Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic Kosovo 'Is Our Jerusalem'

On Wednesday, the EU-West Balkan Summit is scheduled to take place in Sarajevo. Serbian Foreign Minster Vuk Jeremic explains in a SPIEGEL interview why his country doesn't want to be forced to choose between its declared goal of EU membership and territorial rights in Kosovo.

Serbs protesting in Mitrovica in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica in Kosovo: Are we headed for another Big Bang?

Serbs protesting in Mitrovica in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica in Kosovo: Are we headed for another Big Bang?

SPIEGEL: Mr. Jeremic, as Serbia's foreign minister, you will be attending the European Union-Western Balkans Summit in Sarajevo this Wednesday. Is joining the EU still worthwhile?

Jeremic: We know that Europe, along with the rest of the world, is going through difficult times. But nothing has changed about our goal of achieving EU membership. It is the central project of our administration.

SPIEGEL: In Sarajevo you will be meeting with representatives of Kosovo again, a state that from your point of view does not actually exist.

Jeremic: We have worked hard to make our constitutional position clear at the conference: That Kosovo is part of Serbia.

SPIEGEL: So Kosovo's foreign minister attending the summit will be viewed, officially, as a private individual rather than a representative of a state?

Jeremic: Yes, as happened at the UN security council the week before last, and as has been the case since UN Resolution 1244 on Kosovo has been in effect. Serbia is committed to it.

SPIEGEL: At the end of March the Serbian parliament apologized for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The relationship your country has with its neighbor Croatia has improved and there are efforts everywhere to overcome the bloody history of the Yugoslavian war of succession. Is Kosovo the last obstacle in Serbia's path to EU membership?

Jeremic: Relations between the West Balkan countries since the end of Yugoslavia have never been better than they are today. Even after the declaration of independence made by the provisional government in Kosovo, we renounced the use of force or sanctions. That is why it would be a fateful mistake not to proceed with the treaty of accession. Serbia should not be forced to decide between EU membership and Kosovo. I fear that anyone who believes that Serbia would choose EU membership and renounce (claims on) Kosovo would be wrong.

SPIEGEL: So if in doubt, no EU membership?

Jeremic: On one hand we must protect the territorial unity of our nation and on the other, we must lead it toward the EU. Kosovo has deep historical and spiritual meaning for the people of Serbia. In a certain sense, it is our Jerusalem. We cannot accept unilateral decisions from those in power in Pristina. But we are prepared to negotiate and to work on compromises that guarantee the stability of the whole region. We would not reject any suggestion outright.

SPIEGEL: The International Court of Justice may decide this week whether Kosovo's declaration of independence conforms with international law. What consequences will the judgment have?

Jeremic: What we will be getting there is the most important legal opinion worldwide. All five permanent members of the Security Council, and even the United States, have submitted opinions. At stake is a key question of international law: Does the inviolableness of the national borders of a UN member state weigh heavier than the right to self-determination?

SPIEGEL: Six months ago, Serbia submitted its application to join the European Union. What has happened since then?

Jeremic: The application, unfortunately, as of today still hasn't been passed on from the European Council to the Commission. It appears that the 27 member state governments are not in agreement.

SPIEGEL: Is Germany causing the delay?

Jeremic: When I visit Berlin on Monday, I will once again express the urgency of EU expansion. The German government's official position is yes: We support membership for Serbia. But the path to that necessitates a consensus among the 27 member states, and Germany's voice holds significant weight.

SPIEGEL: The urge to expand the EU isn't particularly great at the moment.

Jeremic: It is not hard to recognize that. The Greek crisis, the serious economic turbulence -- all that saps energy. But if the West Balkans are forgotten, then future crises are predictable and the geopolitical price will be high. Those who take precautions now will spare themselves of the cleanup work of a Big Bang.

SPIEGEL: Is that a threat?

Jeremic: I am not saying that the Balkans are facing an explosion. But when we hear that the EU wants to take a break after Croatia's accession, it is discouraging to us. And when the same voices in certain capital cities then also say a decisive No to Turkey's EU accession, we of course ask ourselves: Does that mean that Serbia will again be ascribed to the Turkish hemisphere as we were in earlier centuries? We hope never again to be placed with any camp other than that of the EU. We have worked very hard for that.

Interview conducted by Walter Mayr and Gerhard Spörl. Translated from the German by SPIEGEL ONLINE International staff.


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