Perspectives | Politics

“New phase” of Kosovo-Serbia dialogue raises more questions than answers

By - 12.10.2017

Uncertain future awaits while calls for unity fall on deaf ears.

Talks between Kosovo and Serbia started in 2011 as a technical dialogue mediated by the European Union. By April 19, 2013, Kosovo and Serbia had signed a deal comprised of 15 points that it was hoped would improve relations between the two neighbors.

Ever since, Kosovo and Serbia have been engaging in dialogue in Brussels on a number of different issues; from free movement of people, to telecommunication, to the recognition of diplomas and the usage of registration plates while crossing borders.

Despite the fact its initiation was hailed by the international community, the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia has also been the subject of harsh criticism for its lack of results, and the lack of implementation on the ground by both parties.

Since March 10, 2017, the dialogue has all but ground to a halt after the Kosovo parliament suspended talks following Ramush Haradinaj’s detention in France under an arrest warrant issued by Serbia. Haradinaj, the current prime minister of Kosovo, though then a part of the opposition, was accused of war crimes. Relations have been strained ever since.

A new phase?

Both presidents, Kosovo’s Hashim Thaci and Serbia’s Aleksandar Vucic met in July 2017 in an informal meeting with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and agreed to move on to the new phase of “normalizations of relations and reconciliation.”

However, few details are known about what exactly the new phase of the dialogue between the western Balkan neighbors includes, though a shift from prime ministerial level to presidential has often been suggested as being a key feature.

Kosovo’s president, using prerogatives from the Constitution to represent the unity of people, has recently been calling for the creation of a “unity team” for the next phase of the dialogue ― which Thaci considers the final phase, that will conclude with the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Serbia. In the team, Thaci intends to include not only members from across Kosovar political parties, but also academics and members of civil society.

At this stage besides the fact that almost everyone thinks that the dialogue should enter into another phase, no one is able to explain what this new phase will mean.

Thaci’s efforts are not unique. His Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic has likewise launched a campaign of internal debate within political parties, in order to discuss more openly the “new phase” of the dialogue with Kosovo and ensure more unity regarding the “Kosovo issue.” In an op-ed printed in Serbian daily newspaper Blic, Vucic argued for the need to be committed to the dialogue so as “not to leave this burden to our descendants.”

However, Vucic has also been criticized by the opposition in Serbia, as well as Serbian civil society, with suggestions that he is presenting a false approach, and using this “internal debate” to justify his role in the upcoming phase, as he solidifies his grip on power in Serbia.

The European Union meanwhile, has continually asked both Kosovo and Serbia to commit to the dialogue, which they suggest would enable better neighborly relations and pave the way to European Integration for both countries. When the dialogue was suspended by the Kosovo Assembly, the EU reacted by stating that such a move does not contribute to normalization of relations.

However, at this stage besides the fact that almost everyone thinks that the dialogue should enter into another phase, no one is able to explain what this new phase will mean. What will be the key topics of the dialogue? Is there a set timeframe? These and many other questions remain unanswered.

Uncertainty over unity

On Sept. 14, President Thaci was hosted by the Kosova Democratic Institute (KDI), in an open discussion with members of civil society, diplomats and media representatives to speak further about the future of the dialogue for normalization and reconciliation.

Although the president spoke about the need for political and societal consensus in the next phase of the dialogue, he did not reveal any details besides the statement that the “dialogue has no alternative.”

The deal signed in April 2013, described as historic at the time, included 15 points, of which the most important was the creation of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities. The association is contested by many voices within Kosovar politics and has not been able to be implemented. In reality, the lack of implementation of the agreements reached in Brussels have found a wider criticism than just that of the opposition.

Though both countries are looking for a united front going into future meetings in Brussels, both appear to be struggling to achieve this.

While new prime minister Haradinaj has recently begun to echo Thaci’s mantra of the dialogue having no alternative, he has previously labelled the dialogue a failed process that needs restarting. Three weeks after the formation of Kosovo’s latest government, the upcoming steps on the dialogue with Serbia remain unclear, while Kosovo president Hashim Thaci has now spent months speaking about a ‘new phase of the dialogue and reconciliation.’

Although Thaci is proposing a unity team and asking for togetherness within the Kosovar political spectrum, opposition parties Vetevendosje and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) have rarely seemed to be on the same page as the president when it comes to the dialogue.

LDK have recently spoken out against the dialogue shifting onto the presidential level, insisting that the prime minister and the government should lead the dialogue. Meanwhile, Vetevendosje, who received more votes than any other single party at the most recent election, go even further, calling for a halt to the dialogue unless some pre-conditions are fulfilled by Serbia, including war reparations and recognition of Kosovo’s sovereignty.

On Sept. 29, at the Forum 2015 event organized by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society which focussed on the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, Vetevendosje’s leader, Albin Kurti, reiterated that instead of the dialogue with Serbia, his party aims to launch a dialogue with Kosovo Serbs regarding their own socio-economic issues, excluding Serbia from Kosovo’s domestic affairs.

Though both countries are looking for a united front going into future meetings in Brussels, both appear to be struggling to achieve this, while the exact nature of the next phase of the dialogue remains shrouded in mystery. With no date set for future meetings, the dialogue does not look in the best of health.K

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.