President’s leading role in ‘final’ phase will polarise Kosovar politics further.
This Sunday (June 24), Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi will meet with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić in Brussels for the first round of discussions in the so-called “final phase” of the EU-facilitated dialogue for the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
On Wednesday (June 20), President Thaçi notified the public via a press conference that he had responded affirmatively to an invitation made by Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of European Union of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. On the same day, he also held a meeting with ambassadors from the U.S., the U.K, Germany, France and Italy, who are all firm supporters of the EU mediated dialogue.
Thaçi told the press conference that he foresees a “difficult” final phase of the dialogue, and that he hopes to reach a compromise with Serbia. However, he revealed no details regarding what the topics on the table will be.
But while Thaçi is preparing to reach a “compromise” with Serbia, in Prishtina, the political spectrum is more divided than ever. There is a lack of consensus over the dialogue, and many voices in the Kosovo Assembly strongly dispute the role of Thaçi, including one of the government’s coalition partners, the New Social Democratic Initiative (NISMA Social Demokrate).
Calls for “consensus” might have dominated the political dictionary in Kosovar politics in recent months, but little has been done by the president, the government or the opposition parties to reach any accord — either on the negotiating team or, more importantly, the topics that should be on the table in Brussels.
How is a nation able to conduct a dialogue with another nation if it fails to have a domestic one first?
The terms dialogue and consensus comprise core values of a democracy but both of them are clearly lacking in contemporary Kosovar politics. A legitimate question follows: How is a nation able to conduct a dialogue with another nation if it fails to have a domestic one first?
Two days before the meeting in Brussels, there are no details about the topics that will be included, or a timeline outlining when the dialogue will be concluded with a “legally binding” agreement. It also seems clear that Thaçi designating himself the leading role without having built a climate of political or societal consensus will create further discontent and a polarisation of Kosovo’s political forces.
Kosovo is a parliamentary democracy but those representatives who make up the Assembly of Kosovo are being bypassed in this final phase. According to Article 84 of the Constitution of Kosovo, the president represents Kosovo internally and externally but the president possesses no political authority to implement any agreements made, at least without authorization by the Kosovo Assembly. Previously it has always been the government that headed the dialogue, including Thaçi in his previous role as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The role of the international community should not be ignored here. The EU and the U.S. are jeopardizing the democratic process in Kosovo by allowing the leadership of the dialogue to be conducted by individuals rather than institutions, while their calls for consensus now ring hollow.
Throughout the postwar years, the international community have repeatedly lectured on the necessity to respect institutions and build a functioning democracy with a proper separation of powers. But bypassing the Assembly of Kosovo is precisely against the spirit of Kosovo’s constitution and harms democracy and the values that the EU have continually promoted.
Their silence over Thaçi’s commandeering of the dialogue is a legitimisation of stubborn politics and intervention, and tacit permission to violate Kosovo’s institutions.
A bitter lesson from recent history
What is more worrying is that Kosovo has already seen precedents where democracy was harmed when a consensus was not reached before crucial international agreements were made. The deal regarding border demarcation with Montenegro, for instance was completed without any prior discussion in the Kosovo Assembly or the wider political spectrum.
The results of this absence of debate were played out when attempting to implement the agreement, with violent scenes in the Kosovo Assembly damaging the reputation of the country’s nascent democracy, and the demarcation deal only passing in April 2018, nearly three years after it was signed.
Such political behavior will only lead to building a formal democracy, where ‘democracy’ is what is able to be passed through the Kosovo Assembly.
When the deal was eventually passed, it was with the minimum required votes, with pressure being applied from the international community and deputies altering their stance on the subject. Such political behavior will only lead to building a formal democracy, where ‘democracy’ is what is able to be passed through the Kosovo Assembly, and not a genuinely democratic form of governance, where the voices of the people are expressed.
A lack of prior political discussion and wider transparency has also been levelled at the agreements made over the formation of the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities, which sparked wide scale protests across Kosovo. The statute that will define the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities is still being drafted, though the subject of its formation is expected to arise in this final phase of the dialogue.
A representative of the people?
Currently, the will of the people, at least in terms of their representatives at the Kosovo assembly is against the idea that the president should lead the next phase of the dialogue. They also outweigh the president’s supporters in the Assembly.
Besides the opposition parties, LDK, Vetëvendosje, and the Social Democratic Party of Kosovo, the New Social Democratic Initiative’s opposition to Thaçi leading the dialogue would tips the balance against the president in the parliament.
Before taking the trip to Brussels, Thaçi should have evaluated not only whether he is able to represent the Kosovar people, but also engaged in a process of establishing a consensus and a unified political position on the dialogue, as is his constitutional duty.
While dialogue with Serbia is crucial, supporting a dialogue without building the infrastructure of an internal consensus is against the principles of democracy the west has been advocating in Kosovo for all these years.
Instead, we have a president who eagerly responds to Mogherini’s call to represent Kosovo in the dialogue, but who does not explain what will be discussed, and even often describes the dialogue as merely as international obligation.
Kosovo and Serbia have been engaged in the dialogue since 2011 but the process of normalisation has been proven to not only lack the implementation of many agreements, as has been highlighted in many EU documents including progress reports, but also transparency, which is so vital for the society in both countries.
While dialogue with Serbia is crucial, supporting a dialogue without building the infrastructure of an internal consensus is against the principles of democracy the west has been advocating in Kosovo for all these years. In the long-term, it will only contribute to the cultivation of a political culture where politicians will bypass institutions and harm Kosovar democracy for their own personal gains. Such political behavior already has a history. The outcomes are known.K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.