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Belgrade-Prishtina Dialogue: Transformation of Self-Interest Required

  • Democracy for Development (D4D) Institute


The process descended from practical talks to a trade row and to an open dispute. Each side still believes that its gain can only come at the loss of the other. The national interest is short-sightedly defined as undermining of the other side’s national interest. The goal of this analysis by the New Policy Center (NPC) from Belgrade and the Project on Ethnic Relations Kosovo (PER-K) from Prishtina is to prove that both countries must realize their interest in helping each other to become functional.
Vladimir Todoric
Leon Malazogu
Prishtina, Belgrade
November 2011
Table of Contents
Executive Summary ................................................................................................................................. 3
Acknowledgments ............................................................................................................................... 4
Terminology ........................................................................................................................................ 4
Chronology of the Technical Dialogue .................................................................................................... 5
Aim of the Paper: From Zero-Sum to Cooperation ................................................................................. 6
Political Implications and Motives for Dialogue ................................................................................... 11
Fears and Perceptions of Dialogue in Serbia and Kosovo ..................................................................... 13
Issues of Discussion ............................................................................................................................... 14
Freedom of Movement ..................................................................................................................... 14
ID Cards and License Plates ............................................................................................................... 15
University Diplomas .......................................................................................................................... 16
Civil Registry ...................................................................................................................................... 16
Customs and Cadastre ...................................................................................................................... 17
Free Trade and the Customs Stamps ................................................................................................ 17
From Trade Row to Barricades ............................................................................................................. 19
Analysis of Gains and Losses from the First Agreement ....................................................................... 21
What is ‘Normalization’?....................................................................................................................... 26
Bilateral Conditioning ........................................................................................................................... 28
Risks Looming Ahead ............................................................................................................................ 31
What may still disrupt the Dialogue in the future? .......................................................................... 31
The Battle for a Beauty Contest: Beauty Is in the Eye of the EU Beholder ........................................... 32
Mutual Trust & Credibility .................................................................................................................... 34
Keeping Up the Pace ......................................................................................................................... 35
Transformation of Self-Interest: From Zero-Sum Enmity to Mutual Cooperation ............................... 35
Scenarios ............................................................................................................................................... 36
Recommendations ................................................................................................................................ 38
Executive Summary
While Kosovo and Serbia had talks many times in the past, this is the first time that they agree on
something directly (five agreements have already been reached). Despite the flaws and
dissatisfaction, if it bears to fruition, these first agreements will make this process historic. Whether
the talks yield lasting results, will depend on the final mile and whether both sides can claim to have
served their self-interest and cooperated with each other at the same time.
The process descended from practical talks to a trade row and to an open dispute. Each side still
believes that its gain can only come at the loss of the other. The national interest is short-sightedly
defined as undermining of the other side’s national interest. The goal of this analysis by the New
Policy Center (NPC) from Belgrade and the Project on Ethnic Relations Kosovo (PER-K) from Prishtina
is to prove that both countries must realize their interest in helping each other to become
functional. Although highly unpopular, we believe that the two sides are in the same boat (of shared
problems), but are yet to realize this.
Dialogue is usually about seizing the right moment. Time is never fully ripe and the moment is
usually about capturing a narrow window of opportunity. The window that brought Serbia and
Kosovo closer together is fast shutting, under a range of looming risk factors lined up in the horizon
that may harm rapprochement: (a) the possibility that Serbia organizes elections in the north, (b)
EU’s lack of unity, (c) lack of implementation of the current agreement and the non-inclusion of
more items (regional cooperation, telecommunications, energy, integrated border/boundary
management), (d) lowering of bilateral conditionality, or (e) if the EU carrots are seen as rewarding
the sides asymmetrically to their performance.
The Dialogue has all the hallmarks of a beauty contest. Negotiators do not genuinely engage in
dialogue but appeal to EU sympathies and respond to pressure. Kosovo and Serbia publicly present
as if they are continuing century-old battles but this time with diplomatic finesse. Inside and outside
the negotiation room the talks resemble a beauty contest, attempting to influence the external
mediator’s assessment that has been more constructive. Populist tendencies portray the dialogue
as a victorious feat of out-smarting the other side, which may improve the standing of individual
politicians, but will harm their credibility and make it more difficult to agree in subsequent rounds. It
is important not to lose momentum despite the setbacks, it is after all better to have insincere
cooperation than sincere conflict.
It was important to examine the gains and losses for the main stakeholders in detail. Currently on
paper, the calculated gains are higher than the losses. This Dialogue has induced Kosovo and Serbia
to say the right things, appear pro dialogue, but Serbia and Kosovo still perceive that it is in their self-
interest to see each other as weak as possible. For as long as Serbia is perceived as a threat to
Kosovo and vice versa, the two sides will see their strengthening only in respect to the weakness of
‘the enemy’. Such a view will not only expend valuable resources inefficiently, but will also prevent
the reforms and transformation of societies towards European values.
Serbia will not be granted a EU candidate status unless its starts dismantling some of the ‘parallel
institutions’ in the north of Kosovo and to normalize relations with Kosovo. If these conditions are
met, the two countries can unlock their European future. If normalizationis accomplished in the
last weeks before Dec 9th, Serbia may be granted candidacy while Kosovo may be granted visa
liberalization and contractual relations with the EU. Kosovo has nothing to gain if Serbia is stopped in
its European integration, but stands to lose if Serbia loses interest to deliver on ‘normalization’.
Unfortunately, normalization does not come by itself but it depends on strong conditionality by
member states.
Asymmetric progress can threaten both countries, for the ‘same boat’ concept would cease to apply.
It is essential that through external policy the EU deepens the understanding that the two sides are
in the same boat; hence digging holes for the other side will sink both. For this message to be
effective, EU assessments must be consistent.
The closed nature of the process has produced minimum consensus-building and a “bunker-
mentality” with resistance to implement the agreements that were closed. The current dialogue
should address relations between Prishtina and Belgrade, while Prishtina should open up a channel
of communication with northern Kosovo Serbs.
The New Policy Center (NPC) and the Project on Ethnic Relations Kosovo (PER-K) would like to
thank the British embassies in Belgrade and Prishtina, as well as the heads of both negotiation teams
for their forthcoming approach to this paper. A number of additional analysts are also appreciated
for their participation in several brainstorming sessions and reviewing earlier drafts of this paper.
We would especially like to thank Alex Grigorev (President of the Council for Inclusive Governance),
Engjëllushe Morina (Executive Director of the Kosovo Stability Initiative), Agron Bajrami (Editor-in-
Chief of Koha Ditore, Prishtina’s main daily newspaper), Bosko Jaksic (Editor of the foreign policy
section at Belgrade's daily newspaper Politika) and Vladimir Pavicevic (Professor at Faculty of
Political Science in Belgrade). The authors bear full responsibility for this paper.
The paper avoids the use of Kosova or Kosmet, but settles for the widely accepted English version of
Kosovo. The paper uses Kosovar as a generic word for all inhabitants of Kosovo, Albanian or Serb,
while it distinguishes the two communities with Kosovo Albanians or Kosovo Serbs. When referring
to Kosovo Serbs as distinguished by locality, we usenorthern Serbs for those living in the four
Serb-majority localities in the north, and central Serbsfor the Serbs in the rest of Kosovo. The
word Serb is usually used to denote an inhabitant of Serbia, while Serbian is used as an adjective to
something belonging to the Republic of Serbia. The paper occasionally uses the word parallel
institutions to denote Serbian institutions operating within Kosovo not to confuse them with
institutions in Serbia. We have used capital D for this Dialogue to distinguish it from the generic label
for any dialogue process. NPC and PER-K also decided to use Prishtina and avoid the Albanian
spelling of Prishtinë or the Serb spelling for Priština. For faithful translation of this paper into Serbian
and Albanian, responsibility lies with respective partners. In case of mismatch of translations with
the original, the English version prevails.
The project was supported by the British Embassy in Prishtina and
Prepared by: Vladimir Todoric and Leon Malazogu
Copyright 2011 © Vladimir Todoric, Leon Malazogu, New Policy Center, Project on Ethnic Relations
The views expressed in the paper do not necessarily represent the views of the donor.
Chronology of the Technical Dialogue
- September 2010 AshtonTadic meeting in New York led to joint Serbia-EU UN GA Resolution
adopted which foreseen the Dialogue facilitated by EU
- October 2010 Kosovo enters institutional crisis - elections are called
- December 20101 Kosovo parliamentary elections
- February 23rdKosovo government is formed
- March 8thDialogue starts
- May 12thBorislav Stefanovic makes first visit to Prishtina and talks to Prishtina officials
- July 2ndfirst three agreements reached between Belgrade and Prishtina on free movement of
persons and vehicle license plates, civil registry, university diplomas
- July 15thfurther talks on second Dialogue round postponed till September
- July 20thPrishtina imposes reciprocity on Serbia’s three years embargo on goods from Kosovo as
Belgrade did not recognize the Kosovo custom stamp
- July 25thPrishtina sends its police units to Gates 1 and 31 (Jarinje and Brnjak customs posts) to
enforce reciprocity measures. One policeman was shot dead. Belgrade sends its chief negotiator
Borislav Stefanovic to north of Kosovo who negotiates with KFOR on behalf of Kosovo Serbs.
- July 27thKosovo Customs posts set on fire by Serb protesters
- July 29th Borislav Stefanovic and KFOR commander Erhard Buhler reached a preliminary agreement
valid until September 15th on customs posts and border crossings
- September 2ndstarts a new round of Dialogue. Immediately an agreement on the custom stamp
and cadastral issues is reached. New round scheduled for September 28th
- September 16thKosovo Government sends its custom officers to Gates 1 and 31 with an assistance
of EULEX and KFOR. Local Serbs react by barricading the roads in the north of Kosovo
- September 27th – incident involving shooting happens on Jarinje customs post between local Serbs
and KFOR. Eleven persons injured, seven Serbs, four KFOR soldiers.
- September 28thnew round of Dialogue was about to take place. Serbian side demanded talks on
customs posts which were refused by Prishtina and EU negotiator Robert Cooper. Belgrade refused
to talk about other issues noting incidents on Jarinje as a priority. Dialogue was stopped and the
meeting was not held
- October 7th and 8thEU negotiator Robert Cooper visits Belgrade and Prishtina trying to reach a
compromise for continuation of the Dialogue. No deal was reached as Belgrade, again, demanded
talks on customs posts while Prishtina refused to talk about internal affairs
- EC published an Opinion on Serbia’s EU Candidacy Bid and announced roadmap for Kosovo visa
liberalization. EU insists on Serbia’s re-engagement in Dialogue as a condition for candidacy
- October 19thheads of Serbian municipalities jointly refuse to further implement any agreements
that Belgrade reaches in the Dialogue with Prishtina. Furthermore, they refused to cooperate with
EULEX and insisted on UNMIK’s reemployment. Barricades remain.
- October 27thbarricades have been partially removed. Kosovo Serbs have removed barricades
selectively so that only KFOR can move freely throughout northern Kosovo, but not EULEX.
- November 21st and 22ndnew round of Dialogue. Agreement reached on recognition of university
diplomas. Talks were also held on integrated border management but without results.
- November 29thPresident Boris Tadic call on Kosovo Serbs to remove barricades.
- January-April election campaign in Serbia. Some dialogue process may continue but no agreements
can be expected
- May-Juneelections and establishing of new government
- September full normalization demands are conditioned by European Commission’s Opinion for
Serbia’s EU Candidacy Bid
- Each small step of Serbia will be conditioned for more steps of normalization with Kosovo, and similar
incentive structure will be applied with Kosovo
- Shuttle Diplomacy will continuously work on the thorniest of issues
Aim of the Paper: From Zero-Sum to Cooperation
The paper first reviews the short record of the Dialogue so far, examines the real gains and losses of
all stakeholders and attempts to discern what EU demands for ‘normalization’ mean. Fears and
public resistance to the Dialogue is analyzed in order to determine the degree of rationality of the
fears. After an analytical description of the process, the paper assesses what has happened to the
mutual trust and credibility, and lists four scenarios. Above all, the paper attempts to assess to what
degree the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia is indeed a zero-sum game and suggests a number of
recommendations how to move to a win-win outcome, which is the
main objective of the analysis.
Each side still has a perception that its gain can only come at the loss
of the other side. The national interest is short-sightedly defined as
undermining of the other side’s national interest. The goal of this
analysis by New Policy Center (NPC) from Belgrade and Project on
Ethnic Relations Kosovo (PER-K) from Prishtina is to prove that this claim is profoundly false and that
both countries must realize their interest in helping each other to become functional. Although
highly unpopular, we believe that the two sides are in the same boat, but are yet to realize this. This
paper focuses entirely on the future, delineates scenarios, and recommends how they can ensure
that this transformation indeed occurs.
The paper was driven by the following research question: What type of process is this Dialogue, and
can it deliver an outcome that both sides will ultimately cherish? It is not the first time that a conflict
seems intractable, but history indicates that many countries that underwent vicious wars are now
strongest allies and lead others into cooperation and prosperity.
How Do We Know We Have Succeeded? Can Talks Emptythe Status Dispute?
It is often said that success will be measured by the extent to which both sides are able to claim to
their respective public that they have won. However, PER-K
and NPC believe that it is not nebuluous outcomes that should
enjoy the trust of both sides, if the cost of such claims implies
hiding important details from the public. Mediation should not
only be an exercise in public relations but assistance to an
essential transformation whereby Serbia and Kosovo gradually
to start to believe in a mutually beneficial relations.
The paper concludes that talks are required, and they should
continue with technical (non-status) issues as planned. More efforts are needed to make the best of
what is possible. To have a high effect, PER-K and NPC suggest continuing with the list of technical
topics. Given careful consideration and the right context, cooperation should be possible in a wider
array of issues that so far have been considered.
Current Limits
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo and it is of no use to believe that this can change soon. At the
same time, Kosovo has announced its independence and has no intentions to abandon state
consolidation. The current Dialogue could not aim more than to ameliorate the situation and bring
Belgrade and Kosovo to realize their mutual interest within the given limitations. The only possible
approach was to accept the limitations of both parties (Serbia’s inability to recognize Kosovo and
Kosovo’s determination for sovereignty) and make the best of the “space in-between”. The essential
question that the paper tries to answer is: What progress can be done without asking Serbia to
recognize Kosovo and without asking Kosovo to step back from its status consolidation?
