Recognition of Kosovo is an upcoming agenda

Prepared by: Atlantic Initiative team

Although the head of the Serbian negotiation team Borislav Stefanovic stated that the crisis in the north of Kosovo is over and that the Serbian side recently received guarantees from the international community that there will be no new attempts in Pristina to change the situation on the ground, the latest events suggest that there will not be real peace in this part of the Balkans for a long time.

KFOR Commander Erhard Buehler, who is leaving this position soon, was forced a few days ago – after he reached a temporary agreement between the Albanian and Serbian parties in Kosovo – to speak with residents in the municipality Prilužja Vučitrn, who are protesting against the beginning of construction of a bridge that will connect this majority Serb village to the Albanian side of the river Sitnice.

Serbs have finally canceled the announced blockade of the local road that connects the village with the neighboring predominantly Serbian village Plemetin to the main road Pristina – Kosovska Mitrovica.


The Debatable Bridge

Locals fear that the bridge would mean the start of additional trouble for the approximately 2,500 residents of the village Prilužja that accommodates the Serbian municipality Vučitrn. The Kosovo government is financing the construction of the bridge. One part of the construction will be made by the members of the engineering units of the Kosovo security forces.

This case also demonstrates the lack of confidence still present in Kosovo, although after the dramatic events in late July Stefanovic asserts that the crisis is over and it’s time to enter the dialogue phase.

“I believe we will solve the problem of customs stamps, although this is a completely separate issue from the issue of checkpoints. This is our borderline. We cannot let Pristina establish their institutions in the north, nor let the state of Serbia be expelled from Kosmet, Stefanovic told the Belgrade-based “Blic”.

Earlier Stefanovic told the Serbs from the north of Kosovo not to leave their homes at any cost because that would mean the final withdrawal of Serbia from that region. Stefanovic also called for restraint from his community not to engage in any incidents, but this was not a call to those in the barricades to retreat.

“The establishment of Pristina institutions in the north is currently disabled. If someone violates the agreement, we will return to the barricades,” said Stefanovic.

Speaking about the next round of negotiations with representatives from Kosovo in Brussels on 5th September, Stefanovic commented that the Serbian side in terms of customs stamps will accept a solution that does not prejudge, in his own words, Kosovo’s so-called statehood and their national symbols.

“Resolving this issue will mean the resolution of the transportation of goods and will prevent Pristina from continuing the embargo. This is a fight that must be won with the head, not the heart,” declared Stefanovic.


Ljajic’s warning

Stefanovic affirmed that by reaching an agreement with KFOR, the Serbian side did not get everything they wanted, but that the state of Serbia had shown itself as legitimately sovereign over Kosovo because the agreement was reached with the Serbian state, and not with the local authorities. However, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of Serbia, Rasim Ljajic considers that the Kosovo issue now emerges as the main condition for Serbia’s accession to the European Union and that this must be said openly to its citizens.

“Unfortunately, my suspicions were confirmed that the Hague condition was just a cover for Kosovo. It was evident the day after Karadzic’s extradition in 2008, when at the EU Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels they did not even comment on it. When we extradited Mladic, they immediately asked for Hadzic. This is the kind of hypocrisy that Europe demonstrates to us,” said Ljajic.

Stating that the EU insists on resolving the Kosovo issue, Ljajic commented to Belgrade’s “Evening News” that at this point it is not presented as a choice between Kosovo and EU membership, but that there is no guarantee that Kosovo will not be made a requirement at a later stage of Serbia’s integration. He believes that Slobodan Milosevic was the last Serbian politician who was able to dictate the resolution of the Kosovo problem because he had real power in Kosovo, but that a great opportunity for much better solutions was missed.

“If somebody had offered separation to the Albanians back then, I believe that the majority would have voted for it. Now we have new circumstances, and the mention of separation is totally counterproductive,” says Ljajic. He asserted that Belgrade does not need to speak publicly about any final solutions for Kosovo because of its weak position, so that even the best ideas are being rejected from the start. Ljajic is also aware that Serbia should continue negotiations with the EU, to do everything possible to improve the quality of life for the people in Kosovo, to keep the people where they are because it is only thanks to them that the state is in a position to negotiate. He noted that accession to the European Union remains a priority for Serbia’s foreign policy and that there is no conflict here.

