In the first part of a series of articles on Pristina-Belgrade dialogue for normalisation of relations, Koha Ditore’s editor-in-chief Agron Bajrami writes:
The dialogue for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is currently at a rethinking stage. The European Union sees the process as an important part of its Western Balkans enlargement strategy, with the success of the dialogue openly set as a prerequisite for bringing Kosovo and Serbia closer to the EU. Kosovo’s progress is more complicated, due to the nonrecognition of independence by five EU Member States, while Serbia’s path to membership is wide open, if it reaches a comprehensive normalization agreement with Kosovo.
To date, despite the fact that the dialogue has become a central condition for the advancement of Serbia and Kosovo towards the EU, it remains fragile, as evidenced by the assassination of Kosovo Serb politician, Oliver Ivanovic, in Mitrovica North. Just hours after the crime, the Serbian delegation in Brussels decided to withdraw from meetings expected to revive dialogue after more than one year.
Nevertheless, the long period without tangible results from the dialogue, permeated by frequent tensions and without full implementation of reached agreements, encouraged an accord between parties to rethink the Brussels dialogue. Changing the format and content of dialogue was demanded much earlier, especially in Kosovo, but it was decided to do so only after it was evident that the dialogue was stalling for a long time.
Expectations at the EU were for the dialogue to rise to the presidential level, suggesting the establishment of a more enabling environment for reaching a final agreement for normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia. On the Serbian side, the dialogue is already being led by President Aleksandar Vucic. In Kosovo, it has been quite some time that the Office of the President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, is attempting to take the lead in the dialogue.
Nevertheless, although the issue of the representation of parties found a captive audience in Kosovo, by all means the seminal issue is the format of the future dialogue, and especially the expected target placed ahead of parties: the content of the legally binding agreement. Or, as stated by an official of a powerful EU state: “The dialogue cannot continue without knowing what should happen at the end of it…it is necessary to have a light at the end of the tunnel if we want to get there”.
Consequently, the main question at the moment is what, exactly, may the final agreement contain. So far, Kosovo has insisted that the dialogue should be concluded with mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia. However, Serbia has insisted, at least publicly, that “it shall never recognize an independent Kosovo.”
Game of Vucic: Internal Dialogue in Serbia
Yet, some diplomats and observers believe that there is already some sort of movement from the Serbian pushback position, and that current President, Vucic, is open to “creative solutions” that may lead to a “historic agreement” between Kosovo and Serbia. Moreover, the so-called “Internal Dialogue on Kosovo”, which Vucic initiated as a process that would have to produce a new and consensual Serbian position on Kosovo, is seen as a mechanism that will enable Serbia to change its heretofore position.
“We believe that Vucic is ready to move from the heretofore position. He has already given signals that he is preparing to do so”, says a European diplomat.
On the other hand, a good few pundits and observers of developments in Serbia insist that the entire internal dialogue “is a farce”, staged by Vucic himself, with the aim of giving the Serbian public the impression that “the President is consulting the people”.
“Vucic has already decided what to do…he is merely acting as if he is expecting proposals and suggestions from the internal dialogue”, says an independent observer from Belgrade.
In fact, several Western sources have confirmed that Vucic has long since started informal talks in various Western circles, where he is presenting options acceptable to him.
What is Vucic presenting as an acceptable concession on his part?
According to a senior European official, in talks with Western diplomats, Vucic is informally noting that he may remove the reference to Kosovo in the Serbian Constitution, and, eventually, may withdraw opposition to Kosovo’s membership in the UN.
While it is not clear what exactly he is demanding in return, diplomatic sources estimate that Belgrade in general will not move if there is no implementation of the agreements already reached, meaning first and foremost the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities in Kosovo.
Observers from Belgrade warn that the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities could be put forward by Vucic as a prerequisite for removing the reference to Kosovo from the Serbian Constitution. “In that case, Vucic could offer Serbia’s agreement for Kosovo to take get a seat at the UN to be part of the final normalization agreement”, says the observer.
According to diplomats, Serbia’s agreement to a Kosovo seat at the UN would be a “major concession”. Officials in some European capitals believe that if Belgrade agrees to Kosovo’s membership to the UN, then this would invalidate the opposition argument by some states that do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, including five EU Member States.
However, as Western analysts note, the barrier to Kosovo’s membership in the UN is primarily Russia, not Serbia. “The Russian veto on the Security Council is not something that can be eliminated as an opportunity by Serbia…the Russian veto can be eliminated as a barrier by Putin alone”, says a European analyst.
According to these sources, the offer of a seat at the UN from Vucic is bait that Kosovo should not take.