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Ambiguity in footnote diplomacy: Serbia and Kosovo

Published on 26 February 2012
Updated on 19 March 2024

Ambiguity in diplomacy came in useful again last week. On Friday, Serbia and Kosovo reached an agreement for Kosovo representation at regional fora. Till now, Serbia, who opposes Kosovo’s independence, was blocking Kosovo’s participation in regional meetings. According to this agreement, Kosovo’s representatives will sit behind the plate ‘Kosovo’ with an asteriks pointing to the footnotes which will include the following text: ‘This label [i.e. “Kosovo”] does not prejudge the status of Kosovo and is in accordance with Resolution 1244 and the opinion of the ICJ on Kosovo’s declaration of independence.’

In this deal, Kosovo has gained a place at the diplomatic table equal to all other countries. This is why Kosovo negotiator Edita Tahiri has argued that Serbia has de facto recognised Kosovo. Serbia’s main gain is EU candidacy status. In the negotiations, Serbia gained the footnote which puts a condition on Kosovo’s sovereign status. But the content of the footnote creates additional ambiguity since it refers to two documents which contradict each other. Resolution 1244 is the cornerstone of Serbia’s arguments against Kosovo’s independence. Kosovo uses ICJ Opinion as the legal argument for independence (an absurdity is that Serbia asked for ICJ Opinion and lost the case).

This footnote diplomacy, through two levels of ambiguity (plate with asterix + reference to two contradictory documents) unblocked a diplomatic stalemate and provided a chance for both Kosovo and Serbia to start dealing with their growing social and economic problems instead of wasting a lot of energy on their fight for status.

Through ambiguity, the problem has been postponed for solution in some better circumstances. Kosovo’s negotiator said that the ‘snowflake’ near Kosovo’s name would melt soon when winter has passed. Her Serbian counterpart argued that this ‘winter’ would last longer than most. Whatever their meteorology, this ambiguous deal will bring better political weather to the Balkan region.

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1 reply
  1. Vladimir Radunovic
    Vladimir Radunovic says:

    Not fully related to the
    Not fully related to the ambiguity, yet relevant: I was trying to find out if the agreement also specifies the use (or no use) of national symbols of Kosovo but I could not find any info on that. Yet I have heard from a Serbian official on TV that the deal precludes Kosovo (i.e. Kosovo* 🙂 of using national symbols during meetings. If so, would this have similar diplomatic weight to the name? Or are national symbols “second league” of importance?


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