“Kosovo is adding fuel to the fire”
Pierre Mirel, former head of the Enlargement Directorate General at the European Commission, adviser for the Greater Europe Center of the Jacques Delors Institute
“For several weeks, there was every reason to fear a resurgence of violence in northern Kosovo. This is unfortunately what is happening. The Kosovar head of government, Albin Kurti, has added fuel to the fire in recent months. He multiplied the decisions without consultation on this very sensitive subject of the representation of the Serbian minority in this country with an Albanian majority.
Pristina has persisted in holding legal, but illegitimate, municipal elections in the four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo. They are boycotted by Serbian voters, who rebelled when the Albanian mayors, elected with less than 4% of voters, took office at the end of May.
A conflagration leading to conflict in the region remains unlikely. But there is a total lack of confidence between the Serbian minority and the authorities in Pristina. The first thing to do to restore confidence is to create this famous association of these municipalities with a Serb majority, awaited for ten years and again validated, under the aegis of the European Union, in the Ohrid agreement of 18 march for the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
But rather than negotiate, Albin Kurti, hostile to this project when he was in opposition, threw the baby out with the bathwater. He no longer recognized the team responsible for drawing up a legal text to formalize this association which was, it is true, maximalist. The argument that the country could sink into the risk of secession, like neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, is fallacious: there is room for negotiation to avoid the Bosnian drift.
For its part, Serbia hastened to oppose Kosovo’s membership of the Council of Europe, contrary to its commitments. The United States, the greatest protectors of Kosovo, without which the country’s independence in 2008 would have been unthinkable, are berserk. It is to believe that Pristina did everything to create a state of tension to point out the bad Serbs. However, in doing so, it offers leading arguments to Belgrade to refuse peace.
Be careful, the Serbs of northern Kosovo (and the Serbia of President Vucic) are far from being altar boys. However, the dialogue between the two States must move forward. Five of the European Member States have still not recognized Kosovo’s independence. The position of three of them – Romania, Slovakia, Greece – could change if the dialogue between the two states progresses. The European Union is waiting for that.
I want to believe that the presence of the Serbian and Kosovar leaders this Thursday, June 1 in Moldova during the second edition of the meeting of the 47 European leaders of the European Political Community will be conducive to a de-escalation of tensions. »
“The European Union and the United States spare Serbia”
Engjellushe Morina, researcher, specialist in the Balkans, at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), in Berlin
“I don’t think, for the moment, that the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia are a failure. It all depends on how these tensions are going to be managed. It is important to see clearly who is obstructing and provoking them. However, since last weekend, there have been many condemnations of Kosovo for its responsibility for the violence, but very few against the violence committed by Serb inhabitants against Kfor soldiers, NATO soldiers deployed in the region.
The European Union and the United States spare Serbia, which they see as one of the most important countries in the Balkans. They try to attract its president Aleksandar Vucic in their camp, to counter Russian and Chinese influences in the region.
At the same time, Aleksandar Vucic is creating a lot of problems, and not just in Kosovo. This is the case in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he encourages the separatist Serbs. Last Friday, during a gathering of his supporters, he invited Mira Dodic, the president of the Serb Republic of Bosnia, and the Hungarian foreign minister, who have illiberal convictions and values different from those of the West .
I would be disappointed if all the advances of the past two years led to conflict. There have been so many efforts on the part of the United States and theEuropean Union, in particular Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, and then Italy. This would reflect badly, not only for Kosovo and Serbia, but generally for the ability of the European Union to resolve conflicts on its borders, especially in the current context of aggression in Ukraine. A conflict would give the impression that the EU is a geopolitical bad actor.
At the end of February, Kosovo and Serbia accepted a proposal to normalize their relations. The agreement included requirements. For example, Kosovo was to set up a community of municipalities in the area where many Serbs live.
On the other hand, Serbia pledged not to block Kosovo’s integration into international organisations. Both countries had to respect each other’s symbols and flags. It was a first step for a normalization of relations, which should lead, within one or two years, to official recognition of the two countries.
But they did not respect their commitments. Kosovo has not started to set up the community of municipalities. Serbia meanwhile was aggressive in voting against Kosovo joining the Council of Europe in late April and lobbying Hungary to oppose it as well.
And that suits Aleksandar Vucic: he takes advantage of the tensions in Kosovo to divert attention from the demonstrations in Serbia against his government, which started with the shootings a few weeks ago and became anti-government protests. »