Perspectives | Minority Rights

No internal dialogue is possible without the Serb List

By - 26.03.2021

It’s not up to Kurti to choose who represents the Serb community.

Albin Kurti’s distrust toward the Serb List (Srpska Lista) is no secret, but neither is the latter’s firm hold over the Kosovo Serb community. 

Allegations of voter intimidation, threats, and actual exertion of physical violence over political rivals — even accusations of murdering Oliver Ivanović — have followed the Serb List since their inception. None have so far been properly investigated, let alone proven or disproven, but the fact that the shadow of the doubt first falls on the Serb List whenever an incident in Serb-majority area occurs, speaks at the very least of their psychological influence over the citizens.

The mutual feelings of distrust between the two have not proved a decisive factor in the formation of the institutions, but they bring into question Kurti’s long-standing announcement of an intention to start an internal dialogue with Kosovo Serbs.

Entertaining the idea that Kurti actually wants to have an internal dialogue with Kosovo Serbs brings also an assumption that Kurti will try and bypass the Serb List in this process, partly because of their reputation described above, but mostly because of what he sees as undue influence of Belgrade over the Serb List.

When it comes to participation and interaction with Kosovo institutions and the society, the Serb List is as friendly as it gets.

Should this indeed happen, the process will be a failure, or rather it will not even start; not in a way that will contribute to bringing the communities closer together.

The announcement can already be interpreted as an act of “marking” the territory or “claiming” Kosovo Serbs but doing this with limited participation of Kosovo Serbs would only further antagonize the community as a whole.

There is a prevailing opinion among analysts and observers that Serbian pro-regime media, Serbian politicians and the Serb List themselves drive and magnify ethnonationalist narratives and feelings within the Kosovo Serb community. 

This is not entirely true, and as shocking as it may sound to a reader not exposed to more authentic perspectives of the Kosovo Serb community, when it comes to participation and interaction with Kosovo institutions and the society, the Serb List is as friendly as it gets. Any other political option that can hope to gain significant voter support in the north are nationalist right-wing movements that would propagate boycott and shutting down of the existing Kosovo institutions.

When an average voter from a Kosovo Serb community in the north criticizes the Serb List and their undemocratic means, the main thing they are bothered by is the fact that they use these means in order to drive forward a process of integration and formation of Kosovo institutions in Serb-majority areas.

On a platform of implementation of the Brussels agreements and without immense pressure on the community, the turnout in Serb-majority areas in the north would be exceptionally low and the Serb List would not have the legitimacy to coordinate the institution consolidation processes in Kosovo it previously led, such as the dismantling of Serbian security institutions, judiciary and a part of the Serbian municipal bodies.

Not only would the turnout be low, but without the push from Belgrade, the Serb List would be obstructed by more authentic political forces that almost uninterruptedly governed the northern municipalities in the first decade of the 2000s and whose main policy was maintaining the level of functionality of Serbian institutions in Kosovo and obstructing any (at that time only individual) attempts of communication and cooperation with the Kosovo institutions, even through means of violence and threats.

Unaided by the authority of the Serb List and their “corrective” means, Kurti would probably be blocked from entering a town center of a Serb-majority area, or at the very least would not be greeted by more than a half-dozen Serbs at the meeting.

It is not up to Kurti to challenge the choice of political representatives and look for what he believes would be more appropriate partners.

Dictating the pace of integration is the single most important job the Serb List has and they will not let Kurti bring it into question.

In addition, regardless of the numerous allegations of election fraud and voter pressure in Serb-majority areas, until there is a more serious action by the Kosovo Prosecution and the police, the election results will be undisputed. Those results, as it stands, send a clear message — the only political representatives of Kosovo Serbs are the Serb List.

In a parliamentary democracy where political representatives are chosen directly by the citizens, the executive cannot afford to boycott these representatives without risking to further isolate the part of the constituency who elected them. Even the staunchest adversaries of the Serb List and their methods will defend this on principle. It is not up to Kurti to challenge the choice of political representatives and look for what he believes would be more appropriate partners in the Serb community.

On the other hand, assuming Kurti and the Serb List somehow agree to cooperate to commence this dialogue, the question is what the topics and the agenda of this dialogue would be. Kurti so far has been vague on this idea, no framework of this internal dialogue has been offered and agricultural workers and their issues with subsidies and work-related costs are the only target group Kurti has named.

Regardless, he seems to be on the right path with this approach. The best way to open communities and establish new ties is through economic cooperation. But to do this, Kurti will have to undo years of damage done by his nationalistic narratives and a number of boycott campaigns against Serbia that all had their spillover effects on the economic integration of Kosovo Serb producers.

Economic nationalism among consumers and long-lasting issues of Kosovo Serb producers to penetrate the Kosovo market outside Serb-majority areas would be high on the list of demands of the community.

Closely related to economic development would be the issues of usurped property and delays in execution of the decisions of the Kosovo Property Agency in cases involving the Serb community.

Other issues, depending on the professional niche the future Kosovo government would talk to, would likely involve the discussion on the right to education according to Serbian ministry curricula, language rights and, most importantly, the rights of the religious communities.

The latter would bring up the issue of the refusal of the Dečani local authorities to implement the decision of the Constitutional Court on the confirmation of the ownership of the monastery Visoki Dečani over 24 hectares of land in its vicinity, as well as the ongoing suit between the University of Pristina and the Serbian Orthodox Church over the Christ the Savior Church on the campus.

Although difficult to implement, Kurti’s idea of internal dialogue would be beneficial for the communities, however, convinced that many of the requests of the community are dictated from Belgrade, Kurti might be surprised to learn that the community’s appetite for self-regulation and autonomy has actually been curbed, not spurred on by Belgrade.

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.

This article was originally published by D4D Institute and has been reproduced here with permission.

This op-ed is supported by the Democracy for Development (D4D) Institute, as part of the project “Track 2 to Europeanization: A partnership approach,” financed by the Open Society Foundations. The views expressed in the op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Society Foundations or D4D.