May 24. 2024. 5:50

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EU history offers a model for Kosovo-Serbia reconciliation


The normalisation process between Serbia and Kosovo requires deep and thorough cooperation from both sides, similar to the post-World War II reconciliation process between Germany and France, Igor Bandović and Arban Mehmeti write.

All beginnings are difficult, especially those that аre starting again and again. Quite soon, we will find out if the latest attempt by the West (EU-US) effort to solve the biggest problem in the Balkans in the last two decades will be a success or failure.

Within the tight timeline for the implementation of the negotiated agreement, we will see if Serbia and Kosovo embrace the European approach and start to speak the language of peace and walk the path of reconciliation.

In many ways, the normalisation process the authors of the proposal had in mind resembles the post-war experiences of people in France and Germany, while for the recognition challenge, the authors considered the model of relations between the two halves of Germany. While it did not amount to full diplomatic recognition of East Germany by West Germany, it did pave the way for improved relations between the two countries.

A “Franco-German proposal” was accepted by both Serbia and Kosovo on 27 February 2023 regarding the biggest problem in the Balkans in the last two decades. The parties involved agreed on an implementation annexe on 18 March, which is considered binding to the parties involved, though not signed by them, as a concession to President Vučić of Serbia for domestic political reasons.

The agreement includes specific arrangements and guarantees to ensure an appropriate level of self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo. It aims to normalise relations between Kosovo and Serbia, respecting territorial integrity and autonomy, protecting human rights and minority communities, settling disputes peacefully, and deepening cooperation between the two countries in various areas. The implementation annexe provides a detailed plan for the parties to implement the agreement promptly and effectively, with oversight from the EU through the Joint Monitoring Committee.

The reactions to the agreement from Kosovo and Serbia were mixed and, in the beginning, primarily negative. As one EU diplomat said early after acceptance of the deal: „Both sides are unhappy about the deal, and that is good for the deal. “

However, there are many challenges to implementing the agreement.

Both sides are trying to convince their respective publics that they have not deviated from previously drawn red lines, with Serbia not recognising Kosovo’s independence and Kosovo not allowing the formation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities (ASM). President Vučić has yet to commit to its implementation fully.

A major issue remains the sequencing of the first steps of the respective parties, with Serbia’s obligations being primarily negative, and it is yet to be seen what the first steps will be taken. For Kosovo, ASM is a priority, which includes several prerequisites that need to be met.

The announcement of the boycott of the upcoming local elections by the Serbian party “Srpska Lista” does not serve this purpose.

The main carrot is expected to come at the donor conference that will take place within 150 days, with both Kosovo and Serbia benefiting if they implement the agreement and the implementation annexe.

These two will become integral parts of Kosovo and Serbia’s respective EU accession processes. In the case of Serbia, failure to implement the agreement could slow its negotiation process toward EU membership and may include the suspension of EU aid and accession talks, with additional possibilities for suspending a visa-free regime, reducing investments, and the like. The stumbling block in the agreement and its annexe for Kosovo is the creation and successful implementation of a broader level of self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo (ASM).

The normalisation process between Serbia and Kosovo requires deep and thorough cooperation from both sides, similar to the reconciliation process between Germany and France.

This process involved acknowledging the atrocities committed during the war, cultural exchange programs, symbolic gestures, economic and political cooperation, and education.

Serbia has yet to acknowledge the atrocities of the Serbian army and police during the war. As for cultural exchange programs, the role of the recently established RYCO (Regional Youth Cooperation Office) must have a unique mandate for Kosovo and Serbia. In 1962, French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer met in the small town of Reims to sign a treaty of friendship between the two nations.

President Vučić and Prime Minister Albin Kurti can also find a symbolic place in Kosovo to meet and sign a similar pact.

By fostering mutual support for their respective paths to EU membership, Serbia and Kosovo can establish themselves as political allies and champions of each other’s European ambitions. In the spirit of promoting cultural exchange and understanding, France and Germany demonstrated the value of education by introducing French and German language courses in their schools, which helped to foster a relationship between their peoples.

In the same vein, it is crucial to prioritise and strengthen educational exchange programs between universities in Serbia and Kosovo, particularly in light of recent public threats to academics.

At the moment, the process is still “on thin ice.” One reason for concern is the potential failure to meet the citizens’ expectations of Serbia and Kosovo.

Therefore, both sides must focus on selling the peace process on its tangible benefits, such as increased access to the EU single market, better infrastructure, and greater regional stability.

One benefit is an unclouded atmosphere between people and societies liberated from hatred. The road to normalisation is imperfect, long, and full of obstacles, as is this agreement, but it is important to move forward with it.