Merdare border crossing. | Photo: Kallxo.

The (Il)legality of Serbian Documents in Kosovo

Travel restrictions introduced for Kosovo Serbs will only deteriorate the already unpopular image of Kosovo authorities in the eyes of the Serb community.

Many Serbs live in uncertainty; they might wake up one day and find out that they are prohibited to travel to work, see their children, or go to therapy, as they are de facto held hostages, being prohibited to enter or exit Kosovo with their Serbian IDs. Considering the social, economic, cultural, educational, and other bonds Kosovo Serbs have with Serbia, this type of prohibition is seriously harming their lives in numerous ways, and, above all, it is an infringement of their human and citizen rights. And further, the ban is not transparent and seemingly without direct basis in any agreement or law.

Kosovo authorities have recently reintroduced travel restrictions to Kosovo Serbs, by which they are prohibited from entering or exiting Kosovo with Coordination Directorate passports and Serbian ID cards issued to Kosovo residents.

Similar situations occurred in December 2015, and in April 2016, when Edita Tahiri, Kosovo Minister for Dialogue, announced that residents of Kosovo who use “Serbian parallel structure-issued ID cards” will be prohibited from entering or exiting Kosovo. The ban seemed to be an expression of dissatisfaction of Kosovo authorities that the European Union is not resolving the “illegal ID card issue,” as Tahiri called it.

Recently, the issue has been put back on schedule. As reported by Radio Free Europe, in the first week of May 2017, bus agencies that operate between Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia were informed that Kosovo no longer recognizes Serbian passports issued to Kosovo Serbs by the Coordination Administration operating under the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia. Although there was no official confirmation of this decision, Tahiri said that the passports issued by the Coordination Administration have never been applicable in Kosovo, because they were always considered illegal.

According to her, the Coordination Administration is an illegal structure for Kosovo. During the past few months, passengers with Serbian ID cards with Kosovo residence have also been stopped at the Konculj and Merdare crossings. While waiting for an official notice, passengers, as the media reported, were banned entry to and exit from Kosovo.

In 2014 alone, about 9,484 Kosovo Serbs reportedly acquired Kosovo IDs. While I am not aware of the total number of Kosovo Serbs who obtained IDs issued by the Kosovo authorities, it is  common knowledge that many of them do not have these documents, or they may prefer to use their documents issued by Serbia for traveling and provision of various services from Serbian authorities. Serbs from Kosovo have citizenship of the Republic of Serbia and, accordingly, Serbia continues to issue documents to them.

Kosovo authorities, on the other hand, claim the ban on the usage of Serbian IDs is based on the “illegality” of Serbian documents issued to Kosovo Serbs by Serbian “parallel structures” in Kosovo. However, no publically available documents or agreements show that these documents are issued by parallel structures or that they are illegal. Namely, there are no parallel Serbian structures in Kosovo that issue identification and travel documents. Persons who reside in the territory of Kosovo apply for issuance of their Serbian identification and travel documents in Serbia. They can apply for passports in a specific Coordination Administration department in Belgrade, and, for the issuance of all other documents, such as ID cards and driver licenses, there are special police administrations, in the so-called “outpost cities” in Serbia.  No parallel office exists in Kosovo for issuance of Serbian documents of this type, but various offices are functioning in Serbia and provide services to citizens of Serbia with residence in Kosovo.

Moreover, the Kosovo Law on Citizenship allows for multiple citizenships (Article 3), which means that a citizen of Kosovo may have two or more other citizenships, without restrictions. The legality of multiple citizenships implies the legality to possess multiple documentation issued by different institutions. This means, according to Kosovo law, Serbs have the right to have Serbian citizenship, and, consequently, Serbian documents, as well as the right to Kosovo citizenship and documents that go with it. There is no mutual exclusivity here.

However, having multiple citizenship is not a requirement, but a possibility, guaranteed by law. This further means that some people may choose to have only one citizenship. For instance, taking into account the current context in Kosovo, a respective resident of Kosovo may choose to keep only his/her Serbian citizenship, either for political views, or simply because in certain Serb-majority areas, e.g. in the north, most institutions function under the auspices of the Serbian government. Consequently, these institutions require usage of Serbian documentation, while the Kosovo IDs are not such ‘hot commodity.’ Taking into consideration the socio-political context in Kosovo and the sensitivity of the issue, any obligation that Kosovo Serbs take on Kosovo documents in order to reside in Kosovo would be controversial  in this particular moment.

Finally, the Agreement on Freedom of Movement from 2011, signed by the representatives of Belgrade and Prishtina in Brussels, clearly states that the sides agreed that residents of each party should be able to travel freely within or throughout the territory of the other with ID cards. It is highly likely that, by these actions, Kosovo authorities want to incentivize Serbs who do not have Kosovo IDs to get them as soon as possible. However, integration imposed by using negative incentives will be artificial, unsustainable, and fragile. An imposed acceptance of institutions will boomerang, and thus deem them illegitimate.

Kosovo authorities should, therefore, urgently stop using ‘sticks’ such as freedom restrictions to coerce Serbs into integration, but should focus on using ‘carrots’ instead. If Kosovo institutions aim to increase the number of Serbs with Kosovo documentation, they should work on improvement, rather than aggravation, of their living standards, as Kosovo Serbs are one of the most vulnerable communities in the region. According to the OSCE, the Serb community is hardened by various issues in the field of security, access to justice, language, and property rights, to name just a few. Showing an increased effort to address these issues would be a much better incentive for Serbs to get Kosovo IDs, rather than restriction and denial of their rights, which only deteriorates the already unpopular image of Kosovo authorities in the eyes of the Serb community.

This piece was initially published in Serbian by New Social Initiative and in Albanian by sbunker.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

14 July 2017 - 13:45

Verka Jovanovic

14/07/2017 - 13:45

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