The historic Brussels Agreement of 19 April 2013 between the governments of Serbia and Kosovo, which rounded up a series of technical agreements, set high hopes for the normalisation of relations between the two. Some of the agreements’ most ostensible and clearly defined points have been (partially) implemented – such as the establishment of freedom of movement and goods, the mutual recognition of diplomas and the exchange of civil registry documents, the integration of the Kosovo Police, and the organisation of municipal elections in late 2013. However, election year 2014 has brought little progress and many of the technical agreements still await implementation.
Gračanica/Graçanicë awaits the visit of the Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić of 14 January 2015, without any Kosovo symbols (© Koha.net).
After six months of political stalemate following the June 2014 general elections in Kosovo, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) agreed to form a new coalition government. In addition to the two biggest Albanian parties, the new government also includes Srpska lista, a coalition of several parties representing the Serb community in Kosovo and the only Serb party in Kosovo backed by the Serbian government. Srpska lista won the elections among the Serb electorate in Kosovo, gaining 9 out of the 10 Serb seats in the Assembly, thus outperforming all other parties and initiatives, notably the Serb Liberal Party (SLS) that hitherto had represented the Serb community in Kosovo institutions. Representatives of Srpska lista hold important positions in the new government of Kosovo. Branimir Stojanović is Deputy Prime Minister, while Aleksandar Jablanović and Ljubomir Marić are Minister of Communities and Return and Minister of Administration and Local Self-Government, respectively. The ministers of Srpska lista have strong and open bonds with the Serbian government and have been closely engaged with the formulation of the Serbian government’s strategy with regard to the status of the Serb community within the Kosovo framework. Stojanović was Mayor of Gračanica/Graçanicë, Jablanović is the President of Srpska lista and was a Member of the Serbian Assembly, while Marić was a member of the Serbian Management Team for the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities.
The inclusion of Belgrade-backed Srpska lista creates a peculiar constellation, as the Kosovo government is comprised of ministers who work within the framework of Resolution 1244 and do not recognise Kosovo’s independence. Heated reactions among opposition parties, the press and the public opinion regarding claims that the Serb ministers do not have valid Kosovo identification documents and the inconsiderate statements made by Jablanović (here and here) indicate the fragility of the consensus among the government parties. It remains to be seen how their modus vivendi will withstand the difficult decision-making processes the Kosovo government is facing, especially those related to the status of the Serb community in Kosovo.
The Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities (ACSM), which according to Serb politicians in the government should be established within the first quarter of 2015, is a particularly complex issue. According to the Brussels Agreement, the ACSM is to have full overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning and act in accordance with competences given by the European Charter of Local Self Government and Kosovo legislation. These are precisely the domains where Serbian institutions still have strong competencies in Serb-majority municipalities, especially in the North of Kosovo.
There is widespread disagreement over the extent of the ACSM’s competences and on the nature of the ACSM itself. Serbia and the Serb representatives in the Kosovo government see it as an association of municipalities taking on the contours of a governing entity, while for Albanian parties in Kosovo it is an inter-municipal community of municipalities coming together to solve common issues. Shortly after his appointment as minister, Jablanović stated that the ACSM will have executive authorities and a specific budget. Edita Tahiri, Minister without Portfolio and Chief Negotiator of Kosovo in the Technical Dialogue with Serbia, denounced these statements as illusionary and in contradiction with the Kosovo legal framework and foresaw that the Association would follow the model of the existing Association of Kosovo Municipalities. In fact, the vague and ambiguous wording of the Brussels Agreement allows for these diverging understandings, and it is imperative that the political stakeholders reach a principal agreement on the competences and functioning of the ACSM during the upcoming months.
Against this background, the stakes and expectations are high for the upcoming negotiation talks between Kosovo and Serbia, which will kick off with a meeting between the new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, the Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić, and their Kosovo colleagues Isa Mustafa and Hashim Thaçi on 9 February 2015. Although the divisions between the parties remain fundamental, the momentum seems to be there to push through the implementation of the technical agreements, reach a basic agreement on the competences and functioning of the ACSM, and open up new chapters, such as the establishment of a special court for war crimes related to the Kosovo conflict.
Although the modus vivendi between Albanian political parties and the representatives of Srpska lista is fragile, the fact that the Kosovo government is made up of the political representatives of an absolute majority of voters on the Albanian and Serbian side and, in the case of Srpska lista, is also closely connected to the Belgrade government and involved in the determination of the Serbian government’s strategy towards the Serb community in Kosovo, provides the necessary political power and links for clarifying and implementing the technical agreements reached during the Brussels Dialogue and opening up new chapters.
Moreover, the Serbian Government seems to be taking a more proactive stand and to be determining in detail its position vis-à-vis Kosovo through the Management Team for the Association/Community of Serbian Municipalities and a to-be-established platform that will determine the position of the Serbian Government on Kosovo’s final status.
With more pronounced and explicit ideas on the table from both sides concerning the practical status of the Serb community within Kosovo and the stakeholders directly and indirectly connected in the Kosovo government, the European Union should seize the fragile momentum and reinvigorate the implementation and expansion of the dialogue, both on the level of the Kosovo–Serbia negotiations and also indirectly within the Kosovo government. However, without strong involvement of the EU, the current fragile modus vivendi within the government of Kosovo can easily be undone, with completely reversed effects for the hard-won progress and stability in Kosovo and Kosovo–Serbia relations.