Dacic: The attitude of the West towards Serbia has changed; the CSM is a prerequisite of all prerequisites

Ivica Dačić
Source: Tanjug/Sava Radovanović

It is a big deal for us that both in Washington and in Brussels, even though they know our "red lines", they evaluate our approach to dialogue as constructive and responsible, says the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Dacic, who spent the last two days in Washington, where he was a guest at the Prayer Breakfast and met with US officials in the State Department and Congress.

In an interview with the Voice of America, Dacic emphasized two red lines - the issue of Kosovo's recognition, that is, the issue of Kosovo's membership in the United Nations, and - as he put it - "a prerequisite for all preconditions" to first form the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities.

"It's something that we really don't need to discuss or negotiate again because it's something that we agreed upon when we signed that agreement 10 years ago," the head of the Serbian diplomacy and the first vice-president of the Government of Serbia said.

Dacic points out that the most important thing for him during his stay in Washington were the talks at the State Department, with the officials he recently met in Belgrade - adviser Derek Chollet and Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar.

"The central topics were our bilateral relations, that is, how to try to progress in those relations. I think that the phone call that State Secretary Blinken made with President Vucic before today's session of the Serbian Parliament is also important. That call was a direct consequence of the attitude that I could hear both in Brussels and here in Washington - and I think that is perhaps the most important message, which is that the performance and position of President Vucic, that is, of Serbia, is evaluated as constructive and responsible. And it is often compared to Pristina and Kurti - for whom there are opposite assessments," Dacic said.

"I could hear here that they express positively about Serbia, and they themselves say that the position of Quint, including the US, has changed very significantly in relation to this positioning of Serbia, which shows that it was a correct decision," Dacic added.

Dacic states that it is also important that he heard from American officials that they are "aware of how difficult it is for Serbia to talk about it at all".

"For example, I can speak about all this from personal experience, because I am with Vucic, and at that time I was the Prime Minister, you remember at that time, when the Brussels Agreement was signed, and we were under attack from various sides - that we betrayed Kosovo, and so on, they even cursed us and I don't even know what; sued us in court... So, of course, any discussion on this topic will be difficult, and this is shown by these events today that I was able to follow, as far as I saw there were incidents in the Serbian parliament - which of course is not good, because we need to have unity regarding the approach to those state and national issues".

It's no secret that America is perhaps most interested in progress in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina in the last few years. We have a Franco-German plan, about which at least officially we do not know much, except that both America and Europe demand that Serbia and Kosovo sign it, and it seems that there is a lot of pressure on both sides to do so. Have you felt that in the conversations here?

This is not about pressure, because you know Serbia has positioned itself constructively and with us - unlike Pristina - there is no need to talk in such a way, to force someone to accept something. They should talk to Pristina to accept to implement something they signed ten years ago. So that's a huge difference in approach. We are talking here about something that would be unacceptable for us in relation to the very text of that new agreement. And here we are talking about something else. There is no doubt that our position there is good, but the topics we talk about are difficult and based on some things that I think are very difficult to discuss. To convince someone whether we are right or wrong because all that persuasion and argumentation that we present, which is very often similar to what is happening in connection with the territorial integrity of Ukraine... but you know what, we are not in a position to determine how the great powers will decide on that issue. So it is obvious that in the coming period, but only when we enter into some further implementation of all this because we have not even entered into all of that, then we will discuss extremely difficult issues, on whether certain decisions should be made or not and in that sense they clearly stated what was something we could count on and what was something you could not count on. And in this regard, it can be said that these were some of the points, that is, the consequences that we could face if Serbia had been characterized as being the cause of the failure of that dialogue. This is not the case at the moment. This is good.

It appears that the US has never exerted more pressure on Kosovo to form a Community of Serb-majority Municipalities. However, the American side - as both Mr. Chollet and Mr. Escobar have indicated several times - considers it a separate process from the Franco-German agreement. Is that how Serbia perceives it?

