Pristina-Belgrade Negotiations and Internal Dialogue on Kosovo - Political Leaders’ Stop-and-Go Tactical Moves    

Objavljeno : 13.04.2018. Štampa El. pošta bookmark

In the absence of a clear and achievable vision, in the absence of political will to approach the issue of Kosovo by acknowledging the reality (in Kosovo, among the Kosovo Serbs, in Serbia, and in the international community), the policy of Pristina and Belgrade has turned into incessant tactical moves and mutual one-upmanship of the political leaders. The stop-and-go policy has maintained the alleged status quo, while the reality has been changing in favor of the so-called new reality: expansion of the Kosovo institutions’ sovereignty over the entire territory of Kosovo.


But the expansion of sovereignty in question has brought ordinary people neither stability nor economic and social progress. The Albanian political leadership of Kosovo and, until recently the much praised “Tirana reformist” Edi Rama, are increasingly exhibiting fear of stepping down from power. In the process they have forgotten the mantra “All Albanians will be together in a great Europe” and are fighting with the Self-Determination movement and the remnants of the Red and Black Coalition over the idea of a “Natural Albania” or “The unification of all Albanian lands,” i.e. over the dream of a “Greater Albania” dating back to the 19th century.


The Serbian leadership, with the help of its exponents in Kosovo, aims to cover up the reality with ideologically intoned “newspeak” of “false state,” “false people” and “false reality.” Based on the level of usage of this “newspeak” on the political scene, i.e. in the public discourse, differentiation has been made between the “Loyal” and “Other” Serbian political actors.


With the passage of time and Serbian leadership’s approaching the moment when it will have to choose between chauvinism and populism on one side and reforms and democratization on the other, membership of the EU or a “limbo state” of waiting for a Russian Godot, all unresolved issues covered by an “ideological veil” have been reactivated. In that kind of atmosphere an old/new mantra has appeared: There can be no life with Albanians, but we can reach an agreement with them on delineation.


Authorship of the idea is attributed to the “father of the Serbian nation,” Dobrica Cosic. The role of its “apostle” has been taken on by one of Cosic’s “top disciples” Ivica Dacic. He fittingly spoke out over the Easter holiday, possibly believing that all victims of attempts at realizing such ideas (the dead, the displaced, the missing…) will be resurrected and that the Albanians’ “foreign mentors” will step back.


The speech of “apostle” Dacic and the increasingly strong destabilization of the situation bring us back to the following question: Which of the goals set by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic ahead of the internal dialogue, which he initiated in an article in the Blic daily’s issue of July 21, 2017, have been achieved? The goals are as follows: a broad internal consensus, which should include the widest possible group of social actors; facing up to reality; overcoming the mythology surrounding Kosovo; a lasting solution, a solution that would be sustainable in the future, the peaceful solving of problems, the achievement of “our” interests (that is, of Serbia and the Serb community) and “opening the door” to the EU.


The first and most emphasized goal – the inclusiveness of a debate that would lead to a general consensus – has only partly been accomplished: the political parties and parts of the general public have formed groups according to two criteria. The first criterion are differences in ideology and policy: one sub-group includes strongly ethno-nationalistic and right-wing parties, while the other includes proponents of a liberal democratic ideology and policy. The second criterion is the (dis)agreement over Serbia’s future, i.e. (non-)acceptance of Serbia’s EU membership and the attitude toward Russia and the West.


Judging by the course of the internal dialogue so far, and even the state of the public discourse in Serbia and the region, it is the key driver of misunderstandings and (non-)acceptance of President Vucic’s initiative. The most important line of division and confrontation is not the matter of Kosovo, but rather of Serbia’s “European future” and Kosovo has served as an instrument to indicate that. What is indicative is that most political parties and other internal dialogue actors openly do not advocate the normalization process as one of the important steps toward Serbia’s accession to the EU.


Calls for demythologizing the question of Kosovo have not reached even the ears (let alone consciousness) of the majority, including the ruling one, or even many ministers. The dream of a “lasting solution” that will relieve future generations of Kosovo concerns has vanished in the face of stubbornness of history, living people who would like to have a say in the matter and “their foreign mentors.” All in all, what is left is unlikely to produce a policy that would undertake the implementation of what Dacic initialed five years ago and thereby lead to a temporary (multi-decade) sustainable solution – the normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relations and EU membership.


