The steps have taken by Kosovo to make regulations regarding ID cards and license plates in July 2022 resulted in an increase in tension on the Belgrade-Pristina line. Although the ID cards issue between the two countries has been resolved with the mediation of the European Union (EU), the dispute over the license plates continues. While the tension about the vehicle plates continues; Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic made a remarkable visit to the north of Kosovo on September 5, 2022. The Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) shares Dr. Marika Djolai’s opinions in order to seek an answer to the meaning of Serbian Prime Minister Brnabic’s visit to Kosovo who is a analyist at The Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG).
- Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic visited northern Kosovo Monday. The visit to the northern municipalities of Kosovo comes after Prishtina and Belgrade agreed on the abolition of entry-exit documents, which Serbia had been issuing to Kosovo citizens since 2011. What does it mean Brnabic’s visit to Serbian municipalities in the country amid ongoing tensions?
Brnabic is old-new Prime Minister, appointed for the third term by president Vucic. Here, “Why did the Serbian leader not make an effort to improve relations with the Serbian community during his previous two tenures and visit Kosovo during this period?” question needs to be discussed. While some see the visit as a political marketing; some groups also point out that the visit has played a calming role against recent tensions. The only logical explanation for propelling Brnabic to Kosovo as soon as she received the PM mandate to lead the new government, indicates that something more concrete in the process of “normalisation” might be coming soon and that she will have a role.
- The matter of license plates, however, remains unresolved. Pristina has given a two-month deadline for all Kosovo citizens to have car number plates issued by Kosovo institutions. Brnabic said that Serbia’s interest is calm and stability. So how do you evaluate Prime Minister Brnabic’s messages in Kosovo?
PM Brnabic is not speaking her own mind regarding the Kosovo-Serbia normalisation and thus her messages have little relevance. In the past, she was least to say unkind in her references to Albanians, which they will not easily forget. However, encouragement of de-escalation of tensions in her speech, which was resonated by Kurti in reaction to her statement, is what we should be focusing on. Perhaps, seeing the massive destructive impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine, and outpouring support from the West, perhaps Serbia got a reminder why duplication of the 1990’s wars is not a good idea.
- She emphasised that now is the time to form the association of Serb municipalities with a Serbian majority in Kosovo and added that she would repeat this wherever she goes – from Mitrovica to Brussels and Beijing. What do you think about Community of Serb Municipalities? How does this topic affect Belgrade–Pristina negotiations?
The Association/ Community was defined in the first six principles (out of 15) in the Brussels agreement brokered in 2013 and has been waiting for a decade to be implemented. I don’t necessarily frame it as a control of a specific geographic area. The establishment of the association needs to be about creating opportunities for the citizens who live in this part of Kosovo to gradually integrated them socially, economically, and politically, while allowing their ethno-religious identity to remain. The model for the ASM remains a problem, but there are number of potential solutions for this. It continues to be a key condition for normalisation between Serbia and Kosovo. Prishtina may be fearful of decentralisation of governance and power under such agreement, but status quo is not an option.
- And last one; How Russia-US-EU plays a role in the crisis between Kosovo and Serbia?
This question would need to be redefined in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This act changed the dynamics between the foreign actors and Russia’s influence in the Balkans. Each of these actors plays a different role. I wouldn’t necessarily define Kosovo-Serbia situation as a crisis. It is an ongoing, unresolved dispute, a cause of brewing instability in the Western Balkans and perpetuates Kosovo’s problems in the international arena, blocking its aspirations. Nearly 15 years ago Kosovo’s independence was declared with Western backing, which resulted in a continuous international involvement.
The EU has a pro-active role in facilitation of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia as a pacifying force, as well as in the institutional reforms. With the latest diplomatic push to find a way for normalisation of the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia, driven by Macron and Scholz, the EU is trying to send a positive message to the two countries in which support for the EU is continuously declining. Recent escalation of animosities over licence plates and IDs dispute, even though the issue of free travel between the two countries has been resolved thanks to the EU mediation, shows that any issue can easily be politicised and securitised. I already argued before that the EU mediation is a double-edged sword for Kosovo, which remains under embargo for visa-free travel to Europe, causing frustration for its citizens and questioning the EU’s true intentions towards their country.
The EU and the US worked together to break the recent deadlock, with both Lajčak and Escobar visiting Priština, but the US role remains more ambiguous. Coming from a position of a support for Kosovo’s independence back in 2008, the US often didn’t deliver what they’ve promised to the new state. At the moment, the US seems to be on the same page as the EU, supporting normalisation process.
Russia has been meddling in the Balkans affairs for a long time and invested in building strong ties with Serbia and Republika Srpska. Normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is not in Putin’s interest, while support for Russia remains high in Serbia since its Ukraine invasion. The recent influx or Russian companies fortifies Russian propaganda and disinformation campaign about tensions in Kosovo and fuelling disinformation.
Marika Djolai (PhD, University of Sussex) is the Key Expert on “Global Exchange on Religion in Society”, European Commission project. Previously, she was Senior Researcher and Head of Conflict and Security Cluster at the European Centre for Minority Issues (Germany). Marika holds master’s degrees from the University of Novi Sad and University College London and received her Doctorate in Development Studies (Conflict and Violence) from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex. She was a Visiting Researcher at the Faculty of Political Science in Sarajevo in 2012 and she was granted a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Centre for Advanced Studies of Southeast Europe, University of Rijeka.
Her academic research focuses on community dynamics, post-conflict development, minority rights and securitisation. Her policy work is oriented towards the EU accession of the Western Balkans countries, bilateral disputes resolution, religion, and civil society. Since 1999 she has been based in the UK where she worked for the UK political establishment, as FCO advisor and with International Alert as Head of Eurasia Programme, inter alia. As a senior consultant in development sector, Marika provided advice to GIZ, SIDA, Swiss Development Cooperation, as well as UNICEF, UNDP, and the British Council projects and other CSOs globally. She was a co-founder of the “Panonija” Charity and the “House of Tolerance” NGO in Serbia in 1990s.