It is separate, but you know in what sense - that it is not a part of this new process. It is a part of the Brussels Agreement process and we agree with it. In what sense - that it precedes something that we will do further. We cannot wait now for it to be formed at the end of some process. No, we think it's something that was agreed upon.

This is a prerequisite for the return of the Serbs to institutions. And why is that so? People no longer remember that context, I told Borrell that too. He asks why the Serbs don't return to the institutions, and I tell him: I don't know exactly in which room here in Brussels we signed that agreement, but here we signed it together with Thaci and Catherine Ashton. I tell him that, for a while, they kept my picture here in the European Union when I signed it with Thaci. What did I sign? Did I sign for the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities? And that it was a condition that the Serbs in such a way when they abolish the institutions of the state of Serbia, could create their own institutions in Kosovo and thus enter the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities and through that enter the institutions of those temporary bodies in Kosovo.

And now what should that mean - that we deceived our people and that you deceived me because I signed it... We just don't want it to be a part of some new agreement, some new process, that it turns out that we have not agreed on anything so far. So it is not part of the new process. That's the part that has to be finished. Those are the undertaken commitments. They are not part of any new agreement.

"It's easy to sit on the terrace and share lessons"

How do you interpret the opposition's criticism that this is all treason?

I don't know on what basis they can claim something like that, because Serbia has not undertaken a single commitment so that someone could claim something like that. President Vucic did not sign anything, nor did he give his consent, he initialed that we had undertaken some obligations. We said that we wanted to discuss it as always. We participated in the dialogue even when we did not like that text, both in Brussels and in some other places, before 2008 or 2012. It is absolute manipulation, politicization, and scoring political points. If someone really wants to discuss all these issues, they should express their opinion, and their proposals, say what should and what should not, what is acceptable for them and what is not acceptable.

We can theoretically discuss some things. We theoretically had, before 2000, you remember, that the DOS was talking about the issue of Kosovo as a democratic issue. That it has nothing to do with territorial integrity. That it's a democratic issue, so when Milosevic leaves, it will all be resolved somehow. It turned out not to be so. Then we had standards before status, so that was also abandoned. Well, there were two tracks at the time of Tadic. Separate track - one is the issue of European integration, and the other is the issue of Kosovo. And it seems that they will not collide with each other. However, they somehow collided at the first corner.

They have different views; they proposed it. You know, we will not agree with them on everything. Chollet said to me: "You are wasting your time with these withdrawals of recognition." I mean, it's just not that important to them. It is important for us. Why does it matter? Because we don't have the support of major powers, we have to rely on numbers, and those numbers... if someone wants, for example, to apply for Kosovo membership in the UN, it is very important to us what each of those countries thinks because, at the end of the day, there are principles by which to vote. Therefore, we should not expect them to adapt their views to ours, but we should just say... they have in mind what is possible for us and what is not possible. I think that is correct. The talks were very fair; they said they would be transparent with us. I say once again - they spoke very positively about President Vucic and his approach and Serbia's position in general. I think it should be used for the development of our bilateral relations.

Councilor Derek Chollet, speaking recently about the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities, mentioned that Kosovo should form the CSM in the north of Kosovo. Does this mean that it is only about four municipalities or is it about the entire territory of Kosovo, where we have 10 municipalities with a Serb-majority population?

Ten municipalities; I don't know now how much and whether he is familiar with all these things, but in principle, you know when you look at it, these are municipalities with a Serb-majority population. So for now there are ten of them. That's how it was when I participated in all that, I guess that number is still the same today...

And there should have been an option for every other municipality to join; there are many different interpretations...

But we are not far from all that. So this is what we talked about 10 years ago and the task was to work out the way it would work, in the shortest possible time. And then it stopped. And then they started with those stories that it was not in accordance with the constitution of Kosovo, that they would not accept it - both one and the second and the third and the fifth, each one that came was worse than the previous one. And we came to a situation where, 10 years later, we are still debating whether a Community of Serb-majority municipalities should be formed or not. And that is the European "Aquis communautaire" (obligation of all countries that want to join the EU, author’s note). So they are now telling us that Serbia should accept some European policies. Everything is fine. But is the Brussels agreement part of European politics? Was it signed by Catherine Ashton? Why is it not in line with European Union policy? Will Pristina comply with that - it will not.

