Broken promises and what is the Dialogue about

Milica Andric Rakic

04 October 2021

I will not negotiate with Serbia before they apologize. When there are negotiations, they will only be about the recognition. The negotiations will never be about internal issues. Albin Kurti made all of these promises ceremoniously and broke all of them on 28 and 29 September. He made several more missteps along the way, but none were his fault. He didn’t have whom to bounce his views on the dialogue off as the civil society in Kosovo was not up to the task. It was not analyzing the process; it was rooting for his team.

In 2018, Ramush Haradinaj implemented a decision on 100% tax without engaging a single additional police officer on IBMs. The decision had no unified international support and was still implemented for 16 months without significant security threats.

In 2021, Albin Kurti implemented a part of the agreement on the freedom of movement Kosovo had the right to, but chose not to implement, since November 2011. He had broad international support to do it, employed heavily armed Special police forces, and still could not uphold the decision for longer than two weeks.

Why? Where’s the catch?

The catch is in the detail many in Kosovo seemed to have forgotten. The EU initiated the Belgrade Pristina dialogue to integrate the Kosovo Serb community and extend Kosovo’s institutions to northern Kosovo, not to negotiate the recognition according to popular belief. While the first may lead to the latter, the latter cannot happen without finalizing the integration. Hence Merkel’s message that there is no point discussing the end of the process (in her interpretation recognition) before resolving other issues. This message is not new and has not changed, but it keeps falling on deaf ears in Kosovo.

Another message echoing on Thursday was that Belgrade and Pristina could make progress in the dialogue only when two sides were willing to negotiate. This is to say that the integration of the Kosovo Serb community cannot be done without the coordination and direct support to the process from Serbia. Kosovo should abandon the idea that the integration of the Kosovo Serb community would happen spontaneously, were it not for Serbia’s interference. It is not true, as proven so for decades between 1999 and 2011. The integration will happen only when Serbia puts pressure on the community to accept it, and the larger part of the responsibility for this falls on the Government of Kosovo. For as long as it shakes away concerns of the Kosovo Serb community with claims that it has the most extensive rights a minority community could have and claims that the Community of Serb majority municipalities would lead to segregation while, at the same time, there are no Serbs in Pristina, this will not change.

This brings me back to Ramush. He could implement the decision on taxes because it did not deal with the integration of Kosovo Serbs. In contrast, Kurti had to withdraw because he based his decision on the agreement but without coordination with Serbia. I assume and somewhat understand that this will annoy many who read it, but it is crucial to understand the fallout of Kurti’s decision properly.

In 2011, Thaci’s Special police action in the North did manage to internationalize and move forward with the resolution of Kosovo’s status. However, he had nothing to lose back then, as there were barely any Kosovo institutions in the area. On the other hand, Kurti’s Special police action put on line 10 years of integration, in which the international community invested a lot of effort and diplomacy. It also sent a message to Kosovo Serb community that he plans to employ forceful, instead of soft integration, a move he neither has the support nor leverage to pull off.

Kurti also mobilized the international community to support his measure but gambled it away by not giving all the details related to his plans for implementation, particularly the uncalled-for deployment of Special forces and confiscation of KM plates. He will now have to repay that support by being equally compliant to other reached agreements, the Association of Serb majority municipalities in particular while managing the breach of trust that may come up when he again asks for support. As the validity of KS plates, the formation of the CSM also had a deadline – four months after the 2015 agreement.

For me, the main takeaway from the past two weeks is that the international community understood and still better understands the scope of the issues Kosovo has with the integration of the North than the Kosovo Government itself. It happened because the CSOs who focus on the dialogue and the media don’t see beyond (any) governments’ arguments on the dialogue. They serve as the government’s megaphone instead of being an independent sparring partner.

Had it been different, the Government of Kosovo might have known that its decision would exclude thousands of cars from the new temporary plates regime, effectively ghettoizing the majority of people it considers its citizens in the North. It might also have found it wrong to leave these people with no information whatsoever on what to expect after the confiscation of their plates while, at the same, announcing what little information it had with snipers and armored vehicles.

This op-ed is originally written in English.

The op-ed is supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pristina. The opinions are of the authors and do not reflect the views of Balkans Policy Research Group and the donor.