“It would not be wise to confront Europe. However, there are some boundaries that we are not willing to have crossed by Europe,” he added.

The details of the so-called substantial autonomy are slowly coming to light in the public, which as stated, are prepared by the European Union. International representatives have suggested to Kosovo institutions that they provide a special status for the northern part of Kosovo, stated by diplomatic sources in the Pristina-based daily “Zeri”, adding that Belgrade is familiar with this proposal. “Koha Ditore” also wrote that the EU is preparing a plan for northern Kosovo, according to which the Serbian municipalities will have a common mechanism by which they will have some power of decision-making, and would receive a certain amount of financial independence as well. The newspaper reports that other details, such as documents, license plates, courts and other problems will be resolved through the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina with the mediation of the EU.

According to a preliminary agreement on a solution for the crisis in northern Kosovo, reached at the beginning of August by KFOR commander Erhard Buehler and the representatives of Serbia Borislav Stefanovic and Goran Bogdanovic, the international forces will control the border checkpoints Brnjak and Jarinje until mid-September, but if the need arises they will stay for longer.

According to the statement of the General Command of KFOR in Pristina, the draft agreement envisages that the current system of control at the crossing points in Jarinje and Brnjak remains the same until mid-September and if it becomes necessary, will be extended. KFOR has the crossing command and control procedures. It was agreed that cars, trucks weighing three and a half tons and trucks carrying humanitarian aid, including food can cross the border after they have passed identity checks and checks for weapons.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci stated that the agreement was made with KFOR on the basis that the new situation at border crossings 1 and 3: Brnjak and Jarinje is maintained. Thaci said that all decisions of the Government of Kosovo shall remain in force and that they will be applied, which means that it remains a valid measure of reciprocal trade with Serbia and border control.

“Kosovo has succeeded in bringing its borders under effective control, a guarantee of the entire international community, which is devoted to the territorial integrity and the rule of law and order throughout Kosovo,” Thaci declared.

Donation of the EC for border crossings

His words are confirmed by the decision of the European Commission to donate equipment to Kosovo border police, worth 1.1 million euros. The European Commission has said that the donation was implemented under the project “EU equipment for the Kosovo border police.”

“Border authorities installed a communication system which is very similar to the Schengen system and have received the necessary equipment for border control,” the statement said, adding that the use of these systems makes it easier to find and detect criminals.

Minister of Internal Affairs of Kosovo Bajram Rexhepi remarked that the assistance of the European Commission is essential to a better rule of law and towards the realization of the project “An important step for Kosovo towards visa liberalization and European integration”.

The United States also commended the consent to the presence of KFOR by the two governments – Kosovo and Serbia. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman said he appreciated the fact that Belgrade and Pristina have expressed a willingness to resolve the situation while the negotiations were ongoing.

“I want to thank KFOR, which has done an amazing job over the last two weeks to fulfill its mandate and in preserving a peaceful and secure environment in Kosovo. I want to thank the EU for its important contribution to this agreement and the diffusion of the situation,” stated Countryman.

According to Countryman, the consent enabled progress in key areas: it calmed the situation between the two sides, as the consent was important in maintaining a peaceful and secure environment in Kosovo, allowing not only KFOR, but also the people of Kosovo freedom of movement, which is a basic principle of the U.S. and EU and which is consistent with the need to establish law and order throughout Kosovo.

The Kosovo Government decided in late July on the basis of reciprocity – as Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s stamp duty – to establish an embargo on imports of goods from Serbia. The Government of Kosovo also “adopted a decision to apply reciprocal measures as a response to Serbia blocking exports from Kosovo.” The embargo decision was the “failure to reach an agreement on the recognition of Kosovo customs stamps and free trade.” It happened after postponing the sixth round of negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade in September that are conducted in Brussels with the mediation of the European Union. According to unofficial data, the value of goods exported to Kosovo from Serbia per year values at about half a billion euros.

