A group of Kosovo Serb NGOs disappointed with the letter on CD passports: False and insulting arguments

FOTO: Ilustracija/pasoš

The reaction to the proposal, which would greatly improve the lives of Kosovo Serbs is symptomatic of a growing gap between the communities. Organizations that have spent almost a decade raising voices against the unfair isolation of Kosovo citizens, essentially ask the same – a group of Serbian NGOs reacted last night to the letter around twenty Kosovo CSOs wrote to the European Commission asking for the withdrawal of the proposal to include passports issued by the Coordination Directorate of the Serbian Ministry of Interior in the visa-free regime.

“It is with great disbelief and disappointment that we react to the news that dozens of NGOs from Kosovo, our partners and friends, wrote to the European Commission to protest the proposed changes of the EU Directive to include Serbian Coordination Directorate in the visa-free regime,” they said.

The reaction to the proposal, they added, is symptomatic of “continually shrinking space for any kind of social dialogue, including among the most progressive sectors of society.”

“Had any Kosovo Serb or a person knowledgeable of the matter been consulted about this, they would have explained that the Coordination Directorate was an office established in 2009 by Serbian MIA. It issues passports for the citizens of Serbia residing in Kosovo, as well as Serbian citizens displaced from Kosovo and maintaining the displaced status.”

The NGOs also recalled that the Coordination Directorate was established at the behest of the EC who feared ‘potential for illegal migration’ to disallow the application of the visa-free regime for the citizens of Serbia to citizens of Serbia residing, or formerly residing in Kosovo.

They also emphasized that Kosovo Law on Citizenship allows for dual citizenship.

“We recall many international representative’s statements that ask for the respect of the fact that many Kosovo citizens, not just Kosovo Serbs, have dual citizenship and should be allowed to enjoy all rights and obligations related to it. This means that they should ‘participate in the social life of Serbia’.”

On the other hand, arguments shared by the Kosovo organization that a visa-free regime for CD passports hinders Kosovo Serb integration are “false and insulting.”

“No more Kosovo Serbs will be integrated if they are equipped with Kosovo passports than the number that already have Kosovo citizenship. This is because a passport cannot be obtained without an ID card and proof of citizenship. In other words, a person who gets a new passport is already equipped with citizenship and is thus already integrated.”

Kosovo Serb, and other non-majority community issues ensue much before they become eligible to hold a Kosovo passport, at the moment of civil registration, they stressed.

“There are still people residing in Kosovo who due to the non-recognition of the Serbian civil registry regards (of birth, death and marriage) as well as the non-recognition of judicial decisions regarding adoption or divorce, cannot register in the Kosovo civil registry and become citizens. This is the problem Kosovo’s MIA partially solved in 2018 but not completely. In effect, this means that there are still people who permanently reside in Kosovo but cannot obtain ID cards, and by extension, passports.”

According to these Kosovo Serb NGOs and media, this is a true hindrance to integration, not the incentives or lack thereof to obtain a Kosovo passport.

“Initiatives, such as these, coming from organizations that have spent almost a decade raising voices against the unfair isolation of Kosovo citizens, essentially ask the same for a very small number of people who either wish to keep their displacement status in Serbia or cannot obtain Kosovo citizenship, will not help convince the Kosovo Serb community their rights will be defended in Kosovo, including by the organizations that promote human rights, social inclusion and reconciliation.”

Integration is a much more nuanced and sensitive process and requires trust-building measures and support from different layers of society. Unfortunately, the reaction of dozens of NGOs shows that the EC’s criticism of the Government of Kosovo and its failure to communicate to the Kosovo Serb community is starting to apply to civil society as well, they concluded.

The following organizations signed the statement:

1. New Social Initiative NSI
2. Institute for Territorial Economic Development
3. Ngo Aktiv
4. Advocacy Center For Democratic Culture
5. CSD – Communication for Social Development
6. Avenija
7. Center for Social Initiatives CSI
8. Crno-beli svet CBS
9. Center for Affirmative Social Actions – CASA
10. Center for Peace and Tolerance Gracanica
11. Alternative Cultural Center Gračanica
12. Santa Marija
13. Omladinska parteška aktivnost
14. Institute for Public Research IJI
15. Network for Civic Activism
16. Alternativna
17. RTV Kim, Čaglavica

The letter sent to the European Commission was also criticized by the deputy to Kosovo Ombudsperson, Srdjan Sentić, who said that it encourages discrimination.

Last week, the European Commission proposed to the European Parliament to introduce visa-free travel for citizens in Kosovo whose passports are issued by the Coordination Directorate of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia.

If the proposal is adopted, holders of these passports would be allowed to stay in Schengen countries for no more than 90 days in any 180-day period.

They justified the proposal by saying that visa liberalization for citizens with Kosovo passports is set to come into force on January 1, 2024, and that, therefore, the reasons for excluding holders of Serbian passports issued by the Coordination Directorate of the Ministry of Interior of Serbia have ceased to be valid.

Although adopted last week, the proposal of the European Commission has gone unnoticed by the Kosovo public until yesterday, at least publicly.

Pristina media reported on Tuesday that certain NGOs wrote to the European Commission about this proposal with a request for its withdrawal.

They claim that the proposal was submitted at a time when supposedly Kosovo Serbs “began to apply en masse for Kosovo passports”, and that according to the agreements concluded between Belgrade and Pristina, Kosovo authorities are “the only legitimate” ones to issue passports to citizens living in Kosovo.

They alleged that the adoption of the proposal will jeopardize the implementation of visa liberalization for the citizens of Kosovo, “seriously harm the purpose and implementation of the agreement” that was agreed this year and “seriously challenge progress in the integration of Serbs”.

They also believe that this would at the same time „encourage criminal structures in the north to continue with threats and intimidation of Serbs who intend to integrate.“

After the statement from non-governmental organizations, the Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo, Besnik Bislimi, also reacted.

Passports issued by the Coordination Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia are “illegal” and should be treated as such by the European Union, as well as all other “parallel documentation”, he said.

According to Bislimi, recognizing these documents “undermines the integration of the Serbian community.”

At the same time, he sent a request to the European Union to review the proposal, which, he says, contains several violations.

Read more:

EC’s proposal to introduce visa liberalization to citizens with Coordination Directorate passports met with criticism in Kosovo

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