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THE GYMNICH FORMAT IS A REASONABLE FRAMEWORK FOR DISCUSSION IN SARAJEVO

27 May 2010 

The impending meeting of the region’s foreign ministers, on June 2, 2010, in Sarajevo, under the EU sponsorship, which is envisaged in the now popularly discussed ”Gymnich” format, is likely to allow the participants to discuss pressing issues in an open and relatively relaxed context. This is a meeting format where the participants attend only under their personal names, without the name of their states. The format applies to all participants, which means that nobody can be accused of failing in their “statehood representation”. Given that the Sarajevo meeting will be attended by UNMIK, a broad interpretation would have it that they, alongside with the Priština government, will represent Kosovo, so that there will be a degree of “asymmetry” between the representation of Kosovo and those of the states of the region.

If is, of course, clear that meetings are only held in the Gymnich format when there are serious problems with the themes to be discussed. It is equally clear that this a format that stretches the traditional diplomatic context so as to allow constructive exchange where otherwise none would be possible. On the other hand, for those who criticise the format, the real question is what would be the alternative to this type of meetings. If Serbia does not talk to Priština and does not establish some of its claims in an official way, the process of erosion of Serbian state and national interests that was initiated by Kosovo’s declaration of independence is likely to continue. Namely the proclaimed independence may well be consolidated internationally, and  Serbia may be ultimately unable to receive any guarantees in terms of the rights for the Serbs who live in Kosovo. The familiar story with the Z-4 plan durign the wars of dissipation of Yugoslavia would repeat itself, with the plan, which envisaged substantial rights for the Serbian population, being rejected, with a situation with no such rights to follow.

Serbia is already running late with a possible demand to partition Kosovo with the Kosovo Albanians. Signals that keep arriving from the US and the EU consistently suggest that such a partition is an increasingly distant possibility. This claim must be made without further delays if it is to have any chance of success whatsoever. With such a claim, if it is successful initially, the further consolidation of Kosovo’s independence would be „frozen“ for some time, while the negotiations on territorial issues unfold.

However, in order to reasonably make the claim for partition, one cannot start from the idea that „we will never recognise Kosovo“. This idea logically requires Serbia’s willingness to go to war over Kosovo. If, on the other hand, Serbia is not willing to go to war, and clearly it isn’t, because such a war simply could not be led in the present circumstances, one must acknowledge that a Serbian recognition of Kosovo is out of the question only in so far  as Kosovo is conceived of in its present administrative borders. Consequently, a demand must be made that Priština enters very serious negotiations with Belgrade over the status of the Serbian churches and monasteries across Kosovo, and over a cluster of territorial compromises in the North of Kosovo.

Such territorial compromises would not include any „territorial exchange“ that would involve the South of Serbia, which is a claim occasionally, and ominously, made by some ethnic Albanian representatives who live in the South of Serbia as a condition for Kosovo’s partition. The agreement that would result from such negotiations would simply include a return of a part of territory to Serbia in exchange for a further consolidation of Priština’s project of statehood.

Courage and sincerity are required in order for such a position to be articulated by a broad layer of participants in the public debate over Kosovo. Negative messages that permeat the Serbian public sphere in this regard are useless, and what is at stake is a fundamental state issue that does not support political party-bickering, divisions of public personalities into „patriots“ and „traitors“, personal egos and calculations of interest. This is a moment when all those on the Serbian side must be united and support the only possible approach by the state, irrespectively of who is temporarily in power in that state. Alternatively, if we are disloyal to each other at this historical moment, we will face a further territorial fission already tomorrow, along with new problems that, as a domino effect, may ensue once the current efforts to establish a dialoge with Priština fails and the Kosovo problem is not solved as far as Serbia is concerned.

The same is true with regard to the prospects of establishing a good and friendly relationship with Sarajevo, which is also threatened by serious internal divisions in the Serbian society. Such relationships are necessary for a strengthening of Serbia’s role in the region and it is a matter of both patriotic sentiment and of patriotic logic to proceed with such a reconciliation and inter-state dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina, while fully recognising and affirming its sovereignty. Such sovereignty is the best contribution to the continued prosperity and autonomy of Republika Srpska and the gradual normalisation of ethnic relations within Bosnia.