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New Apple of Discord – SOC in the Dialogue on Normalization

New Apple of Discord – SOC in the Dialogue on Normalization

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) is a party that cannot be bypassed in the dialogue on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The influence the SOC has on the Serbian public is rooted in the trust and historical continuity of this religious organization, which can therefore play the role of a potential deal-maker, but also a potential deal-breaker in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. These are the findings of qualitative research conducted as part of the overview of public policy options New apple of discord: SPC in the dialogue on normalization published by the NGO New Social Initiative.

The research examines the likelihood of including the issue of the status of SOC in the dialogue on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina and the acceptability of different models for possible participation of church representatives in negotiations for the communities of Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. The reason for the research was that in the second half of 2020, Belgrade and Pristina reached an agreement to negotiate on eight topics, among which is the “status of the Serbian Orthodox Church.”

How?

While for the K-Serb community, the direct participation of representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, specifically the Diocese of Raška-Prizren (ERP), in the negotiation team of Belgrade is the most acceptable, for the K-Albanians, this issue is closed, and negotiations on a very narrow number of issues related to the better implementation of the already existing legal framework for the protection of religious freedom can occur only after a formal Serbia’s recognition. For interlocutors close to the SOC, however, the answer to the question of how representatives of the SOC could be involved in possible negotiations is in the already tested model applied with Ahtisaari’s team – not as part of the negotiating team, but with direct contacts with the mediator in the dialogue. “At that time, direct talks were held with the team of Marti Ahtisaari, who in this way got to know the situation additionally, and on the basis of those contacts, Annex V was compiled to a large extent.”

Why?

The eventual participation of SOC in part of the negotiations on the comprehensive normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina would make the agreement more acceptable for the Serbian community as SOC is seen as the most legitimate and trusted representative. However, due to the reputation of the SOC in the Kosovo public, the idea of ​​including its representatives in the negotiations could be questioned, as it could create a new insurmountable obstacle in the talks, similar to the agreement on the Association/Community of Serbian Municipalities (A/CSM), which has been burdening the negotiations for nine years. 

ERP itself has several times emphasized the need to open the issue of the status and the property of SOC. Interlocutors close to the SOC claim that unselective implementation of Annex V of the Ahtisaari plan would be the starting point of negotiations. ERP often points out that not all of the provisions of Annex V were included in the Kosovo legal framework. 

Experts from Serbia claim that the refusal to include the representative of SOC in the negotiations would mean “that Albanian representatives do not respect religious freedom.” At the same time, they underline that it is difficult to imagine there can be any discussion on identity-related issues any time soon, as even the dialogue in technical matters did not produce many results in the past two years. 

On the other hand, without solid guarantees for identity issues, the center of which is the SOC, it is “impossible to imagine an agreement acceptable to the Serbian public.” Finally, the findings also say that it is almost impossible to get the seal of approval of the SOC on an agreement that implies recognition or the agreement that would be acceptable to the Kosovo public. These circumstances place the SOC in the role of a potential deal-maker or deal-breaker in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Regardless of how the SOC uses its influence, it is an actor that cannot be bypassed.

The NSI’s report is available in SerbianAlbanian, and English.

The document was produced as part of the OPEN project, which Kosovo Foundation for Open Society (KFOS) implements in cooperation with the New Social Initiative.

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