Kosovo-Serbia Final Deal Must be in Line with Western Liberal Values

Visar Xhambazi

The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue has commemorated a decade, and relative progress has been made in terms of improving the overall quality of life of citizens from both countries. However, the dialogue has not managed to find a path towards a final comprehensive agreement, with parties holding polarizing positions on how the dialogue should conclude.

Throughout last year, there was the perception that Kosovo and Serbia were heading towards a “final agreement”.

The United States appointed two special envoys to the region: The US Deputy Assistant Secretary, Matthew Palmer, was appointed by the Department of State to serve as the Special Envoy for the Western Balkans and Richard Grenell was appointed by President Trump as his Special Presidential Envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. In addition, the European Union appointed Miroslav Lajcak as special representative for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

This increased engagement from allies on both sides of the Atlantic, shifted the public discourse almost entirely to the possibility of reaching a Kosovo-Serbia final deal.

The prospects of a final deal seemed to rely on two options: 1) establishment of an association/community of Serb-majority municipalities with executive powers; or 2) border corrections/land swaps.

Both options were built on the premise that the two countries should find a compromise, meaning Kosovo had to give something for implicit or explicit state recognition from Serbia in return.

The introduced options, however, have a fundamental problem. They are based on ethnic and territorial solutions that do not coincide with Western liberal values, something both countries aspire to adopt and which are crucial for joining the EU.

The first option, the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority municipalities (ratified in the Assembly of Kosovo); which would grant these municipalities certain executive powers, was deemed unconstitutional by the highest court in the country, the Constitutional Court.

The idea of giving executive powers to municipalities based on ethnicity, violates the multi-ethnic nature of the country and restricts opportunities for cooperation between ethnic communities. Kosovo is a multi-ethnic state with a progressive constitution that protects and promotes the rights of ethnic minorities.

The second proposed option entails land swaps where Kosovo would get parts of south-east Serbia, consisting of an Albanian majority, whereas Serbia would get parts of northern Kosovo, consisting of a Serb majority. This idea was highly contentious and would have created additional regional problems rather than help normalize Kosovo-Serbia relations.

The idea of border changes goes against the declaration of the Contact Group for Kosovo (comprising the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Russia), which stated in November 2005, that there would be no partitioning of the territory of Kosovo, no return of the situation to as it was before 1999, and no unification of Kosovo with any other country.

Moreover, extraterritorial status for Serbian religious and cultural heritage was often mentioned in public, as part of the solution.

Kosovo is a secular state by its constitution. As a result, it does not have to provide extraterritoriality for the Serbian Orthodox Church. Kosovo must, by all means, protect and preserve all religious heritage in its territory. However, granting special status to a certain religion is against the nature of the Republic. Kosovo should rather focus on protecting and elevating its minority populations, respecting its current borders and each citizen that resides within them, and be cautious of a deal that tries to evade the hard work that will be necessary for reconciliation. A final deal with Serbia must not endanger the functionality of the state and the harmony of its citizens.

Ultimately, a final deal between Kosovo and Serbia must be in line with Western liberal values based on solidarity and human rights. Only by respecting core liberal values can a Kosovo-Serbia final deal be sustainable and manage to overcome the region’s past nationalist demons.

Kosovo is a rare example of successful humanitarian intervention and state-building. It can also set the standard of conflict resolution and reconciliation.

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.