The introduction of the Brussels Agreement in 2013, has raised hopes not only in terms of resolution of the Kosovo-Serbia dispute, but also by creating a maneuvering space for improvement of mutual relations in a rather challenging political environment of the Western Balkans. Although some of its clauses have been successfully implemented, six out of fifteen points of the Agreement, related to the formation of Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities (A/CSM), have not been addressed in practice. The latter has become a fertile ground for bitter disagreements between Kosovo and Serbia, not only in relation to its nature, internal structure, powers, but also in regards to its name. Can this duality over the basics of creating the A/CSM in Kosovo be rearranged and/or potentially overcome?
If discussions, which have evolved around the essence of the A/CSM in the last eight years, are put aside, it still seems that potentials of its formation have somewhat not been on the agenda of the negotiating sides. Jeopardized by nationalist narratives and harmful discourses of day-to-day politics in Kosovo and Serbia, the idea of forming the A/CSM has only become a scapegoat of ‘right-wing populists’. Probably the most promising solution of the EU-facilitated dialogue, the A/CSM, has been used as an argument in favor of irredentist ideas and non-transparent discussions (and rumors) about the so-called territorial swap/delineation. Additionally, it is of the utmost importance to offer a different viewpoint of its advantages in light of the (upcoming) continuation of the dialogue, which is, especially at this moment, much needed.
With or without executive powers, the formation of A/CSM (as designated in the Agreement) would become one of the main pillars of both the returning process and opportunity-creation for the Serb community (to stay and live in Kosovo). According to various research conducted among this community in recent years, the A/CSM, if formed, would both increase the potentials of its institutional security and the will intensively take part in the economic and political aspects of life in Kosovo. Taking into account the long and complex journey of the integration process of this community into Kosovo institutions, building the trust- in institutions-, would serve as a win-win strategy. As a consequence of such a step, institutional prerogatives would be fully achieved, while the communication with Kosovo Serb community would be of a direct nature, without the interference of any other actor. In such circumstances, interests and grievances of this non-majority community would be addressed locally: by locals through local means, without becoming a cause for (just) another disagreement between Pristina and Belgrade.
What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown is that the official communication between the ten Serb-majority municipalities and central level institutions has been significantly aggravated. What was otherwise a loosen cooperation between the two levels of governance, with the A/CSM acting as an intermediary, it could strengthen and improve the connection among them. By addressing the main concerns of this (as well as other) community through one channel, the central level institutions would in that case have a greater insight into the problems, while simultaneously being more accountable in terms of protecting non-majority communities’ rights and meeting their needs. Such a viable solution would guarantee the effectiveness on the side of institutions on all levels and is likely to eliminate the existing discrepancies existing among them. Consequently, all of 38 Kosovo municipalities would have a direct and unhampered communication/cooperation with relevant central institutions.
Internally, with the creation of the A/CSM, the financial and development support would not only be directed at four northern municipalities (as has been the case since 2013), but would mainly focus on the municipalities situated south of the Ibar river. With such a de-monopolization (among Serb-majority municipalities), the latter would be offered with a much needed financial and infrastructural ‘injections’, which would ultimately lead to facilitation of economic, social and political advancement of the least developed municipalities in Kosovo. Moreover, economic potentials of Kosovo could be significantly amplified by the actual political stability induced by the creation of A/CSM.
The establishment of the A/CSM would offer a resolution of many security dilemmas burdening both Kosovo and Serbia, as well as the rest of the WB region. By becoming an example of resolution of post-conflict issues via limited mid-level autonomy designated for a non-majority community, Kosovo could direct its efforts in the long-awaited (internal and external) processes of reconciliation, peacebuilding and transitional justice.
All previous arguments have served to the need of bridging the current stalemate in the dialogue process. The current status quo can no longer be exploited. If the continuation of the dialogue does not currently have a starting point, why not start from the Brussels dialogue’s scratch and overcome the harmful constructive ambiguity through the formation of the A/CSM?!
This op-ed is originally written in English.
The op-ed is supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pristina. The opinions are of the authors and do not reflect the views of Balkans Policy Research Group and the donor.