Kosovo-Serbia dialogue at the crossroads: Which way forward?
Kosovo-Serbia dialogue for several years has assumed a central role in politics with an impact across social systems, such as the economy, education, and the everyday life of citizens. As a platform for the normalization of good neighbourly relations, the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue has been a part of the civil society organizations’ work who have advocated for a transparent process and inclusion of civil society actors to give voice and offer bottom-up approaches to issues of importance for citizens. Civil society organizations have a crucial role to play in sustaining a culture of dialogue across communities in Kosovo and between Kosovo and Serbia, on dealing with the past and building a shared understanding leading towards rapprochement. However, the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue needs to open-up space for civil society actors and include citizens’ voices to ensure full normalization of relations.
Today, the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue is at a crossroads. This uncertainty at the present moment reconfirms the need for commitment to peace in Kosovo and Serbia and more widely in the Southeast Europe region and the world. Dialogue is fundamental for addressing the fragile security today widely felt with the war in Ukraine, renewal of nationalist ideologies, the rise of authoritarianism, and inequalities that have a detrimental effect on peace and social cohesion. Against this backdrop, the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue needs to resume and extend its focus by including issues of concern to citizens while seeking venues to strengthen cooperation in economy, education, and culture. The legacy of the conflict is present among the Albanian and Serb communities in Kosovo and Serbia. The dialogue needs to pay attention to participation and representation of diverse actors and voices; this is a must to enable recognition of different realities and for positive impact on lasting peace, respect of human rights, and justice.
The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue has evolved through top-down approaches, and as such, is perceived to be a platform of political elites, an expression of power relations and power-sharing arrangements, and an externally driven process. The paradigm shift from technical to political, and vice versa, added a veil of fogginess around the dialogue process, leading citizens in Kosovo and Serbia confused and somewhat distrustful of the dialogue as a whole. Moreover, the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue process has been critiqued for lack of transparency, information on the agreements achieved, the level of implementation of the agreements, and of analysis on the impact the agreements have had on the everyday life of citizens in Kosovo and Serbia. Change is needed. For a successful dialogue, there is a need for evidence-based analysis to ensure that the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue gives weight to the interplay of perspectives and issues at stake through the inclusion of citizens’ voices.
Moreover, the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue is about peace-building and commitment to non-recurrence of conflict, that the states take responsibility to act and address issues caused by war, and move forward into respectful neighbourly relations. Actors in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, bear the responsibility to build momentum for peace, justice, recognition, and mutual respect between the two countries and their citizens. Only then valorization of difference, equality, and recognition will be present at the institutional level and everyday life in Kosovo and Serbia. Hence, it is the responsibility of the political leaders on both sides to ensure a transparent process that includes civil society actors, representing voices of different communities in Kosovo and Serbia, on the priorities and strategies towards normalization of relations for a just and sustainable peace.
This op-ed is originally written in English.
This 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.