Hashim ‘’The Snake” Thaci is a war criminal and a terrorist, according to Serbia’s government and probably every Serb this side of Nataša Kandić agrees with this assessment. President Tomislav Nikolić has reiterated that, while being aware that the official Belgrade must continue talking with the Kosovo Albanian secessionists, he refused to meet with the suspected war criminal sitting in the chair of the so-called Kosovo Prime Minister. On Friday, however, a bombshell piece of news broke the Serbosphere: Ivica Dačić, Serbia’s Prime Minister, just finished meeting with Hashim Thaci in Brussels! No announcement in Serbian media, no hint that this is the new official course Serbia is taking towards the Kosovo secession issue, just a “this-just-in” news report of the event that just happened, followed with cries by the patriotic side of the Serbosphere, accusing Dačić of treason, his Socialist Party spin masters patting their leader on the back for carrying the “heavy burden” and dealing with the Kosovo issues resolutely and the co-opted Serbian media following suit.
I will not delve into the implications. I want to dwell on the reactions to the actual meeting from both Serbs and Kosovo Albanians.
First, let’s look at how one would expect either side to react.
Thaci was arrested in Budapest in 2003 and let go immediately after the intervention of the then-UNMIK head Michael Steiner. The arrest was based on Serbia’s international arrest warrant from 1997, which hasn’t been withdrawn by as late as 2010, according to Snežana Malović, Serbia’s Minister of Justice in the Mirko Cvetković cabinet. All reports point towards it still being in effect. The well-publicized report to the Council of Europe by the Swiss Deputy Dick Marty put Thaci squarely at the center of the organ extraction and trafficking operations, but the failure of the Hague Tribunal’s investigators to even touch the subject was as glaring an evidence as any of Thaci being protected from high circles of European politics. The Interpol does not list him as a person wanted by Serbia, but Malović accused the international police agency of refusing to list him claiming he enjoys diplomatic immunity. He is a diplomat of which internationally recognized country or an intergovernmental agency exactly? In any case, Thaci is considered a criminal in Serbia, a leader of the Albanian takeover of Kosovo and a devil himself. Yet, in the face of the sentiment that should be grounds enough to refuse any dealing with Thaci and to renew the calls for his arrest, Dačić allows himself to be summoned to Brussels by Catherine Ashton and to shake hands with the symbol of Serb suffering and the dismemberment of Serbia. If Barack Obama even floated the idea of meeting Osama bin Laden, instead of assassinating him (reportedly), Joe Biden would be nesting behind the big desk in the Oval Office now and the Clintons would laugh. Yes, Thaci is the Serbian Osama bin Laden and it would be reasonable to expect that a meeting with him at the highest level would cause riots in Serbia.
On the other hand, one would expect the Kosovo Albanians to gloat over the fact that Serbia was forced to place the resolution of the status of their secession as the top national priority by Belgrade and that the Serbian Prime Minister himself was forced to have a sit-down with their warlord and the drug cartel master. Borislav Stefanović, the former negotiatior of technical terms, was an emissary, an apparatchik who signed off on all the Albanian demands that his boss, Boris Tadić, had agreed to from Belgrade. Forcing Dačić, however, to stoop down to Thaci’s level must be a reason to gloat, right? Wrong.
Let’s now see how diagonally opposite to the expectations the reactions have been.
On Monday, while Belgrade was peaceful, as it was the entire weekend and as if its Prime Minister didn't just shake hands with the Snake, Priština was rioting! The followers of Albin Kurti, the leader of the Self-Determination Movement, clashed with police, trying to overrun the Kosovo Parliament in a protest over the meeting. They accused Thaci of treason and carried banners calling for a cessation of talks with Serbia and a move towards unification with Albania. Kurti and his movement are an ultranationalist challenge to the rule of Thaci’s crime ring and this wasn’t the first time they used force against the Thaci regime. But an instance in which Thaci, despite the war crimes and terrorism baggage, got to sit at the same table with Serbia’s Prime Minister in the process of what might end up being a recognition of Kosovo’s independence, was not likely to become a cause for a protest by radical ultranationalists. Yet it was.
In Serbia, only one political party – the extra-parliamentary and now largely irrelevant Serbian Radical Party – openly accused Dačić of treason. While the Albanians consider any conversation with Serbia a treason, Serbs haggle over banalities such as whether Dačić shook Thaci’s hand – allusion to Tadić’s embarrassing handshake with Thaci in Croatia after his presidential election loss – instead of asking the Prime Minister, the President and their media the only legitimate question here: When exactly has it been decided and to whom exactly was it announced that the new official course in “defending” the southern province was embarked onto? Why was the meeting kept secret until it ended? And why was Serbian media playing deaf-mute? If the Prime Minister is meeting with Thaci, that’s a new, self-depreciating, shameful course for Serbia. But even Vojislav Koštunica’s Serbian Democrats characterized the meeting only as “damage to Serbian national interests.”
The media, most of which is still controlled by the Democratic Party-imposed cadre, has done a great job of misinforming the Serbian public and minimizing the effects and reverberations such a colossally important event was bound to cause. The fact that no media outlet – to my knowledge – announced the meeting is indicative of the confluence of interests that created the context. Serbian media’s pro-Western editors, ever trigger-happy when a chance to embarrass the new government presents itself, stayed embarrassingly quiet and passed on the chance to call Dačić out in the run-up to the meeting. I can understand why the outlets close to the government or inching towards its good graces kept they air waves and presses shut, but I can only explain this momentous development on the former Tadić regime media side by pointing towards their cue givers in Brussels who wanted nothing to undermine the preparations for the historic event. They couldn't afford to allow a negative reaction in Serbia a week before the meeting to shake Dačić's resolve. I mean, why would, otherwise, the outlets such as Blic or B92 spare Dačić? Only a week or so before these same outlets blasted Dačić for misspeaking at a German World War II victims’ commemoration, when he blamed “criminals” who have murdered Serbs in the past for blocking Serbia's EU bid today. Now, this is attack-worthy and the Thaci meeting is not? It wasn't a big deal that no one informed the Serbian media that there was going to be a meeting of historic proportions? The media spin that followed was best depicted in the quote they beat us over the head with: ‘’’I told him (Thaci) that Kosovo is as much mine as it is his, I was born in Kosovo,’ noted the premier.’’ You officially met with the war criminal, unannounced, almost secretly, without regard to the official policy of the rest of your government, that’s what you did. Who cares what you told him?...
And just to touch on the actual implications of the meeting… Whoever waves this meeting off as a chess move, know that Serbia is several moves behind and very uncomfortable with the clock. Talking with Kosovo Albanian officials is one thing and regardless of the context in which the Serbian public places the Kosovo secession, their attitudes are a reality and cannot be ignored. Talking with Hashim Thaci, on the other hand, is out of question as a circumstance resulting from any kind of strategic maneuvering, because it not only sends contradictory message from the very top of the Serbian government, one that shows no coherence and no elements of leadership, but it also departs from the set bargaining attitude, however feeble, and, more importantly, from the self-respect position that every negotiator must establish and project.
Treason or not, Dačić’s handshake with the Snake charts a new course in Serbia’s politics: one that opens Serbia up for anything, one that has no aces up its sleeve, one that goes all in against the weathered Brussels big stack bullies who brought Serbia to its knees in the first place and who don’t even have to hide behind a poker face anymore.