Five Things Kosovo Must Know Before Doing a Deal with Serbia

Following the election of the new government in Kosovo, the US special presidential envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Richard Grenell, has taken a proactive and assertive approach to the talks, increasing the likelihood of a final deal in which the US plays a significant role.

Representatives of Kosovo and Serbia were supposed to meet at the White House at the end of the month. Grenell was blunt in his statement that, “If either side is unsatisfied with the June 27 discussions then they will go back to the status quo after they leave Washington.”

The political climate in Kosovo is currently one of deep polarisation. Nonetheless, the Kosovo delegation must take into account the following five crucial points before the next rounds of negotiations.

Meanwhile, Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti on Thursday cancelled an eagerly anticipated trip to Washington to meet Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic and resume stalled negotiations with Serbia over the future status of the former Serbian province whose independence Belgrade does not recognise.

Hoti canceled his trip after the Hague-based Specialist Prosecutor’s Office filed a ten-count indictment with the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, KSC, accusing Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, Kosovo politician Kadri Veseli and others with a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture during the Kosovo war.

A final deal does not guarantee UN membership for Kosovo

A final deal with Serbia will put Kosovo in a better position internationally and will lessen the obstacles to membership in international organisations. However, it does not guarantee UN membership for Kosovo.

Russia and China are both UN Security Council permanent members with veto powers. These countries do not recognise Kosovo, so even if Kosovo and Serbia reach a deal, this will not automatically translate into UN membership for Kosovo.

Consequently, the Kosovo delegation should demand concrete steps on how to overcome potential vetoes from Russia and China.

Grenell is not a neutral envoy

Kosovo is the most pro-American country in the world and has welcomed the US re-engagement in the region. However, there is enough evidence to show that Grenell is not the best pick to handle these negotiations. A man of controversy, he has no experience working on the Balkans.

Grenell has served the interests of authoritarian and corrupt politicians such as Viktor Orban in Hungary and Vladimir Plahotniuc in Moldova, without reporting these activities as required under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, FARA.

Moreover, his tenure as US ambassador to Germany stirred much criticism, amid accusations, he was biased and undiplomatic. Grenell’s track record gives good reason to be sceptical of his ability to fulfill his role as the US Envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and also begs the question of whether Grenell can act as an unbiased intermediary.

Kosovo must push for a comprehensive deal, not just any deal

A deal that does not tackle all open issues with Serbia is destined to fail. Serbia has not demonstrated it is ready to deal with its past. In fact, President Alexandar Vucic declared that Serbia is willing to give up potential EU integration if that is the only benefit for Serbia from the negotiations on Kosovo.

Serbia wants to gain more from these negotiations, potentially a land swap. Serbia expects Kosovo to make major concessions while Belgrade itself has yet to acknowledge, let alone apologise, for the devastating effects of the Kosovo war, including the massacre and rape of civilians and widespread damage to property.

A formal letter of apology would be a starting point to resolve deeply rooted issues. The deal should also include guarantees that Serbia will remove reference to Kosovo from its constitution, a formal letter of recognition and an expression of willingness to open an embassy in Kosovo.

The deal must be in full accordance with Western liberal values

Kosovo does not have to compromise on its borders, provide extraterritoriality for the Serbian Orthodox Church, or establish an Association of Serbian Majority Municipalities with executive powers.

Kosovo is a multi-ethnic state with a progressive constitution which defends and promotes the rights of ethnic minorities. Giving executive powers to municipalities based on ethnicity violates the multiethnic nature of the country. In addition, transferring autonomous powers to a church is in violation of the secular nature of the republic.

Most importantly, a sustainable final deal with Serbia must be based on solidarity and human rights consistent with Western values, and not based on ethnic lines and changes to current borders.

Refusing to sign a deal is not the end of the world

The Trump administration’s eagerness to finalise a deal or the fear of lost momentum are not reason enough for Kosovo to sign a deal. At a time when Trump’s foreign policy is motivated by his reelection prospects, Kosovo should be especially wary of a deal proposed by the US.

If the Kosovo delegation is pressured into signing a deal which they consider to be biased or unfair towards Kosovo, they must refuse to do so.

Refusal to sign a deal does not necessarily mean a deterioration in relations between Kosovo and the West. Kosovo must be persistent in its demands and defend what is best for the country’s national security and wellbeing. Kosovo’s independence is irrevocable, but its functionality is at stake. No deal is better than a bad deal.

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