Episode
October 5, 2018

Can land swaps bring lasting peace between Serbia and Kosovo?

Proposal to exchange territories along ethnic lines met with both cautious support and alarm.
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On Monday, October 8 at 19:30 GMT:

The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo have voiced support for land swaps as a way to reach a final deal which would normalise relations between the countries - but the proposal is dividing opinion in a region still coming to terms with violent conflict in the Balkans.

While there is no formal plan outlining exactly which areas would be traded between the neighbours, politicians in favour of land swaps have suggested that parts of northern Kosovo largely populated by ethnic Serbs could become part of Serbia. The southern valley region of Presevo could be absorbed into Kosovo in return. Most people living in Presovo area are ethnic Albanian, much like the majority in Kosovo.

Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandr Vucic first voiced their support for land swaps in August. The enmity between the men is clear; they were wartime enemies during the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, when separatists fought for Kosovo province to secede from what was then Serbia-Montenegro. Serbian forces were driven out of Kosovo in a NATO-led military campaign, paving the way for Kosovo to eventually declare independence in 2008. Kosovo is now recognised as an independent nation-state by 116 countries around the world but its northern neighbour still considers it an autonomous province within Serbia. Nonetheless, Thaci says there is a “good window of opportunity to reach an historic agreement” between the two states.

Proponents of a land swap say it could form the backbone of a final status agreement between Serbia and Kosovo and usher in a new opportunity for both countries to enter the European Union. For Kosovo, it could even speed admission to the United Nations - something long blocked by Serbia’s ally Russia. But many Kosovars and Serbs are worried that making changes to the border based on ethnic identity could spark fresh ethnic unrest. In a recent sign of the tensions between the countries, Serbian forces were put on alert when thousands of people rallied against the idea of land swaps in the Kosovar capital Pristina on September 29. Meanwhile Germany is resolutely against land swaps, with Chancellor Angela Merkel saying that the borders of the Western Balkans are “inviolable”.

The Stream will examine what’s next for the contours of a region still recovering from the worst conflicts in Europe since the Second World War. Join the conversation.

Read more:
Kosovo premier warns border change with Serbia 'would mean war' - Irish Times
A Balkan border change the West should welcome - Politico

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