Blogbox | Dialogue

On the road to nowhere

By - 06.09.2021

A soundtrack for the Brussels dialogue.

I saw a movie titled “Oslo” the other day. The movie is of no artistic value, reeks with overacting and has obvious gaps in the script. Yet it occupied my attention like few others lately. The story revolves around an overly ambitious Norwegian couple that facilitates negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, ultimately leading to the conclusion of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1990. 

Besides the fascinating testimony of back-channel diplomacy, I had the idea, or realization, after seeing this movie that we live in an equally dramatic and filmable reality. I thought, maybe one day HBO or Netflix might produce a series about the Brussels dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia based on the memoirs of some old retired EU diplomat who, haunted by newfound guilt as death approaches, decided to reveal all the games played before our eyes but behind our backs. 

And if you think about it, the saga of the Brussels dialogue is a potential thespian delicacy, equal to those high-production Hollywood shows. We too have drama, tension, occasional plot twists, conspiracies and betrayals. The story has almost all the theoretical elements of good drama.

Our Brussels dialogue has all the elements of good drama, as defined by Aristotle.

Aristotle says in his “Poetics,” one of the earliest elaborations of dramatic theory preserved, that any good drama must have six elements: plot, characters, thought, diction, spectacle and music. All great stories told throughout history meet these criteria, as does our Brussels dialogue.

The plot is there. A historical brawl between two nations complicated by the interests of great powers. 

Characters are abundant. The prologue had sultans, tsars, knights, rebels and ordinary heroes. Later we saw presidents and ministers, reformists and conservatives. For the final act, however, serendipity brought together two of the best actors out there, Albin Kurti and Aleksandar Vučić. These two protagonists have all the essentials of theatrical characters. They struggle with each other and with themselves, they overact, have moral dilemmas, they overact, have a belief in personal greatness and did I mention the overacting? 

The thought, or central theme, is a classic: the pursuit of a historical agreement between two irreconcilable groups after interminable struggle. Epic.

The diction, or language used, is flamboyant, riddled with (constructive) ambiguity, patriotic haze and rare but memorable moments of sincerity. There are also catch-phrases that could outlive the show and become part of the everyday jargon, just like “Hasta la vista, baby.” For example, Lajčak’s famous, “the agreement will be reached by the end of the year” can easily become a new euphemism for perpetual procrastination, like “I’m going on a diet by the end of the year” is better than saying next Monday.

Then there is spectacle. We saw a prime example on June 15, 2021, another historical face-to-face meeting in Brussels with unprecedented media attention and a four-point plan out of nowhere. Truly, a combination of twists worthy of David Fincher’s best work and the goofy gallantries of Wes Anderson. 

Finally, there is music… music is… that’s it!  That is the missing element. I mean, all great stories have music in them, songs that help the audience read the underlying context, emotions and the hidden truth. So why should the Brussels dialogue lack a soundtrack?

So here it is, the soundtrack to the Brussels dialogue, the songs that put two and two together and help us see the truth behind political masquerade. 

1.“Help’’ by The Beatles

Help! I need somebody

The dead end. If anything, in the last three decades, and arguably for longer, Serbs and Albanians have proved that the matters they can agree upon are scarce. For God’s sake, we could not even agree on the identity of victims without considering nationality, ethnicity and religion. Instead, we have ours and theirs when it comes to innocent women and children killed. Ours we empathize and ache over, theirs we deny or rationalize away.  

To expect from us to come to mutually acceptable solutions by ourselves is nothing but mere sophistry.

It is amazing how we are able to see the same event with utterly different eyes, even feel genuinely different emotions based on something like the ethnic belonging of victims, which should be irrelevant. So to expect from us, living in these two separate realities with two irreconcilable mindsets, to come to mutually acceptable solutions by ourselves is nothing but mere sophistry. 

The Brussels mantra, “we only facilitate” will not hold for much longer. We need mediation, but not the type of indolent mediation we’ve been seeing. Closure will require the active involvement of mediators with pre-developed solutions, sticks and carrots. Sad as it sounds, someone else will have to cut the knot for us. In the end, that may be for the best.

2.‘The end of the world as we know it’’ by R.E.M

A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies, 

Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

The perpetual brawl. It has been more than three decades since the world began to take an active interest in our dispute. At that time the matter was seen in a greater, more important context. The collapse of Yugoslavia, the fall of communism, NATO’s revival through humanitarian interventionism. But decades have passed since. 

The world has changed, its challenges evolved. Nowadays, the attention of global leaders is occupied by digital privacy, a post-truth society, global health threats, knowledge and technological advances and challenges. For them, our conflict is a reminiscence of the past, an annoying liability, a pitiful brawl of Balkans tribes. 

Kosovo needs this agreement much more than Serbia.

With such a change of perception comes a change of attitude. The greatest western democracies appear to have a more neutral approach to the matter, seeing both Albanians and Serbs as equally incendiary, sharing responsibility. Consequently, the burden of concession is distributed evenly, targeting Prishtina to a much greater extent than in the past. In other words, compromise is the new game in town.