The reciprocity measures have been put into effect with Bosnia and Herzegovina as well, as custom fees for exporting goods from our country to Kosovo is now 10 percent. The Government of Kosovo on 20th July made a decision to place import duty on BiH products because, as stated in the reasoning, neither Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia recognize Kosovo customs stamps. The introduction of tariffs will mean the loss of millions for BiH exporters, because this will make goods from Bosnia and Herzegovina non-competitive.

Our country in just the first six months of this year exported goods worth 80 million euros to Kosovo (until now, that was our annual rate of exports to Kosovo). It was the only country with which Bosnia and Herzegovina had a surplus.


Divisions over Palestine


The flaring up of the latest crisis in Kosovo has led to new political divisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is already known that in Bosnia and Herzegovina there is no consensus on the recognition of Kosovo. The decision is made by the Presidency of BiH, which in the previous mandate agreed only that the issue of Kosovo’s independence would not be on their list of priorities for a while. It is also clear in which way the members of the BiH Presidency would vote. As things stand today, the members of the Presidency of BiH Bakir Izetbegovic and Zeljko Komsic would vote for, while Nebojsa Radmanovic would vote against the independence of Kosovo. Kosovo is not the only issue on which there is no uniform view by the state leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The recent arrival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Sarajevo, who tried to lobby support for an independent Palestine showed that even in this case there is no unanimity in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Such decisions are made by a consensus in the Presidency sessions, so that there is no conflict. All RS representatives in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina are for a lasting peace, but that peace can be durable only if it is reached by a bilateral agreement between Israel and Palestine. Any unilateral decision could jeopardize the peace in this area,” affirmed Radmanovic in Banja Luka a few days ago, stressing that Bosnia and Herzegovina must pay special attention on the unilateral recognition, apparently referring to Kosovo due to the experiences and problems we have in the region.

However, the neutral stance of Bosnia and Herzegovina in regards to Kosovo could be frustrated in the upcoming session of the Security Council of the UN, whereby it might have to take a position on the situation in Kosovo and Serbia’s demands for stabilization of the situation in this area.

It is interesting to mention that the President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik believes that the separation of Kosovo – the northern part of Kosovo would remain a part of Serbia and the other Serbian areas in the south would get a certain amount of autonomy in regulating the status of religious objects – is a solution that would bring long term stability. Dodik conveyed that he is supportive of the Serbs from Kosovo and that he is ready to support any solution for Kosovo, where Serbia would not be degraded and undervalued, and that Belgrade would accept.

“Like it or not, Kosovo’s governmental functions are supported by the United States and many Western countries, so a final solution to this problem can be reached with either stabilizing or non-stabilizing methods,” stated Dodik to “RS Press.”

He stressed that the principle of separation has brought stability to the region.

“Another way is through destabilizing the region, and this is what works for Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, with the support of the international representatives who do not give the Serbs the right to defend themselves. The international community was not fair in their treatment of the Serbs, but we still need to talk to them. My support is behind that of the Serbs and all those out there suffering, as we in the RS consider ourselves a part of the national body in the Balkans. Although we live in Republika Srpska, we are interested in the fate of the Serbs in Kosovo and wish to give them our support,” concluded Dodik, who sees the separation of Kosovo as an opportunity to further the idea of dividing Bosnia and Herzegovina through the secession of Republika Srpska. Dodik has recently said that Bosnia and Herzegovina will never recognize Kosovo.

“The decision on Kosovo should be taken by the Presidency. To make such a decision requires a consensus to be adopted, and if it overrules the member of the BiH Presidency from Republika Srpska, the question of vital national interest will be raised,” he stated.

He also declared that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not in accordance with international law, adding that it was a forceful action.

“This negative scenario, always appointed against Serbs, could have been seen – in an almost identical way as the events in Kosovo, in the final days of the Serbian Autonomous Region of eastern Slavonia and Baranja, as well as in Bosnia when RS formed border police and gave away the checkpoints to common services that were not created in accordance with the Dayton peace agreement” said Dodik.

