Auteur: Jeton Zulfaj
Few would question that the EU-mediated negotiations have brought Kosovo and Serbia closer to each other and are contributing towards a more stable Balkans.
The high-level dialogue has broken down communication barriers and addressed essential issues, on freedom of movement, customs, border control, education, and telecommunications.
In a TV debate called Surroundings, Serb prime minister Aleksandar Vucic recently noted that good relations between Albanians and Serbs are key to stability in the region.
All this is good.
It’s about time that we start seeing relaxed relations and a little friendship also between Albanian PM Edi Rama and Vucic. A more genuine reconciliation will happen when all countries in the Balkans accept their past, especially Serbia, which still hasn’t apologised for past crimes.
But when you look at the details of the EU-brokered deal it seems that Kosovo is paying a heavy price.
The never-ending, EU-endorsed concessions are pushing it to the verge of being sustainable as a nation.
Let’s look at the last agreement, from 25 August, on the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities (ASM) in Kosovo.
It was sold as part of a package on energy and telecommunications, but it has the potential to damage Kosovo in the long run.
The so-called Ahtisaari package (presented by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari in 2007), the post-war model of Kosovo statehood, said it must be a multi-ethnic society.
The plan was all about minority rights, especially for the Serb minority. It guaranteed Serb seats in parliament, ministries in the government, and Serb judges in courts.
It made Serbian an official language and pushed for a deep decentralisation, creating new municipalities in Serb-majority areas.
It made Kosovo the first truly multi-ethnic country in the Balkans, unlike Bosnia, where each ethnic group is autonomous and where ethnic division is institutionalised, and unlike Macedonia, where, despite the fact that 30 percent of people are ethnic Albanians, the country is deeply divided.
Kosovar Serb entity
Kosovo’s constitution and laws offer comprehensive protection and enhanced rights for minorities, enabling them to protect their identity, culture, and heritage.
But all of this was not enough to make the Serb minority embrace multi-ethnicity.
Backed by Serbia, Kosovar Serbs resisted integration.
Serbia does not recognise Kosovo, so it comes as no surprise that it does not support the Ahtisaari model and that it pushed the EU to upgrade Serb minority rights, almost to the level of autonomy.
The EU and US bought the idea.
Kosovo’s top negotiator, deputy PM Hashim Thaci did their bidding to stay in power, and now we have a new Kosovar Serb entity - the ASM - outside of Kosovo’s constitutional framework.
It has full control on crucial areas, independent income, and Kosovar Serbs no longer answer to central powers in Pristina.
Unwilling to recognise Kosovo’s independence, Serbia is re-opening the dark chapters of ethnic division.
We have institutionalised ethnic division.
We have gone further down the road to balkanisation.
The term came into existence after the Ottoman Empire fell apart. It means partition, non-cooperation, hostility.
The creation of a quasi-autonomous entity in Kosovo is already creating ripples in Macedonia, Montenegro, and southern Serbia, where ethnic Albanian minorities want the same thing.
We already had one Republica Srpska, the Serb entity in Bosnia, in the region. Now we have one and a half, and maybe more to come.
Am I being over-dramatic?
No. Just look at the past.
The ASM is not yet a second Republica Srpska. But it is the first step in that direction.
Thaci’s delegation bragged that they achieved a mention of Kosovo’s constitution in the EU agreement, as though it sets the future of its statehood in stone.
Today, no one disputes the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina is an independent country.
But everyone also agrees that it is dysfunctional and unstable, and that it is only a matter of time before it breaks up into smaller, ethnically homogenous bits.
Kosovo is an EU and US project. If it falls apart, it will be an EU and US failure.
The ASM will paralyse inter-ethnic cooperation. It is a bad seed and those who planted it must be accountable for the bad harvest to come.
Jeton Zulfaj is a graduate from Lund University in Sweden, with a masters in European Affairs