While Kosovo and Serbia have been at peace since 1999, the unresolved dispute over the former’s independence is a potential source of instability in the western Balkans. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to determine whether there is possibility to expressly focus on achieving a final agreement based on mutual recognition, help establish communication channels between the parties, and highlight that both Begrade and Pristina should address pervasive misinformation about the dispute, and communicate with their respective peoples in a more concerted way.
U.S.-led Kosovo-Serbia talks resumed and produced first agreement on normalisation of economic ties ahead of restart of EU-led dialogue. Kosovo PM Hoti and Serbian President Vucic 2 Sept met in Washington DC for U.S.-brokered dialogue and 4 Sept signed agreements on normalisation of economic ties; deal excluded contentious issue of mutual recognition. Agreement included provision for Serbia to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, while Kosovo would also open embassy in city; Israeli PM Netanyahu same day welcomed news and said his country would establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo; EU 7 Sept raised “serious concern and regret” over embassy plans. President Trump called agreement “major breakthrough” in which both parties “committed to economic normalisation”; Vucic said that agreement was with U.S. and not Kosovo; Hoti also expressed hope deal would lead to mutual recognition. Hoti and Vucic 7 Sept met in Brussels with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell for EU-led talks; at meeting, Hoti and Vucic agreed to practical cooperation on issues of missing and internally displaced persons; subsequent round of EU-led talks scheduled for 28 Sept postponed due to COVID-19. The Hague Special Chamber tasked with investigating alleged crimes during 1998-1999 war 24 Sept announced its first arrest, detaining former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Salih Mustafa based on “warrant, transfer order and confirmed indictment issued by a pre-trial judge”; Mustafa faces charges of torture, false imprisonment and murder.
Serbia and Kosovo must build on a recent breakthrough in negotiations and extend dialogue to sensitive issues, especially northern Kosovo’s institutions, in order to keep their fragile relationship moving forward.
Kosovo deserves to celebrate today as the international community converts the “supervised independence” it achieved four years ago to full independence, but it must also do more to guarantee full protection of minority rights, especially those of the country’s Serb population.
The dispute about Kosovo’s sovereignty continues to fuel tensions and violent clashes in northern Kosovo, halting Kosovo’s and Serbia’s fragile dialogue and putting at risk Serbia’s EU candidacy.
The dispute between Kosovo and Serbia, which keeps the Western Balkans divided and insecure, is most acute in Kosovo’s northern municipalities.
The development of more realistic, if not yet fully public, attitudes in Kosovo and Serbia suggest a win-win resolution of their dispute is feasible if both sides promptly open talks with the aim of reaching a comprehensive compromise.
Kosovo must bolster its failing justice system and establish rule of law throughout the country if it is to achieve prosperity and greater international recognition.
Political instability keeps growing in the Western Balkans amid geopolitical contests and increased tensions with Russia. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to engage intensively to ensure the political space for avoiding more serious crisis does nto entirely vanish in the Western Balkans.
Originally published in Today's Zaman