by Alberto Galvi –
The agreement on the strategy to normalize ties between Kosovo and Serbia came on March 18, after 12 hours of talks between Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and EU officials. The two leaders held separate meetings with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell before a tripartite session in the North Macedonian city of Ohrid.
Kosovo and Serbia have been in sustained talks with the EU for nearly 10 years, after Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and war ended Serbian rule. The 1998-1999 war erupted as ethnic Albanian separatists rebelled against Serbian rule, and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown. During the war, about 13,000 people died, mostly ethnic Albanians. In 1999 a military intervention by NATO forced Serbia to withdraw from the territory.
Serbia still regards Kosovo as a breakaway province, although both countries hope to one day join the EU. The EU plan calls for the two countries to maintain good neighborly relations and recognize each other’s official documents and national symbols, but the plan drawn up by France and Germany, supported by the United States, does not explicitly foresee mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia. If implemented, it would prevent Belgrade from blocking Kosovo’s attempts to seek membership in the United Nations and other international organizations.
Resolving the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has become important at a time when war rages in Ukraine, as fears grow that Russia may try to stir up instability in the Balkans. The EU will ask both sides to fulfill their obligations if they want to join the bloc, warning that otherwise there will be consequences.
A long-standing controversial topic has been a proposal raised by an association of Serb municipalities in Kosovo that would give greater autonomy to Serb-majority communities, regardless of their ethnicity or religious affiliation. Kurti stressed that the agreement mentions self-management for Kosovo Serbs, but that he will continue to be the prime minister for all citizens of Kosovo.
Serbian President Vučić seemed to backtrack on some points after pressure from far-right groups, which consider Kosovo to be the cradle of the Serbian state and of the Orthodox religion.
Kosovo’s independence is recognized by many Western countries, but is opposed by Belgrade with the support of Russia and China.
EU-brokered talks have made little progress in recent years. Serbia has maintained close ties with Russia despite the war in Ukraine, largely thanks to Moscow’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence and its possible veto in the Security Council.