Kosovo-Serbia dialogue needs to be transformed, experts claim

Analysts and politicians discuss the failures of the Brussels-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and elaborate on possible scenarios for its future.

“The dialogue up to now has been insufficient in its essence,” said Veton Surroi, founder of the KOHA media group, at a roundtable on the Brussels-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

“Kosovo and Belgrade haven’t transformed their relations, and there is no chance with this format to transform them.”

The roundtable, organized by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society and moderated by journalist and Koha Ditore editor Agron Bajrami, tackled the question of what Kosovo can expect from the Brussels dialogue.

The debate began with an introduction to a paper written by moderator Bajrami titled “In Search of Consensus,” in which he reviews the lack of progress over the past six and a half years of the Brussels dialogue.

Bajrami’s paper argues that the dialogue has been tied to Kosovo’s path towards EU integration, and that while the Dialogue for Normalization of Relations takes place in Brussels, Serbia has consistently “hindered the normalization of relations of Kosovo with the rest of the world.” And since President Thaci’s initiative for the unity team has not produced the desired consensus, he argues, the mood is ripe for a wider debate in Kosovo about the dialogue.

David L. Philips, from Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, argued that the dialogue needs a new format and strategy, a deadline for its conclusion, and conditionality, particularly regarding Serbia.

“What has happened to the agreements [signed so far]? Most of them have languished… This is a dishonest dialogue. It is not a state-to-state negotiation,” he said. “Literature produced by the Republic of Serbia describes it as a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo Provisional Institutions of Self-government.”

He said the dialogue needs to be about the pivotal issue that divides Kosovo and Serbia: recognition.

Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo was a major point brought up by the four panelists, who argued that Serbia not only refuses to recognize Kosovo but actively works to obstruct the state’s sovereignty and access to international organizations.

However, journalist and commentator Bosko Jaksic warned that Serbia’s recognition is “wishful thinking.”

“There is no chance that Belgrade will accept the independence of Kosovo,” he said. “It will be a real challenge for diplomats to formulate how both parties, including Serbia and Vucic, could manage to maintain some kind of dignity. Because the politics of this government and previous Serbian governments have become victim to their own threats of ‘never.’”

Jaksic was also pessimistic about Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s initiative for an internal dialogue on Kosovo, set to begin in October. He said that though there are some “potentially promising things” happening, such as President Vucic’s call to Serbs “to give up on the mythical and historical approach to Kosovo,” his lack of genuine engagement with opposition is nevertheless worrying.

Serbia allowing Kosovo to have a seat at the UN while maintaining non-recognition was floated as a possible compromise during the debate as well.

Surroi emphasized that the best possible path forward is for Serbia to recognize Kosovo, but admitted that it is unrealistic, and that the EU is partly to blame.  

“Kosovo and Serbia are not the only ones that need to change; the EU needs to change too,” he said. “You cannot be a facilitator while at the same time denying Kosovo’s right to a European future. And the lack of recognition from five EU countries is the denial of that future.”

Albin Kurti of Vetevendosje echoed these arguments.

“We [Vetevendosje] have never been against the dialogue in principle, but we were always against a dialogue without principles… We insist on reciprocity,” he said, adding that he finds it problematic that the topics of economy and of establishing historical facts were “categorically ruled out” for the dialogue.

He called for an internal dialogue with Kosovo Serbs, which has long been a platform of Vetevendosje, and also on the need to watch where Serbia’s internal dialogue initiative is headed.

Philips on the other hand proposed a new format for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, co-chaired by Brussels and Washington.

He said that the US should appoint a special representative to work with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, along with another specially appointed representative from the EU, to “transform the dialogue into a negotiation” that would conclude within 18-24 months.

He also called for an EU monitoring mechanism of the dialogue and for the EU to block Serbia from opening new accession chapters if it obstructs Kosovo’s progress.

29/09/2017 - 13:47

29 September 2017 - 13:47

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