Serbs give Swiss dressing down over Kosovo

Calmy-Rey returned from Kosovo on Tuesday Keystone

Belgrade has summoned the Swiss chargé d’affaires in Serbia and Montenegro to protest against Switzerland’s stance on the future status of Kosovo.

This content was published on August 3, 2005

But Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey’s diplomatic adviser told swissinfo that the policy – a push for a form of independence for the province – would not change.

A diplomatic row broke out after the foreign ministry in Belgrade lodged an official protest against what it considered to be inappropriate comments made by Calmy-Rey during her tour of Kosovo.

Over the weekend she reiterated a call for a form of independence for the breakaway province which has been under United Nations and Nato administration since a 78-day Nato-led air war halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians in 1999.

Kosovo officially remains part of Serbia and Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia.

On Wednesday the Serbian authorities said Calmy-Rey’s comments "ran contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 1244" and were pre-empting "the definition of the final status of Kosovo before the international community has been able to engage in discussions on the subject".

The diplomatic dressing-down comes less than two months after Calmy-Rey was told unequivocally by Serbian President Boris Tadic that he was not open to discussion about independence for Kosovo.

But diplomat Roberto Balzaretti, who acts as an adviser to the Swiss foreign minister, said Switzerland had not set out to define the final status for the province.

swissinfo: Are you surprised that Micheline Calmy-Rey’s position on Kosovo has led to a diplomatic row with Belgrade?

Roberto Balzaretti: I wouldn’t say that I am surprised, but what is surprising is that the Swiss position is being criticised in this way. Because what Mrs Calmy-Rey said in Pristina is exactly what she said some months ago in Belgrade and it is also exactly what the Swiss ambassador to the UN in New York said at a special session of the Security Council [in May]. Our position has been the same for months.

swissinfo: Are you suggesting that Calmy-Rey’s comments have been misunderstood or taken out of context?

R.B.: I don’t know if it is a misinterpretation – that’s something you would have to ask the authorities in Belgrade. I can imagine – and this is understandable – that since negotiations on the status of Kosovo are starting soon the parties involved are keen to lay out their positions very firmly before going into the negotiations. That may explain Belgrade’s reaction.

Of course it would be easier if we were all exactly on the same wavelength. This is not always possible and this is why we have a diplomatic representation in Belgrade and why the Serbs have someone in Bern. What is important is that we continue talking about this.

swissinfo: But Belgrade insists that the Swiss position runs counter to UN Resolution 1244 and that Switzerland is effectively pre-empting the outcome of talks which have not even started...

R.B.: We are not defining the future status of Kosovo. What we are saying is that we would like to see minority rights taken into account fully in Kosovo – and that means the Serb minority as well as other minorities.

Secondly, we would like the parties to enter into a dialogue to establish a new status. And thirdly, we think that going back to the pre-1999 situation is not possible, so the solution should be a form of independence for Kosovo. What this means is something that the parties have to sort out themselves. There is nothing in our position which runs counter to Resolution 1244.

swissinfo: Even so, isn’t this a bit of a diplomatic embarrassment for Switzerland?

R.B.: Well, we are sorry about [what has happened]. But we are not the official mediators – the European Union has that role. We are trying to facilitate dialogue. At the same time we thought – and we still think – that it was time for someone to say that continuing to work on [basic standards for Kosovo] without envisaging a status for the province is counterproductive.

We think that having a vision about the status will probably help the parties come out with the right solution. Belgrade is apparently not thinking in the same way. But we are still convinced that the right solution is for the parties to enter into dialogue and to understand that they need a goal if this dialogue is to start and be successful.

Our position will not change, but I must stress that it is for the parties themselves with the help of the international community to decide on their future. It is not up to Switzerland.

swissinfo-interview: Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

Kosovo, officially a province in the southern part of Serbia and Montenegro by virtue of United Nations resolution 1244, has been under UN administration since the end of the war between Serb forces and Albanian separatists (1998-99).
The Albanian majority in Kosovo demand independence, which Belgrade categorically rejects, proposing wide autonomy instead.
The UN Security Council decided in May to study the progress of democratic standards put in place by the Albanian government in Kosovo. They are a condition for the beginning of negotiations on a definitive status for the province.

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