Creative solutions must be sought to improve the lives. Some of the initial criticism of the process
was its lack of contribution towards status. But there is no reason why this Dialogue should not take
Mediation should not only be
an exercise in public relations
but assistance to an essential
transformation whereby Serbia
and Kosovo gradually start to
believe in mutually beneficial
Although highly
unpopular, we believe
that the two sides are in
the same boat, but are
yet to realize this.
place, for the sole purpose that it does not tackle the issue of status. It does not make Kosovo’s
independence weaker, although it may not necessarily make it stronger.
The Lure of the Greater European Pie
Serbia and Kosovo may have different interpretation of mutual history; diverging claims on same
rights or territory; and to this day, they continue to differ and nurture conflict over respective short-
term interests. It may not be very apparent to many in Serbia and Kosovo, but they share one
common goal that should supersede all the others. The European future seems often a cliché or a
distant goal, but it has proved to have the power to transform self-interest and increase ‘the pie’ in
order to make today’s disputes seem minor in retrospective tomorrow.
The European perspective has the power for comprehensive political, economic and social reforms,
leave alone for overcoming disputes with one’s neighbors. The long-term approach towards
resolution of disputes between Serbia and Kosovo is in fact a
two-pronged one; it tackles both long-term societal priorities as
well as specific disputes that mark the relations between the
two. Ultimately, the appeal of European integration should
mobilize the working middle class, the leading proponent of
reforms, peace and democracy.
The Dialogue process is a historical chance for Belgrade and Prishtina to make a step forward in
cooperation. It may be wishful thinking, but the Dialogue is “doomed to succeed since the
international community seems to be ever more determined to force them into cooperation.
Although with numerous challenges, the current Dialogue has the power, and has already begun to
see European leverage used to gradually transform how Belgrade and Prishtina treat each other and
reframe their perceptions of self-interest and make cooperation worthwhile. After the botched
agreement on education mediated by St. Egidio, an Italian NGO, Kosovo and Serbia have not striken
any agreements since.
How Far Can This Dialogue Take Us?
It is often said that time creates friendships but time alone may take longer than most Kosovars and
Serbs are willing to wait. Time is only important given the active presence of catalysts to speed up
the transformation of self-interest. Most Serbs and Kosovars feel the conflict has frozen their future
and set their eyes towards Europe. Many say that the time is not ripe, that it is too early to bridge
the divide. But any chemist will suggest that time can be sped up given the right catalysts.
International mediators are the current catalysts that quicken the period of the transformation.
There is fear that the current Dialogue may not yield sufficient progress to mobilize the public for
cooperation. Some delays in its implementation, haggling over details, and undermining the other
side may reduce the potential of Dialogue. It is essential to help both sides realize the potential
benefits and the costs of inaction.
More Inclusivity For Longer Effects
Greater inclusion may seem currently challenging and it may indeed delay the agreement on each
issue. However, inclusive agreements tend to stick longer. To this effect, the paper argues that the
civil society and the Parliaments in both capitals should be involved. This cooperation and inclusivity
may become more fruitful once the results of the first agreements start to become visible. If
properly implemented, the free movement of goods and people will have a positive effect on the
public opinion. It is especially important not to abuse the Dialogue for short-term political gains.
The positive benefits can also become infectious and spread fast among elites, intellectuals,
politicians, youth and in sports. Once seen as cool, cooperation will spread like wildfire and become
the norm as it is across the democratic world. Agreements may look wonderful but progress is
What progress can be done
without asking Serbia to
recognize Kosovo and without
asking Kosovo to step back
from its status consolidation?
If properly implemented, the
free movement of goods and
people will have a positive
effect on the public opinion,
especially if it is not used for
short-term political gains.
impossible if cooperation labels one as a traitor. The challenge is nothing less than a change of
paradigm, for which to occur, the process must assure people that the Dialogue is no threat to either
country. For example, Kosovars widely fear that their cooperation may help Serbia to acquire
candidate status, delivering little benefit to Kosovo itself. Indeed, such an imbalanced outcome,
would remove the ‘same boat’ context, and Serbia could continue to harm Kosovo’s progress while
pursuing European integration itself. An asymmetric situation would evolve along lower EU leverage.
The European Union has initiated the process of Dialogue in late
2010 which started in March 2011 between the governments of
Serbia and Kosovo. The talks aimed to normalize a difficult
situation created by the stand-off that lasted from the
Declaration of Independence in February 2008. During this time,
Serbia pursued a policy of blocking Kosovo’s membership in
international organizations and maintained a presence in the north of Kosovo. Conditionality from
Serbia and several Security Council members prevents Kosovo from gaining wide recognition, and
UN membership. EU and bilateral conditioning prevent Serbia from gaining EU candidacy.
Some countries do not recognize Kosovo due to their support for Serbia and others due to internal
considerations. The non-recognition by five EU members has prevented the EU from offering Kosovo
tangible perspective for visa liberalization or Stabilization and Association Agreement. Kosovo’s
continued isolation can result in political radicalization which would have adverse consequences on
relations with Serbia, Serbian community in Kosovo and regional relations.
Serbia is undoubtedly blocked in its EU prospect, both in the sense that its formal progress is
conditioned by “normalization of relations” with Kosovo and the fact that its internal reforms are
limited by the political and economic energy which is focused on Kosovo issue. While Serbia used the
period from February 2008 to pursue its “Both EU and Kosovo” policy, the government in Belgrade
was faced with a clear message from Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU officials from the
EC Opinion on Candidacy Bid that Serbia will not be granted a candidate status unless it starts
dismantling “parallel institutions” in the north of Kosovo, and normalize relations with Kosovo.
Recent History of Dialogue
After Kosovo declared its independence in February 2008 Serbia entered into a series of disputes
with the countries which support Kosovo’s independence. Soon after Kosovo’s independence, the
DS-DSS coalition (Tadic Kostunica) saw the major rifts emerge. The differences centered on Serbia’s
response measures towards recognitions of Kosovo and whether Serbia would stop its European
“Light” versions of standing up against Kosovo’s independence were calling Serbian ambassadors
back to Belgrade for an indefinite period of consultations and initiating UN mechanism to seek an
opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s independence from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The
more serious measures backed by the DSS were to call off diplomatic relations with countries that
recognized Kosovo and sue them before the ICJ.
The collapse of the government in March 2008 was followed by strong EU support to the Democratic
Party and Boris Tadic, which led to signing of SAA in April 2008 and informal help during the
establishing of the new government in June. After that, the new Serbian government initiated a so-
called “soft-landing” phase which was steered by policy “Both EU & Kosovo”. This policy meant that
Serbia is fully to normalize diplomatic relations with the countries that recognized Kosovo, although
frictions resurfaced with each subsequent recognition.
Serbia established formal relations with EULEX, but at the same time managed to block the
implementation of the Comprehensive Status Proposal (frequently referred to as the Ahtisaari
International officials do not
insist for Belgrade to formally
recognize Kosovo, but it is
expected to dismantle its
parallel structures in northern
Kosovo and ‘normalize’
relations with Prishtina.
package) in the north of Kosovo. Serbia made everything possible to obstruct Kosovo’s membership
in various international organizations such as UN, OSCE, CoE and many other non-political bodies
(ITU, FIFA, etc.). This policy was tolerated by the EU from June 2008 up to July 2011 when the last
ICTY fugitive was arrested by Serbian authorities and transferred to The Hague while the Kosovo
issue remained the only obstacle on Belgrade road to further EU integrations.
During this period, Serbia managed to initiate the opinion procedure before the ICJ on the legality of
Kosovo’s independence which lasted for almost two years (from September 2008-July 2010), and
which prevented larger number of countries to recognize Kosovo. However, even after the ICJ gave
its positive opinion for Kosovo, other obstacles prevented Prishtina from making formal steps to EU,
such as visa liberalization or SAA negotiations.
Belgrade’s expectations were not met with the opinion, but it did not pave the way for a new wave
of recognitions either. Belgrade initially tried to pass a UN Resolution which would diminish the
effect of such ICJ Opinion but was faced with a very robust message from several influential EU
members, such as Great Britain1 and Germany2
The ICJ Opinion led to a major turning point at the United Nations General Assembly in September
2010 when Serbia changed its first draft of resolution to drafting a joint one with the EU HRFASP
. Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both countries paid
unexpected visits to Belgrade in August 2010 and publicly said that if Belgrade tries to pursue
disputed draft of resolution, the whole process of Serbia’s EU integrations would be blocked. This
moment marks the first tacit split of Western powers with Belgrade’s “Both EU & Kosovo” policy.
A renewed round of stern messages came to Serbia around the same time in 2011, this time by the
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.
International officials do not insist for Belgrade to formally recognize Kosovo, but it is expected to
start dismantling some of its parallel structures in northern Kosovo and ‘normalize’ relations with
Catherine Ashton. This has often been quoted as a turning point in Serbia’s policy towards Kosovo,
since it heralded a dialogue process between Belgrade and
Prishtina. Serbia’s defeat at the ICJ and the stern messages
pushed to a change of approach and policy. The joint UN
Resolution put forward jointly by the EU and Serbia in effect
enabled the political transfer of “dispute settlement” from UN
bodies (Security Council, General Assembly, and ICJ) to the
institutions of European Union.
After the ICJ Opinion and UN Resolution in Aug-Sept 2010, it was no longer possible to argue that the
European integration process and the Kosovo policy were on separate tracks. They were able to do
that before, since EU countries accepted that pro-EU forces in Serbia needed time to consolidate
after the elections in May 2008 a “grace period”, which ended when Serbia refused to accept ICJ
Opinion and went for an UN General Assembly Resolution. This was regarded almost as a hostile act
by some highly influential EU members.
Prishtina was caught off-guard during the ICJ Opinion, and within months, the coalition government
fell apart, paving the way for early elections. After nearly six months of a difficult electoral process
and political deadlock (lasting from mid-October until end of March), Kosovo finally got a new
1 B92. 1 September 2011. What Are William Hague's Messages.
2 B92 Westerwelle: Map Permanently Changed.
3 High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
coalition government led by incumbent Hashim Thaci. He managed to enter into a coalition
agreement with the controversial businessman, Behgjet Pacolli, and all minority communities in
order to secure his second term in office. During this period, a report drafted by Council of Europe
Rapporteur Dick Marty suggested that former leaders of Kosovo Albanian rebels, including Thaci,
had been involved in human organs and weapons trafficking and other illegal activities during and
after the Kosovo conflict. The notorious Ahtisaari Report was published during this period, as the
expectation mounted over the arrest of PDK’s second in command, Fatmir Limaj.
The Constitutional Court concluded last year that the then President, Fatmir Sejdiu, had violated the
constitution by holding the leadership of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) simultaneously.
The ruling triggered Sejdiu's resignation that was followed by his party's decision to leave the
Government and thus provoked early elections. Pacolli's party decided to back Hashim Thaci in an
exchange of a presidential seat for its leader. Pacolli was elected president only in the third round of
voting in Parliament with simple majority after he failed to receive the necessary two-thirds of the
votes in the previous rounds. Pacolli’s election for President was pronounced illegal by the
Constitutional Court, and he had to step down.
This thin coalition majority left three major Kosovo-Albanian groups in the opposition. The other
main parties represented in the Parliament refused to cooperate with PDK, accusing its leader of
corruption and bad management. The electoral process saw an unprecedented level of violations,
while the international representatives in Prishtina repeatedly called for "clean-hands" government.
Despite the tumultuous period inside Kosovo, most statements from the EU focused on the dialogue,
which Kosovars perceived as choosing the most auspicious time to pressure Prishtina into a
damaging process. Kosovo’s ability to counteract or
engage with the process was seriously hampered by the
lack of legitimate representatives and by their damaged
credibility internationally. The whole period passed
under the shadow of Serbia’s aggressive diplomacy and
Lady Ashton’s challenge with the first major project since
the establishment of her office.
The Dialogue process faced serious problems long before
it started. As the agreement on the Dialogue came out
from the exchanges between Serbia and EU (Tadic -
Ashton meeting), it was visible that Kosovo was not involved from the beginning. Reactions from
Prishtina ranged from negative to mixed due to its lack of ownership of the process, but also due to
its perceived risky exercise and the lack of incentives.
Belgrade’s position continued to be ambiguous. Belgrade maintained the position that it would not
recognize Kosovo in any way, explicitly or implicitly even after September 2010, and that the
Dialogue was not about status but only about “improving of the conditions of the daily life of the
ordinary people in Kosovo”. At the same time, Belgrade kept insisting that “it is inevitable to talk
about the status issue, as it surrounds all other issues”.
If Prishtina was not able to get any concessions from Belgrade on the status issue, it was only
possible that EU would offer incentives by enlarging the box of carrots. The first carrot was the
long awaited visa liberalization which has yet to materialize. Kosovo is among the most isolated
countries in the world,4
4 ESI. 22 November 2010. Isolation Confirmed. How the EU is undermining its interests in Kosovo.
while the distance with other countries of the Western Balkans grows as
most of them accede to the White Schengen list. Kosovo was unable to enter into negotiations on
readmission as well as SAA negotiations due to its inability to enter contractual relations with the EU
Serbia’s chief negotiator often
invoked the ‘humanitarian’ pattern by
which the Dialogue serves the interest
of ordinary people, then combines it
with the Serbia’s interest for European
integrations and then in the end uses
the argument that the Dialogue will
also be a channel for amendment of
status issues.
because of the five non-recognizing countries (Spain, Slovakia, Greece, Cyprus and Romania). EU’s
position vis-à-vis Kosovoclearly lacked leverage, which hampered its diplomatic and mediation
Mapping out incentives for Kosovo in the Dialogue was one of the main tasks for Robert Cooper, the
main facilitator and an adviser to Catherine Ashton on Balkans and the Middle East. The leverage for
Belgrade was rather straightforward as it craved for candidate status and a date for the start of
negotiations. The dilemmas, whether these demands were real or a tactical move to settle for less,
were of little importance after Merkel’s visit on August 22nd, 2011.
