Minister Dacic in an interview of the week for Kurir speaks about what lies ahead

29. Jan 2023.
The big five delivered a document to the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, almost an ultimatum, at least that has been the perception of the public - the French-German plan for Kosovo, and the head of state said in an address to the citizens that he was told as many as three times what the consequences would be if we do not accept it.

Is it really an ultimatum, is there any room for maneuver to improve anything from that plan in our favor and what is next for us, we asked the First Deputy Prime Minister and Head of Diplomacy Ivica Dacic, who was in Brussels the day after that and spoke with EU High Representative Josep Borrell. Dacic tells Kurir what that conversation looked like, as well as what our response to the latest proposal will look like in practice.

- The most important thing is that our people understand that we participate in every agreement and that the interest of Serbia is protected in every conversation we have. This is the main difference compared to some previous situations, when they did not ask us about anything, but they would just decide instead, and we stood aside. Serbia is at the center of decision-making now, no decision will be able to pass without us.  That is why Aleksandar Vucic made the right decision that we participate in the dialogue based on this plan, while noting red lines, that there is no membership of Kosovo in the UN and that the Community of Serb Municipalities needs to be formed first. In addition to all that, we were clearly informed about the consequences if Serbia is the one to obstruct the agreement, which first of all means serious consequences for the future of Serbia.

An alleged version with 10 points appeared in the public, and Lajcak said that none of those versions were authentic, and that the document had 11 points. As the head of diplomacy and First Deputy Prime Minister, you must have seen the document... Is it milder or much worse than the versions that appeared? What is the hardest thing for us there?

- I tell you again, we are talking about different options. But we have to be aware that no version will be easy. The time for easy solutions is long gone and for ten years we have only been talking about possible solutions, not easy or hard ones. This year marks exactly ten years since we signed the Brussels Agreement with Pristina and with Brussels. That was a difficult solution, too, but it was the best one possible at the time. And it is still the best possible today, although it has not been implemented as a result of being blocked by Pristina and those who support them. I want to say that we are looking for solutions for Kosovo and Metohija that can be applied in reality, not in a laboratory. We have Serbia and the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija on our mind when we are looking for a solution, and not some imaginary picture that suits us, but cannot be implemented.

Analysts say that Serbia must not allow another historic "no" to the West, because we remember what it brought us in the past. You also remember, your party was the ruling group at the time... So what do you, as the head of diplomacy, but also the leader of the SPS and an actor of the era when we said "no", say now? What are our options anyway?

- We are talking to several “Wests”, as you say - there are Americans, Germans, the French, British, Italians, and then there is Lajcak. They all have their own individual interests and expectations. But we treat them as partners who are making efforts towards us reaching a compromise with the Kosovo Albanians, and that is why we have been in this process for more than ten years. The West is the factor with which Serbia seeks a solution for Kosovo and Metohija, it has been so since, not by our will, the dialogue was moved from the UN to the European Union. And that is the reality. We cannot look for a solution elsewhere, this is the framework in which we move. Also, we must always keep in mind that these are countries with which Serbia achieves two-thirds of its trade and countries that employ several hundred thousand people in Serbia. Some say that this has nothing to do with the talks about Kosovo and Metohija, and I tell them – you try to separate those two things.

The general assessment is that the West is not threatening with an empty gun, that the threats are real and that the consequences, if we refuse to talk, would be catastrophic? What is the scenario that we would face? Are these sanctions like in the nineties? What did they tell us?

- There will be no sanctions against Serbia, not because nobody wants to do it, on the contrary - many would impose sanctions on Serbia tomorrow. But we will not allow that because each of us, including Vucic and myself, knows that this is one of the most difficult periods that Serbia has gone through. We make decisions on behalf of the people who elected us to be presidents and ministers, and we have to pursue policies that will not lead to job cuts. Those who say that this is not important to them, let them go to those people and try to explain to them that they will be fired because it is important for the state and the nation. For us, there is no greater state interest than for everyone to have a job and to live peacefully with their family in their home in Serbia.

The day after the address by President Vucic, you were in Brussels and talked to Borrell. Can you tell us in more detail what that conversation looked like?

