Association of Serb Municipalities may be key to normalizing Serbia-Kosovo relations

With tensions still sky-high between Serbia and Kosovo, following the shooting of two ethnic Serbs in Kosovo reportedly by a member of Kosovo security forces, US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet appears to have addressed the heart of the matter, noting that it a formal creation of an association of Serbian municipalities is needed to “normalize” relations between the two states.

Chollet noted that he discussed this very possibility Jan. 12, apparently with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during meetings in Pristina, according to Radio Free Europe.

„We discussed this with the officials in Pristina and our position is that it should be implemented,” Chollet said, as cited by the news site.

While the wording of the municipality arrangement is slightly different than in years past, Chollet mention of an „association” referenced the theoretical Community of Serb Municipalities, which has long been both a sticking and rallying point for Serbia and ethnic Serbs in Kosovo. Following the war in Kosovo in 1998-1999, negotiations to establish peace in Kosovo hinged in part upon such a community, which Serbs felt necessary in order to protect the rights of enclaves of Serbs in North Kosovo. This was expected to have been implemented by 2015, although this has never come close to be put in place.

Yet an Association of Serb Municipalities (or Community of Serb Municipalities) seems to now being used as a carrot—combined with eventual EU membership–in an effort to convince Vucic to agree to recognition of Kosovo as an independent states. This will be a tough go for Vucic, whose political base—and potentially the vast majority of all Serbs—is adamant that Kosovo should belong to Serbia.

Meanwhile, Kurti has been consistently problematic, first with demands that ethnic Serbs re-register IDs and licence plates to Kosovo norms, which for Serbs would mean a de facto recognition of Kosovo as a state. Although this was followed with a compromise deadline—it also came with rhetoric calling ethnic Serbs criminals, not to mention the controversial arrest of a former police officer Dejan Pantic on terrorism charges, which prompted ethnic Serbs to protest and block roads in North Kosovo.

Yet following the defusing of that situation, two local Serbs were shot, which again triggered protests and which appeared to justify long-term complaints by ethnic Serbs of harassment by Kosovo Albanian police.

Now Chollet may have had a breakthrough moment, as the sides appear to have agreed in principal to the formation of such an “association,” although there may be legal barriers within the Kosovo Constitution to such a move.

That said, Chollet lauded dialogue and said there is “a chance for compromise.”

This could lead to EU-led “normalization,” and, possibly surprising to some, such a recipe—including an association—was seen, reportedly, by Kurti as a “good basis” for continued dialogue.

Photo of Derek Chollet by U.S. State Department, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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