Kosovo, Serbia clash over Balkan border issues at summit

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic arrives at the Brdo-Brijuni summit, in Brdo, Slovenia, Monday, May 17, 2021. The Brdo-Brijuni Process summit had originally been planned for last year, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the initiative, but had been postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

BRDO, Slovenia (AP) — Serbia and Kosovo clashed Monday at a summit of Western Balkan nations over state border changes, a thorny issue in a region that is still recuperating from bloody civil wars in the 1990s.

The largely ceremonial annual gathering in Slovenia of the presidents of two EU-member states, Slovenia and Croatia, with leaders of six Balkan nations that formally seek membership in the bloc was to adopt a resolution that calls for unchangeability of the existing borders in the region.

However, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic rejected such a wording in the resolution because it would indirectly mean that Serbia recognizes the borders of its former breakaway province of Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008.

He has proposed that only the borders recognized by the United Nations be declared as fixed. Kosovo, which is not an UN member, has been recognized by the United States and most of the West, while Serbia and its allies Russia and China refuse to do that.

Kosovo “would like to interpret the borders as it wishes, or like a part of the world has already done,” Vucic told reporters after the meeting in the Slovenian resort of Brdo.

Kosovo “did not want to talk about the U.N. at any price … for us to accept anything like that is absolutely impossible,” he said.

In her speech at the summit, Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said she wants to be “loud and clear: The Republic of Kosovo as a sovereign and independent country is a permanent project.”

“There is nothing and no one that can reverse this reality. Dangerous adventures on border changes should be resolutely rejected by all of us, if we truly desire peace and stability in our region,” she said.

The clash at the summit came several weeks after the publishing of a document allegedly drafted by the Slovenia’s populist Prime Minister Janez Jansa, which proposed border changes across the Western Balkans. That is something highly controversial, because such attempts to forcefully change borders between former Yugoslav nations triggered the worst carnage in Europe since World War II.

Jansa reluctantly denied that he was the author of the document handed over to the EU that triggered the political storm. The alleged “non-paper” was reportedly intended to settle lingering ethnic tensions by forming nearly ethnically pure states and thus help the Western Balkan nations in their long-term goal of joining the 27-nation European Union.

The summit’s hosts, Slovenian President Borut Pahor and Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, said a “compromise” wording was adopted in a joint statement by the participants that reaffirmed their commitment to EU enlargement.

“There were many differences, voices were raised,” Pahor said. “But in the end we signed a document with which I’m very happy.”

The meeting, marking the 10th anniversary of the initiative, was attended by the leaders of Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia.

The in-person gathering was postponed twice last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, and Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania contributed.

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