After being on a dead-end road for a long time, the deadlock between Belgrade and Pristina was suddenly broken in 2020 with the appointment of U.S. envoy Richard Grenell, who was praised for enticing leaders of Serbia and Kosovo to sign an agreement on the re-establishing of air and rail traffic. Yet, in an atmosphere of unfulfilled obligations, unrealistic plans, wasted years, exhausted energies and lost generations, much more is needed to restore hope and bring results
In Which Directions Should Announced Negotiations Between Belgrade and Pristina Unfold?
Following the upcoming elections in Serbia, Belgrade and Pristina should be both gain leaders who have the legitimacy to end the deadlock that dialogue has found itself in. At least this is what’s believed by some of the respondents surveyed by CorD. However, this is only part of a future puzzle in which it is unclear whether the U.S. and Europe will have similar or different approaches during a juncture when numerous old and new issues have amassed on the negotiating table.
Director of the Centre for Regionalism
The synchronisation of America and EU Key to Direction and Final Result
If there is no synchronisation between Europe and America, as the two key external factors, the direction of negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, and the dialogue’s ultimate desirable outcome, may be completely inconsistent. That would also jeopardise the actual negotiation process, as well as its successful conclusion
America or Europe. Or both America and Europe. These are key questions when it comes to the direction in which the announced talks between Belgrade and Pristina will unfold. Specifically, after the apparent failure to date of the EU in leading this process, a new player has emerged on the scene in the form of America. Now, with the resumption of negotiations announced, no one has given a coherent answer to the question of how synchronisation between these two key international factors will unfold or whether it will even exist. Here at the very start, we have double asynchronicity. When it comes to America, we have two official negotiating delegates – Matthew Palmer and Richard Grenell. When it comes to the European Union, things are even more complicated. Officially, negotiations will be led on behalf of the European Union by Josep Borell, or his special envoy. But one of the key members of the European Union, namely Germany, has so far been behind the official representative of the EU, and now that Angela Merkel is leaving it is France, or Emmanuel Macron, who wants to take over this role directly. And finally, there is the possibility of asynchronous action by the EU and America.
On the occasion of his recent visit to Belgrade and Pristina, Borell stated that he is not vying with the Americans and that they would work together, but he didn’t explain how. This is all the more questionable if we consider since that America has seen the EU as a competitive power since the start of Trump’s term.
If the demarcation option has definitely collapsed (which would be good news), negotiations should head in the other direction, with the lowest common denominator for both parties
If the demarcation option has definitely collapsed (which would be good news), negotiations should head in the other direction, with the lowest common denominator for both parties. This would be the Brussels Agreement that has already envisaged the Community of Serbian Municipalities, but not as a non-governmental organisation, rather as a functional body with executive powers, which would have relations with both Pristina and Belgrade, and ensure the extraterritoriality of Serbian religious sites in Kosovo.
With pressure applied from the outside, this could end up being the least painful solution for Pristina, while for Belgrade it would provide an alibi by having secured some kind of autonomy for northern Kosovo while simultaneously preserving Serbian holy sites. With more pressure applied by America, which has a decisive impact on Pristina, but also on Belgrade, and with the EU having conditioned Serbia’s path to EU membership with the solving of Kosovo’s problems, this solution could mark the end of a long negotiation path. But a key question remains from the beginning of the text: namely, if there is no synchronisation among the two key external factors noted, the direction of negotiations and their final desirable outcome could be completely inconsistent, which would jeopardise the negotiation process itself and its successful conclusion.
Dr Dušan Janjić
President of the Forum for Ethnic Relation’s Board
Much More Creativity Required to Continue Dialogue
In the resumption of the dialogue, more creativity is needed than that which has been expressed so far, because there will be numerous issues on the table that have not previously been debated, such as the settling of mutual claims and the establishment of an agreed community of Serbian municipalities. It will not be possible to avoid issues of recognition and demarcation
Over the last three years, the Brussels Dialogue has been like a dying patient surrounded by numerous doctors (politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats and experts) who, instead of providing decisive therapy, occasionally hold consultations (usually in the evening) on whether the patient should be treated. Their exchanges of opinion and frequent political-propaganda strikes invite followers to mobilise. This mobilisation is directed more towards conflict than creating support for dialogue and agreement. The aim is to impose a one-sided solution, but in reality, maintain the status quo. And in this, the rejection of any change is widening. In the short term, this rejection leads to a deepening crisis and a new conflict. This, in turn, forces the public, the leaderships of Kosovo and Serbia, as well as international stakeholders, to choose between the renewal of conflict and dialogue on normalisation.
