By Muhamet Brajshori
A handshake this week between two longtime rivals — Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and former Serbia President Boris Tadic — may be a symbolic gesture of goodwill, but it has sparked outrage and debate in some quarters of the two nations.
Thaci and Tadic, now leader of Serbia’s opposition party, met and publicly shook hands at a summit of European officials on Sunday (July 8th) in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It is believed to be the first face-to-face meeting between the men since the Kosovo conflict that led to that nation’s independence in 2008.
Serbia will not recognise Kosovo and has boycotted international meetings attended by Kosovo officials. Thaci, who is a former guerrilla commander, is called a terrorist in Belgrade.
Tadic lost his re-election bid last month to nationalist Tomislav Nikolic. Serbia’s prime minister-designate, Ivica Dacic, criticised Tadic for the gesture. “It seems, Tadic has led one policy as president and a different one as an opposition leader,” he told reporters.
Tadic told Serbia’s state Tanjug news agency that there was nothing historic about his handshake with Thaci. “But, it’s good that the representatives of [ethnic] Albanian and Serbian nations are meeting,” Tadic said. “We have a problem between us that we need to solve.”
Thaci told reporters afterward that he has no intention of having a private meeting with Tadic.
Belul Beqaj, head of the European Movement of Kosovo, told SETimes that Thaci’s participation in the handshake was influenced by his desire for Kosovo to gain international respect.
“Thaci’s handshake shows that he is a blind implementer of the requirements of internationals, while Tadic showed that he was not privately against this meeting, and when the state image and policy are in question the private interest and thought are subdued towards the state ones,” Beqaj said.
Ardian Arifaj, senior researcher at the Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development, told SETimes that the meeting must be seen as symbolic and something which shows that it is not difficult for politicians from Kosovo and Serbia to shake hands and even meet, while Tadic continues to maintain international support and be seen as a person key for stability in the region.
“However, this comes at a time when Tadic, the leader of the opposition party, is easier to meet with official representatives of the Kosovo state, since he has no political power in his country… Tadic has thrown the ball to other politicians in Serbia who should follow his example because otherwise they will be called the non-constructive radical like Tadic,” he said.
Arifaj said the gesture may enable the start of high level meetings between Pristina and Belgrade. The international community has pressured Serbia and Kosovo to continue dialogue soon after the new government in Belgrade is seated, and reach agreements that would enable normal relations, especially regarding northern Kosovo.
Kosovo’s President Atifete Jahjaga, in her recent statements, has made clear that she is ready to meet Serbia President Nikolic, who has shown similar readiness, but refused to meet Thaci.
“Shaking hands between Thaci and Tadic could be seen as ‘breaking the ice’ in Belgrade, as a crack of the blockade to talk with political representatives of Kosovo, and so pave the way for meetings of other state officials of Kosovo with those of Serbia,” Arifaj said.
Citizens in Kosovo had different views on the handshake and prospects for relations with Belgrade.
“It should not happen, because Tadic was president when our policeman was killed in northern Kosovo and others arrested in Kosovo’s territory,” Behare Konushefci, 43, of Pristina, told SETimes.
Rrahim Abdyli, 56, told SETimes that as prime minister, Thaci knows what is important for state interests.
“We have elected him and he knows what needs to be done to defend our state interests, be it meeting Serbian politicians as well. I don’t think that it was something bad, at the end it was a handshaking which we learn during childhood to do with strangers, and both are career politicians who have responsibility towards their people,” Abdyli said.