A professor of sociology at the University of Banja Luka, Ivan Šijaković confirmed to Atlantic Initiative that the last crisis in Kosovo reflects negatively on Bosnia and Herzegovina. He now believes that many controversies have come to the fore, such as the contentious issues of borders and conditions of transition operating in a wider area than that of Serbia and Kosovo.

“In the past it was believed that these issues had abated slightly, but now you a question of different ‘appetites’ can be raised in other areas of the Western Balkans. This is a well-known hotspot where people can say why should we not attempt to get some type of extra autonomy, some of our own freedoms. This is highlighted by the situations in Sandzak, Republika Srpska, the northern part of Montenegro and the western part of Macedonia. Anyone can see that the problem is an incomplete and unidentified border, an issue that depends on the domestic circumstances or the international situation, a crisis or something else and not on mutual agreement, dialogue, tolerance, understanding and so on. Thus, one can always ask the question why not apply a little force to see what happens?,” comments Šijaković.

He asserts that Bosnia and Herzegovina is in an awkward position “because one part of BiH, especially Republika Srpska has a different attitude toward the situation, and if there was not so much ethnic solidarity existing between RS and Serbia perhaps there would be a different mindset. “

“And therein lies the problem. There is constant pressure on Bosnia and Herzegovina to be among the countries that recognize the independence of Kosovo, whilst conflictingly this cannot be accomplished as it requires a consensus within BiH.”

Having two countries exist in the one territory is a constant source of dispute between political forces in BiH, the case in point being Kosovo and Serbia, which in my opinion is possible and what will probably be confirmed by the situation of Palestine and Israel. It is now the problem of recognition that causes deeper turmoil,” says Šijaković.

He is convinced that for Bosnia and Herzegovina it would be best to keep a neutral stance and not to take sides and recognize Kosovo before everyone else does, eventually even Serbia will. A neutral perspective would demonstrate that the best solution is one that is made in mutual agreement between Belgrade and Pristina with international assistance.

Prof. Dr. Asim Mujkic from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Sarajevo asserts that, more generally speaking, the last crisis in Kosovo was another attempt by Serbian politicians to continue destabilizing the region, using the mechanisms of the so-called Log Revolution that we’ve seen for the past 20 years.

“I think that this kind of action, which lies at the basis of ethno-territorial aspirations, has quite a negative impact on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina because the installation of a puppet government in the RS is trying to draw attention to the problem of Serbians and achieve certain concessions regarding the future status of Kosovo, which in my opinion is resolved. Kosovo is a sovereign and independent state. As expected, institutions and representatives of the RS obstruct not only the functionality of the state of BiH, but also make key decisions that a sovereign state has the duty to adopt, such as the recognition of other countries or expressing their opinions on the UN Security Counci, which can be seen not only in the case of Kosovo but also of Palestine. This policy was ultimately doomed as it is destructive. It avoids dealing with reality and that avoidance, especially of Serbian politicians and the political elite in the past 20 years, has claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives,” asserts Mujkic.


The space is narrowed

Mujkic is convinced that Bosnia and Herzegovina will be the first country to recognize Kosovo as an independent state after Serbia does so.

“Belgrade will recognize Kosovo. There is less and less space for the maneuverings of the Serbian political elite. The path to EU integration necessitates the recognition of Kosovo, and now the only way forward is to make the process as straightforward as possible for the existing political structure in Serbia. I think recognition will finally happen in the space of the next few years,” determines Mujkic.

Specific benefits of which are tangible. Serbia will perhaps remove their biggest obstacle to EU membership, which would provide abundant opportunities for economic cooperation in South-East Europe. Exemplified by the Croatian businessmen who took advantage of the sudden opportunity to increase exports of their products to Kosovo, after it had “sanctioned” Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

However, the relationships are further complicated by the announcement of Serbian Chief of Diplomacy Vuk Jeremic, that Serbia will recognize Palestine in September, therefore hoping to get support of Arab states in non recognizing Kosovo. This way, for the first time, political and national interests of Serbia and Republika Srpska would be diverged. Besides, Moscow is for Palestine’s independence, and it is well known that Serbia and Russia are coordinating together on issues that could determine the fate of Kosovo. It would not come as a shock if Radmanovic would quickly change his mind.