Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations.
As an unprecedented agreement on the status of Kosovo seems within reach, to the relief of many observers, the details of the settlement seem likely to close some chapters (at least for now) and open a series of others. Belgrade’s continued and dogmatic refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence has not stopped considerable concessions being made on the Serbs’ part. Indeed, the acceptance of Kosovar border authorities exemplifies a gradual move towards de facto recognition of the state. Perhaps tired by diplomatic stalemate, instability, and lost political and economic opportunities, the Serbian Prime Minister, Ivica Dačić, has made distinct headway in negotiating an agreement for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina.
One of the most notable features of a likely agreement is the proposal for Serb “municipalities” with considerable degrees of autonomy in northern parts of Kosovo, where Serbs constitute a concentrated majority. In exchange for this, Dačić has conceded political control over Kosovar Serbs to Pristina, and the dismantling of Belgrade-sponsored “parallel state institutions”. This marks an important trend in reaffirming Serbia’s effective withdrawal of formal power in any part of Kosovo, even if its influence in the north shall remain pronounced. Despite the usual, strong rhetoric continuing, Dačić’s delegation seems to be softly moving Serbia firmly away from a territorially based stance on Kosovo (even going so far as to suggest that it was a “lie” that Kosovo had ever belonged to Serbs).
Thus it is quite possible that this pattern of de facto recognition shall become the basis for a working relationship between Belgrade and Pristina for the foreseeable future. As long as the question of Kosovo retains such sensitive and provocative political capital, both electorally and internationally, it seems implausible that official recognition of Kosovo’s independence shall come from Belgrade (and, by extension, from Moscow) any time soon. Yet if an agreement on the status of Serbs and the recognition of state authorities can provide a positive working environment for Kosovo and the region, this de facto status could enjoy relative success.
However, questions must be asked regarding medium-term and long-term implications of such an agreement, as well as the immediate ramifications for the region more generally. Firstly, for how long would Kosovars be satisfied with the status of informal recognition? As much of an improvement as it could offer, Kosovo would still be without the benefits of formal recognition from the United Nations, with only 98 member states recognising full independence. The European Union cannot unanimously give Kosovo its support, either; Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus have withheld full recognition for a variety of political reasons. Although the history of NATO action and sustained United Nations oversight gives a valuable level of security, it may not be sufficient to satiate Kosovars indefinitely. Although it is problematic to portray the EU membership as an irresistible attraction, it has proven to have considerable political impetus in the Balkans (not least in keeping dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina alive in previous years). Kosovo would surely be disadvantaged further if the majority of its neighbours were to ascend to membership (a foreseeable eventuality in the next decade), while Kosovo’s accession was hampered by lack of formal recognition.
Furthermore, following the probability of adopting the Serb municipalities model, minority groups in other states almost instantly raised demands for similar solutions in their own cases. Perhaps most problematically for Belgrade, ethnic Albanians in parts of southern Serbia have called for autonomous municipalities mirroring those in northern Kosovo. Some have even mooted the possibility of outright territory and population exchanges as a solution, although this does not seem to have been seriously considered at talks. It also comes at a time of unease in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the President of Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb entity), Milorad Dodik, recently called for autonomous status for the municipalities where Serbs constitute a majority within the Bosnian Croat and Bosniak Federation. Although the corresponding authorities have rebuffed such claims, it would likely become increasingly difficult to mollify minority groups were such disparities in policy to be realised.
Clearly, Kosovo still touches raw nerves and remains central to former Yugoslav states’ extraordinarily complex relations. Thus, while any progress in mediating tensions and easing Kosovo’s political and economic worries should be welcomed (Kosovo still has amongst the lowest GDP-PPP in the region), any agreement that may be soon forthcoming is unlikely to settle the web of issues once and for all.
N.B. Since last update of the page relating to number of states recognising Kosovo, Dominica and Pakistan have added their recognition, bringing the total to 98.
Photo Credit: Agroni