It is three years since the 19 April “First Agreement on Principles” was signed by then Prime Ministers Hashim Thaci and Ivica Dacic. How has it affected the political scene in Serbia?
Three years ago, Serbia was a more democratic country with less oppression towards media, towards civil society, with a softer rhetoric towards the region, and towards officials of the EU than they are today. I also think that the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia is worse now than three years ago. Honestly. This means, we hear in Belgrade that it’s a problem the polarization of Kosovo, I believe polarization is better than full autocracy. I think that polarization is not that bad sometimes. We didn’t have information, and we still don’t, because of language barriers, because of disinterest on what’s happening; but we were informed about the teargas. Teargas was savagery, clans, etc. When that happens, people complain because of lack of rule of law. They complain that some things maybe legitimate are being bended over the rule of law. This was well explained by Bodo Weber in his recent report “Awkward Juggling,” about the December decision of Kosovo’s Constitutional Court and how international actors are playing fast and loose with Kosovo’s rule of law.
In Serbia, 16 years from the changes of October 5th, we are continuously in between legal and legitimate. Even Milosevic’s arrest wasn’t legal, but it was more than legitimate. For us in Serbia, a fundamental part of the 19 April agreement foresees that our duty to cease the work of the judicial authorities in Kosovo that were part of Serbia’s government. This is an issue that can be done constitutionally or even according to law.
Kosovo raised the issue of its democracy and has seen widespread protests and discussions about the dialogue, but in Serbia this issue has been swept under the rug. It was entirely, but because the Serbian Constitutional Court is a political instrument. When you need the Constitutional Court to say that stopping the Gay Parade is unconstitutional, what do you do? One time you need the Constitutional Court, the next time you don’t. These are very dangerous situations which Weber clarified in his report.
If I had been asked and people like me were asked we wouldn’t have had war in Kosovo and crimes wouldn’t have happened, and the bombing wouldn’t have happened, and the next day I’d accept the state’s independence. But, no one’s asking me. And this is a key moment that Serbia and the Western international community should stop and think further about the loan that Vucic is taking and about the things he’s done even though it’s clear that it’s nothing spectacular. But now we have New Kids on the Block, we have new challenges, such as the April elections and very weird results that have followed.
Before I address that, it is important to state that in Serbia we call the Brussels agreements ‘the dialogue for agreed things’ or to agree on the Brussels process, the normalization of the Kosovo-Serbia relationship. Honestly, for me this is only a small technical part of the normalization process. Sixteen years after the bombing in Serbia, for Serbia and for Russian diplomats, history in Serbia starts from March 24th. Every year. This year the bad things will start on March 24th, nothing ever happened before that brought the bombing and that brought these negotiations. Even the EU doesn’t speak much about why Serbia and Kosovo negotiate, why Kosovo declared independence and why many western countries have recognized it. This was repeated again this year.
I am now under police protection. I began receiving threats the moment I said that there’s no reason that in Serbia they say every year that tens of thousands were killed by NATO bombings, when in fact there were less than 700 killed. From last year, thanks to an extraordinary organization, the Humanitarian Law Center, we have a list, the Kosovo Memory Book, and not only of the NATO bombing’s victims, but victims of the entire conflict in Kosovo. In Serbia, no officials want to say anything about this. We still have a Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces who, according to the Humanitarian Law Center is tied to war crimes committed by his units in Kosovo.
We have seen the arithmetic of the elections in Kosovo North, and how…we’ve endured everything. There were four parties for parliamentary elections which are not only nationalists but are now openly pro-Putin. We’ve also allowed the erosion of support for European Integration: support for European integration is below 50 per cent for two years now. Formally we had parties who were pretending to fight for European integration. For us, the process of the normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relationship is tied to European integration. What happens when in the parliament, the support for European integration for Serbia falls even more?
And it will fall, not because of the parties whose rhetoric is against Europe will enter parliament will actually enter the parliament, but because the rhetoric of the parties who call themselves pro-European, the parties who are in power. Just see what Vulin, Dacic, and Vucic say, what kind of rhetoric we have for European Union representatives or officials of the member states. This is not good.
One of the biggest advocates of cooperation between Serbia and Russia and the interruption of the normalization and dialogue process is called Zavetnici, formed in 2012 in north Kosovo, on the barricades. They have enough power to organize meetings with 4,000 to 5,000 people in Belgrade and have gathered signatures and money to turn in their parliamentary list. They’re not the only ones who participated in the elections with a no negotiations agenda, against the EU in general, in favour of better cooperation with Russia. We had four parliamentary lists like this and at the local level even more.
Nationalism has always been strong in the north of Kosovo, in these four municipalities, where Seselj and Kostunica’s party, until they were separated, were very powerful. There are strongmen who can exert control, but the average people in the north do not support the dialogue, nor Vucic’s EU integration agenda if it means they have to integrate into Kosovo institutions.
Serbia, Kosovo and the European Union need a timeframe and endgame as soon as possible. The only positive news that I’ve heard in Serbia the other day was that former president Tadic, while he was campaigning for the parliamentary elections, said that a thing that we need to do as soon as possible is to remove the word ‘Kosovo’ from the Serbian Constitution and this is the only and the best news that has come out of Serbia recently. Unfortunately, the results of this election and the prime minister’s rhetoric and behavior unfortunately have not taken the same direction.
This op-ed is based on remarks delivered at the 19 April 2016 BIG DEAL conference in Prishtina. The author is the director of Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies based in Belgrade.