The lack of readiness to bridge status-related differences left less political issues as the only ones
possible to make progress with. With two sides as far opposite from each other, difficult topics
would have sapped the potential, hence the choice of easier appetizers’ to show the potential for
dialogue at its very beginning.
Although the Dialogue was to start by the end of 2010, it was delayed by the above-mentioned
issues of the political crisis and elections in Kosovo. The first round officially started in March 2011
and was finished in July with an ‘agreement’ (referred to as ‘conclusions’) on the freedom of
movement, civil registries and university diplomas. The word ‘agreement’ is under quotations
because of the manner on which they were reached (as unilateral commitments) as nothing was
signed due to the fact that Belgrade would consider that as a sign of recognition.5
The mediators clearly perceived that the public opinion ought not to be involved too much, at least
not at the first sensitive stage. Written copies of agreements were rarely made public. Such level of
caution may be dubious from the point of legitimacy, but it may well be necessary to allow confident
exchange to bring some initial agreement. The first rounds of the Dialogue were essentially exercises
of trust-building that ultimately are to depend on the level of implementation of the agreements
reached thus far.
Political Implications and Motives for Dialogue
European integration is clearly the main motive for Belgrade to enter the Dialogue. The rhetoric of
settlement with Albanians does not sound genuine, but it coincides with EU conditions. It is
interesting to observe that Belgrade was insisting on technical dialogue when Prishtina was fearful of
any dialogue. Once the technical dialogue started, Belgrade clearly intended to push it into more
political topics which Prishtina has adamantly avoided.
While most analysts blamed Prishtina for entering what they expected to be an unpredictable
process, other analysts supported it for its non-participation, which would mean that Serbia may in
fact receive candidate status without making any concessions to Prishtina whatsoever. New Prishtina
dilemmas have materialized after refusal of the customs stamps (the same stamps that were
recognized by Belgrade before 2008) and the ensuing attempt to cement the control over the north.
Prishtina saw political ambitions emanating from this process which prompted more pundits to
argue that for as long as the status was seen as open for discussion by Belgrade, technical talks did
not make sense. In an op-ed to Vijesti, Agron Bajrami argued that for as long as Belgrade harbors
5 European Commission uses the term “agreements” in their Opinion on Serbia’s Candidacy Bid and Kosovo
Progress Report for 2011 but one cannot be sure if they fulfill the legal definition of “agreement”. As they are
more of “mutual understandings” or “verbal agreements”, their implementation will depend on the
authoritative interpretation of EU as there cannot be any kind of objective legal interpretation.
nasty ambitious on the north, there should be no dialogue”.6
In short, Serbia entered the Dialogue to, as follows:
However, numerous EU members are
ready to support Belgrade’s candidacy and indirectly its ambitions in northern Kosovo. Indirectly
speaking to various EU countries, Belgrade continuously declared public offers to Prishtina about a
potential agreement in the north.
a) Win EU appeal
b) Position better and attempt to change the Dialogue from technical to political focus
c) In return, give away some small concessions
Kosovo entered dialogue because of, as follows:
a) Win EU appeal
b) Get some small concessions
c) in return to risk Serbia improving its bargaining policy
If the Dialogue was indeed perceived as purely technical, it would not have raised this level of
interest. The Belgrade team did not hide its preference to move to political dialogue and open issues
pertaining to the north. The Six Point Plan was even called for by allied Kosovo Serbs NGOs - the
KPAN network.7 That even the technical talks were seen as political proves a statement by Xhavit
Haliti, Deputy Speaker of the Kosovo Assembly, who said that no talks can be purely technical with
Two conflicting policies are prima facie irreconcilable since
Belgrade will not formally recognize Kosovo and Prishtina will not
enter into discussion on its territorial integrity. But Belgrade has
managed to put its foot at the door of Prishtina’s membership into
certain international organizations and has maintained a presence
in municipalities in north Kosovo, supporting them financially,
logistically and in human resources. Serbia’s health system, education, post and even bank system
operate in Serb-majority municipalities in the north, but also in central Kosovo. International
missions in Kosovo from 1999 (UNMIK & EULEX) have also tolerated the Serbian elections being
organized in this part of Kosovo. Prishtina has entered the Dialogue to either regulate the Serbian
influence to the degree allowed by the Ahtisaari Proposal, or to put an end to them.
The EU has entered into talks to improve the lives of people, and promote regional cooperation and
EU integration. As the High Representative Ashton believes,
now is the right time to begin and she is confident that both Belgrade and Prishtina
can find practical ways to make sure that ordinary life can go on more smoothly.
Solving problems by dialogue is the European way and the objective of the talks is to
promote co-operation and bring both Prishtina and Belgrade closer to the EU.9
6 Bajrami, Agron. 06.10.2011. North rules. Vijesti, available at:
7 Kosovo Policy Action Network. 21 September 2011. Why the Six-point plan isn’t being enforced? Statement
issued by KPAN, a network of Kosovo Serbs NGOs.
8 RTK. 28 September 2011.
9 EU Delegation in Serbia, 8 March 2011,
Prishtina has entered the
dialogue to either regulate
the Serbian influence to the
degree allowed by the
Ahtisaari Proposal, or to
put an end to them.
Fears and Perceptions of Dialogue in Serbia and Kosovo
Any mapping on conflict resolution ought to start from the fears, and only then move to interests
and positions. The main fear that both sides share is incidents in northern Kosovo, which remains
likely. Serbia is worried that incidents in the north may lead to a renewed wave of refugees,
although this may also be beneficial for Serbia to portray Prishtina as aggressive. Kosovo worries that
tension may lead to radicalization which would make the integration of north into Kosovo even more
Fears and Concerns in Serbia:
The EU will pressure Serbia until it will practically recognize Kosovo;10
Serbia will lose the support of the countries that have not recognized Kosovo (as quoted in a
statement by Russia’s MFA: “we can’t be bigger Serbs than Serbs themselves”);
Serbia’s EU consensus may lose the support, paving the way for political radicalization;
Losing the trust of the Kosovo Serbs and be seen as having betrayed their interest, in turn
this can also lead to a loss of democrats in the upcoming elections in Serbia;
Status of the most important religious sites.
The public discourse evoked by Borislav Stefanovic, Serbia’s chief negotiator, often invokes the
‘humanitarian’ pattern by which the Dialogue serves the interest of ordinary people, then combines
it with the Serbia’s interest for European integrations and then, in the end, uses the argument that
the Dialogue will also be a channel for amendment of status issues11
Fears and Concerns in Kosovo
. All of these reasons might
prove to be right, but it also shows the complexity of situation in Serbian political scene and the
weight Kosovo carries in it.
Kosovo’s fear from Dialogue was multi-faceted. Some feared that Kosovo was not ready and that
Serbia was much better prepared, but this diagnosis was shared also by many who supported the
Dialogue. This criticism expressed the fear that the EU had largely decided to support Serbia’s
candidacy, and that Prishtina’s boycott would only enable this outcome without any concessions.
The demand for normalization of relations with Kosovo was lukewarm and this can especially be
noticed when the EU confronts the outcome of Democrats losing elections in Serbia. The fears are as
Inability to enforce reciprocity with serious damages to the economy;
Prolonging the Dialogue for too long, thus making it more difficult to seek recognition from
countries that are waiting for its conclusion to make their mind;
Extending the isolation and not being able to participate in international clubs, get visa
liberalization, charge for transit electricity and for the use of its air space, etc.;
That Serbia will be on its EU path much before Kosovo, able to block subsequent Kosovo’s
integration, or to break away from conditioning leading to asymmetric conditionality similar
to Cyprus;
Fear of sliding in political dialogue about northern Kosovo, hence opens Kosovo’s
sovereignty to bargain and render the state dysfunctional;
Stopping the technical talks for political purposes means that Serbia still threatens to
sabotage Kosovo.
10 Danas. 2nd September 2011. Dacic: Hypocritical slogans about Kosovo. Autor: P.D.
11 Tanjug. 8 March 2011,
Kosovo’s fears can be explained by degree the current technical status actually influences the
developments in the north, and the degree to which they freeze recognitions and economic
Fears of Kosovo Serbs
Kosovo Serbs, north and south, are most affected and least consulted in the process. The main fears
that have been identified are as follows:
Security for Serbs living in central Kosovo and in enclaves;
Institutional and rule of law vacuum in northern Kosovo;
Serbs employed in the parallel structures fear of losing their jobs or seeing their salaries
The atmosphere in the Parliament of Kosovo deteriorates steadily;
Fear shared in the north over the potential revenge of Kosovo Albanians if they take control
of the north;
If there is an arrangement for the north outside of Ahtisaari, there is a fear among Serbs in
the south that some of their Ahtisaari provided powers will be taken away.
It is essential that the Dialogue first addresses fears, or at least it does not exacerbate them, as it
resolves other issues. An analysis of the fears mentioned above indicates that most of them are
over-blown and irrational. For example, fears of how would Kosovo Albanians react in the north if it
was controlled by Prishtina are clearly fuelled by the lack of interaction. Real or perceptual, fears are
there, and the closed Dialogue process such as this one does not contribute to allaying them.
Issues of Discussion
This section looks at the issues discussed until October 2011 which are shortly discussed in the text
below, one by one. This section is followed by an analysis of the trade-offs of each side for each item
under discussion and overall. Issues are discussed in the order how they were opened (and some of
them closed) in the technical talks.
The first round of the Dialogue did not generate as much public attention in Belgrade as one could
imagine, or at least as much it did in the other capital, in Prishtina. Basically, there was little novelty
besides a fact that this was the first time that Prishtina and Belgrade sat around the same table after
a long period. There were no negative reactions even after the first round of the Dialogue was
finished on the freedom of movement, civil registries and university diplomas. Dissatisfaction in
Serbia started to rise afterwards, among northern Serb leaders saying that it is not Prishtina who is
making concessions but Serbia only, and that the Dialogue is against the interests of Serbian
community in Kosovo. This is a very important moment for the policy gap between the two which
has kept widening ever since, harming Belgrade’s ability to implement the agreements from the
latter rounds of the Dialogue.
Freedom of Movement
Traveling between Kosovo and Serbia is difficult for Serbs and
practically impossible for Kosovars, who do not have Serbian
personal and travel documents. Ordinary people found
themselves in a middle of a political tussle, which they cannot change and which limits their daily
lives in every possible way. Serbia did not accept Kosovo’s passports nor vehicle license plates, while
Kosovo started not to accept the new Serbian vehicle license plates issued by Serbia’s parallel
municipalities in Kosovo (KM, GL, PR, PZ, DJ, PE, and UR) as well as corresponding ID cards. Kosovars
cannot travel in or through Serbia, which makes their trips more burdensome and costly. Kosovo
Serbs face occasional hassles with their parallel Serbian vehicle license plates through Kosovo and
Despite of the fact that free
travel was agreed upon in
spring, its implementation was
still disputable in the late fall.
yet some refuse, for political reasons, to accept new Kosovo vehicle license plates (as well as costs
for they need to purchase double insurance, pay double road taxes, and other duties to both
The two types of biometric Serbian passports have replaced the older non-biometric passports.
Some Kosovars also use Serbian passports, but most of them use the newly-issued Kosovo ones.
UNMIK passports were in circulation until recently. The chaotic presence of over four types of
passports is matched by a variety of four sets of vehicle license plates. Serbia issues not only plates
for Serbian towns, but also plates for Kosovo towns. Kosovo has started to issue new RKS plates, but
thousands of UNMIK-designed KS plates are still in circulation. Despite the multitude of plates and
passports, crossing the border between Kosovo and Serbia is difficult, so enabling travel rightfully
became one of the first items for discussion.
When Serbia received its visa liberalization, the EU required a distinction between passports issued
to residents of Kosovo from those of Serbia, with Kosovo Serbs left under a visa regime with the rest
of Kosovars. Overall, due to passports, plates, and insurance, travelling to Serbia, through Serbia or
around it incurs prohibitively high expenses for Kosovar traders and so contributing to Kosovo’s
under-development. Despite of the fact that this issue was agreed upon in spring, its
implementation was still disputable in late fall.
ID Cards and License Plates
The current chaos was replaced with less or more chaos depending on interpretation, but may bring
more mobility for Kosovars. If they get started, the new arrangements will allow greater, safer and
cheaper traveling which should boost human interaction across the ethnic divide. Serbia did not
accept Kosovo’s passports, but they will not be required (or accepted) for Kosovars in order to travel
to Serbia. This arrangement, which was to enter into force on November 1st 2011, will require IDs
issued by the Kosovo authorities. This was a breakthrough and it showed that what was considered
as an issue of sovereignty does not have to be such, given careful packaging. Progress can be made
without tackling serious issues by rebranding them as not
related to status. It may be useful to recall that Kosovo Serbs
used to boycott electricity bills since ‘this meant recognition
of Kosovo’ but few hark back to this issue now. Belgrade also
accepted Kosovo drivers’ licenses under the clause that their
‘acceptance does not imply recognition of Kosovo’.
A more modest agreement was reached on vehicle license plates and insurance. Kosovo drivers will
be able to use old UNMIK vehicle license plates on Serbian territory, or to acquire “PROBA” plates to
replace RKS (the second has been in effect until now). The problem is that the privilege for Serbs
gives them an incentive to keep the older KS plates (which seems to be Belgrade’s obvious goal), but
it may also distinguish them from the rest. While there are no security threats for Kosovo Serbs,
distinguishing them is a violation of human rights, and is exactly what the plate designs in mixed
countries try to avoid (Bosnia, Kosovo during and after UNMIK). There is an incentive for Kosovo
Serbs not to take RKS, because this implies acquiring PROBA plates when crossing into Serbia, which
then makes them look Albanian in Serbia. At least, the parallel plates of Kosovo towns will stop being
used, including in the north.
The main advantage for all will be the absence of uninsured vehicles in Kosovo’s roads. All Serbian
cars will need to purchase insurance when crossing into Kosovo and vice-versa, or insurance will be
mutually recognized (or via a third country). Several millions Euros of loss incurred for Kosovo’s
taxpayers will be saved and safety on its roads will improve.
