Although the EU has hailed a February mutual normalization agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, much work remains to be done, and negotiations are expected to resume April 4 over both the first agreement and a key annex that was discussed to much fanfare in March.
Only neither are signed, and based upon recent comments by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, it’s difficult to believe anything will be signed in the near future.
Case in point: Vucic has noted that he will not sign an agreement with an unrecognized state—in other words, Kosovo. He has also called recognition of Kosovo by the UN as a red line in the sand that cannot be crossed, and in the meantime he has pointed to the failure of Kosovo to establish a Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) by Kosov, which Serbs have expected since… 2014.
In truth, this last point is key in that Vucic not only has previously committed to protecting the rights of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, but he literally must stand by this commitment to remain legitimately in power. Fiery Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti in the meantime has never quite ruled this out, but he has hardly ruled this in, as his goal is to have all residents in Kosovo governed by the very independent mandate of the Kosovo constitution.
That said, the April 4 date is not exactly back to the drawing board, as at least the sides have seemed to agree what is under discussion. And the pressure on both sides is if anything ramping up. The EU wants normalization of relations—and it would see, if past German and French initiatives are taken into account, full recognition of Kosovo as an independent state in order for Serbia to eventually join the EU.
The US wants realistic expectations but also calm in order to prevent Russian meddling against the background of the war in Ukraine.
And if there were any doubts about the difficulties faced here, the April 4 meeting has been labelled “technical,” and the press will decidedly not be invited.
Yet time—and tough negotiations–do not exist in a vacuum. Not only is press coverage all but guaranteed, but political maneuvering is already taking place even against the backdrop of yet still more complicated incidents in the Balkans and beyond.
First, Kosovo police arrested and then released on March 29 a former ethnic Serb policeman, Miljan J., claiming mistaken identity at the Serb-Kosovo border in a move that unfortunately resembled the arrest of other former police earlier in the year, which helped set off protests and barricades in North Kosovo. Despite the almost immediate release this time around, local Serbs have cried harassment—which has been the basis of Serb CSM demands from the start.
Then there is the fact that four other EU countries have thus far failed to recognize Kosovo—and although the US has voiced hopes that recent talks will move outliers toward recognition, Greece this week bucked such hopes with support for the status quo, with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou stating that “the position of Greece concerning Kosovo and Metohija remains unchanged and stable,” citing territorial integrity issues while also adding that “there is always pressure, but that has not affected our stance on Kosovo and Metohija,” as quoted by telegraph.rs.
Yet there are also conflicting signs, such as Serbia’s welcome reception to EU grants and investment and even statements from some officials that Serbia may yet need to join sanctions against Russia.
Other signs are still harder to read—such as still more press highlighting Vucic’s close relationship with EU bad boy and Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban—who himself is under pressure from the EU and Russian both.
In short, critical decisions may—or may not be—decided on April 4.
And the press in not invited.
Which means more coverage will be soon coming your way.
Photo of Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti by Arianit, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.