During Thursday’s UN Security council briefing on Kosovo, The US’ Acting Deputy Representative to the United Nations, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, said that the establishment of the Community of Serbian Municipalities (CSM) by the Pristina authorities is “critical” for the normalisation of relations between Pristina and Belgrade.
The briefing comes after dialogue on the ‘Agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia’, also known as the Ohrid agreement, fell into a stalemate in recent weeks.
Kosovo’s PM, Albin Kurti, has accused Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vučić, of dragging his feet in the implementation of the agreement, and of only committing to a partial implementation.
On the 24th of April, Serbia also voted against Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe (COE), seemingly violating article 4 the agreement which stipulates that Serbia not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organisation.
While Kosovo passed the vote’s two thirds threshold required to be considered for the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly, a spokesperson for European Union stated that it “took note” of Serbia’s vote.
One of the main contributing factors in Serbia’s reticence toward the agreement’s implementation is the still pending establishment of the CSM in Kosovo, which was originally mapped out in the 2013 EU mediated Brussels Agreement.
Under the CSM, the Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo’s north would gain full overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning, though such an arrangement has yet to be implemented by Pristina.
Earlier this month, Serbian PM, Ana Brnabić, responded to Kurti’s complaints, highlighting that Belgrade has been waiting “for 10 yrs for Pristina to do its part of the work”.
The special representative of the European Union for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajčak, also recently stated in an interview that Kosovo did not implement the 2013 agreement on the creation of the CSM.
He said Serbia, on the other hand, had dissolved parallel structures in Kosovo’s Serb majority northern regions such as the police and the judiciary, so as to be absorbed by Kosovo’s legal system, as agreed.
Lajčak also said that at the meeting between Kurti and Vučić on the 2nd of May, it will be mandatory to draft the CSM Statute.
Outside of diplomatic circles, obstacles toward better relations and normalisation have also been felt recently on the ground in Kosovo’s north.
Last December, Serb officials such as MPs and policemen withdrew and resigned en-masse from Kosovo’s state institutions.
This occurred in response to the failure to establish the CSM and Pristina’s licence plate policy, that seeks force Serbs in Kosovo’s north to re-register their cars with number plates issued in Pristina, and not Serbia.
Protests were also held recently after a Kosovo Serb taxi driver, Milan Jovanovic, was shot and injured without warning by a member of Kosovo’s security forces, whom after initial official denials has been charged with attempted murder.
This incident is part of a pattern of arrests and attacks on the Serb communities in Kosovo, which Belgrade describes as a campaign of terror and provocation.
Furthermore, local elections last weekend in the Serb majority municipalities of Leposavić, North Mitrovica, Zubin Potok and Zvečan, were also boycotted in protest by Kosovo’s largest Serb political party, Srpska Lista, and the Serb electorate.
Consequently, the elections witnessed a record low turnout, with 3.47% of 45,095 potential voters casting ballots, 1,566 of them Albanians and only 13 Serbs.
Interestingly, the EU has refused to recognise the legitimacy of the newly appointed Albanian mayors in these municipalities, with the European Parliament rapporteur for Kosovo, Viola von Cramon, calling the elections a step backwards in the normalisation process.
With talk of agreements and normalisation abound at the supranational level, the national governments in Belgrade and Pristina still exhibit their own individual reluctance toward cooperation.
At the local level in Kosovo, it also appears these EU driven processes are simply exacerbating the fractious relations between Kosovo’s Albanian and Serb communities.
Kosovo’s induction into the COE comes just 1 month after the Ohrid agreement’s signing, though realisation of Pristina’s aspirations to join the EU and NATO will require further recognition of Kosovo by member states, and first normalisation with Serbia.
Brussels meanwhile, has committed its steadfast support to Kosovo, yet has failed to act upon or condemn Pristina’s provocative directives.
As such, legitimate questions can be asked as to whether Brussels’ intentions really lie in better regional relations, or simply to hasten the absorption of as much as the Balkans as possible into its sphere, in petty contumacy against Russia.
For former Yugoslav nations such as Montenegro and North Macedonia, EU and NATO expansion has been a tumultuous and enforced process, involving the manipulated toppling governments, sham referendums, and forced name changes.
A repeat of such heavy handedness in Kosovo, however, would likely backfire for the West due to Kosovo’s precarious social and legal foundations, which themselves were forcefully borne of the very same supranational bodies that now proclaim themselves as peacemakers.
Therefore, if Brussels and Pristina are indeed serious about normalising relations and regional security, prioritising the establishment of the CSM is a bare minimum, without which all other associated components of the agreement look destined to simply aggravate still further.