10 November 2020

Pristine and Belgrade want to start the normalization process of their relation, but only if several conditions are accomplished

Stelian Teodorescu

On October 13th, the Kosovo’s prime-minister, Avdullah Hoti, has decreased the hopes about founding the semi-autonomous and long-promised Serbian Municipalities Association from North of Kosovo. By rejecting the increasing pressure, prime-minister A. Hoti said it will not adopt such a decision until a complex agreement with Serbia is signed.

Image source: Profimedia - Acord de cooperare semnat la Washington între preşedintele Serbiei, Aleksandar Vucic, şi premierul Kosovo, Avdullah Hoti

A. Hoti warned that such an objective will only be accomplished if a final agreement with Serbia is completed, the latter refusing to recognize the independence of its former province, proclaimed back in 2008. A. Hoti issued the warning after a Pristine meeting with the EU special envoy for Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, after Goran Rakic[1], the vice-prime-minister and leader of the Srpska Lista party, supported by Belgrade, stating that he will give up the Kosovan government if the Association is not soon established.

“This is a government which does not take threats from anyone. We are not working under someone else’s threats”, said A. Hoti, as a response to an ultimatum on a possible resignation.

On October 15th, after the meeting with the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, from Belgrade, the EU special envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, M. Lajcak, stated that the final status of the Association will be negotiated and established in Brussels and that “everything was convened, signed and must be accomplished, the final step being the negotiation of the status of that community”.

M. Lajcak got to Belgrade after a visit in Pristine, in Serbia’s capital, where he expressed his satisfaction on the results of the meetings with the Kosovo leaders, stressinng that “in all reunions, the Kosovo leaders expressed their support for the dialogue led by EU and have confirmed that Pristine will honor all its commitments, including on establishing the Association”.

On September 19th, the Kosovo government adopted a plan to implement the agreement signed with the US in September, at the White House, to normalize some economic connections with Serbia and establish diplomatic relations with Israel, the plan including 16 measures to be further applied. During the government meeting, vice-prime-minister Driton Selmanaj told the ministers that it is now their responsibility to “take all the necessary measures to implement the established activities”.

According to this plan, the government will cooperate with the US administration to create “a task force responsible for making a feasibility study” for the Ujman/Gazivode Lake[2], which is in litigation, to determine the water resources allocation and the exploration of possible development opportunities. In this given context, it is noteworthy that Lake Ujman/Gazivode, which is seen as a strategically important water resource basin, was created in 1970, in North of Kosovo, a region mostly inhabited by Serbians, being claimed both by Serbia and its former province, Kosovo, which proclaimed its independency in 2008. Serbia and Kosovo committed to work with the US on “a feasibility study to share the Ujman/Gazivode lake, which is a reliable water and energy source”.

After signing the agreements in the presence of the US president, Donald Trump, the US special envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Richard Grenell, promised that this important water resource will be called Lake Trump, honoring the “role of the US president in the historical economic relation’s normalization agreement” and to avoid disputes on the name of this lake.

According to the provisions of the Kosovo government’s plan, Kosovo will join the so-called “mini-Schengen” with Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, which foresees the free circulation of people, goods, capital and the development of services between the three countries in the Balkans.

The Kosovo law on the freedom of religion will be modified to offer an additional protection to Serbian orthodox churches on the soil of this Western Balkans entity and a one year-long moratorium will be imposed for Kosovo’s demands to access the international organizations.

On October 20th, in a meeting of the commerce chambers’ chiefs from Serbia and Kosovo, Marko Cadez and Berat Rukiqi, the two officials signed a joint statement at the US embassy from Belgrade, committing to create and apply the activities of a join team on economic cooperation.

In another meeting that was also held on October 20th, with the foreign minister, Meliza Haradinaj Stublla, the Kosovan prime-minister, A. Hoti stated that Pristine will establish diplomatic relations with the Israeli state, as agreed at the White House, underlining that “Israel is Kosovo’s strategic partner”.

Given this context, it is noteworthy that Serbia and Kosovo agreed to continue to implement the previous agreements on reestablishing the air and railway connections and start creating new connection roads and highways. The two entities have also agreed to mutually accept diplomas for the higher education. As for the foreign policy issues, while following US’s interests, both have agreed to call the Islamic group Hezbollah a “terrorist organization”.

Given the last developments, it is important to underlined that the Kosovo prime-minister, A. Hoti said he supports “something agreed with their partners in the Pristine coalition government and foreign mediators for the dialogue with Serbia, which is that they will not agree something until everything is agreed”- which means a complex solution in the dispute with Serbia.

“Nothing will be implemented until a final mutual recognition agreement is ratified in the Kosovo Parliament”, he added, stressing also that the future Association “will not have executive responsibilities”. The Kosovo politicians have also expressed their concerns that the Association could turn into a mini-Serbian state which is threatening the integrity and sovereignty of Kosovo, referring to a similar example of the Serbian entity from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Srpska Republic.

Also, in an interview with the media, Kosovo Parliament Speaker Vjosa Osmani reiterated his concerns that the planned AMSK would be "a kind of mini-state" that he said would violate European values. She also said that a ruling by the Constitutional Court[3] on this issue, from 2015, should be followed. EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano argued that the 2015 decision had been misinterpreted in Kosovo and that "the Court has never said that the Association/Community cannot be set up", adding that Kosovo must - and keeps its promise to form create the AMSK, "as part of a comprehensive agreement, as agreed by the leaders in the first meetings in July 2020 and then reconfirmed in the last round of talks on September 7, 2020".

It has become very clear that Serbia has increasingly given priority to the establishment of AMSK in the dialogue with Kosovo, while at recent expert meetings in Brussels, in mid-September, Kosovo tried to avoid the topic, M. Lajcak stressing afterwards that the talks "only confirmed the complexity and sensitivity of the problem."

As a result, we can appreciate that the AMSK issue has added tensions to the EU-led dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which has stalled again, recently, with Belgrade officially conditioning the continuation of the dialogue by setting up the Association.

Thus, it is noteworthy the view expressed by M.Lajčák who also said that both sides must make compromises in order to move forward with a legally binding agreement mediated by the EU and being necessary “to compromises on they want to achieve”.

Translated by Andreea Soare

[1] Goran Rakić (born 1971) is a Kosovo Serb politician who currently serves as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Local Government in the Government of Kosovo. He was mayor of Northern Mitrovica and the current chairman of the Srpska List, an ethnic Serbian minority political party.

[2] Lake Ujman / Gazivode is an artificial lake in Kosovo and Serbia, covering an area of 11.9 km2, of which 9.2 square kilometers is located in Kosovo and 2.7 square kilometer in Serbia. The lake is formed by a dam on the river Ibar, which flows into the lake.

[3] In 2015, the Kosovo Constitutional Court ruled that the 2013 agreement on the Association was going against the spirit of the Constitution in 22 fields.