If they get started, the new
arrangements will allow greater,
safer and cheaper travel that
should boost human interaction
across the ethnic divide.
University Diplomas
Serbia’s policy of non-recognition of Kosovo’s documents applies to other types of documents, and
among them, also are the university diplomas. This mostly affects the Albanian-speaking population
from Presevo and Bujanovac in southern Serbia. This region is already hit by poverty and
unemployment and further administrative barriers will contribute to massive migration. Due to a
scant private sector, one of the few options for employment in the Presevo Valley is to find a job in
the public sector which is impossible to do with a diploma issued in Prishtina, where most of the
youth from this area study. The non-recognition of diplomas is only one of the reasons why the
ethnic Albanian community, which constitutes the majority in this region, is underrepresented in the
judiciary, police and state administration. Kosovo recognizes the credentials of most Kosovo Serbs,
but sometimes not the diplomas issued by the dislocated University of Pristinain Mitrovica run by
Serbia’s Ministry of Education.
Diplomas constituted an early topic and an agreement in principle was announced in spring. The
principle is that Belgrade will not directly recognize (validate) Kosovo diplomas but through an
intermediary. In fact, this solution was found first by numerous students who did the same
individually through Skopje or Tetovo. With both universities using transferrable ECTS credits
(European Credit Transfer System), students transferred courses to Macedonia, completed any
additional courses to fulfill the requirements, and were issued with a diploma from Macedonia
which was valid. With an additional cost of several thousands of Euros, those who were sufficiently
desperate led the way.
The agreement provides that such an intermediary would be either an international organization or
some university from a third country (most likely Macedonia or Montenegro). This can hardly be
called an agreement, but it may regulate and enable the Presevo Valley students to get employed at
home. However, this may force students in Mitrovica to seek solutions outside their framework,
since Prishtina will hardly recognize what is considered a Prishtina’s parallel university. The issue was
ultimately agreed upon in late November, but implementation teams are yet to go through the
Civil Registry
Upon departure, the Serbian administration took away civil registry books of Kosovo municipalities,
placing them in ‘parallel’ municipalities around Serbia (e.g. Municipality of Peja/Pec operated out of
Kragujevac, Prishtina/Prishtina out of Nis, etc.). Kosovo Serbs residing in Serbia made use of them,
but also Albanians who needed such documents for various purposes, often paying high sums of
money to access them.
The inability to issue original documents for a number of years created large space for manipulation.
This legal vacuum was abused by nationals of various countries claiming they were Kosovars who
were stripped of their documents, and many sought refuge around Europe. There are officially
around 14,000 Kosovars, who sought refugee status in EU countries in 2010, but this is hardly
realistic and evidence suggests that most likely this figure hides numerous individuals from other
Kosovo has long faced a challenge that it could not complete its civil registry. For the past 12 years,
Kosovo had introduced very cumbersome procedures for issuing of birth certificates (and other
personal documents), requiring electricity bills dating prior to January 1st 1998, or two witnesses and
additional procedures.
While this situation lasted for over 12 years, now it has become a high priority in order to fulfill
conditions for visa liberalization. Kosovo needs to ensure high level of security while it issues birth
certificates and other related documents. Kosovo’s civil registry is inadequate, making it difficult to
issue personal documents to members of the Diaspora, to displaced Serbs, and at the same time it
prevents Kosovo from updating its voters list.
Both Serbia and Kosovo treat civil registry documents as symbols of status, although these are more
related to municipalities than to country identities. The end of the first round of the Dialogue
invented another “fig leaf” Serbia is to submit only verified copies of civil registry books through
EULEX. Symbolism is, maybe, the most important aspect of the agenda, so this also adds to the
argument that both sides are treating the Dialogue as a PR exercise.
While it has been politically sensitive, copies of civil registry are principally useful to Kosovo in order
to complete its civil registry, which would resolve a number of practical problems. While the
tentative agreement with Serbia does not address Prishtina’s quest for a symbol of status, the copies
address the practical need to complete the data. Prishtina has successfully argued the practical
aspect use of the matter, but it nevertheless came under accusations from the opposition. Given its
implementation, albeit with copies, a milestone will be accomplished and Kosovo will collect its
documentation and mark a small tick in its long European trajectory.
The civil registry marks the conclusion of the first round of talks that were in principle agreed upon
in the early July. Its implementation has not begun yet and this will be the biggest initial test of the
political will and the readiness of both Serbia and Kosovo to fulfill their commitments. For Serbia it
will be necessary to amend the Personal Data Protection Law, i.e. to eliminate legal obstacles in
order to hand over the copies of registries to Kosovo.
Customs and Cadastre
The agreement on the customs was the first that reached the media in full text albeit 20 days later
and after the agreement was supposed to become effective. The published conclusions on the
agreements that were reached the recognition of customs stamp, free trade and agreement on
return of cadastral records. Those nebulous solutions were sought as illustrated by the following
article which indicates that the dispute was entirely about the border crossings and not about the
customs stamps:
Kosovo customs officials and Kosovo police will not control administrative crossings in
northern Kosovo from Friday 16 September, as Prishtina authorities had earlier announced.
Instead of them, representatives of EULEX will perform that duty, confirmed diplomatic
sources in Brussels and Prishtina to Danas. Our sources indicate that, however, that does not
mean that the customs officers and policemen of the EU mission ‘will forever control the
border, but only that Prishtina will gradually establish authority in the north of Kosovo, and
that process can last for years.’12
Violent protests and putting of barricades ensued with a mixed role by Belgrade. Belgrade openly
supported the barricades, but it tried to disassociate itself from the more violent elements.
Alternative views argue that the problem in the north is the same as throughout Serbia, the threat of
parallel security forces.
Free Trade and the Customs Stamps
Perhaps the greatest imbalance between Serbia and Kosovo has been the trade. Serbia annually
exports to Kosovo goods in value over 300 million Euros, while Kosovo exports less than 5% of its
imports, arriving in Serbia either through smuggling or with documents issued by parallel
institutions. Such huge trade imbalance would send any developed country straight into panic, and it
12 Danas. 14 September 2011. Prishtina will gradually take control of the north.
has gradually alarmed most Kosovars, too. Seeking reciprocity, Kosovo’s patience started to run thin
and finally a deadline was declared first for June and then ultimately for the 20th July 2011.
The Dialogue hit a major obstacle after the first round, when it broached the issues of free trade and
customs stamps, which were postponed from July to September. Despite the fact that Kosovo’s
stamps did not have the word ‘republic’ in them, the Head of the Belgrade negotiation team
persisted that no stamps with Kosovo’s state symbols would be accepted. The seemingly irrational
dispute was slowly clarified when Prishtina saw through Belgrade’s agenda for partition. The round
on customs stamps in July was rejected due to Belgrade’s ostensible calculation that Prishtina would
not be able to reinforce a reciprocity treatment in practice; at least not in its northern
border/boundary. Belgrade expected that Prishtina would have to be satisfied with the enforcement
of reciprocity measures along the Ibar River, reasoning it was not a small feat to deprive Belgrade
95% of Kosovo’s market.
Putting customs officers at the Ibër/Ibar River would certainly be used by Belgrade as a move to
cement and legalize its control of northern Kosovo. Kosovo’s action on 25th July changed the
situation. First alone and then with open international support, Prishtina sought to enforce both
reciprocity as well as to assert its control over the north. Tension went high, but generally under
control. Announcements that northern mayors and various political criminals are to be arrested have
also raised internal accusations between Belgrade and the northern leaders. Despite its initial role in
setting up the barricades, Belgrade now disassociated itself from the barricades, while northern
leaders pressured Belgrade to openly state whose side it is on.
Belgrade retreated from the Dialogue on 28th September, citing difficulty to continue talks while
there was shooting” in Jarinje (Kosovo’s most northern
customs post). If Belgrade continued talks it would
threaten its ties with Kosovo Serbs in the north. That
this “crack in the wall” was not going to be bridged
became apparent after the European Commission
published its Opinion on application for membership
status on 12th October. The opinion was essentially
positive, but under certain conditions. European
Commission recommended that Council of Ministers
grant a candidate status to Serbia, “taking into account
progress achieved so far and on the understanding that Serbia reengages in the dialogue with
Kosovo and is moving swiftly to the implementation in good faith of agreements reached to date.”13
EU’s unprecedented unity for such a condition meant that Belgrade had to accept customs posts on
Gates 1 and 31 without reentering them as issues in the Dialogue and to allow operation by EULEX
throughout Kosovo. Only the following items were acceptable: recognition of university diplomas,
inclusive regional cooperation, telecommunications and energy. Kosovo Serbs were first to react and
issued a joint statement on 19th October, whereby they have refused to implement any agreement
Belgrade reached or will reach with Prishtina in the Dialogue.
The EC Opinion was less positive about Kosovo and the roadmap for visa liberalization, for which
Kosovo has anyway fulfilled the terms (for the roadmap, not the liberalization itself), and is hardly a
carrot. Finding a way to enter into contractual relations with the EU would have been a gain more
comparable with Belgrade’s. Nevertheless, the prospect of visa liberalization would be a huge
13 European Commission. 12 October 2011. "Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament
and the Council." Brussels, 12.10.2011, COM (2011) 668 final, SEC (2011) 1208 final, p. 12,
European Commission
recommendation to grant a candidate
status to Serbia, “taking into account
progress achieved so far and on the
understanding that Serbia reengages in
the dialogue with Kosovo and is moving
swiftly to the implementation in good
faith of agreements reached to date.
political gain for any government in Prishtina, in the same way as it was for the rest of the Western
Balkans as they made it to the “White Schengen List”.
The dispute mostly took the shape of admission of customs stamps that Kosovo uses, clearly the
most disruptive issue discussed so far. Before Kosovo’s declaration of independence, it was agreed
that in order to ensure smooth transition to CEFTA, Kosovo was not to change its stamps and it kept
the same wording “Kosovo Customs” without any explicit reference to its statehood.
The whole stand-off situation created an unacceptable grey zone in the trade between Serbia and
Kosovo. Although Serbia does not recognize Kosovo and exports the goods in value of 300 million
Euros annually, it uses the term ‘shipment’ (shipping/delivery). Furthermore, the customs points
were ran by KPS Police which were composed of the local Serbs from Kosovo’s northern
municipalities in order to make Kosovo’s institutions more acceptable to the local Serbs.
The dispute centered around the text on the stamp, whereas Belgrade rejected any “attributes of
statehood” which later came to mean the ‘lack of the word Republic’ (which never was in the stamp
in the first place). The Government of Serbia insisted through this to implement the so-called UN
Secretary General “Six Point Plan”14
From Trade Row to Barricades
which is very unpopular in Kosovo.
Fearing partition fait accompli, Prishtina embarked on a risky endeavour, to unilaterally put customs
officers and police in the two northern crossings and managed to prevent Serbia’s partition strategy.
Without logistical support and facing blocked roads, the lack of logistical preparation forced the
police into retreat with several months of continued tension:
It was a small demonstration of sovereignty that was grudgingly but firmly accepted by the
internationals in Kosovo. Moreover, despite Kosovo’s action the two parties finally reached
an agreement that permits the wording of customs stamps to be accepted by Serbian
customs officials facilitating trade between the two countries.15
With the sovereignty issue temporarily frozen, a trade debate ensued. Kosovo’s domestic producers
were satisfied. The prices did not increase as predicted, and Kosovo’s trade balance for August was
better than any other time in its history. Serbia’s low prices of exports benefit from the lack of taxes
since they entered through the north. Moreover, Kosovo had a growing suspicion that Serbia also
had politically-motivated dumping policy.
In any case, the Dialogue continued and on 3rd September 2011 the two parties agreed on customs
stamps which would just say “Kosovo Customs”. Both sides claimed victory, but after it all, there was
a feeling that EU did not handle the situation as it should from July to September. The pause enabled
two sides to reflect. Belgrade expected to use Prishtina’s inability to cement its control of the north
which would give it the upper hand to broach the north in the new rounds of the Dialogue.
Prishtina’s unilateral dispatch of police could change the situation on the ground and improve its
bargaining position. This situation remained tense until mid-September, when KFOR attempted
again to give the issue back to civilian control. A mixture of KFOR, EULEX and Kosovo authority
officials were transported to the north.
The issue of the north and the Six Points Plan were tried to be introduced to the Dialogue table.
Belgrade's lead negotiator in the Belgrade-Prishtina Dialogue, Borislav Stefanovic, said that the 2nd
14 Foniqi-Kabashi, Blerta. 27 November 2008. UN Security Council approves Ban’s six-point plan.
15 Abramowitz, Morton and James Hooper. 20 September 2011. Serbia’s EU Ultimatum. PILPG Update
published in The National Interest. Basically, the intervention brought a new reality.
Conclusions on recognition of customs stamps are
specified into three points, and everything that
agreement contains is as follows:
1. Parties will make all possible efforts to secure the free
movement of goods in line with CEFTA;
2. Customs stamps with the insignia “Kosovo Customs”
as confirmed by all parties in CEFTA, will be accepted
3. All documents and communications will reflect this
Conclusions agreed upon on September 2nd on
cadastral documents, are as follows:
1. With the aim of protecting the rights of people with
legitimate property claims, parties will make all efforts
to establish a fully reliable cadastre in Kosovo
A tripartite implementation group, consisting of
cadastral experts from both parties and chaired by the
EU, will monitor the work of a technical agency
(selected after consultations with both parties), whose
role will be to identify gaps in the original pre-1999
cadastral records.
3. The Special Representative of the European Union
(EUSR) will receive scanned copies of all original (pre-
1999 cadastral) records removed from Kosovo. Upon
request, the EUSR will provide specific information
from Kosovo;
The technical agency, mentioned in point 2, will
compare all copies of original cadastral notes of private
properties before 1999 with the reconstructed cadastre
in Kosovo. Cases where the comparison indicates
mismatch will be followed by the tripartite group to a
judicial mechanism in Kosovo. This adjudicating
mechanism will decide which cadastral notes are
5. The first level of the judicial mechanism will be
exercised by a commission of international and
Kosovar cadastral and property experts. The majority
of experts will be appointed by the EUSR with respect
to the interests of all communities.
