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Playing the long game… no longer

Playing the long game… no longer
31/03/2022

Warning against the status quo in Kosovo seems pointless now as more ominous scenarios regarding the dialogue on normalization emerge. While the status quo threatened to lock Kosovo and Serbia out of the EU path and the consequential reforms, the current inability to reach an understanding on things that weren’t broken in the first place, foreshadows even greater consequences.

The dialogue was in the status quo from November 2018, when the 100% taxes were imposed on the import of goods from Serbia, until June 2020. However, after the initial jumpstart in the second half of 2020, the dialogue took a U-turn and is now, it appears, headed back to 2011.

In the second half of 2020, agreements that were lagging, like the operationalization of the Serbian side of the Merdar/e and Mutivoda/e crossing point under the IBM agreement, were implemented. There was a push for Kosovo’s energy independence when the ENTSO-E Regional group approved the Connection Agreement with KOSTT, allowing it to leave the Serbian EMS-regulated block and join the regulatory block with Albanian OST – the move made possible due to the Energy agreement from 2015. Finally, the excavation of a mass grave with Albanian victims in Kiževak and announced excavations in Sjenica and several locations in Kosovo were a rare hint of a possible increase in dynamic in resolving the fate of more than 1600 persons whose disappearance is related to the Kosovo war.

The Lajcak spark ran out in 2021, however, coinciding with the government change in Pristina. The second government of Albin Kurti changed the lenses through which it sees the dialogue. This ceased to be the process of expansion of Kosovo’s sovereignty and a tool for integration of Kosovo Serb community. On the contrary, the dialogue’s legacy seems to have become a target of the Kosovo government which sees it as a challenger of Kosovo’s sovereignty.

After unfruitful meetings between Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, and the two delegations’ chief negotiators, Petković and Bislimi, the year’s end brought a de-escalation agreement. The escalation ensued from the freedom of movement arrangement defined in the 2011 agreement and which foresaw the right of both parties to instate a special temporary car license plate agreement. Instead of using the dialogue to call for the implementation of the already existing agreement, Kosovo PM decided to implement it without proper announcement and with the use of Special Police forces in Serb-majority areas in the north as guarantors of implementation. The EU special representative, Miroslav Lajcak, supported by the US Special Representative to the Western Balkan, Gabriel Escobar, needed 12 days to bring parties to a temporary solution also based on the already existing agreement that led to the withdrawal of Special Police and the Kosovo Serb-made barricades in Jarinje and Brnjak.

A month remains until the deadline for finding a permanent solution (to the one agreed upon in 2016 and implemented in 2021) expires. Still, Kosovo has already shown twice since the beginning of the year that it cannot cooperate with Serbia, not even on matters of the highest regard for democratic values, such as referendum and election vote. Given this track record of the latest set of negotiating teams, further reversal of the agreements is an outcome more likely than even the status quo. It is also the more dangerous.

The Quint states seem to be honestly pushing against this tendency, but without much success. The dialogue was never embraced by Kosovo nor Serbia as an honest necessity for normalization of relations. It was always a tool for international integration for Kosovo and EU integration for Serbia. This is why the dialogue “runs” on incentives, not good will. However, Kosovo became blind to Quint’s incentives, especially since some, such as visa liberalization, are way overdue.

At the same time, Belgrade and Pristina focus more on placing the larger part of the blame for failed negotiations on each other. For now, Belgrade is winning this game. It appears eager to show up in Brussels, to negotiate because it knows, that with Pristina’s overly legalistic position, the dialogue is bound for Nothingville. As this unfolds, an abundance of losers emerges – the Quint looks powerless to keep things from unraveling, Belgrade gets its image of the protector of Kosovo Serbs devalued, while Pristina get slammed for derailing its European path.

Kosovo has always been the one that needed the dialogue the most. Without a comprehensive agreement with Serbia, it cannot hope for reconsiderations of the positions of the EU non-recognizers. While it might be true that Kosovo does not need Serbia’s recognition, it most certainly needs to have an agreement with it if it wants to significantly advance its international integration. However, Kosovo leaders seem to have lost the long game from their sight. In opposition to this, Vucic, who took the process under his wing in 2012, repurposed it from the tool to advance Serbia’s’ EU path to a tool to establish himself as a credible regional leader in the eyes of the EU leaders. He has partially been successful because he delivered on integration of three major systems – security, local administration and judiciary. He also was done a major favor by Kosovo’s current leadership who effectively prolonged the dialogue and the integration with the blockade of the formation of the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities.

 

This opinion article was published in the framework of the project “Promoting dialogue and fostering understanding between Kosovo and Serbia” implemented jointly by the Kosovar Centre f Security Studies (KCSS) and the New Social Initiative, and supported by the Embassy of Canada to Croatia and Kosovo. Opinions expressed in this article reflect personal opinion of the author do not necessarily represent those of the KCSS, NSI or the Embassy of Canada to Croatia and Kosovo

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Milica Andrić Rakić

Project manager

Milica Andrić Rakić has been in the civil society sector since 2015. She worked as a researcher and policy analyst for numerous non-governmental organizations and consultancy companies until 2018 when she became a journalist. As a policy analyst she dealt extensively with the implementation of the legal framework related to non-majority communities in Kosovo, particularly access to documents and freedom of movement, education in the Serbian language and the implementation of the Brussels agreement. Milica Andrić Rakić is currently working as a project manager at the New Social Initiative.

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