Serbia and Kosovo resume their dialogue in Brussels on Thursday after months of interruption and repeated crises, but the road to a normalization of their relations is strewn with obstacles.
More than two decades old, insoluble since the last of the wars which tore the former Yugoslavia (1998-99), this conflict remains a danger for the stability of the Old Continent.
Belgrade does not recognize the independence proclaimed in 2008 by its former southern province, mostly populated by Albanians. Most of the standardization agreements concluded in 2013 remained a dead letter.
Kosovo is recognized as an independent state by most Westerners, including 22 of the 27 EU members, but neither by Russia nor by China, which effectively closes the doors of the UN to this territory of 2 million inhabitants. On the Serbian side, the dossier is an obstacle in the process of joining the EU.
After a virtual discussion last weekend, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovan Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti meet in person in Brussels.
It is the first official meeting of this type since spring 2019 when a summit in Berlin between Aleksandar Vucic and his Kosovar counterpart Hashim Thaçi had given nothing. A central figure in Kosovar politics since independence, the latter is out of the game due to the war crimes charges against him.
– Public opinions –
The dialogue “is back on track”, welcomed the EU Special Representative for the Western Balkans, Miroslav Lajcak. European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell urged officials to “political courage”.
But “in addition to being a novice in negotiations,” Avdullah Hoti heads a weak government that “does not enjoy the support of its people,” says political analyst Pristina Imer Mushkolaj.
Aleksandar Vucic seems omnipotent, with an Parliament without opposition, which boycotted the last legislative elections, and the main media at his hand.
But this hegemony is paradoxically its “weak point” because it involves “an absolute responsibility”, explains the Serbian political analyst Aleksandar Popov: “It will be complicated for Vucic to convince its foreign partners that it is not able to to get something through parliament, or to move public opinion. ”
The subject is highly flammable. For many Serbs, “Kosovo is Serbia”, their historical and cultural cradle. One of the most popular was the recent protests that were originally aimed at denouncing the management of the pandemic.
Recognition of its independence is a prerequisite for Pristina. “Normalization of relations” can only go through this, warned Avdullah Hoti. In the eyes of the Serbs, it can only be an outcome at best.
– tip of the iceberg –
This recognition is above all a sham, the emerged part of questions to be resolved: what status for the areas where the approximately 120,000 Kosovo Serbs live; what reparations for the displaced persons and for the families of the disappeared from the conflict between Serbian forces and the Kosovar Albanian independence rebellion; what about the war reparations required by Kosovo; what status for Orthodox religious sites, etc.
“Our road to EU membership depends on these discussions, foreign investment depends on these discussions,” said Aleksandar Vucic. “At the same time we must take into account our people in Kosovo and safeguard our vital interests. It will not be easy,” he added.
Announcing a “difficult autumn” for Kosovo with a “health and economic crisis” due to the pandemic, and possible political turmoil in the event of formal accusation of Hashim Thaçi, the founder of the independent daily Koha Ditore, Veton Surroi, considers that this fragility would be “significantly aggravated by a negotiation process with Serbia”.
The Kosovo war killed more than 13,000 people, most of them Albanians. It ended when a Western bombing campaign forced Serbian forces to withdraw.
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Video: Macron in videoconference with Merkel on the Serbia-Kosovo conflict (AFP)