6. The Supreme Court of Kosovo will serve as a second
level of appeals of the judicial mechanism. The
decision of the Supreme Court of Kosovo will be
reached by a college where the majority will be held by
international judges and they will be final decisions
without the right of appeal.
Decisions made by the judicial mechanism will be
announced to all stakeholders. The Kosovo Cadastral
Agency will implement the final decisions of the judicial
mechanism by making the necessary amendments in
the Kosovo cadastre.
8. The tripartite group will monitor the implementation and
functioning of abovementioned arrangements and will
regularly brief the
Dialogue about the progress
September talks in Brussels had only
dealt with the customs stamps and the
supporting documents whereas the
administrative crossings had not even
been touched on. He said that the
northern crossings were not discussed,
and warned Prishtina of renewed
unilateral actions. Hashim Thaci
accepted the suggestion from the
Western powers not to consider
additional actions, but a multilateral
engagement of KFOR and EULEX to
New events took place on 16th
September when EULEX and KFOR
assisted Kosovo Customs to take hold
of two disputed customs posts, Jarinje
and Brnjak. Kosovo Serbs reacted by
blocking all roads in the north of
Kosovo, and the stand-off continued
followed by controversial statements
from all sides involved. Belgrade
officials claimed that the Agreement
on Customs Stamps from 2nd of
September did not specify anything on
customs posts and that it was yet to
be discussed. On the other hand, EU’s
Ambassador in Serbia and Lady
Ashton’s spokesperson treated the
take-over of the customs posts as
being in line with the implementation
of the said Agreement.16
The rationale behind Belgrade’s
refusal to accept the presence of
Kosovo Customs’ officers is difficult to
understand, having in mind the
acceptance of the “Kosovo Customs”
stamps. Moreover, these stamps were
explicitly recognized by UNMIK as
being in line with Resolution 1244 and
This is a clear
example where the non-transparency
of the Dialogue takes its toll without
the benefits of the creative confusion.
The true text of the agreement is
confidential, even though its
implementation affects everyone.
16 BETA. 16 September 2011. EU: Kosovo as one customs area.
EULEX, as UNMIK, continues to treat Kosovo as a separate customs zone. Belgrade also recognized
Kosovo as such zone, but only since Kosovo’s declaration has ceased to treat it as such. The only
explanation is the attempts to treat the north as different to create a precedent.
The persistence of barricades has worsened the situation tremendously. Mr. Stefanovic said that any
violent efforts for removing the barricades in northern Kosovo would be bad for security and could
worsen the situation which is already unstable, which some can read as a threat. President Tadic
We are warning all the time the international community that such a thing should
not happen, about the dangers arising from unilateral and violent moves by
Prishtina. If that someone actually thought of that, if someone risked war in this part
of Europe, they would assume responsibility for all consequences. Serbia does not
want war. Serbia does not want any violence and peace is our policy and is aimed at
establishing lasting peace in the Balkans. If Prishtina takes such actions it would bear
full responsibility for the consequences.17
Despite warnings against Prishtina, progress in the north seems likely to continue with the support
of the international community. Serbia will support the north directly but will present a friendly
posture to the outside and this will increase its chances to lobby for an advanced status of northern
Kosovo as well as to progress on its European path as compensation for the loss of the north. In a
statement he gave to the media after his talk with Merkel, Serbian President Boris Tadic said:
I have to tell you that the discussion with the German Chancellor was not how to
close doors but how to open them. We concluded that we need to try to once more
seek a creative and sustainable solution that satisfies both sides.18
Their degree of unison is clearly overstated, for the press conference showed more divisions than
agreement. That Serbia will try to play by European rules, Tadic indicates by saying:
Here is how Serbia complies with European rules: it is our view that we need to find
a sustainable solution for the dialogue, to find a solution that is mutually acceptable,
to find a solution which will not expel the Serbian people from the area in which
they have been living for centuries, that will not erase any culture from that part of
the continent, which will not produce new security risks, which would establish
lasting peace, and therefore be beneficial for all of Europe.19
Dialogue has the potential to unfreeze the situation in the north, but this tumultuous period
may have deep frozen it in the mean-time.
Analysis of Gains and Losses from the First Agreement
The potential of further dialogue should be examined by reviewing the results of the first set of
agreements. The likelihood of subsequent rounds is a function of the effects of the first and second
round of agreements and the public support it elicits in the meantime. That the implementation was
hamstrung by ‘details’ is an omen of what is to come and indicates either a lack of political will and
consensus or weak capacities for implementation. Hence, the analysis of gains and losses can only be
17 Bujosevic, Dragan, 28 August 2011. Interview of the Week: Boris Tadic, President of Serbia (part 2: I Accept
Risk of Delay in Obtaining Candidate Status)
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
done considering what was agreed upon, preparations and statements on what is to come.
However, even as late as the end of November not all the details had been hammered out.
Reactions may also be politically motivated, so an examination of real gains and losses is also
important. Along with a discussion of reactions, this paper looks at a trade-off of gains and losses,
without neglecting the fact that quite a few additional complications during its implementation can
put this process off.
An analysis of gains and losses is not in fact possible without a
review of expectations. Many in Kosovo were led to believe that
Serbia would practically concede to Kosovo’s existence as a state.
In Serbia, initial expectations were that this dialogue would lead to
a ‘historic compromise’ on status. Expectations were more recently
revised whereby Kosovars see few benefits and a growing fear that
the bar has been lowered for Serbia and far less than full normalization will be requested from
Serbia in return for its candidacy. Kosovo Serbs expected simple solutions to their daily problems
and are yet to see any improvement in their lives. Regardless of the real outcome, expectations were
not managed properly and part of the disappointment should be sought there.
Reactions in Kosovo
Most of the reactions in Kosovo were not about the substance of the first rounds, but about form
and likely continuation. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kosovo, Skender Hyseni, criticized
the fact that these are not agreements but only conclusions. The deputy chairman of the Alliance for
the Future of Kosovo (AAK) Ahmet Isufi said that the Government disregarded the Assembly during
the Dialogue process. The Foreign Policy Club announced that the Kosovo Assembly should hold an
extraordinary session where the Government should report on the agreements reached in Brussels.
Few expressed any level of satisfaction with the impending ability to travel through Serbia, mostly
because of the half-hearted solution that was accomplished. The Self-Determination (Vetëvendosje)
movement went as far as to call the Dialogue a sell-out.
MPs from the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK)
said the Dialogue failed at the beginning. “Serbia had clear objectives and reached them,” said
Skender Hyseni from LDK. “But Kosovo did not achieve
anything and did not benefit in any way from the Dialogue,
said Burim Ramadani of AAK, who called for an end to the
Dialogue since it has not brought Kosovo any gain so far.
Opposition MPs are convinced that if the Dialogue continues
the same way, Kosovo will have to remain satisfied with the
Dialogue on visa liberalisation while Serbia will be able to join
the EU very quickly.
Given a successful implementation of the talks so far, and given a number of other issues that are to
be addressed as announced, Kosovo is set to win some and lose some.
What Kosovo Loses
A clear loss that was certain was the slower pace of recognition. A number of countries have
declared that they will not recognize Kosovo until the dialogue produces results. Clearly, several
countries may decide never to recognize Kosovo if it abandoned dialogue, while a number of others
probably would recognize it without waiting endlessly. This loss is not associated with dialogue per
se, but with a protracted process. For those who see a zero-sum game with Serbia, Kosovo is to
receive less of a reward by the European Union in its integration process, and Serbia’s rapidly
improving situation may create greater imbalance in respective bargaining positions.
Regardless of the real
outcome, expectations were
not managed properly and
part of the disappointment
should be sought in the
mismatch of expectations.
Opposition MPs in Kosovo are
convinced that if the Dialogue
continues with the same system,
Kosovo will be self-satisfied with
the Dialogue on visa
liberalisation while Serbia will be
able to join the EU very quickly.
What Kosovo Gains
Kosovo gets a number of benefits in return. Few travel to Serbia, but thousands would travel transit
to Western Europe. Anyone who has gone to Croatia in
mid-summer can testify that most Deutschland plates
passing through Dubrovnik are not tourists visiting
Montenegro, but Kosovar gastarbeiters heading home
through in a roundabout route, unable to drive through
Romania, Serbia or Bosnia.
The ability to travel through Serbia would benefit
thousands of Kosovars, most of who would travel in transit
to third countries for a fraction of the price they pay for the expensive airfare they currently take.
Unfortunately, such free travel will only partly extend to those who plan to take their vehicles to
Serbia or abroad. Travelling with RKS plates to Serbia will require receiving temporary plates which
will be costly and will make Kosovar Albanians clear targets. Acquiring KS plates will obviously be
made very difficult for Kosovo Albanians, so few may benefit from this option.
It is no small feat that license plates issued by parallel municipal administrations in Serbia will
disappear. The uniformity of plates will create the greatest unification factor of the north since the
cessation of hostilities in 1999. The fact that northern Kosovo will get to put KS plates with
Belgrade’s blessing is a clear improvement, a marked progress from the KM or the current lack of car
plates altogether. Prishtina would also get to cash in insurance from thousands more vehicles as well
as avoid paying millions of damages that Kosovo incurred from accidents caused by uninsured cars.
The agreement does not amount to full reciprocity with Serbia (whose vehicles will come to Kosovo
without paying additional insurance) but it is a more equal relationship than today.
Albeit with copies, which was a difficult compromise, Kosovo will be
able to complete its civil registry, which would also have positive
effects on other processes such as visa liberalization criteria, voters’
lists, etc. Kosovo’s economy would also receive a small boost as more
money will be spent that is saved from airfare, and insurance fees will
bring several additional million Euros too.
The reciprocity will raise the costs of Serbian imports by removing the preferential treatment,
improve the budget, and give a (mild) boost to local producers. Kosovo’s products will be easier to
export through Serbia (probably not to Serbia itself), which will enable some export champions to
start to emerge.
Reactions in Serbia
Reactions in Belgrade from the officials and the opposition were mostly positive regarding the
agreement reached on July 2nd. It is hardly surprising that the statements from all of the parties
within the Government’s coalition were affirmative, but the main opposition party SNS (Serbian
Progressive Party) was also supportive of the first breakthrough and said that the talks must
continue as “they are in the interest of the citizens”.20
20 Politika. 28 October 2011. Agreement Causes Different Assessments, Reactions.
Since SNS is the biggest opposition party, this
was a sign of a new broad political consensus emerging in favor of the policy towards Kosovo. The
first broad consensus was over EU integration, which was made in 2008 after the breakup in SRS
(Serbian Radical Party).
Most Deutschland plates passing
through Dubrovnik are not tourists
visiting Montenegro, but Kosovar
gastarbeiters heading home
through a roundabout route,
unable to drive through Romania,
Serbia or Bosnia.
The agreement does not
amount to full reciprocity
with Serbia but it is a
more equal relationship
than before.
While many Serbs see conditions
related to Kosovo as having
increased over time, many Kosovars
see criteria being decreased for
Serbia, by the virtue of the fact that
‘normalization’ has virtually been
dropped as a request.
Only two parties voiced their dissatisfaction with the very fact that any agreement with Prishtina was
made those were Kostunica’s DSS and Seselj’s SRS. They regarded the agreement as another step
of “creeping recognition” of Kosovo’s independence. There were some rare opportunities to see
representatives of Kosovo Serbs from both the south and the north exchanging views with the
officials in Belgrade.21
What Belgrade Loses
It was clear that the interests between the north and south had diverged, with
the Serbs from the north feeling that the Dialogue was not to their benefit. In fact, this was also the
first serious divergence between northern Kosovo Serbs and the Belgrade authorities.
Some of the compromise may be difficult to argue, so many may perceive that Serbia has traded
Kosovo for the EU. Despite the lack of public popularity, Serbia is able to sell the compromise as
reasonable without having sold its national interest.
What Belgrade Gains
The only true incentive for Belgrade is the candidacy status and the opening of negotiations with the
EU. One can say that it is in Belgrade’s interest to solve some of the day-to-day problems of the
Serbs in Kosovo and improve relations with its southern
neighbor regardless of the territorial spat. However,
Belgrade was more satisfied with the situation on the
ground than Prishtina before the Dialogue. Belgrade’s
additional motivation could be that it thinks it would be
able to cement the exclusion of Kosovo from international
mainstream by not crossing its ‘red line’. While many
Serbs see conditions related to Kosovo as having
increased over time, many Kosovars see criteria being
decreased for Serbia, by the virtue of the fact that ‘normalization’ has virtually been dropped as a
request. Serbia is also to gain some additional financial resources from thousands who will flock for
trade or will stop for gas refills on its highways.
Reactions of Kosovo Serbs
Most Serb representatives from the four northern municipalities reacted negatively to the
agreement. While more extremist ones described it as a sell-out, most complained they would not
be able to use old UNMIK car plates as they would be visible as Serbs in the rest of Kosovo. They also
claimed that they were not consulted and informed about the state’s policy during the Dialogue. The
situation was exacerbated after events at the end of July 2011, which led to the agreement between
Borislav Stefanovic and KFOR Commander Erhard Buehler22 related to the customs posts. Four heads
of municipalities even asked for the removal of Borislav Stefanovic from the post of chief negotiator
as he “has damaged the interests of Kosovo Serbs”,23
Belgrade does not have too many options since it cannot admit the existence of the gap between
the Serbian leadership and the north of Kosovo. Belgrade cannot leave Kosovo Serbs without
financial assistance, as the public sector and the informal economy are the only sources of income.
Belgrade funds Serbian institutions in the north and south, largely hospitals and teachers’ salaries,
but also local self-government, the Serbian Post, University, court, and various deconcentrated
and some even physically threatened him.
21 B92. 3 July 2011. Impression of the Week, part 1.
22 Mondo. 17 August 2011. Buehler: Agreement Is Valid Until Dialogue Resumes.
23 RTS. 5 September 2011. Demand for Dismissal - Emotional Criticisms.
offices of various ministries. However, Belgrade cannot adequately monitor and control the
spending of those funds because of the lack of tax, prosecutorial and judicial instruments. When the
customs checkpoint in Jarinje was set on fire on July 27th, Belgrade’s condemnation of “hooligans”
sent the message that it is unable to control the reactions in the north of Kosovo. In Belgrade,
rumors spread that the riots were organized by a smuggler from Mitrovica.
