BELGRADE – Chasing impossible dreams has driven Serbia and Kosovo into a corner. A return to armed conflict may be impossible – at least for now – given NATO’s military presence in Kosovo (though it will be halved in the next few months to only 5,000 troops). But the lack of effort on all sides to find a lasting compromise to the dispute over Kosovo’s independence threatens to undermine much of the progress made in the Western Balkans towards stability and democracy.
An opening for talks between Serbia and Kosovo was created by a joint European Union-Serbia resolution at the United Nations, which sets out a framework for dialogue. This was a triumph for the EU’s foreign-policy chief, High Representative Baroness Catherine Ashton, who secured the backing of EU member states (even from the five that do not recognize Kosovo’s independence), the United States, and both Serbia and Kosovo.
The resolution reflects the stark reality that Serbia now faces. Much as Serbia still considers Kosovo to be one of its provinces, key parts of the international community have invested too much financial and political capital in Kosovo to want to reopen the question of its political status.
Serbia also must face the fact that EU membership is impossible until the dispute is resolved. The EU wants to avoid another Cyprus, where a candidate country partly occupies a member country. Closer to home, the recent spat between Croatia and Slovenia over their maritime border almost scuppered Croatia’s accession plans.