We talked about it in one way, and we talked about how to design the functioning of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities, to really make it in a way that would be of importance to the Serbs - to be their representation in Kosovo and Metohija. Of course, no one has ever considered that issue, so now it will be a new Republika Srpska or something like that. We weren't even interested in that. But obviously, the other side does not want anything related to Serbia to appear on the political scene in Pristina. That is why this position of America is important. It would be very bad if America said: "Now we will not interfere, and now we do not insist on the formation of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities". And that's why we are grateful to them, because frankly speaking, if they weren't there, leading the way, it would be hard for someone else to push it, I'm talking about European countries.

If Kosovo is the number one problem on Serbia's European path, then right next to Kosovo is the fact that Serbia has not yet agreed with the EU's foreign policy and imposed sanctions on Russia. You have already spoken on this topic several times since returning to the position of head of the diplomacy, even in an interview with the Voice of America. You said that Serbia could not let go of the Russian hand that was holding it above the precipice until the West gave it its hand. Do you still see the situation that way?

We have to look that way because we cannot look at that position differently because we have to imagine ourselves in that position. One is a matter of principle, as far as that is concerned, Serbia is extremely principled, and we condemn the violation of territorial integrity. The problem here is that neither the West nor the East is principled enough, that is, they interpret the principle of territorial integrity differently. When it comes to the West, they think that the territorial integrity of Ukraine should be defended, but that the issue of the territorial integrity of Serbia and Kosovo is a different issue, they always interpret it as an issue for themselves. But anyone can think that his question is a question for itself, outside of all other frameworks, even if it is not an exception but belongs to something called a corpus of questions in itself.

However, when it comes to the East, they also come and say - if Kosovo can, then the provinces in Ukraine can declare themselves independent states, and now they support us on the other side in the United Nations. They use that example in their own interest, which happened in relation to Kosovo. So we now have to look at our interest, and that interest is that if we have not completed the dialogue with Pristina, then it is not correct for someone to push Pristina to become a member of the Council of Europe, or the UN or the EU. As long as this is the case until we have guarantees from the West that they will be fair to us, we cannot lightly give up our position and safe votes when it comes to the position regarding Kosovo and Metohija.

And that's the bottom line, and it's not just about Russia, other countries are under the impact of sanctions, and that's why we have to take care. After all, we can now interpret it in one way or another; every country would act the same in our place, and they acted the same in their history.

You also mentioned that Serbia could reconsider its position if the decision not to introduce sanctions caused damage to Serbia that could not be tolerated, as was the case now. Are we close to the damage becoming too great?

I think we are not close because then it would not be in Serbia's interest. We would have to accept that, even though it is not in Serbia's interest. We want to create a situation where Serbia's interest is such that we join some new policy, and relations with Western countries... that's why we need to look for the lowest or the highest common denominator, regardless, and that's not an easy and simple process so I think we are far from that situation. Why? Because the most important question now and I think it is the question of all questions, is the question of Ukraine. For us, that issue cannot be separated from the issue of Kosovo, that is, from the issue of the territorial integrity of Serbia. Those who want to discuss it with us must have an understanding of our position.

One of the bilateral issues in the relations between Serbia and the US that has not been resolved for many years is the question of the murder of the Bitic brothers. Was that a topic during this visit? How far has this case progressed in Serbia?

No, I didn't talk about it this time, because now, other more current topics were on the agenda, but it is a topic that American officials raise regularly. They have their own preparations for the meeting and that question is always among the topics in the preparation of those meetings. It's something they won't give up. I am not even familiar with it, since I was not the Minister of Foreign Affairs for two years, I did not go into the details of those cases, but it is certainly something that we will have to face in the coming period.