The appointment of U.S. Special Envoys (Matt Palmer for the Western Balkans and Richard Grenell for the Brussels Dialogue) and the European Commission’s announcement that it will appoint its own envoys to raise hopes that the dialogue and normalisation process will be revived. Two letters and one statement of intent that have been signed by representatives of Serbia and Kosovo in the presence of Grenell, with the enviable adeptness of this in political propaganda marketing, create the belief that the economy can make an improvement to people ‘s lives. However, the Kosovo government’s tariffs for products from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina provide a reminder that the economy is not omnipotent; that full normalisation is required for the sustainable development and democratic construction of Serbia and Kosovo.
The concerted efforts of the members of the Quint, to encourage the newly elected Kosovo government to abolish tariffs and the Serbian authorities to abandon activities aimed at delegitimising recognition of Kosovo’s independence and membership in all international organisations, should create the conditions required for renewed political dialogue.
The concerted efforts of the members of the quint, to encourage the newly elected kosovo government to abolish tariffs and the Serbian authorities to abandon activities aimed at delegitimising recognition of Kosovo’s independence and membership in all international organisations, should create the conditions required for renewed political dialogue
With the aim of renewing the dialogue and reaching a sustainable political solution, the following facts should be kept in mind:
Firstly, Serbia and Kosovo cannot resolve the current crisis alone and unilaterally. Kosovo cannot emerge from this crisis rewarded with the full recognition of its statehood by Serbia. The demand for “mutual and sustainable recognition” will have to wait for some new times and different economic, political and security circumstances. Serbia cannot ensure the economic progress and security of the Serb community in Kosovo without cooperating with the Kosovo authorities. Kosovo, however, is not helped by its unilateral insistence on its ultimate interests. It is worth sticking to the rules of equality, and not parity or any measures of reciprocity.
Secondly, it is necessary for there to be more creativity than has been shown so far, because the renewed dialogue will have to find answers to numerous issues that have not been debated to date, such as the settlement of mutual claims, but also enabling the establishment of the agreed Community of Serbian Municipalities (ZSO). The issues of recognition and demarcation will not be able to be avoided.
In the development of creativity, it would be good to respect the following principles. The first is that, even if there is no definite answer to the question of whether and when Kosovo is recognised as a full member of the international community, that end can be reached peacefully, through dialogue and the normalisation of Serbia and Kosovo relations. Of course, this is not sufficient if there is no agreement among the “big players” (EU, U.S., Russia and China);
The second principle – instead of a “final solution”, it would be good to prepare for the journey in several stages. The first stage should end with Serbia’s EU membership and the opening of realistic prospects for the full recognition of Kosovo. Until then, the rule of status neutrality, contained in the text of the UN General Assembly Resolution on EU-backed dialogue and in Chapter 35 of the Serbia-EU Negotiations Framework, applies.
Director of the Conflict Management Programme At Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
Choices Narrowing for Serbia
Serbia has a choice: it can normalise sooner or later. If it waits too long—until EU accession is in sight—it will get nothing in return. If, however, Belgrade chooses normalisation sooner, it can still hope for some concessions
Now that Kosovo’s government has formed, Washington and Brussels will want to find ways of continuing the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. The first order of business should be the implementation of the many existing agreements, especially on energy. It has been a mistake to let them languish. That should be the focus between now and the April parliamentary elections in Serbia when both countries will have democratically legitimised governments that can be expected to last several years.