- The conversation with Borrell was constructive. It is very important that Brussels assessed the approach of President Aleksandar Vucic as constructive and responsible, in contrast to that of Kurti. The EU has certain dilemmas regarding the Brussels Agreement, but it was in that same building where I spoke with Borrell that I signed that agreement with Catherine Ashton. That Agreement envisages the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM). Therefore, if the guarantor of that agreement at the time was the EU High Representative for foreign policy, it is only logical that it is still the case today, and that we are expecting the CSM on the basis of those principles.

For decades we keep hearing expressions such as "red lines", "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia", etc. Now, let's be specific, how will it be in practice - the West delivers a specific request “let Kosovo into the UN, that is, don't object to it” - and we say what?

- We say that Kosovo is not an independent state and that it should not be a member of the United Nations. And this is not only said by Serbia, it is said by a convincing majority of the members of the United Nations. They should ask them if Kosovo is an independent state, and hear what they think. The majority will tell them that it is not a state, and two of the five permanent members of the Security Council will tell them the same. Let them ask their own in the European Union if Kosovo is an independent state and they will see that five countries think that it is not. Let them ask NATO the same question - four members will say that Kosovo is not a state. The situation is the same in Interpol, and in UNESCO. I do not know how they think they can get them into membership of those organizations. That is not a question for Serbia, they should ask themselves that question.

The focus is again on the issue of the formation of the CSM, which should have been formed a long time ago, and now the United States has also become active... Can we expect progress and will the U.S. really succeed in "forcing" Pristina to form the CSM in a way that was signed in Brussels? Or is this also some kind of a show?

- We expect the Community of Serb Municipalities to be formed and we welcome statements from the West, and especially from the United States, that this will be done. It has long been clear to everyone that we cannot take a single step forward until something we have been waiting for ten years already is fulfilled. And this is not just anything, it is the main request that our side had. We have been persistent in the request that the CSM be formed because it is our most important request in the dialogue, but also because we take these negotiations seriously and responsibly, believing that everything agreed upon must be fulfilled.

Deadlines for resolving the Kosovo issue have been mentioned recently, namely February, the anniversary of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, then March... Did any of the Western officials mention a specific deadline to you and what would that be?

- I do not pay attention to any mention of deadlines, those are not serious things. There are no deadlines in the conversations I have had, and I am sure that no one mentions deadlines to President Vucic either. I am not saying that someone might not have in their head when some phase of our dialogue should end, but there are a lot of people there, they have some obligations and expectations of their own, they also have mandates that last for a certain period of time, so they might project that onto our conversations. We do not have that. The talks will last as long as it takes to reach a compromise, and that is all that matters. Time is less important than the quality of the agreement we are working on.

The National Assembly session on the topic of Kosovo and Metohija is scheduled for 2 February, because the opposition representatives did not want individual talks with the President. What do you expect from that session?

- President Vucic offered the widest possible consultations and discussions because this concerns our most important state issue. His intention is to discuss the issue of Kosovo and Metohija with all political actors - whether they are in power or in the opposition, because there is no topic more important than this. But some did not want to talk about it, and why they did not, they should explain that to their voters. As far as I can see, they have no explanation for that, it will probably even be too much effort for them to come to the Assembly to talk about Kosovo and Metohija. But that only speaks of them, because it is very easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize Vucic and Dacic, and when you ask them what their plan is for Kosovo and Metohija, they say that Vucic should leave office. We will have a parliamentary debate because neither the president nor the government have anything to hide from the public and from the parliament as to what is happening in the dialogue on the issue of Kosovo and Metohija. That is our message, and that is what motivated President Vucic to initiate this session. I just cannot understand that someone who wants to be in politics would run away from the discussion about Kosovo and Metohija, I do not know what they could possibly consider to be a more important state issue than that.

Is there an option to hold a referendum on Kosovo and Metohija after this document that was delivered to us?

- We are still far from any decisions on these issues, and especially from the matter of whether we need a referendum or not. We first have the parliamentary debate ahead of us and a lot more talks with international representatives and with Pristina, so it will take more time to make any decision. In any case, when the time comes, I am a supporter of creating the broadest consensus on future solutions for Kosovo and Metohija.

Source/Photo: Nikolic