This is the first post of a series I am going to be running for the few days on Serbia and Kosovo. I am here invited by the Kosovo and Serbia Open Society Foundations. With me, there are two members of the Spanish Parliament’s Commission for Foreign Affairs, a lawyer and former MP who is specialized in human rights and a journalist.
I had never been in Belgrade before, my experience in the Balkans being reduced to Albania and Macedonia. I was surprised by the beauty of the Danube, but shocked by the run down aspect of Belgrade, which in many senses still looks as a post war city. As I walk down the main pedestrian street to the Fortress, I look at young people and I wonder how much do they do or care about the past, the war, Kosovo and all this.
In the morning after our arrival to Belgrade we are briefed by Peter Sorensen, EU representative, and his assistant on the daily difficulties which the recognition issue bears for the two million of Albanians and Serbs living in Kosovo and how difficult regional cooperation is. We discuss the plans of the Serbian government, the attitudes of the main political parties, and the likely meaning of the ruling of the ICJ, expected later in the year.
Later on, we meet Natasha Kandic, a renowned human rights lawyer famous for having successfully put Serb security forces to trial because of war crimes committed during the Kosovo war. It’s a frustrating job, with Courts unexpectedly releasing the accused without explanation. But she does not despair: thanks to her, Serbs are coming to terms with the truth about their involvement in the war crimes.
Over lunch, I meet with Jovan Teokarevic, a professor of political science at the University of Belgrade who publicly sustains an argument seldom heard in Belgrade: that Serbs should forget about regaining Kosovo and should look to the future. Moreover, rather than thinking, as they do know, that the worst Kosovo looks in terms of unemployment and insecurity, the better Serbia will look upon the eyes of the international community, he holds the opposite to be true: the faster Serbia understands that its fate its linked to Kosovo and therefore, the better Kosovo functions, the easier it will be for both countries, for Serbs in particular, to join the EU. He therefore advocates, as many other people we’ve met today, that Serbs should sit down with Albanians from Kosovo and figure out practical solutions to the practical problems of ordinary citizens across both sides. As a good friend of mine who lives in Belgrade and knows the region quite well likes to say, the history of nationalism in the Balkans is the history of elites hiding behind nationalism and disregarding the actual well being of people. Tomorrow, Kosovo. But first we have to cross the border by bus at night, under heavy rain, fog and an incredibly bumpy road.