Serbs from other parts of Kosovo stand more to gain from the Dialogue and they have been more
supportive. Unrest in the north, such as in July and September 2011, made central and southern
Serbs fear that they would bear the consequence of the actions of their northern compatriots. There
is also fear that Serbia is in reality pushing for a division of Kosovo that would render Ahtisaari’s
Proposal invalid and leave them with no political guarantees. Many Serbs from the south say that
they feel like “hostages of the north”. This is a very important moment, as it is highlighted by the fact
that the Serbs from south are more integrated into Kosovo’s political system and de facto approve of
the Ahtisaari package.24
The events in the north since July 25 have deepened the divide between the Kosovo Serbs in the
north and the south. One can no longer talk about a single political community of the Kosovo Serbs.
Now there are two with very different political interests, aspirations and politics. It is to be expected
that, unless Serbia changes its position, the discrepancy between the Serbs from the north and the
south will increase during the Dialogue, as will the distance between the north and Belgrade. This of
course, depends on whether and for how long the Dialogue will continue, but given a change in
Belgrade, the southern Serbs and Belgrade may see greater incentives for cooperation.
At the same time, when the northern Serbs blocked the roads once again as
of September 16th, the State Secretary in the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija, Oliver
Ivanovic, called the southern Serbs “inexplicably passive”, and urged them to support their kin in the
north. This statement was publicly condemned by the heads of Serbian municipalities from the
Gains and losses for the Serb community are more complicated to assess. First, the Serbs in the
south and those in the north have grown to perceive a different set of interests. The Serbs in the
north see the option of remaining with Serbia as more realistic and see the trade-offs from this
perspective. This is the result of their living more in the legal-economic system of Serbia than in
Kosovo over the past 12 years, which was more or less tolerated by the international community.
The Serbs in the south have largely given up hope of belonging to Serbia and see the trade-offs from
two other perspectives: (a) from the current situation to maximize the benefits they stand to gain,
and (b) those who realize that the current benefits are temporary, so legalizing them is in fact a real
A more detailed scrutiny of the expected changes is necessary to examine the exact trade-off. Serbs
in the south will no longer need to change license plates, and will travel in insured cars, thereby
avoiding potential spats. For the first time they will be able to travel to Serbia without changing
plates, but many may still choose to do so since it is cheaper. Most Serbs now realize that KS plates
will make them noticeable as Serbs. While the security situation has improved tremendously, most
would rather take RKS plates if crossing into Serbia was not so expensive. Leaving the old plates is
mainly an emotional trade-off, but also financial, because for the past decade most Serbs have not
registered their vehicles and spend several hundred Euros less on insurance, road taxes and other
duties. Thanks to the details discussed, Serbs will avoid double taxation or import duties on the
vehicles they currently drive. They get to avoid hassles with Kosovo institutions.
24 Gashi, Krenar. July 2010. Review of Decentralization Functioning of Serb Majority Municipalities. Kosovar
Institute for Policy Research and Development. Policy Brief 2010/5.
The KS plates will make it easier for the Serbs from the north to travel throughout Kosovo. More rule
of law will be introduced Kosovo-wide, but this will most notably be observed in the north. However,
northern Serb leaders hesitate to see any change for fear that resolving the situation will erode the
special situation and risks making the north a backwater, be it of Serbia or Kosovo. They may also
lose massive financial benefits from Serbia. Few Serbs are willing to trade Serbian salaries for those
of Kosovo, which are several times lower. All Serbs who need Kosovo documents will be able to
prove their citizenship eligibility thanks to copies of the civil registry.
Serbs from the “south” have more or less accepted the Ahtisaari. Political representatives of the
“southern Kosovo” Serbs are either in the Kosovo Parliament or in the Kosovo government while the
whole local self-government functions according to the Ahtisaari plan. Except for the practical
benefits, they are also supportive of the Dialogue, because they are hoping an improvement of
relations between Belgrade and Prishtina would strengthen their position too. Despite numerous
personal contacts with influential Serbian leaders, representatives of SLS (Samostalna Liberalna
Stranka - Independent Liberal Party) who are in the Kosovo government are not officially recognized
by the Serbian government as representatives of the Kosovo Serbs and Belgrade’s press too often
labels them “Thaci’s Serbs”.
Overall, Kosovo Serbs stand to gain the most from the Dialogue, but are least involved and fear that
the EU is primarily considering the preferences of Prishtina and Belgrade above those of the Kosovo
Serbs. Ultimately, all stand to benefit from normalization, but it remains unclear what this entails.
What is ‘Normalization’?
One of the main tasks for the dialogue, and pressure on both sides is to normalize their relations.
What does this really mean in practice? Normalisation could mean finding a modus vivendi for
relations between Kosovo and Serbia short of recognition, from travel and trade, to
telecommunications, postal services, border/boundary control, railway transport,
culture, sports, energy, etc. Examples abound about entities that cooperated with
each other short of recognition. The initial idea, as it can be conjectured, is that
‘normalization’ was what we call ‘emptying’ the status bucket. A number of issues that used to be
interpreted as status-related have long ago been depoliticized, with more also likely to undergo the
same treatment.
The first box (see the first column in the figure in the next page) lists examples of issues that were
depoliticized in the past and settled. The current dialogue has already managed to somehow
depoliticize and get agreement on several issues, termed as being in the process of decoupling from
status (second column). A number of additional issues are currently linked to status, but they do not
have to be. We argue that they could be treated as non-status to lead to normalization (third
column). There are other strictly political issues that may not be ready for depoliticization yet, such
as border demarcation, recognition, air space, etc.
The figure below illustrates the evolution of issues from the early stages after the conflict (for the
first list), when everything was political to gradual depoliticization. For example, the issue of missing
persons was very politicized and used and abused for years, however, it is now treated as purely
humanitarian. Kosovo had long faced difficulties arguing that a police
service was adequate. It was ironic that Kosovo as a province in the
1980s had its own police force, but today Serbia does not dispute
Kosovo’s right to have its own police and no longer discourages Serbs
from joining its ranks. It is no longer seen as status-related for Kosovo
Serbs to pay electricity or obtain personal documents with Kosovo
the status
Normalisation should
empty the status-
related bucket and
addressing status later
will be easier, as it will
be about emotions
Decoupling from Status
In Process of Decoupling from Status
Cadastral records
Civil registry records
Customs stamps
Mutual acceptance of ID cards and license plates
Mutual acceptance of insurance
Mutual acceptance of university degrees
Kosovo’s Regional Representation
Already Depoliticized
Missing Persons
Serbs in the Kosovo
Electricity payment by
Serbs in Kosovo
Acceptance of
decentralization and
municipalities by the
Serbs in the south
Obtaining of personal
documents issued by
Kosovo institutions.
Acceptance of funding
for projects and
administration by
Kosovo institutions.
Yet to Be Decoupled from Status
Sports. The precedent of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland
and other parts can serve to persuade Serbia to allow Kosovo
to compete in international sporting event.
Mail and postal services
Practical Cooperation. Regular contacts and cooperation on
issues of mutual concern and among institutions that does not
relate to status: police, courts, public health, water or
environmental degradation
Infrastructure. Kosovo and Serbia to make the roads that lead
to each as priority;
Cultural exchanges
Railway transport
Airline transport (excluding air space)
Cultural heritage
Kosovo’s membership in various international institutions.
Decentralization of Kosovo in the north
This move of issues from the ‘status category’ to a ‘practical category’ has occurred painstakingly
slowly, and the new list under discussion is not going fast either. The main threat is that it might
stop, hence the need to ensure that the process provides sufficient incentives for both sides to keep
the momentum going and to bring their public opinion along.
It does not take too much imagination to see the third list as purely technical. Few issues will remain
in the strictly status-related category, and they may be left for a time when more forward-looking
Kosovo and Serbia are better equipped to engage with each other. In the long run, normalization
may empty the whole status-related category, and addressing it may leave only the emotional issue
in an empty shell. To ensure that this momentum continues, strict conditionality of carrots and sticks
is required.
Bilateral Conditioning
This process would not have worked had the EU and the US not increased the incentive scheme of
rewards and served as guarantors. They have in fact gone several steps beyond, reportedly often
virtually threatening the sides with the destruction of their political careers if they do not move
sufficiently forward. The dialogue has clearly become part of the progress reports, which all Balkan
countries use as the main barometer of a government’s performance.
When the dialogue was failing in mid-September, Robert Cooper, the EU facilitator of talks between
Prishtina and Belgrade, has called on Kosovo institutions to show understanding of the fact that
Belgrade is failing to implement agreements and wait until the European Union assesses Serbia’s
performance in the process. Cooper congratulated Kosovo on the correct implementation of the
stamps agreement and expressed concern that Serbia had yet to start implementation. He called on
Kosovo to show understanding for several more days until the EU evaluates Serbia’s performance on
the matter.25
One outcome that Prishtina has coveted for a long time was visa liberalization, and its appeal has
increased even more after all the neighboring countries received the same. Primarily due to non-
recognition by five EU members, Kosovo was not even given a roadmap. However, most Kosovars
believe that the true reason Kosovo was not given the roadmap was the choice to use it as leverage
to push Kosovo into dialogue. The fact that Kosovo had fulfilled the criteria was confirmed by the
statement of German Ambassador to Kosovo Ernst Reichel: “Germany has concluded that Kosovo
has fulfilled all the conditions to start the Dialogue on visa liberalization with the EU. Germany will
put this stance forward to the EU as well.”
Germany insists that the European Commission lay out strict conditions for Serbia’s relationship with
Kosovo in exchange for receiving candidate status.
She [Angela Merkel] marched into the office of Serbian President Boris Tadic and in unlikely
EU talk made clear to him the Serb political game in Kosovo was over. Kosovo would not be
partitioned; the area inhabited by Serbs north of the Ibar River was Kosovo territory. Serbia
has to stop running that area. The Kosovo issue had to be resolved before Serbia could enter
the EU.27
25 Express. 26 September 2011. Cooper: Be a Little More Patient.
26 24 September 2011,
27 Abramowitz, Morton and James Hooper. 20 September 2011. Serbia’s EU Ultimatum. PILPG Update
published in The National Interest.
Diplomatic sources cited in the Blic newspaper, said that Serbia was asked to continue the dialogue
with Kosovo on the issues of:
1. Unconditional continuation of dialogue;
2. Regional presentation of Kosovo;
3. Telecommunications and electricity;
4. Dissolving parallel institutions in Kosovo, which more specifically came to mean that Prishtina
should take over the court in the north and start to dismantle the parallel structures.
While the conditionality put briskly by the German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, it reveals a
markedly smaller set than any level of ‘normalization’ would entail, possibly due to the short
timeframe given to Serbia until December 9th. The degree of support by other countries to
Germany’s position is unclear except for Britain and the Netherlands. Another report put three
conditions which determine the outcome of the ministerial discussions: renewal of dialogue,
handing over of the court in northern Mitrovica and abolition of institutions in the north. Not all
countries insist on the same. Italy hopes that negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo will resume.
That is not a condition for candidacy, but could improve the atmosphere”.28 Other countries are
often even friendlier to Belgrade. "The Belgrade authorities have very limited impact on events in
the North," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in Luxembourg ahead of meetings of EU
ministers.29 Paris reportedly requires little more than a return to the negotiating table.30
In order to get candidate status, the Serbian government should clearly call for the removal of
barricades in the north, because without this there is no application of the agreement on customs
stamps, warned Jelko Kacin, Special Rapporteur of the European Parliament for Serbia. Kacin also
said that Germany only insists on formulating what is, at least, the opinion of 22 member states that
have recognized Kosovo.
“EC recommendations for Serbia are only recommendations. Germany’s stance is clear. It
was expressed by (Angela) Merkel in Belgrade. But, this does not mean that all EC
recommendations should be met. Nonetheless, we will express our official stance in
December if we are in favour or against candidate status for Serbia.”
To indicate that the conditionality has not been dropped after milder EU
language in the Progress Report, the German ambassador to Kosovo recalled that:
The amount of what Serbia has to deliver to satisfy Germany remained for closed-door exchanges
between the two administrations until early December. Obrad Kesic believes that Britain and
Germany are in the minority among the EU member states, where the majority do not even
understand why an escalation of the crisis in northern Kosovo was necessary and would gladly
accept a solution which returns to the previous state-of-affairs, that is for Kosovo’s secession to be
strengthened via the Belgrade-Prishtina negotiations, and not by use of force.
33 Among all divisions,
it seems the most serious one is that between the U.S. and the EU, whose many members were
surprised with the timing of everything that has happened with regards to the destabilization of
northern Kosovo.34
At the same time, it should be noted that due to such uncertainty regarding progress on the
European road, but also how it is interpreted in the country, intensified conditionality, Euro-
28 Deutsche Welle. 11 October 2011. Kosovo the “key” for Europe?
29 Vecernje Novosti. 11 October 2011. Bildt: Belgrade is Not Responsible for Problems in Northern Kosovo.
30 Vecernje Novosti. 12 October 2011. EU Conditions with Kosovo.
31 Danas. 17 October 2011. Germany Is Saying What 22 EU Members Are Thinking.
32 KTV. 13 October 2011. Foreign Ambassadors to Kosovo Comment on EC Progress Report.
33 Nikolic Djakovic, Tanja. 13 October 2011. Kosovo Scenarios: Freezing the Conflict. NIN.
34 Ibid.
skepticism amongst citizens in Serbia is on the rise. It is assessed that due to numerous obstacles,
even the EU membership candidacy could get a lukewarm response in public. By the same token,
other analysts predict that this lukewarm approach also applies to the realization of the loss of
Kosovo, which would not be seen as very troublesome either.
