Pristina shuns Prague summit as Czech President tells Serbia he seeks to revoke Kosovo recognition

Miloš Zeman, Aleksandar Vučić, photo: ČTK/AP/Darko Vojinovic

The Czech Republic is hosting a summit on Thursday of prime ministers from fellow Visegrad Four countries and their Western Balkan counterparts. Representatives of Kosovo, however, will be conspicuously absent at today’s summit, in the wake of a slew of insults by the Czech head of state this week, who suggested revoking recognition of Kosovo as an independent nation.

Miloš Zeman,  Aleksandar Vučić,  photo: ČTK/AP/Darko Vojinovic
Czech President Miloš Zeman kicked off a two-day visit to Serbia on Tuesday by telling his counterpart Aleksandar Vučić of his affection for the Slavic country.

In a hushed tone – barely audible over the sound of the Czech delegation’s plane, on the tarmac – Mr Zeman also expressed his distinct lack of affection for the majority ethnic Albanian breakaway republic of Kosovo.

Vučić: “We are very pleased and very glad to see you here.”

Zeman: “It is a pleasure for me. I like Serbia.”

Vučić: “We know –”

Zeman: “And the Serbian people.”

Vučić: “— we know that you support us.”

Zeman: “I dislike Kosovo.” (sotto voce)

Vučić: “Thank you so much. We wish you all the best.”

Zeman: “Oh, yes.”

Tomáš Petříček,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml
At a televised press conference following a closed door meeting with his Serbian counterpart, the Czech president went on to characterise Kosovo as a “state led by war criminals” which he felt “had no place among the community of democratic nations”.

Zeman lamented that he could not revoke Kosovo's recognition on his own, saying, “I’m not a dictator”. But he did promise to raise the issue at an October meeting of the Highest Constitutional Officials.

Among such officials is Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomáš Petříček (Social Democrats), who promptly dismissed the possibility of a reversal of Prague’s position on Kosovo.

“I see no reason for holding such a debate at the moment, although I am of course open to hearing the President’s views on the topic… But a priority of Czech foreign policy is to try to help stabilise the entire Western Balkan region.”

The war between Serbia and Kosovo ended in 1999 after a controversial NATO bombing campaign – at which time, Zeman was prime minister and supported the alliance’s military intervention.

The Czech Republic is among the 23 member of the European Union and 100 members of the United Nations to have recognised Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008. Among those refusing to do so are Russia and China, with which President Miloš Zeman has courted favour and tried to deepen ties, often against the wishes of the government.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: ČTK/AP/Darko Vojinovic
Thursday’s V4-Western Balkans summit in Prague is part of a wider effort to boost ties, ensure a lasting peace in the former Yugoslavia, and eventually bring its new republics into the EU fold.

For that to happen, aspiring members must settle territorial disputes.

Serbia and Kosovo signed an EU-brokered deal to mend ties in 2013, but those efforts stalled when Belgrade blocked Pristina last year from joining Interpol, triggering a tit-for-tat 100 percent tax on Serb imports.

Since then, Serbia has stepped up efforts to get countries to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo. Vučić told reporters he was certain Zeman’s words “are reaching more and more ears in Europe and that people understand that things are not as black and white as once thought”.