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The Kosovo – Serbia dialogue is perceived as one of the key processes for advancing Kosovo and Serbia on their path towards the European Union membership. However, the dialogue is also characterized with a lack of accountability and transparency.
Starting in 2011, the EU mediated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia brought significant progress on technical issues, but did not address the main political problems. The motive of the negotiations was – on what were initially called as technical issues – to build trust between two parties. Thus, the technical dialog did not mean the resolution of the Kosovo status. The technical negotiation has run their development, and it became clear that without political solutions, the implementation of the technical agreements would not be accomplished. In the end of 2012, besides technical talks, the EU mediated political dialogue between two parties, which culminated with the first Brussel Agreement on Normalization of Relations signed in 2013.
The 2013 Brussel Agreement between Serbia and Kosovo was considered as a major step toward the normalization of relations; however, it was never clarified what “normalization” meant to both parties. Moreover, there were no definition of how the Association of Serb Municipalities (ASM) should be organized and the type of legal status it should have, – which was part of the Agreement. Furthermore, the ASM in Kosovo had deepened the political polarization in Kosovo. Nevertheless, the judgement by the Constitutional Court found some aspects of the Agreement in contradiction with the spirit of the Constitution and demands the establishment of the ASM in accordance with the 2013 Agreement. While the ASM in Kosovo has led to immense political discussions regarding the process of dialog, it has also interrupted its continuation. Hence, the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia has been characterized by many delays, as a result of the tensions coming from the both sides.
As such, the Brussels mediation dialogue have continued on technical issues, by not discussing ASM as an issue at all. Even though there were/are disposition to convert the political dialog to technical issues– there seems to be no place on the table for purely technical talks. It is already well known, that every technical question will be seen in relation to the final agreement.
However, leaders in both Kosovo and Serbia have done little to prepare or talk openly for any kind of compromise necessary for the final agreement. From the beginning the two parts have spoken to the public what they aim to gain from the dialog, and not necessarily what the compromises could be. However, now the dialog is used for political gains, by both sides. As it is observed, for example, the President of Serbia, Alexander Vučić is using the Kosovo dispute as a narrative for the upcoming political elections in Serbia.
In the master narrative it seems that “status quo” (whatever it means), is the best option for both parties. There is not a significant attempt neither from Kosovo nor from Serbia for the final agreement, as they continue to view key issues in radically opposed ways. Under these circumstances most likely the outcome may be the status quo, by continuing to give the both sides conviction that a better deal will be available in the future. Thus, all the concessions that Kosovo or Serbia might need to make in the process of dialog are disliked.
The uncertain process of the dialog also has low expectations by the public that the dialog will end with the final agreement. While the continuation of the dialog has lost its credibility at citizens, it has also raised a distance between Albanians and Serbs community in Kosovo – at least to talk for the alternative of the dialog.
Although, the EU mediation dialog between Kosovo and Serbia, has been considered a success, as it has resolved a variety unsettled issues between Kosovo and Serbia – it has also been criticized for the
lack of transparency in the process and for the fact that the agreements have been kept secret. More precisely, the public were not informed about agreement reached between Kosovo and Serbia as a result of the dialogue. According to an opinion poll conducted by KDI in 2017, over 75% of citizens in Kosovo were dissatisfied with the level of their involvement in the dialogue. Moreover, there has been no attempt to initiate an “internal dialogue” with Serbs community in Kosovo, as promised by current Kosovo Prime Minister, Albin Kurti.
Internal Dialog: Developing an alternative master narrative for the dialog
The everyday realities and peoples’ lives in Kosovo (of Serbs and Albanian communities) are often forgotten, and are not in the spotlight of the media analysis. In the same line, ongoing local civic initiatives as part of transitional justice processes aiming to transform the conflict relations between communities in Kosovo were not part of the dialogue.
Today, almost after ten years of the Brussel Agreement – with the ups and downs that dialog has brought – the meaning of “normalization” is ambiguous in itself – but more so for Albanian and Serb communities – who remain ethnically divided. The most fragile part of all this process is that the demands and concerns of citizens regarding the dialog are not heard – particularly those of Kosovo Serbs. Even though Kosovo Serbs and Albanians come together to talk about the future of dialog – generally in the informal discussions – their demands and concerns are not necessarily addressed at the political level, which keeps them out of the process.
While the two communities are divided based of their ethnicity, the sphere of coexistence has been destroyed, mostly because of the tension coming from the lack of the dialogue. However, environmental issues are still serving as a cause that go beyond ethnic division. For example, in 2019 in the village of Lower Biti, near the southern Kosovo town of Strpce, Serbs and Albanians came together to protest against the resumed construction of a hydropower plant on the Lepenc river. Even though this example was characterized as an isolated case, in essence it represents the very civil act of the gathered communities to protect their common spaces. Without any doubt, the protection of the environment aids as a significant incentive to develop the concept of “citizenship” – which has been destroyed by the ethnic divisions. As one activist told me once: “You can view everything from the ethnic division perspective, but not also the environment- you cannot divide the tree for instance.” Thus, environmental, social and economic issues of both, Albanian and Serb communities, and the everyday reality of people’s life should serve as a ground to modify the master narrative (which is based on ethnic division) – by providing coexistence of the communities.
Last but not the least, there is no space to go back to technical dialogue, and there is no other way than continuation of the political dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. However, it is having to change its navigation and approach by addressing the needs of citizens and by opening an internal dialogue with Kosovo Serbs. This is an essential way to provide a sustainable peace and democratic society; firstly, to prevent the further alienation of Kosovo Serbs, as well as to strengthen the concept of citizenship and coexistence between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo.
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