The next order of business, once a new government takes charge in Belgrade, will be a major confidence-building package that includes the suspension of Kosovo’s tariffs on Serbian goods; suspension of the Serbian anti-recognition campaign and blockage of Kosovo’s membership in technical organisations like UNESCO and Interpol; EU implementation of the visa waiver for Kosovo and continuation of the EU accession process for Serbia.
Such a package would unblock the Belgrade/Pristina dialogue and open the door to further agreements that move in the direction of complete normalisation. That ultimately means mutual recognition of sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as an exchange of representatives at the ambassadorial level.
It has been a mistake to let numerous existing agreements languish. That should be the focus between now and the april parliamentary elections in Serbia
Serbia has a choice: it can normalise sooner or later. If it waits too long—until EU accession is in sight—it will get nothing in return. If, however, Belgrade chooses normalisation soon, it can still hope for some concessions on things like the Kosovo Army, protection of Serbs and religious sites in Kosovo, an association of Serb municipalities consistent with the Kosovo constitution, some sort of international regime for North Mitrovica, a mutual agreement on war crime prosecutions and a serious economic package.
The basic principle, however, will have to be reciprocity. Anything Belgrade asks of Pristina for Serbs in Kosovo it needs to be ready to match for Albanians living inside Serbia. The same will need to be true for Kosovo: anything it asks of Belgrade for Albanians inside Serbia, Pristina will need to be ready to provide to Serbs in Kosovo. The days of asking for an Association of Serb Municipalities or limits on the Kosovo Army without providing comparable concessions inside Serbia are over. What’s good for Pristina will have to be good for Belgrade as well.
Fake Dialogue No More
Here is what the dialogue must not be: a quick fix, deceitful and simulated, alienated and hijacked from the people, led by ill intentions. This was already seen in 2014
Nothing more plausible has, until recently, described the relationship between Belgrade and Pristina than the phrase that has been increasingly heard since last summer: dialogue is at a dead end. I have been repeating it at least ten times longer, while not encountering much understanding among my international interlocutors. It was particularly misunderstood when I stated aloud that the dialogue was fake.
The ode to normalisation sung in the Brussels spotlight was simultaneously accompanied by the destabilisation of political life in the domestic arena and the descent of our societies left in the dark.
As a Serb from Kosovo, I am naturally most concerned with what was happening to my fellow countrymen and our lives. My community has been dwindling for the past 20 years. When I try to clarify to those who know nothing about us the extremely difficult and complex situation of Kosovo Serbs in respect to Belgrade- Pristina relations, then I say that we are an ingredient pressed in a sandwich, a thin sheet of lettuce.
It was precisely via this thin salad leaf that the normalisation process of the two sides was introduced back in 2014. Yet we all know that normalisation was another name for the final withdrawal of Serbia from Kosovo, as part of its state territory, towards the expectation of a formal arrangement between Serbia and Kosovo as two separate states.
The deadlock seems finally to have been broken in 2020, in a word – Grenell. At least that is how the revival of dialogue has been seen by the public.
Here is what the dialogue must not be: a quick fix, deceitful and simulated, alienated and hijacked from the people, led by ill intentions. The sandwich must contain all ingredients fresh, otherwise it will be difficult to chew and swallow, never mind to digested healthily
All sides applaud “Grennelisation”, with the stakeholders praising each other in their avalanches of tweets. The EU, with its revised proactive methodology towards the Western Balkans, just re-joined the club and is expected to soon appoint its own envoy for the dialogue.
But why is it not difficult for me to imagine that the great ideas of re-establishing air and rail traffic and building a highway did not originate from Grennel?
And why is it not at all difficult to imagine the ease with which the two presidents designed and got their teams ready to sign such Letters of Intent?
It is just my fear of 2014 déjà vu: the ease of printing important words on a white sheet of papers; the enthusiasm over a new chapter of life and time-line; the big promises and great thoughts versus unfulfilled obligations, unrealistic plans, ignored interests of people, wasted years, exhausted energies and lost generations.
Here is what the dialogue must not be: a quick fix, deceitful and simulated, alienated and hijacked from the people, led by ill intentions. The sandwich must contain all ingredients fresh, otherwise, it will be difficult to chew and swallow, never mind to digested healthily.