part of the Kosovo educational system. This would mean that our University would be completely separated from the system that exists in the rest of Serbia, and that our diplomas would no longer be accepted or recognised in the rest of Serbia – meaning that if a member of our community were forced to flee or relocate out of Kosovo, their educational qualifications would be worthless.
I am, therefore, afraid that such development would cause many young Serbs from Kosovo to leave Kosovo and to enrol at universities in the rest of Serbia instead. So this decision would rather be in function of endangering the already precarious multi-ethnic nature of Kosovo.
10- Kosovo Security forces became Kosovo Army and one year ago Montenegro and Kosovo came up with border deal. How these two event will affect the relations between Serbia and Kosovo?
I am not sure if any non-transparent agreement was struck between Belgrade and Pristina regarding the Kosovo army. However, I know that this development has had a negative impact onto our community.
This is due to the fact that the Kosovo Army is ethnically Albanian with negligible participation of Serbs and other minorities. The creation of Kosovo army as such disturbs the wider regional balance, as we now have two ethnically Albanian armies – in Albania and in Kosovo – next to each other. Furthermore, Kosovo Army is created with intent to defend Kosovo from Serbia, which creates additional distrust among the Serbian population.
I, therefore, strongly believe that it is the best for Kosovo to remain a demilitarised and neutral territory, especially as Albanian soldiers are already present in Kosovo as part of the KFOR-NATO forces.
11- There is Turkish and Gora Minority in Kosovo. Are they effective in the politics of Kosovo? Do they have any role in the relations between Serbia and Kosovo?
No, their participation is not significant, as the Albanian majority continues to favour those members of the Turkish and Gora communities who are prepared to assimilate and give up their distinct ethnic identity. There is a part of the Turkish community in Kosovo that is resisting the pressures to assimilate, and they are successful in this since they receive strong support by the Turkish KFOR-NATO members present in the area. If they (the Turkish KFOR) weren’t there to support this community’s fight for uniqueness, I am afraid that even these last bastions of authentic Turkish identity in Kosovo would be forced to assimilate into the Albanian majority.
12- Islamic Union of Serbia, actually there are divided Islamic Organizations in Serbia but how do you evaluate their role when it comes to Turkey-Serbia relations?
I cannot comment much on the relationship within the Islamic organisation in Serbia, as I do not know enough about its internal dynamics. However, I know that for me Islam is a religion indigenous to our region, and those who adhere to the original ideas of Islam were always cultivating good relations with Orthodox Christians. I believe that Turkey has played a significant role in supporting the strain of Islam that is more traditional and that acts as a stabilising force in our communities. In the region, we have, however, had issues with other, non-traditional strains of radical Islam – some of which imported from Saudi Arabia – which have been destabilising. In this context also, I believe that Turkey can be our ally in countering these harmful phenomena, which are not indigenous to our region and which destabilise the religious balance that we have had in the Balkans for centuries.
13- You have visited Rum Fener Patriarch in Istanbul. You also know that the Orthodox Church in Ukraine became independent by the authority given from Istanbul. How Serbian Orthodox Church and its followers reacted to this decision? What are their demands or expectations?
Opinions on this issue within the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) vary and there is no unique stance to convey.
One strong faction of SOC is of the opinion that we should cooperate both with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, considering that SOC holds joint church services with them both in various countries of the world where Serbian diaspora lives.
A large number of SOC members is in diaspora, and they are not prepared for a “break” with either the Patriarch in Moscow or the Patriarch in Istanbul, as they want to retain stability and close relations with both the Russian and Greek diasporic communities. Their practical requirement is, therefore, putting strong pressure on SOC back home, and will likely prevent any dramatic decisions on this issue.
14- As the last question I wanted to hear from you about your experience in Istanbul. Of course before your visit you had an opinion about Turkey and its role in the Balkans but can you please let us know what kind of policy or role Turkey should have in the Balkans and especially relations with Serbia and Kosovo.
I believe that Turkey has a very specific role in the Balkans, especially in relation to the Bosniak community.
During the time when Yugoslavia still existed, the Bosniaks in BiH, Montenegro and Serbia used to have Yugoslavia as their home state. However, with the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Bosniaks were left with no home country to call their own – whilst the rest of us all had them. In that sense, Turkey appears to have assumed the role of a “surrogate” home country for the Bosniaks across Balkans.
Considering the long history of Turkish presence in the Balkans, this is a logical development. Furthermore, as a NATO member country, Turkey can also act as a guarantor of security to the Bosniaks in the region, as well as guide them along the Euro-Atlantic path – especially as a big part of the Bosniak community in the Balkans is strongly pro-European. Turkey’s constructive, stabilising and balancing role in the Balkans is, hence, inevitable and very welcome.
With regards to my personal experience visiting Istanbul and Turkey for the first time and on your kind invitation: I must say that I was unsure of what to expect, as the history of our peoples has been very complex and not always friendly. However, I was impressed with the gracious and warm welcome that I have received and surprised by the similarities in our mentalities and culture. Furthermore, visiting the rich cultural sights of Istanbul made me realise how interlinked our history has been and will likely remain, and how – although on Turkish soil – Istanbul truly is another great capital of the Balkans.
Thank you very much for your time and efforts. We would like to further our cooperation with you and may be to take facilitator role between Belgrade and Pristina. All the best.