I enjoyed a conversation at SAIS yesterday with two of Kosovo’s finest: Deputy Prime Minister Slobodan Petrovic and Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj. Slobodan has led Serb participation in Kosovo’s government for the past three years, holding also the portfolio for local governance. Enver, a political science professor, has participated in many of the international negotiations that Kosovo has undergone over the past twenty years.
The watchword was “pragmatic.” Both speakers are clear about their goals. Slobodan wants improvement in the lives of Serbs who live in Kosovo. Enver wants the Kosovo state to have a well-recognized place in the international community. They have worked together to achieve these goals, but both are ready to compromise along the way, so long as things keep moving in the right direction.
Enver thinks normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade means eventual mutual recognition and exchange of ambassadors, but for the moment Kosovo has taken what it could get: an April agreement that recognized its constitution should govern in all of Kosovo and exchange of liaison officers located in the respective capitals’ European Union missions. Belgrade won’t accept Kosovo passports, but it has accepted its identity cards. The other “technical” agreements are also steps in the right direction.
Slobodan thinks the municipal elections held for the first time under Pristina’s authority in Serb-majority northern Kosovo were far from perfect: intimidation and even assassination determined the outcome, which favored a Belgrade-sponsored Serb list. But Petrovic’s Liberals got more votes than ever before and captured what seats they could. The international community should have taken a stronger stand against irregularities and supported those who have been committed to the political process. Next time, he hopes.
In the foreign minister’s view, Kosovo faces some difficult issues in 2014. It wants to get into NATO’s Partnership for Peace but needs to overcome resistance from the Alliance’s non-recognizing members. Kosovo also needs to decide the size, composition label for its security forces. It has passed the halfway mark in gaining recognitions from members of the UN General Assembly and hopes to make it to the two-thirds mark, but it will still face a veto by Russia in the Security Council. Kosovo hosts too many international missions. The UN has been superfluous for some time; the OSCE is overstaffed and undertasked.
The EU rule of law mission is still necessary to handle sensitive cases like that of the recently arrested mayoral candidate Oliver Ivanovic, but the deputy foreign minister thought it important that the remaining cases of this sort be settled expeditiously. In his view, 2014 will be important for the fall parliamentary elections. A gentleman’s agreement to maintain reserved seats for Serbs and other minorities, which were to be phased out after two election cycles, should be respected, not abrogated.
Asked whether the Pristina/Belgrade agreement and recent election results might presage “Bosnia-ization” of Kosovo into two ethnically identified entities, both Slobodan and Enver think not. The already functioning Serb municipalities south of the Ibar will not want to give up what they’ve gained. The northern municipalities are beginning to see clearly that they will gain from operating under Pristina’s authority, as they will retain a good deal of local control as well as substantial resources. If the agreement is implemented in good faith as written and the EU remains the guarantor, the risks are minimal.
I remember a time when I could not have imagined such a conversation. Enver reminded our audience that the war was fought between the Serbian state and the Albanian population of Kosovo. That may be true, but there were long periods when it seemed you could count on one hand the number of Albanians and Serbs willing to have a civilized conversation with each other. Now more than a handful are using democratic institutions to govern together. I know the challenges are still great, but pragmatic can go a long way with time.