Serbia is definitely encouraged by the Commission’s avis. The Serbian prime minister declared that
Serbia “has avoided impossible conditions over Kosovo”. Progress in the dialogue with Prishtina on
(for achieving candidate status, but also the beginning of negotiations) technical issues, which are
status neutral, is required. The abolition of the so-called parallel institutions is not required, and
neither are new local elections.35
We are not required to either directly or indirectly recognize Kosovo, but just to normalize
relations in regard to technical issues, such as telecommunications, energy supply and school
diplomas. If there is good will, it can be achieved.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic said that Serbia has
probably got the best possible opinion of the European Commission, and avoided conditions that are
in discord with the Serbian Constitution and the state policy on Kosovo. Djelic pointed that the fact
of 22 EU countries having recognized Kosovo’s independence cannot be without effect on Serbia’s
European integration.
One calculation is that Serbia intends to buy time,. This will mean that Serbia will not rush to meet
this condition, and considering the lack of appetite in the EU for integration, the EU will not put
much more pressure, but will wait for Serbia to deliver, tolerating considerable delays. The time-line
may be summer or fall next year. However, there is a possibility that Belgrade may want to push for
a date for negotiations with the EU and will consider some remaining parts of the Dialogue agenda
feasible, like the energy issue, telecommunications, etc. On the other hand, matters such as the
court in northern Mitrovica and the participation of Kosovo in regional institutional forums are the
least acceptable for Belgrade, and will take considerably more time. As Stefan Fuele said,
We consider that Serbia should make decisive efforts in order to achieve additional
significant results in the Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue. This, as a priority, includes the
implementation of the already reached agreements. It is necessary to ensure the principle of
inclusive regional cooperation, while solutions need to be identified in line with the EU
heritage as far as the spheres of energy and telecommunications are concerned. Active
cooperation with EULEX will also be of key significance. That is the key to meet the
conditions from the Stabilization and Association process and finally to launch the pre-
accession negotiations with Serbia.”37
For further down the road, Fuele proposed the opening of pre-accession negotiations as soon as
Belgrade makes further progress in achieving a key priority, which is to take further steps to
normalize relations with Prishtina in accordance with the terms of the Stabilisation and Association
Recognition of Kosovo is not a formal condition for Serbia’s European integration process.
Solutions must be found in the foreseeable future for a number of open issues that continue
to prevent the normalization of relations.38
The most vocal opposition in Kosovo takes an issue with the decision having ignored the fact
that Serbia’s constitution still treats Kosovo as part of its territory.
35 Interview with Bozidar Djelic, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration: We avoided Impossible
Conditions over Kosovo (Politika) 13 October 2011 Now What Is Required from Serbia in Dialogue with
More events may take
36 Radio Serbia. 19 October. Djelic: Euro-integration Related to Kosovo Issue.
37 Vecernje Novosti. 14 October 2011. Fuele: Recognition of Kosovo Not a Condition.
38 Ibid.
place expectedly or unexpectedly that may change the dynamics. A number of them have
been identified that may throw the Dialogue off the course.
Risks Looming Ahead
Whether dialogue is successful will also depend on a number of external factors as well as events
(scheduled and unscheduled) that may shape the incentive structure of the actors involved. A
number of issues can be safely predicted. The doomsday scenarios that Prishtina will make another
unilateral intervention similar to Croatia’s operation Storm is highly unlikely as is an international
conference on the north, but this will probably be subject to many travels to the Balkans. It is
unclear to what extent Serbia will choose not to lobby against Prishtina’s participation in
international fora. We have attempted to foresee possible events below:
Two events that had the potential to disrupt the Dialogue were:
Organizing the population count in the north. The barricades came in as a handy justification for not
organizing the census in northern Kosovo. Conducting the population count would have sent the
wrong signal. Instead of various ideas given before for international organizations to organize a
belated census, we recommend that no census be carried out at all. The data and most information
needed for northern Kosovo by Kosovo or Serbia for international purposes is available.
Serbia’s integration opinion in early October was more positive than expected, increasing fears in
Prishtina that less will be required from Belgrade. The opinion has integrated expectations from
Serbia regarding what it has to do, and while the demands are lower than that of numerous member
states, they are officially expected by the EU institutions. The opinion on December 9th will impact
the Dialogue in a way that talks may continue afterwards but without any agreement until late
summer next year.
What may still disrupt the Dialogue in the future?
1. The lack of implementation of the agreements so far. It is often said that the devil lies in the
details, but the scale of disagreement that has bedeviled the process is very high. This may indicate a
range of causes from insincere intentions, very large differences, internal pressure, change of heart,
public disappointment, and lack of political will. This can erode mutual trust and make further
agreement less likely. The EU mediator and the US delegation must do everything possible to
persuade the two sides that it is in their interest to talk in good faith and to hurry with some
palpable results. Disagreement over ‘details’ would give an additional boost to a rise of opposition
criticism, with a high likelihood and high impact.
2. Delay of additional agreement on further issues such as telecommunications, energy and Kosovo’s
representation in regional mechanisms. Another agreement as well as a timely and full
implementation of what was agreed until now will keep the momentum, otherwise Kosovo and
Serbia will be worse off than when they started and the public will militate against that outcome.
3. The official ruling on Serbia’s candidacy is to be published in early December and may mark the
end of the process as we have it now. The EU will have to carefully think of the remaining carrots to
make Prishtina and Belgrade behave during this timeline. While talks may continue after December,
the next opportunity for any agreements will present itself 12 months later, around September 2012
after the formation of the new Government in Serbia, when the start date for EU accession
negotiations will be Serbia’s next milestone sought. The fear of an asymmetric outcome is best
39 Kurti, Albin. 27 October 2011. Shqetësim me konkluzionet dhe rekomandimet. Koha Ditore. p. 10.
illustrated by Koha Ditore, an op-ed of which said that Belgrade holds Kosovo’s European Union fate
in its hands. He says that the message from Brussels is clear: Serbia does not have to recognize
Kosovo to become an EU member, while Kosovo cannot become an EU member without recognition
from Serbia and five other member countries. Kelmendi considers that this is a hopeless situation for
Kosovo, while the Government is hiding the truth, bragging about the possibility of the lifting of
travel visas.40
4. Holding Serbian elections in northern Kosovo. Elections in Serbia are approaching and holding
them in northern Kosovo will destroy all the progress made so far. Serbia may try to organize them
to provoke Kosovo into over-reacting, but not holding them may erode the popularity of the
government. It is also possible that elections might be held ahead of schedule, although this is
unlikely. If local elections are held in northern Kosovo in spring, this will result in the strengthening
of Serbia’s institutions in northern Kosovo.
5. Not meeting the conditions for ‘normalization’. If bilateral conditionality remains as has currently
been placed, Belgrade will need to dissolve the court in the north before December. The court is
unlikely to be taken by force. A violent scenario has been trumpeted by various politicians in Serbia
who predicted a Kosovar storm-like operation, but Kosovar pundits are worried that it is precisely
that kind of reaction that may contribute to a higher degree of autonomy for the north.
To avoid such a scenario, it is essential that the parallel
structures are dissolved through an agreement, which will also excuse Belgrade for not holding
elections in the north.
6. Potential institutional instability in Kosovo. The budgetary shortfall may cause a major crisis that
could provoke public outcry. This may happen anytime, but its likelihood increases the later we go
into the year and well into the next one, especially if the privatization of PTK is postponed along the
project of New Kosova.
conditionality is suitable for delivering certain results, it can also instigate a backlash and undermine
some of the achievements made.
7. The most dangerous period comes in after early December. The temptation to engage in populist
politics in Serbia will be high due to the election period, while Prishtina will be very disappointed by
not having received contractual relations. The election results in Belgrade will influence the talks, but
not that much. Even an SNS (Srpska napredna stranka - Serbian Progressive Party) government
probably would not ditch dialogue.
8. Destabilization and tit-for-tat in the north has a medium likelihood and a high impact. Tit-for-tat
policies can follow and possibly Serbs disconnecting Albanian villages from electricity or pressuring
them, while incidents may occur in southern Kosovo. Serbia’s sabotage of Kosovo’s international
participation in various forums will continue to irritate and Prishtina will see a two-faced Belgrade
with all the credibility problems that go with this.
The Battle for a Beauty Contest: Beauty Is in the Eye of the EU
40 Kelmendi, Adriatik. 20 October 2011. Koha Ditore.
41 Politika. 14 October 2011. Interview: Laslo Varga, Chairman of the Committee for European Integration: The
Two Conditions of the European Commission Are Not Status-Neutral.
42 Politika. 23 September 2011. Mayors Governing Municipalities in Northern Kosovo Predict Provocations
from Prishtina.
Besides Serbia and Kosovo, there are other participants in the Dialogue process, primarily the EU and
the US, the former also has a lead in the process as it is an official “facilitator”. Because of the key
role that the EU plays, all the EU member states influence the talks, circumventing the high
representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy, effectively turning the dialogue
into bargaining between many more than just two actors. The US State Department is closely
involved in the Dialogue and their representative is always included in the meetings in Brussels, but
with an advisory role. The presence of these two creates a situation where Kosovo and Serbia cannot
possibly decline to engage in discussion. Expecting that the other
side will not make substantial concessions, their strategies have
been to appeal to the beholders and find ways to portray
themselves as ‘constructive European-style negotiators’. Both
parties believe that the ‘winner of the Dialogue’ is the side that
sounds most ‘European’, in the PR sense of the word. Doris Pack,
Head of EP Committee on Southeastern Europe, referred to that
when she said that the “Dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina
should not be just a show”.43
The influence of the EU and the US is a pre-condition for the Dialogue taking place at all. The US has
more leverage over Kosovo but less over Serbia. Basically, both parties could not care less for the
well-being of their counterpart, but the real motivation is the “political reward” from either the EU
or the US. The danger is that one party will try to initiate the “blame game,” whereby it tries to
provoke the other one with unilateral measures so that the other party leaves the Dialogue in
protest. The other party might not leave the table but may try to respond with unilateral measures
of its own. In that way, the Dialogue would be stripped of its substance and the EU appeal would
look like a house of cards.
The EU and USA need to be more adamant in the protection of the
Dialogue and more vigorous in their insistence to move forward.
However, Kosovo and the Western Balkans are hardly a top priority for
the US, and the EU’s disunity and crisis impair its ability to project
influence. The financial crisis and European public debt, war in Libya,
“Arab spring”, UN resolution for Palestine etc., have significantly
diminished interest in the Western Balkans as a whole. The visit of
Angela Merkel and her robust message to Belgrade has sparked
arguments that the US has given the lead on Kosovo to Germany and
that is why we can see the acceleration of events in recent months.
Much about the behaviour of both sides is about appealing to the EU mediator (the beauty
beholder). It is interesting to see that regardless of real preferences, politicians often say that
‘dialogue is the only solution’, even when they are at odds about what type of dialogue they are
talking about. When the dialogue stopped, Belgrade and Prishtina did their best to communicate
their story to the EU that they were for dialogue but it was the other side that had stopped it.
After all, short of real incentives, the beauty contest may serve well in the meantime. It is better to
have insincere cooperation than sincere warfare. Time will have its effect and the relations between
Serbia and Kosovo will gradually pick up. Let’s fake it until we make it!
43 Danas. 25 August 2011. Interview with Doris Pack.[tt_news]=521&tx_ttnews[backPid]=39
When the dialogue stopped,
Belgrade and Prishtina did
their best to communicate
their story to the EU that
they were for dialogue but it
was the other side who had
stopped it.
It may be better to have
insincere cooperation
than sincere warfare.
Time will pass and
relations between Serbia
and Kosovo may
gradually improve. Let’s
fake it until we make it!
Mutual Trust & Credibility
The two bargaining sides ought to be advised to think carefully about their credibility vis-à-vis not
only their voters, but also towards the other side. Negotiators sometimes portray their
accomplishments as major victories and boast about their masterful skills of outsmarting the other
In the age of globalization, messages are carried out by various media to diverse audiences almost
instantly. As ‘internal betrayal’ is a major problem to the doubtful publics and bloodthirsty
opposition, it is only natural that negotiators need to visibly avoid being accused of betraying the
national interest. Their credibility vis-à-vis the other side appears to be a very low priority. But
conflict resolution experience indicates that this must be one of the highest considerations,
especially in a closed process such as this one that insulates the teams from their respective publics.
How can the two sides transform the perception of self-interest,
if they are packaging their engagement as an attempt to
subjugate, beat and deceive the other side? Unless the
credibility is guaranteed by EU pressure (few fully trust EU’s
consistence) appearing quasi-patriotic to the public in order to
avoid closer public scrutiny and pressure becomes the strategy.
If this dialogue is too soon, at least it should enable the discourse of enmity to start to disappear.
The fact that the discourse of enmity continues, and great patriotism is interpreted as ways to
deceive the other side, may be a natural tendency after all that has happened. However, the costs of
failure are too high. It is clear that the trust has been completely lost, while the two sides have
engaged in a dialogue entrusting the credibility of the process to the external mediator (the EU even
takes responsibility for the parts of the agreements that have not been put on paper). In public,
Kosovo and Serbia make it seem as if they are continuing the centuries-old battles with diplomatic
finesse, while inside the negotiating room the two sides resemble participants in a beauty contest,
where the external mediator carefully measures which side has been more constructive in its
Trust and credibility depend to a high extent on the image of
Kosovo and Serbia in respective publics. The image of Serbia
initially started to improve, but its credibility in the Kosovo public
is the worst in a long period since it tried to use the technical
dialogue for its attempts to annex northern Kosovo. The good
cop act played by Stefanovic in the early stages of the Dialogue
and the bad cop role played by Jeremic has been replaced by an
open agenda to forcefully integrate the north into Serbia.
It is clear the feeling is mutual, at least this is what Borislav Stefanovic said on 5 July 2011: “I had the
impression sometimes that I was talking with people who are not from the same planet as we are.
The talks were terribly difficult because every sentence and paragraph we presented were in
contrast with the Albanians.”44
Kosovo Serbs find themselves in the middle and have seen their trust in Belgrade eroded, but their
trust in Prishtina has not filled the emerging gap. There is growing suspicion that Prishtina and
But the same opinion is clearly not shared by the Serbian public, for
most of whom Kosovo is a closed chapter.
44 Stefanovic, Borislav. 5 July 2011.
How can the two sides
transform the perception of
self-interest, if they are
packaging their engagement as
an attempt to subjugate, beat
and deceive the other side?
Negotiators often portray their
accomplishments as major
victories and boast about their
masterful skills of out-
smarting the other side.
