Kosovo’s new year

Kosovo Sot, a Pristina paper, likes to hear from me once a year.  Here is what I sent ten days ago for publication today:

As the end of the year approaches, I find myself more hopeful about Kosovo and Serbia than I anticipated at the beginning.  The high-level political dialogue that started this fall holds more promise than the technical dialogue begun in 2011.  The technical dialogue focused on practical issues:  boundary/border controls, mutual recognition of diplomas, return of the civil registries taken by Serbia at the end of the war, electricity trade and telecommunications.  Edita Tahiri carried it as far as it could go.  It reached the limits of what it was able to achieve without running into political problems.  Until recently, implementation has been minimal, especially on the Serbian side.

Talks on the political level, which began in October between the prime ministers with Lady Ashton as facilitator/mediator, came at the right moment.  Germany had made it clear to Belgrade over the summer that the parallel Serbian administrative structures in northern Kosovo could not remain in place if Serbia wants a date to begin accession negotiations to the EU.  Serbia this fall and winter faces dramatic fiscal constraints.   The Serbian platform for negotiations published recently was not promising, but more important is what Belgrade does and says at the talks.  Attenuating the economic burden of Kosovo should be welcome in Belgrade.

Pristina also needs a positive outcome, in order to improve its relations with the EU and establish itself as a serious contender for the visa waiver and a Stabilization and Association Agreement.  First priority is to finalize implementation of the technical agreements, including the Integrated Border Management and the Cadastral Records Agreement.  If that doesn’t happen, Thaci will be in a bad spot for upcoming elections either in 2013 or 2014.

The end of supervised independence in September by the International Civilian Office was a step forward, but some supervision continues. Even if the International Civilian Office has disappeared, EULEX and a variety of internationally appointed officials remain.  Kosovo’s security still depends on KFOR.

There is nevertheless a new spirit in Kosovo, manifest in the willingness to admit political level dialogue is necessary.   Only two summers ago I encountered many Kosovars who did not want to admit that good relations with Belgrade were important for Pristina.  Today that is well understood.  People are feeling the responsibilities of sovereignty and independence.  They recognize that the Serbian campaign against recognition has unfortunately been successful in constraining acceptance of Kosovo into the UN.

Kosovars are looking for a changed, more mature relationship with Belgrade.  Eventually this has to include diplomatic recognition and exchange of ambassadors.  The first step toward this new relationship is an end to the campaign against recognition.  Thaci will find it hard to continue to attend meetings if Dacic is sending (unsuccessful) demarches to dozens of capitals trying to prevent Kosovo from becoming a member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Kosovo will be entitled to armed forces in the middle of 2013.  It will take at least another five years before they reach full capability.  How big an armed force Pristina will need—and how it should be equipped—to protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty depends on the threat Kosovo faces.  With Serbian security forces already in northern Kosovo and KFOR anxious to leave, it is hard to argue that there is no threat.  Kosovo’s armed forces will in turn be seen as a threat in Belgrade and perhaps Skopje as well.  All three countries would be better off if they can agree to lower the mutual level of threat, but they must act quickly to make the necessary diplomatic arrangements.

There are real possibilities for successful political-level dialogue.  Dialogue is necessary not for dialogue’s sake or even for confidence-building, but because it’s the shortest path to allowing both Kosovo and Serbia to embark on the still long road to EU accession.

4 Responses to Kosovo’s new year

  1. Amer says:

    A couple of quibbles: electricity and telecommunications still remain to be settled. “Telecommunications” BTW includes Serbia not hindering Kosovo from getting its own dialing code, another symbol of independence Serbia is fighting to prevent them from acquiring.

    The Serbs are not returning the originals of the documents they removed, just verified scanned copies, which is why the process is taking so long. (What makes you think Thaci is holding this up??) Since the Turks retained their documents from the period when they “administered” (their preferred term) the area, this arrangement might be the best that can be expected.

    The Feckless Five are dragging their feet on allowing the conversion of the Protection Force into an army, and since Nato requires unanimity for decisions, this could prove to be a hassle. Maybe the U.S. can do it on its own? We did sign a Status of Forces agreement with Kosovo at the beginning of the year to cover non-Nato U.S. personnel. But with Congress looking to cut expenses, who knows – at least Kosovo has bipartisan support. So the upgrade sounds like another fight, not just a routine step.

    Kosovo has already – just this month – joined the EBRD. (I can understand if you missed the story if you get your news from the Serbian press.) This could be a major step for a country that came into being with essentially no infrastructure. They’ve been spending something like 40% of the budget on rectifying the situation, with a large chunk of the money going to those international-standards-level highways joining Kosovo to the outside world. The government has been careful about not running up debt, so they shouldn’t have much trouble getting funding for future projects from the Bank.

    On the legislative front, Parliament is in the process of passing new laws to improve the security of investments, which should help raise the country’s standing in the Ease of Doing Business rankings for when the international economy improves and businesses start looking around for places to invest.

    Looks like you’re going to need shades, even if not immediately.

    • Daniel Serwer says:

      I did not imply Thaci is holding anything up. What I said was that failure to finalize implementation of the agreements would hurt him politically. The main holdup on both cadastral records and until recently on integrated border management was in Belgrade.

      Yes, quite right, Kosovo got into the EBRD. The Serbian demarches, as I noted, were unsuccessful.

      • J F Carter says:

        Dan,

        Good article and responses seem to be good. While Kosovo more or less understood need to have good relations with Serbia, Belgrade has not.

        Happy New Year

      • Amer says:

        As a translator who’s had to deal with handwritten official documents from that part of the world I may have over-focused on the transfer-of-records part and the effect a hold-up may have on Thaci’s political future: there is no way scanning and verification by human beings can go fast here, and it seems people realize that. In the end, Kosovo will benefit from having everything neatly stored away in electronic form, and there are encouraging notes in the press occasionally about a volume being completed. So far, there’s no public outcry about how long it’s all taking. The IBM process also seems to be making progress, despite the provocations of the “entrepreneurs” (new term for dodgy businessmen in the north). A disruption of the implementation would certainly not do Thaci’s fortunes any good, but the Serbs also have something to lose if that happens and don’t seem inclined to make problems. On the other hand, Thaci and his people have made some perhaps over-optimistic projections about how soon people will be able to travel to the Schengen countries without visas, and I’d guess that failure there – where results depend directly on the Prishtina government – would have more of an impact on election results than foot-dragging by the Serbs on implementation of the technical agreements. Not that Vetevendosje won’t try, of course.

        There is also another potential bright spot in the year ahead for Kosovo – the investigator into the claims made by Dick Marty is going to have to make a public statement at some point. Even though the Marty report specifically stated that there was no indication that Thaci was personally involved in the alleged organ-dealing, Serbs routinely refer to him as having blood-stained hands, something that can’t have helped Kosovo’s drive for recognitions. If crimes were committed, the perpetrators will have to be dealt with, but having specific charges for what Marty described as a handful of cases can only help the country, which now can expect claims from the prosecutor in Belgrade of “new evidence” in the case every time anything positive happens in Prishtina that may attract international attention. But as the new head of the Center for Humanitarian Law recently remarked http://www.danas.rs/danasrs/drustvo/srbija_ne_postuje_svoje_zrtve.55.html?news_id=253326, Serbia’s sending flimsy evidence or evidence acquired under torture to the ICTY only weakened the case against Haradinaj. It is clearly in the best interest of both countries to have these organ-dealing charges cleared up.

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