Next Wednesday (July 18), the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, will host representatives from Prishtina as part of what is said to be the ‘final phase’ of the dialogue for normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
The government’s coalition partners are unified in their attempts to build a negotiation team that will represent the whole Kosovar political spectrum in Brussels. A so-called ‘unity team’ has been formed, consisting of President Hashim Thaçi, who will lead the dialogue, alongside President of the Assembly Kadri Veseli, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and members from across the governing coalition.
However, Kosovo’s three opposition parties, who fill nearly half the seats in the Kosovo Assembly, remain persistent in their determination not to support the process without some pre-conditions being met. While president Thaçi repeatedly says that he will undertake the trip to Brussels to conclude the final phase of the dialogue, Kosovo opposition parties are unconvinced.
The Social Democratic Party (PSD) even responded to the formation of the team by calling an extraordinary parliamentary session on Friday (July 13) to discuss the latest moves from Thaçi and the government’s coalition partners.
The words “internal consensus” have frequently circulated in the vocabulary of Kosovo politics since last summer, when it became apparent that the EU was aiming for a final phase to conclude the dialogue. In the spring, the EU’s enlargement strategy contained a requirement for a “legally binding” agreement that cemented normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
Project manager at democracy promoting NGO Kosova Democratic Institute, Jeta Krasniqi, has been continually engaged in organizing discussions between Kosovo’s political stakeholders on the dialogue with Serbia. “A year has passed. How much time do Kosovo parties need to build a platform to reach consensus?” Krasniqi asks rhetorically. “No concrete steps have been made.”
While peace between Kosovo and Serbia is said to be the final goal, members of the opposition feel calls for internal peace and consensus have remained hollow and do not reflect any political reality. “I doubt that even grammatically they understand the meaning of the word consensus,” PSD deputy Dukagjin Gorani tells K2.0, referring to those who have led the dialogue to date.
A government sponsored platform on the dialogue was brought to the Assembly in June this year, but the government withdrew it due to a lack of support, while the opposition considered the platform ‘not serious.’
According to Kosovo’s Constitution, issues of high importance, including amendments to the Constitution or international agreements need to be passed at the Kosovo Assembly with two thirds of the vote. To date, the only product of the dialogue to be voted on in the Kosovo Assembly is the 2013 Brussels Agreement.
For PSD’s Gorani, the fact that Kosovo’s representation and platform in the dialogue has not been legitimized by the Assembly of Kosovo by two thirds of the 120 deputies is a worrying factor that is harming the nature of Kosovo’s political system.
He apportions part of the blame for this to the international community. “In the last 18 years, the West has insisted on building democratic institutions and now we are announcing these institutions invalid for the sake of other processes,” says Gorani, adding that the West has given priority to stability over democracy.
The PSD representative believes that this state of affairs gives the president and international actors in the process a common interest. “Hashim Thaçi is the ally of the international community because neither are interested in complicating [the dialogue] through democratization,” says Gorani. “Thaçi is not capable of securing [two thirds of the deputies], and this would create a paralysis and a delay in the dialogue.”
Avdullah Hoti, the head of the Democratic League of Kosovo’s (LDK) parliamentary group is resolute that the process should be headed by the government and backed by the Assembly. “The process of the dialogue cannot be led by non-legitimate institutions and outside of constitutional competences,” he says. “Therefore LDK will not support any action that goes beyond these competences.”
How to compromise?
Another keyword in discussions over the dialogue in recent times has been ‘compromise,’ with many believing Kosovo will have to make some form of concession in order to reach a final agreement with Serbia.
Thaçi’s recent claims that there are no metaphorical ‘red lines’ in terms of their position in the dialogue has raised more questions and fear over the negotiations. “When the president goes and says that there are no red lines, does it mean that we will also talk about exchange of territories, or the division of Kosovo?” Jeta Krasniqi asks.
Thaçi ’s advisers have since contradicted the statements regarding a lack of red lines in the dialogue, stating that Kosovo does indeed have red lines, but exactly what they are remains unclear. K2.0 contacted the President’s Office to enquire about the exact nature of these red lines, but received no response.
For Dukagjin Gorani, those in power should also think about how to convince the citizens of the need for compromise. “It’s quite difficult for [those in power] to convince Kosovar society that we should have another compromise, taking into account that the Ahtisaari package has been understood as the final compromise,” he says, referencing the formation of the Ahtisaari Plan, the document that provided the foundation of Kosovo’s Constitution more than a decade ago.
Alongside the issues over what may or may not be compromised upon, no one has yet revealed which topics are to be discussed in the next phase of the dialogue.
“Just the fact that we don’t know what is going to be discussed in there is a worrying issue,” Vetëvendosje deputy Xhelal Sveçla told K2.0. “It must not happen that a representative of Kosovo goes to Brussels, and then society is informed either formally or informally that the issue of [partition] the north was discussed,” he says.
One of the key issues expected to be discussed is the creation of an Association or Community of Serb Majority Municipalities (ASM). The notion of an ASM was first agreed in the Brussels Agreement in April 2013, though principles outlining its formation created in August 2015 created political turmoil in Kosovo, with mass protests inside and outside the parliament.
The Constitutional Court of Kosovo issued an advisory opinion declaring many of the principles not to be in line with the spirit of the country’s constitution. However, it also ruled that the formation of the ASM should begin, as its formation was initiated by the ratification of the Brussels Agreement in 2013. Ever since, officials from the Serbian government have criticized their Kosovar counterparts for not having yet drafted the statute that would form the ASM.
Recently, leaked reports revealed by BIRN, indicated that Kosovo laws may need to be changed to adapt the ASM into the Kosovar legal system. For Avdullah Hoti, the functioning of the ASM should happen only in accordance with Kosovo’s Constitution as it would otherwise damage the nature of Kosovo’s multiethnic state. “Any deviation from this opinion would be anti-constitutional and unacceptable,” Hoti says.
For Vetevendosje’s Sveçla, the history of all these years with Hashim Thaçi as the protagonist in the dialogue, including his role in the 2013 Brussels Agreement, leaves little room for optimism on the topics that will be discussed. “All these years they said that they would go to talk about missing people, war reparations and other topics, but throughout this process they never mentioned missing people and the crimes committed by Serbia in 1999,” Sveçla says.
While in Brussels, Kosovo’s delegation will meet its Serbian counterpart, back in Prishtina the opposition remains highly polarized from the governing parties and president, leaving little room to believe that any harmony can be built between the country’s political forces, at least on the issue of the dialogue.K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.