It also noticeable that the majority is homogenizing around the ethno-nationalistic approach to the Kosovo issue. As a result, solutions that disregard reality are advocated. If this mobilization intensified, it would turn the internal dialogue into a propaganda and marketing manipulation. It could lead to stronger extremist reactions and weakening of the influence of institutions and the democratically inclined segment of the Serbian public.


Some of the representatives of the authorities and ruling parties have sporadically pointed out that continuing the normalization process is the way to optimally regulate Serbia-Kosovo relations. Meanwhile, some members of the government and ruling coalition have argued for a “status quo” or the acceptance of a reality of ethnic division by carrying out an additional ethnic and territorial delineation between the Serbs and Albanians. In fact, they would recognize Kosovo’s independence, but they need a “piece of territory” as an alibi before their own public. That is a bad message because it suggests that there is no readiness within the ruling coalition to achieve an overall consensus, which is the main idea of the authorities’ number one man – President Vucic.


The opposition parties, including those declaring themselves as democratic and social democratic, have not seen the internal dialogue as an opportunity to build their own policy, which would distinguish them from the others, and few parties positioned as truly pro-European are ready to solve the issue of Kosovo by accepting the legacy of Europe.


Where the activities of civil society organizations and public figures are concerned, a significant number of them have basically reacted positively to the initiative and gotten involved in the internal dialogue. Again there is a division between those in favor of continuing the Brussels dialogue and the normalization of Serbia-Kosovo relations and those in favor of a “status quo” and even of “military and police solutions.” The biggest number of such views was heard precisely at the gatherings organized by a government working group as part of the so-called “institutionalized” dialogue. Many actors also talk of the internal dialogue as a “betrayal” of Kosovo.


The overall result is that the very essence of the Kosovo issue was not understood or the opinions voiced about it were dishonest. Ultimately, the matter of status in the Kosovo crisis consists of (not) determining the independence of Kosovo and (not) determining the status of the Serb, i.e. Albanian community. In a deeper sense, it is a question of controlling the territory and managing its resources. This question can be answered only if one believes in “lasting solutions.” The current circumstances, primarily political and security ones in Kosovo, Serbia and the Western Balkans, are such that they don’t allow the local actors to play the “lasting solution” game. The leaderships of Albanians and Serbs themselves, i.e. of Kosovo and Serbia, suffer from an obvious lack of capacity for such solutions.


Thus it is recommendable for the Serbian leadership to keep the issue of Kosovo’s status open, but not to close the prospect of its resolution in different circumstances. The Serbian authorities should define, as precisely as possible, their view of the normalization process and adapt it to the requirements of implementation of the previously reached agreements, but also to social needs and problems. That ought to be done through the making and adoption by the government of the Republic of Serbia of an action plan for the realization of negotiating Chapter 35.


In the presently dominant circumstances, what Pristina and Belgrade have left is either great adventurism or a policy of “small steps” focused on the improvement of the position and protection of the rights of the Serb community, the forming of the Community of Serb Municipalities and regulating of the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church.


The Serbian public and authorities are still treating the problems related to the deterioration of security in the north of Kosovo according to the criteria of the previous century and the Cold War, reiterating the phrase: “The situation is stable and under control.” The authorities claim that they are capable of guaranteeing stability and that supposedly means solving the murder of Oliver Ivanovic or directing processes toward avoiding military and police, or worse yet, terrorist violence.


In any case, the question arises – can the destabilized Serb community in Kosovo’s north, especially when it is separated from the rest of the Serb community in Kosovo, withstand the pressure, or will everything turn into increased Serb emigration? Delineation advocates believe that their idea saves the Serbs living south of the Ibar River. According to them, the north is as stable as an impenetrable fortress. My belief is that people are – people, that the Serbs from the north and all of Kosovo are people who have gone through a lot. But people have their own mind and a limit to how much they can endure.


Article by Dusan Janjic, PhD, Forum for Ethnic Relations steering committee president

Photo: Beta/Medija centar


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