Reposted in part from Nedeljnik:
It has been almost three years since the Brussels Agreement was signed and even longer than Belgrade and Pristina have been negotiating to find a solution to the problem of Kosovo. So far the Brussels process has produced very little progress and the progress that has been achieved has been mostly on minor issues—such as telecommunications–that have little bearing on the major issues. But, in an act of desperation, these “minor” agreements are treated as major accomplishments by the government in Belgrade. If the negotiations continue to be approached as a series of technical issues it is very unlikely that there will be significant progress on what are truly major issues. It is noteworthy, for example, that there has been no progress on establishing an Association of Serb Communities because of Kosovar intransigence.
So far, the Brussels process has been a failure, just like every other effort since 1999, to find a just and equitable solution. As with past efforts, the Brussels process has failed because the questions of political legitimacy, and authority and mostly sovereignty are ignored. Until these questions are addressed honestly there will be very little—if any-progress on Kosovo.
The Kosovars are working from the perspective that the Serbs will do anything to please the EU and that Pristina can continue to be difficult because time is on their side. Leaders in Pristina believe that they have the West, especially the U.S., on their side and that Serbia has never had the initiative and never will have it. To a large extent, Pristina is right. The Vucic government has been so determined to sacrifice Kosovo on the EU altar that Belgrade has put Serbia on the defensive. Belgrade says Serbs will never surrender sovereignty over Kosovo. But bit by bit that is exactly what Belgrade is doing.
Every effort to “normalize” relations since 1999 has failed—primarily because they have not settled these fundamental questions. Every past effort has tried to satisfy both sides with intricate, complicated, ineffective, convoluted schemes. In 2007-8 the much heralded Ahtisaari Plan failed, as did the 2012 Five Point Plan by President Boris Tadic, which attempted to improve the Ahtisaari Plan. Belgrade’s proposal for “significant autonomy” for Kosovo if the province remained in Serbia was rejected almost immediately by Pristina. In 2010 the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence did not violate international law. This not only ended in failure for Belgrade, it was a stinging embarrassment of Belgrade’s foolish strategy. Also in 2012, Prime Ministers Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci agreed on such issues as trade, customs and university diplomas in an effort to start more substantive negotiations. That effort also failed.
Most recently, the Serbian government’s agreement to “bottom-up technical negotiations” required by the Brussels process also has failed. In fact, it is a tacit surrender of sovereignty by Belgrade with nothing in exchange. To be clear, whenever Belgrade surrenders authority over even minor “technical” areas, it is surrendering sovereignty—and this is a violation of the Serbian Constitution as well as being a detriment to Serbia’s national interests. It is ironic that in 2015 Prime Minister Vucic said the Constitution will not change, and yet the government’s strategy so far has been to undermine the constitutional principle of Serb sovereignty over Kosovo. The only Serbian politician who has proposed an idea to move ahead on the major issues was Slobodan Samardzic who, in 2008, recommended a partition of Kosovo along ethnic lines. His recommendation was foolishly dismissed.
There has been significant pressure on Belgrade from the U.S. and members of the EU to “normalize” relations with Pristina and Serbia’s acquiescence to the Brussels Agreement has been rewarded with the opening of the Acquis Communautaire. Using the words “to ‘normalize’ relations between Belgrade and Pristina” sound very much like an arrangement between two sovereign countries. At least publicly that is not what Belgrade wants, but it is what Pristina wants. But, agreeing to the “technical” requirements of the Brussels process is not the only way to “normalize” relations, mollify the EU and still serve Serbia’s interests. After almost three years of nearly fruitless negotiations and strained relations with Pristina, it is time for Belgrade to find a different path.
But, a different path cannot replicate the failed “bottom-up” approach of trying to negotiate “technical issues.” Instead, the Vucic government—which has just received a new mandate—needs to develop a “top-down” approach that will deal with the major political issues. They are, after, all, where the heart of the matter lies…