The past of Balkan nominees might get in the way of Nobel Peace Prize

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, a political group in the European Parliament, officially nominated High Representative Catherine Ashton, Prime Minister of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi and Serbian Prime Minister Ivaca Dačić for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the two latter nominees have a murky past, which puts their nomination into question.

50th Munich Security Conference 2014: Catherine Ashton, Ivica Dačić and Hashim Thaçi: Ivica Dačić (Prime Minister, Belgrade), Hashim Thaçi (Prime Minister, Pristina) and Catherine Ashton (High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, EU). Credits:

50th Munich Security Conference 2014: Catherine Ashton, Ivica Dačić and Hashim Thaçi: Ivica Dačić (Prime Minister, Belgrade), Hashim Thaçi (Prime Minister, Pristina) and Catherine Ashton (High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, EU).

This is the second nomination of the three candidates, representatives of the Serbian and Albanian lobbying group in the US congress having voiced the same nomination one month prior. The nomination is based on the historic EU-mediated agreement between Belgrade and Pristina that took place in Brussels on 19 April 2013. The agreement marks a milestone in the relations between Kosovo and Serbia, establishing among other issues the free flow of people and goods and the representation of Kosovo at regional conferences. Furthermore, the agreement establishes the dissolution of Serbian institutions currently present in Kosovo and envisages the creation of an Association of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo. This allows for a more de facto independent Kosovo at the same time as it assures a certain autonomy for the Serb minority present in Northern Kosovo. The Socialists and Democrats thus argue in their nomination letter that “ »The efforts to normalise relations between the two countries have been unprecedented and have created the opportunity of lasting peace and cooperation in the region. » However, the nomination has induced much controversy, particularly in the Balkan region.

Two nominees, two faces of a joint history

The recent past of the two Prime Ministers in the Balkan region is nothing if not controversial. In fact, they both had prominent roles in the wars following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Dačić was the right hand and spokesperson of former leader Slobodan Milosevic, trialed afterward by the ICTY. Concerning Prime Minister Thaçi, he was at the head of the political wing of the Kosovo Liberation Army. A special task force of the European Union is currently investigating an allegation of organ-trafficking during the Kosovo war when Thaçi was one of the heads of the guerilla. His rivals accuse him of having ordered arrests, assassinations and purges during the war; however, the Prime Minister strongly denies these accusations. Nevertheless, in the nomination letter of the European Socialists and Democrats, the past of the two Prime Ministers is not seen as a hinder to their nomination, but rather as a further reason as to why they should now be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The letter states that “Their leadership was all the more remarkable given the prominent role each played on opposing sides in the conflict during the 1990s”.

Strong reactions to the controversial nomination

Thus, the reactions following the nomination have been strong. In Serbia, Thaçi is deeply despised. “Most people in Serbia consider Thaçi to be an unindicted war criminal who personifies the double standard of the victor’s justice”, stated Ljiljana Smajlovic to the New York Times, president of the Serbian Journalists’ Association and a prominent Serbian commentator. This view is confirmed by the reaction of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić, who openly disapproves of the nomination, voicing fears that investigations of the alleged war crimes of the former commander could be brought to an end if he won the prize. Dačić is an equally disdained figure in countries outside of Serbia, where he has been nicknamed “Little Sloba” for his strong ties to Milosevic. There are even debates within the European Socialists and Democrats party, who initiated the nomination. The Czech MEP Richard Falbr is an example; he fears that the controversial nomination will cast a shadow over the party as a whole, and worries that it might affect the European elections in May.

It seems that the nomination has excited more indignation than gratification, thus diverging from what one can only assume was its original intention. The fact is that the Balkans remain deeply traumatized by the terrible events of its past. For many, the potential Peace Prize given to two important players of the war would epitomize that one should forgive and forget – something the majority of the population is unwilling to do.

Maria Hviding


Serbia starts accession’s negotiations with the EU

On the 21st January 2014, the 1st Intergovernmental Conference was held in Brussels, marking the formal start of Serbia’s accession negotiations. The beginning of EU accession negotiations brought positive publicity to Belgrade, the highest one since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic.

In 2009 Serbia formally applied for EU membership and in March 2012 Serbia was granted EU candidate status. The Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and Serbia entered into force in September 2013. The European Council decided in June 2013 to open accession negotiations with Serbia, adopting in December 2013 the negotiating framework and agreeing to hold the 1st Intergovernmental Conference with Serbia in January 2014. Following this conference, a bust of positive comments appeared in well-known and widely read newspapers such as the BBC, The Economists, the Global Post and the Wall Street Journal.