3.“You can’t always get what you want” by The Rolling Stones

But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find

You get what you need

The compromise. A lot of people might disagree, but the attitude of the United States and leading EU countries toward Kosovo has always leaned toward the interests of Kosovo Albanians. Yes, that is right, I said it. Sometimes openly, sometimes surreptitiously, but in essence always in favor of the interests of Kosovo Albanians, even if sometimes they were not able to see that. 

So how come there is now an increasing demand on Prishtina to make concessions? What has changed? The answer is simple. It is because Kosovo needs this agreement much more than Serbia.  

By now, Kosovo has achieved every possible recognition that it can acquire without Serbia’s assent. Further advances in international integration will require some sort of consent from Serbia. This is not because Serbia has become more influential or respected, but because of the principles that work in its favor. 

Explicitly stated in the Helsinki Accords from 1975 and put into force through several UN resolutions, these principles affirm that internationally recognized countries have the final say on matters that touch on their sovereignty.

Although the argument in the case of Kosovo can appear tedious, these principles hold true for the so-called five non-recognizers within the EU and many other UN members. Facing similar internal challenges, they do not want to renounce the principle.  

Further advance toward international integration, as blasphemous as it can sound to some readers, is limited by some sort of consent from Serbia. That gives it leverage, strong enough to make its view relevant and grant it a seat at the table in further discussions. This is something that the United States and the European Union have understood. Hence compromise.

4.“It Will End In Tears” by Deacon Blue 

And most times we know 

It will end in tears

The closure. In this situation, once it was recognized that the outcome of the dialogue touched on the core interests of Serbia, the game changed. As soon as this became apparent, a cacophony of voices emerged to carelessly share their vision of the outcome. They went about it using a tool that allowed them to launch whatever idea crossed their minds without bearing any responsibility for it, an unsigned non-paper.  

They have floated different scenarios, each different in its approach. Prishtina favors mutual recognition, which is a euphemism for Serbia fully yielding. The EU and the U.S. see a functional self-government for Serbs within an independent Kosovo as sufficient compromise. Serbia and its president appear devoted to their brainchild, territorial exchange. 

These visions are diverse and irreconcilable at a glance. However, each of these three main approaches leads to the same outcome; recognition of Kosovo by Serbia, formal or informal, but in a manner and to an extent that enables Kosovo’s further integration into the international community. Even the preferred option of President Vučić, an ethnic delineation, anticipates this outcome.

This means that, reading between lines, he is saying, “I’m ready to recognize but what’s in it for me?” Can it be an accelerated accession of Serbia to the EU? The EU says no. What about territorial exchange? Germany says no. So in the current constellation of options the future of almost 10 million people is reduced to a challenge: how to find something that Vučić can call a victory and Kurti can accept. 

Whatever happens, life will go on, there will be Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, there will be demands for a better life, there will be demands for accountability. Whichever way the producers of this saga decide to end the show, I guess we’ll have to adjust.

5.‘’Wake up’’ by Arcade Fire

♫ Children, wake up 

Hold your mistake up 

Before they turn the summer into dust ♫

The truth. To finish, there is something I keenly want to mention in this piece. It is that old line our political leaders have been telling us about how we are not progressing toward the EU because of the “other side” (Serbs or Albanians, depending on the perspective). 

The truth is the EU does not want us because we have failed to develop decent societies.

Closing outstanding issues related to Kosovo and concluding the Brussels dialogue is indeed a significant milestone of this process. However, what political leaders deliberately distort is the fact that it is only a drop in a sea of principles and values we need to embrace before we qualify to join what is one of the most progressive unions of people in mankind’s history, the European Union. 

The truth is the EU does not want us because we have failed to develop decent societies. Because we consider politics as the fastest way to accumulate wealth. Because we consider relatives in local courts as a shortcut to justice, party membership as a shortcut to employment, friends in a hospital as a shortcut to healthcare. 

We are shortcut societies where rules and laws are obstacles to jump, not fences to guide, societies that constantly seek the easier rather than the right way. That is why we allow the buying of votes, corruption, nepotism, hate speech, incompetence in our public servants, an education that can be bought and so on. 

That is also why we believe politicians saying that if it was not for The Other (Serbs or Albanians), we would already be in the EU. That is a lie. The truth is the EU does not want us the way we are now. And that is not an injustice, they just do not want to allow yet another shortcut.

6.Main Theme

Finally, the theme song for the Brussels dialogue. It can be no other than “On the road to nowhere” by Talking Heads. The dilemma here is whether the title of the song says more than the name of the band. In every report from Brussels we only find heads that do nothing but talk. They are saying, 

♫ We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside ♫

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.

This blog was written for the New Social Initiative within their Kosovo Collective Op-Ed series and published on K2.0 by agreement.

The Op-Ed series is part of a project supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. and USAID. The opinions expressed in this oped series do not necessarily represent those of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. (BTD), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), or the U.S. Government.