Serbia-Kosovo deal seen as short-term compromise

Serbia-Kosovo deal seen as short-term compromise

A European Union-brokered peace deal between Serbia and Kosovo has dodged the question of official recognition for the former Serbian province.

Under the deal, Belgrade will not recognise Kosovo as an independent state but will remove its opposition to it joining the United Nations and other global bodies. 

Brussels announced on Tuesday that Serbia and Kosovo had accepted in principle proposals to normalise relations and fresh talks are expected soon to further advance relations.

The neighbours have committed to open representative offices in their two capitals and the entrenched Serb minority of around 100,000 in Kosovo may be granted self-governance under the agreement. 

Serbia, its close ally Russia, China and five EU members – Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania and Greece – do not recognise Kosovo. Spain is especially sensitive to separatist movements because of its issues with Catalonia and the Basque Country and the agreement fails to address the five EU members’ opposition. 

Moscow has used its Security Council veto to block Kosovo’s membership of the UN. Both Serbia and Kosovo are in prolonged talks to join the EU and Brussels sees bilateral cooperation as key to wider Balkan security and an essential prerequisite to membership. 

Scuffles broke out in Serbia’s parliament last week with opposition parliamentarians accusing Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of “betrayal” and “capitulation” by accepting what they called de-facto recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

However, the situation appears more nuanced among ethnic Serbs within Kosovo. 

Boban Bogdanovic, a Serb leader in Kosovo, said he supports the new deal as it offers a responsible approach to solving bilateral tensions. 

“The agreement guarantees rights to the Serbian community from the international community,” Bogdanovic told Al Jazeera.

Around half of the ethnic Serbs in Kosovo are clustered near the Serbia border, where they form a majority. Few recognise the Pristina government and the community has autonomous administrative and health systems.

International envoys have discussed the establishment of a so-called Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities (ASM) in northern Kosovo.

The creation of an ASM was first suggested in 2013 to normalise relations but Kosovo’s Constitutional Court blocked the move because it would exclude other ethnicities. It also objected to the ASM’s executive powers.

There are fears about the creation of another Republika Srpska, the Bosnian-Serb enclave in Bosnia and Herzegovina that was formed by the 1995 Dayton peace agreement and is currently hoping to leave the fragile federation.

Republika Srpska’s outspoken president, Milorad Dodik, is lobbying for the enclave to join Serbia. 

The US State Department had made pledges in the Kosovo media that they “strongly oppose any form of [mono-ethnic] entity that resembles Republika Srpska”.

The ASM would not add an extra layer of executive and legislative autonomy within Kosovo, US envoys pledged.

Bogdanovic said an ASM would not replicate Republika Srpska but instead provide an “opportunity to cooperate with mother Serbia and, most important of all, harmonise relations with Pristina”.

“The [ASM] cannot have territorial autonomy … and will be formed in accordance with the constitution and laws of Kosovo, not Serbia,” the ethnic Serb said.

Divided Mitrovica in Kosovo. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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