“A new chapter”

Jose Manuel Barosso, the President of the European Commission, stated that the conference which opened Serbia’s EU accession negotiations, « is the start of an entirely new chapter in our relations and a major success », and added: « I commend Serbia for its reform efforts and for the progress made over the past years. The citizens of Serbia have strong European aspirations, and we will continue to support Serbia to make progress, step by step, on its European path. »

BBC’s title on the day of the conference was: “Serbia transforming from pariah to EU partner”, emphasizing the numerous changes Serbia made in a short period. The Global Post declared that the Serbian progress on the path towards EU “will be an example for other countries in Eastern Balkan”. This picture is very different from the one, mostly negative, western medias have been promoting since the 90s. EU membership may be a starting point from which the global image of Serbia will be improved and prejudices erased.

Just the beginning of the path

Barosso also underlined the challenges for Serbia in the key areas of rule of law, the reform of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and against organized crime, public administration reform, and independence of key institutions, media freedom, anti-discrimination and protection of minorities.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule presented the negotiation framework and plan which will be used in negotiations with Serbia in the following years. This plan includes the request for full normalization of relations with Kosovo as the key to Serbia’s accession path.

Reactions in Serbia

The Serbs have been voting in majority for a pro-European government since 2006. The chances for the accession negotiations to start seemed little, but now that they have finally started, the reactions among the citizens are positive but not quite enthusiastic. Nearly all the political parties greeted this success of the government except for the national conservative party – the Democratic Party of Serbia lead by Vojislav Kostunica. According to the results of a survey of the Office for European Integrations of the Serbian government, conducted in December 2013, 51% of Serbs are for the EU, 22% against and 27% wouldn’t vote or would not know what to vote for. On the other hand, there is a growing discontent and mistrust in the Serbian politicians followed by a rising unemployment in the country.

The international community may be satisfied by this step towards the EU, but the path to the final EU accession is still long and living conditions in Serbia are not getting better.

Milica Cokic

The Kosovo Diary

Today is the ninth of November 2009. On the TV screen, under the umbrella, Lech Walesa is bringing down the first domino of the improvised Berlin wall. Various important people are passing in front of my eyes, those who bring up and tear down the walls. How have they influenced my world?

To the Documentary film festival in Prizren, I came with a regular bus line. Prizren seemed much farther away than a couple of hours of travel, the border much higher than the height of the security ramp on the border-crossing. That was the ground for which it has many times been said that it was “ours”, but also that I am not welcomed there. The war torn apart Serbian and Kosovar nation, it brought a cleavage between me and people my age who live there. Today, the war is over, but we are separated by the international military forces which protects us from one another.

When the plains turned into mountains, the feel of uncertainty grew. Every day I have been hearing in the news about Kosovo, conflicts, religious differences. However big the fear was, my wish to go was stronger. I would not believe that boundaries are insuperable.

The bus was late. The city has already been slipped into darkness. In a group of people, I have noticed a worried face. The young man approached and asked me if I am the girl from Belgrade. His face had the same feel of anxiety mine had. When I nodded, he presented himself. His name is Besart, Besart Lumi. He spoke to me a little uneasiness, English not being his mother-tongue, obviously wanting to explain everything as good as possible and with strange forwardness.

We spent hours on film projections, walking and sightseeing. We held long, tiring conversations about places to go out in our cities, about exhibits, concerts, universities in Pristina. They wanted to come to the Exit festival which takes place in the largest city of northern Serbian province Novi Sad in mid-July. They could not come as Serbian government does not recognize the documents they have. Someone built up a wall there too. He spoke to me about his work in a Non-government organization and street actions they conducted. His energy and wish to influence people were stronger that the weariness of closed spaces. He was happy for the success of every performance, no matter how small it was, and was eager for change which would influence the whole society. While we were, with our visit, tearing down religious and national stereotypes, in me one other barrier fell apart. I knew that it was easy to crush brick walls, if the people had, before, crushed them in themselves. The needles of string-wires stab our hearts and bloody traces are left behind those who attempt to jump over the wall.

I was wrapped in a string-wire, encircled by blocks of hard, thick wall. Through its holes, I can see other people. Their faces approach the cracks in the wall, trying to see prisoners from the other side. To all of those, who with their nails scratch pieces of cement, who scrape the microscopic particles of dust hurting the wall, whose hands peek over the wall, to all of them I give the leading role of creating my world, because that is the world I want to live in.

People like Besart I find great. Their greatness is not in the minutes of prime-time TV program, nor in the political functions that they are put to. It lies in that will for change, in the hope of the existence of something better. Those people bring down the boundaries, change things, imagine, create, inspire.

Besart cleaned pieces of dust, removed my fear. And nothing happened, nothing worthy of breaking news, but still, one wall fell.  And that meant the world for us.

Marijana Petrovic