Czech government practically reduced its reactions to the unilateral declaration of independent state by Kosovo Albanians to declarations of when to officially recognize Kosovo. (Now this act seems to be set on April 2th). Czech vice PM Alexander Vondra thought we should be approximately 20th EU country to recognize Kosovo and Minister Karel Schwarzenberg wished to wait for the decisions of European powers and presented with disarming simple-heartedness the ideas lying as a basis for Czech foreign policy on this issue: “Kosovo is not the issue we should take an active part in, we are low keys for this job.”
By encouraging Kosovo Albanians to declare an independent state the USA and major European countries made a fatal error – concerning both the stability of the Balkans and the influence of Western countries in this for Europe historically problematic region. Serbian pro-Western elites which brought down Milosevic and gave him over to Haag for punishment, did establish a democracy and steered the country’s foreign policy towards Europe have been pushed back by recent developments. Thus Russia just needs to wait with open heart for Serbia to return in Russia’s sphere of influence. Stability in the Balkans – the long-term objective of European policies – seems to fade away again, and for years.
The Balkans is traditionally amongst the priorities of the Czech foreign policy. Historical and cultural ties, similar developments in the past and intense economic cooperation are the premises upon which we should act as a bridge between the EU and the states in this region. Instead of joining those who encouraged Kosovo Albanians to declare independence Czech diplomats should have insisted that the fulfilling of Kosovo’s ambitions to become an independent state be intrinsically related with the region’s process of integration to the EU. Czech government for which the unrestricted widening has been one of the pillars of the EU politics missed its opportunity in a hardly understandable way.
There is a lot at stake now
In recent years we did not fail to follow any opportunity to hamper the EU decision-making, whether under the pretence of imaginary national interest or care for our identity. Thus we have got the label of petty trouble-maker. But now, when there is really something at stake and our stance would be clearly understandable to everyone we, instead of pursuing an active policy in the Balkans – which should be our obvious interest – have decided to hide behind the back of major powers.
There is not only our interest in the field of foreign policy what is at stake. The experience of the Munich conference in 1938 with European powers parting our country against our will is one of the key elements forming the value basis of our modern statehood.
When discussing seriously the need for an active care for our identity, it is an important task of the foreign policy to reiterate the ethos of our statehood. Doctrine of “low-keyness” as presented by our Foreign Minister in the case of Kosovo is in stark contradiction with this imperative and such a boomerang will hit back on us and on us especially.
It is good to see that Mr. President has decided to pay the visit to Serbia at the present time. For the visit to become more than a symbolic gesture it is necessary that the government approach is clear with publicly announced plan for further steps. Instead of passive expectance of what the Western powers´ design with Kosovo is, the Czech Republic should with regard to its own historical experience become an active player trying to convince the rest of the EU that at the present moment it is necessary that Serbia is given a clear European perspective and thus make it easier for the Serbian elites to maintain its pro-Western course. It is very important to set dynamics in the course of this integration process and tie it as closely as possible to the accession process of Croatia. In the meantime it is crucial to facilitate swift association of Serbia with the internal market of the EU and start the negotiation on the conditions of visa-free regime between the EU and Serbia.
Putting an end to the double-faced policy
Concerning the recognition of Kosovo, instead of double-faced and ridiculous bidding over whether to do so as the 19th or 20th state of the EU we should rather clearly and plainly make it conditional upon the test of statehood – Kosovo authorities should give clear evidence they are capable of protection the Serbian minority’s rights, enforcement of law and order and reduction of organized crime still deeply rooted within Kosovo territory.
If we miss also this second opportunity to play an active part and bear the responsibility which we are bound to by our historical experience, we will contribute to a long-term instability and strengthening of Russian influence in the region which is for us very important in historical, geopolitical and economical terms.
It would be also a signal for our fellow citizens that political elites are not deeply embedded in the value basis of our statehood. And this would not be a good sign for Czech foreign policy and particularly for the capability of managing difficult situations we might face in the future.
Josef Zieleniec, Member of the European Parliament and former Minister of Foreign affairs of the Czech Republic