I must have been five years old back then. I was riding in a carriage pulled by two slim grey horses with my grandfather. In my imagination, I was a princess returning to her castle after a long journey. At that time, I didn’t know that (my) “castle” I saw, was the beautiful Pećka Patrijaršija Monastery in Kosovo.
Why begin with a memory? It is because I believe Kosovo uniquely signifies something for each of us. For Ambassador Rosemary Di Carlo, Kosovo is Pec, a small city with a university that presented her with an honorary doctorate. For my father, Kosovo was a home in Pec where he spent his childhood with three younger brothers and his older sister.
For my generation, Kosovo was a common destination for school field trips, leaving us with lasting memories of bucolic landscapes and the mystical beauty of Dečani Monastery and Gračanica. For my daughters, Kosovo was a distant landscape they admired from the top of Treska, one of the mountain tops at Kopaonik in southwestern Serbia.
For my friends from Mitrovica and Leposavić Kosovo is their destiny.
When we struggle with challenges, it is often helpful to remind ourselves of the beginnings, in this case of the failed dialogue over Kosovo’s fate. According to the UN General Assembly Resolution that launched the Kosovo dialogue, its goal was to “promote cooperation, achieve progress on the path to the European Union and improve the lives of the people.”
If we judge the dialogue with these criteria in mind, it has been a complete failure. As of this writing, Serbs have abandoned all of Kosovo’s institutions and schools are closed. Protests continue in northern Kosovo as barricades have again been erected, with hundreds of Serbs on watch day and night. Many fear that a small spark could enflame the situation leading to loss of life.
President Vucic has described the situation as an “occupation in the North by the Albanian police’’, stressing that Serbs in northern Kosovo will not give up until their requests are accepted. He announced the government of Serbia’s intent to request approval from KFOR to allow military and police from Serbia to return to Kosovo. On the other hand, Prime Minister Kurti responded that the barricades were built by masked criminals and paramilitary units, and he insisted they must be removed immediately lest it elicits an armed response from Kosovo forces.
Is there a way out of this nightmare? Leaders on both sides seem best prepared to escalate the rhetoric aimed at stirring up hatred and mistrust between Serbs and Albanians instead of searching for solutions. All the while, the international community continues to stand by the current European Union-led negotiating framework, with the United States playing a supporting role, despite a lack of breakthroughs towards normalisation of relations and indeed the lives of Serbs in the North.
Serbs in northern Kosovo are tired and scared. They do not know whom to trust and have little for which to hope. The only way out is to craft a new approach which will finally place the well-being of the Serbs still living in Kosovo at its centre.
In order to do so, we must address the fundamental underlying challenges threatening the dialogue. Serb leaders fear the judgment of history accusing them of “losing” Kosovo, although many in Serbia acknowledge the reality that Kosovo has not been ‘ours’ for a long time. Officials in Pristina fear the political cost of accepting recognition of special rights for the Serb minority in the north as it will be perceived to “damage” Kosovo’s hard-earned independence.
The late Zoran Djindjic, Serbia’s first democratically elected Prime Minister, frequently said that it is easiest to make populist statements encouraging people to support you. But true political courage requires telling people the truth. And then finding solutions to their problems.
“There is nothing you can do in this world if you do not create a crisis…without a crisis, no one will deal with you,” said Prime Minister Djindjic as he urged the international community to expeditiously help enact a lasting solution to the Kosovo crisis which he anticipated in 2003. Sadly, an assassin’s bullet would stop his campaign for a Kosovo resolution only weeks later.
Today, the crisis in Kosovo has reached a magnitude which exceeds even Djindjic’s greatest fears. It was in part created by the region’s own failures, but mainly it is the consequence of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Will we be able to use the current crisis as an opportunity to once and for all solve the metastasized problem between Kosovo and Serbia? Much will depend on the determination and creativity of the international community, and even more on the political courage of leaders in Belgrade and Pristina. The people of Kosovo and Serbia deserve as much.
The op-ed is supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pristina.
The opinions are of the author and do not reflect the views of the Balkans Policy Research Group and the donor.