Belgrade will agree above their heads, and there is growing mistrust between southern and northern
Serbs, who see less solidarity for their opposition outlooks.
Not implementing the first agreement in good faith has contributed to a loss of faith on the other
side. When Kosovo trucks could not drive to Serbia after the agreement, tens of articles wrote about
the deception that the Kosovo side suffered from Serbia.45 A growing proportion of Kosovars view
Serbia as using economic domination as a political tool. Continuing talks has become an uphill
struggle and, next time around, entering into talks may present a higher hurdle than it did in March
this year. Serbia’s beginning of collecting VAT in northern Kosovo46
The decision by the Serbian authorities to return northern Kosovo into its tax system and
reintroduce the Value Added Tax (VAT) has not been met in the EU with approval. This was seen as
Belgrade’s unilateral move and as a precursor to an opinion that Belgrade was not sincere in its
negotiations with Prishtina.
and Prishtina’s intervention are
examples cited in respective capitals as change of tack and unfaithful acts during the technical
Keeping Up the Pace
Any attempt by Belgrade to establish control, directly or indirectly, in
northern Kosovo leads to the affirmation of the story on partition of Kosovo, which is absolutely
unacceptable for Brussels,” Blic quoted an EU source stressing that any kind of affirmation of Serbian
sovereignty in the north does not exist as an option. The same source claims that the rash reaction
by the Serbian government is an indicator that the issues are political and not economic.
Ashton expressed expectation that the agreements will be put in practice in the shortest possible
period, and that the Dialogue will yield results in the fields that have not been discussed so far, such
as telecommunications, cadastre, customs stamp and energy. There is fear that the hiatus in
dialogue indicates a lack of will for further dialogue. However, a successful conclusion of these talks
is essential for any further engagement. It is essential that after the next elections in Serbia, both
countries are still able to take pro-dialogue positions, without the necessity of pressure by the
international community, driven by the carrots from the EU integration process and the practical
benefits of the current bout of dialogue.
It is also essential that both sides perceive that they received adequate rewards by the EU. What will
be received and how will it be perceived? By the end of December, both Kosovo and Serbia should
ideally be at:
Contractual Relations with the EU and Visa Liberalization Roadmap
Some practical benefits
Candidate Status
Some practical benefit
Given a successful period now, this can lead to a process where Serbia and Kosovo see a true
transformation of their self-interest to induce cooperation with their neighbors.
Transformation of Self-Interest: From Zero-Sum Enmity to Mutual
Perhaps by force, but Prishtina and Belgrade have made some progress to rapprochement. A
tumultuous process with multiple attempts to defeat the other side, and not treat it as a partner,
45 Express. 23 September 2011. This Is Not Reciprocity.
46 B92. 19 September 2011. VAT Collection in Northern Kosovo.
47 Blic. 21 Sept 2011.
Are both Serbia and
Kosovo in the same
boat? Still a Zero-
Sum Game? Yes
and No.
has nevertheless produced a situation where they have agreed and they face some punishment if
they choose to change terms. However, the terms are clearly changeable so the sides keep lobbying
to this effect bilaterally. It is interesting to conclude that once this forced cooperation indeed takes
place, benefits will abound and one’s perception of self-interest may change. Through carrots and
sticks, Serbia and Kosovo are gradually forced to move from a zero-sum logic to mutual interest. In
any case, as we indicated earlier, this interest has already transformed in the past. Prishtina initially
saw decentralization as a Trojan horse, but these fears have subsided. Serbs saw paying electricity as
a sell-out. It is a safe bet to predict that Serbia will also think the same. The two sides were from the
beginning haunted by the very image of the word ‘negotiations’, and switched to ‘talks’ instead,
although they amount to the same process.
The real test is whether we have managed to transform Serbia’s and Kosovo’s perception of self-
interest and if they now realize more that their interest depends on the well-being of the other side.
There is progress on the other side, but grudgingly so, and there is still fierce lobbying for
disentanglement from mutual interdependence. Are both Serbia and Kosovo in the same boat? Still
a Zero-Sum Game? Yes and No. Given an open dispute, it will indeed be very difficult to instill a non-
zero-sum approach. Once the territorial spat of northern Kosovo is closed as an option, its regulation
will present an opportunity for creative realization of joint interest. Moreover, given the multilateral
decision-making in the European Union, there is a tendency to lobby various countries against each
other, which complicates and reduces the leverage that Lady Ashton’s office can have over the two
talking sides.
It is natural that Serbia intends to move faster towards the EU, however, there is a perception in
Prishtina that Belgrade is doing less than the necessary minimum and that Serbia’s enhanced
position in its EU integration process will give it undue benefit. Serbia should also be asked to pledge
not to use any advantage in going faster in the EU against Kosovo’s statehood and accession. For
some time now, Serbia has dropped the line that Kosovo and EU integration are two separate
This process should be used to persuade Kosovo that Serbia’s EU accession is good for the whole
region, and to persuade Belgrade that similar success for Kosovo is in its interest. These arguments
currently have no effect, because most politicians are looking for victory and not rapprochement.
The conditionality employed either by the EU or bilaterally is likely to produce the same boat
approach and provide inducements for engagement with each other, even if short-sighted politicians
are against the idea.
Various events that can take place in the near future could hamper the dialogue and if the negative
outcomes can be predicted, we stand a better chance of avoiding them.
The Dialogue touches upon all areas, from economy & trade, free movement of persons,
employment and social policy, EU prospect, the fight against organized crime and corruption,
cooperation with civil society, cultural exchanges or regional political stability. Many areas were not
touched upon earlier in the paper, and they carry four possible outcomes that the Dialogue can bring
Kosovo and Serbia in the next period:
1. Optimistic Scenario
Serbia and Kosovo agree on all the issues that they have opened and several more that have been
muted. An agreement on free movement, free trade and IBM is operational, barricades are removed
willfully by local Serbs in the north, and agreements are struck also on telecommunications, energy,
and regional cooperation (Kosovo’s representation in regional fora). EULEX is functional across
Kosovo but probably with the exception of the court, while it handles the civil registry and cadastral
records exchange between Belgrade and Prishtina.
Given the removal of barricades and implementation of other points by December 9th, Serbia can
expect to receive candidacy and promises for the start of negotiations with the EU given an
additional set of agreements until March. Prishtina is granted dialogue on liberalization of visa and
contractual relations. Talks will continue in the coming months and positions will be approximated,
although their publication may wait until after the Serbian elections.
2. Positive Realistic Scenario
While the scenario above may be too ambitious, cautious optimists can expect the agreement to
hold, most points of the first agreements to be implemented, and only one of the four additional
issues to be opened to get a green light (telecommunications or energy, but probably not Kosovo’s
participation in regional fora). Tensions in the north will subside and the barricades will be taken
down. The fear of new barricades would linger, due to high tension likely to remain throughout the
period. If in any case the barricades are removed, it is likely that Serbia will get its candidacy. Kosovo
will launch talks on visa liberalization and will receive promises to enter contractual relations once
the last resisting states in the EU concede to this. The citizens of both countries will get more of a
sense that the country is headed in the right direction, which is very important for the post-Dialogue
phase. Talks will continue in the following months, but no agreements will be publicized.
3. Negative Realistic Scenario
The situation with barricades prevails and a stand-off continues. The rift between Belgrade’s
negotiating team and the Kosovo Serbs deepens. Belgrade panders to nationalistic sentiment and
foregoes candidate status. Prishtina may start the visa liberalization process, and Belgrade may
receive an additional deadline. In case the “no” to Belgrade is made conditionally, Belgrade will face
two options first is that it will try to make amends with the Kosovo Serbs and for that they will
have some conditions regarding cooperation (most probably about the structure and the
methodology of the negotiating team). The other, less likely option, is that Belgrade will give up on
the fight for candidacy and push for more nationalistic election rhetoric. Prishtina’s position will
harden and it will attempt to implement its strategy in the north.
4. Pessimistic Scenario:
There is low likelihood, but it is nevertheless possible that the situation will spiral out of control and
result in the persistence of barricades and possible spill-over effects in the south and radicalization
of Serbian politics. Some leaders of Kosovo Serbs from the north have announced that the north will
proclaim its independence from Kosovo, although this bluff is unlikely to turn into action. If declared,
it will raise the stakes and will require heavier involvement from Serbia, Kosovo and the
international community.
It will most likely bring all efforts to further Serbia’s EU integration to a standstill and probably lead
Belgrade into an open conflict with the Kosovo Serbs in the same way as Milosevic clashed with the
leaders of Bosnian Serbs in 1994. It will undoubtedly have a spill-over effect on Kosovo Serb
municipalities in the south of Kosovo. This could hamper the EU enlargement process of the whole
The crucial question is how to include Kosovo Serbs from the north into the process, under what
conditions and through what channels. Since the possibility of opening up a new political channel
after the ‘technical dialogue’ exhausts itself. Ways should be found to consult with Kosovo Serbs in
the north and the rest of Kosovo. At the same time, they have to be more cooperative and stop
obstructing the entire process.
A number of recommendations emanate from the analysis above. Both governments should treat
the current dialogue as a historic process that is worth in its own right and not only in the function of
EU integration. Even if it does not address status, it can improve the trust among two opposite sides,
which is necessary before Serbia and Kosovo can address all their differences. Other
recommendations are presented below, divided by the institutions they target:
The European Union should:
1. Use auspicious time to exert its highest influence. The international community should use its
influence more vigorously to help the two sides reframe self-interest and make cooperation pay
off. Both sides should have a clear and predictable picture of the carrots and sticks awaiting
them, depending on the policies they choose. A more consistent EU approach run by the Office
of High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton is essential. Messages that the
current situation is not sustainable should be clearly delivered. The EU must follow closely the
performance of both sides, especially in their implementation, and design the carrot-and-stick
scheme accordingly.
2. Make the whole Dialogue agreement transparent and inclusive. No negotiations are fully
transparent and a degree of secrecy is necessary, the aura of secrecy around the dialogue has
made the public in Serbia and Kosovo more wary and fearful. Ultimately, it hampers consensus-
building. Making the texts of dialogue agreements public has the benefits of injecting more
transparency into the process, but it could also make it more difficult to reach agreements and
eliminate some of the “creative ambiguity” that all sides have tried to use to move the process
forward. However, the benefits drawn by avoiding arbitrary interpretations and expanding the
circles of disciples outweighs the difficulties. More transparency may lengthen the time required
for an agreement, but it would make for more long-lasting solutions. Civil society and respective
parliaments should be included and especially the Kosovo Serbs must be involved more.
3. Continue the Dialogue after December 9th. Despite the electoral period, talks should continue,
even if no agreements are made or if they are not made public. Renewed efforts should utilize
the window of opportunity after the elections to address all the remaining issues towards full
normalization between Kosovo and Serbia.
4. Identify mechanisms to prevent asymmetric outcome whereby Serbia can block Kosovo’s
progress. The EU will have to devise some mechanism to prevent Serbia from blocking Kosovo’s
EU progress. The EU might not currently insist that Serbia formally recognize Kosovo, but it will
almost certainly insist on mechanisms that will prevent Serbia from influencing Kosovo’s fate in
international fora, regional clubs and initiatives.
5. The EU should find ways to consult the Kosovo Serb community. For a successful
implementation of the Dialogue agreements, it is necessary to hear the voice of the Kosovo
Serbs in the process. The chief EU facilitator should meet and discuss the issues of Serbs across
The Kosovo government should:
6. Present the plan for the phased implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan in the north of Kosovo.
Initiate direct talks with the representatives of Kosovo Serbs. The Serbian government should
send the message that this is in the interest of all Kosovo Serbs.
7. Establish a channel of communication with northern Serb political stakeholders. A parallel
communication channel to the Dialogue should be for Prishtina to improve relations with
northern Serb leaders. This exchange should discuss and deliberate about the situation, ensure
that security does not deteriorate and to establish a minimum of trust for engagement.
8. Prioritize inter-ethnic court cases and ensure maximum success from decentralization. Kosovo
should more vigorously process and try all cases of inter-ethnic nature, and should ensure that
the lessons learned from decentralization in the south are positive to illustrate their potential in
the north.
The Serbian government should:
9. Implement agreements on items that have been agreed upon in previous rounds. The
government should speed up their implementation and agree on as many additional items as
possible before it enters into an electoral period.
10. Meet all the conditions required by the EU and conditions posed bilaterally. Some of the
Serbian structures in the north should be dissolved and this may also excuse Belgrade for not
holding elections in the north.
11. Improve relations between Belgrade and Kosovo Serbs from the north, and establish ties with
political representatives of Kosovo Serbs from the south.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
In recent years, a number of regional initiatives have been introduced in South East Europe, mainly supported by the European Union (EU) institutions, the EU Member States and the United States of America (USA). After the declaration of its independence, Kosovo has constantly shown readiness and has taken actions in joining regional security initiatives. There are currently around 40 regional initiatives that deal with a wide range of sectors/issues namely in police cooperation, judicial sector, military, and emergency. Some of these are already part of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), but Kosovo, is part of only a few, either directly through representatives of state institutions or international presence. In particular, the challenges are present with respect to Kosovo’s access to defense related regional initiatives. While Kosovo’s recent membership in the RCC is expected to open the doors for representation and access to other regional security initiatives, the findings in this paper show that the progress is limited and accompanied by a wide variety of challenges. By not being fully-fledged member, Kosovo is constrained in benefiting from joint operations and activities in the field of rule of law, justice and security. Consequently, the political agreements reached in the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia and the concept of introducing regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, are seriously challenged.
EU Conditions with Kosovo. 31 Danas
  • Vecernje Novosti
Vecernje Novosti. 12 October 2011. EU Conditions with Kosovo. 31 Danas. 17 October 2011. Germany Is Saying What 22 EU Members Are Thinking. 32 KTV. 13 October 2011. Foreign Ambassadors to Kosovo Comment on EC Progress Report. 33
Kosovo Scenarios: Freezing the Conflict
  • Nikolic Djakovic
Nikolic Djakovic, Tanja. 13 October 2011. Kosovo Scenarios: Freezing the Conflict. NIN. 34 Ibid.