The people who spoke on behalf of the Kosovo Serb community shared a largely unanimous message – that the formation of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities is necessary if they want to avoid the negative consequences of integration, Milica Andric Rakic from the New Social Initiative said in a statement for KoSSev after the discussion on the formation of the ASM held at the US embassy in Pristina today.
According to Andric Rakic, during the discussion, the Serbian side spoke mainly about the given topic and the specific problems faced by Kosovo Serbs. On the other hand, the Albanian side had different interpretations of the issue. While government representatives still do not understand the need for the ASM and see it as just a tool for Belgrade to control Kosovo, some members of Kosovan civil society said that it is an undertaken international obligation and must be implemented as such.
The closed round table organized and led by the US ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, lasted two and a half hours. Andric Rakic reveals that it passed peacefully, without harsh words, but with some disagreements.
The Serbian side talked about the practical problems already faced by the Serbs, but also those that would emerge if the ASM is not formed.
Speaking about these problems, the Serbian side underlined the differences between the Kosovan and Serbian systems – both in the manner, as well as the quality and provision of services.
„They tried to explain that integration without taking into account the specifics of the other system would mean the end of the Kosovo Serb community,“ she pointed out.
Furthermore, they underscored the importance of the financial support sent to Kosovo from Serbia proper – both in wages and social benefits.
„The Serbian side also gave an example of the criteria of the Kosovo system for social categories, which is currently much higher than in the Serbian system. Thus, many people who meet the criteria in Serbian, may be left without social benefits in the Kosovan system,“ explained Andric Rakic.
In addition, the Serbian side noted that several schools would be closed – since the quotas of teachers to students are not shared by the two systems.
They also talked about specific problems such as the import of medicines, and textbooks, problems with access to jobs in public institutions, problems with the verification of diplomas, and other things.
Andric Rakic added that, except for two political options, the other discussion participants took the high road and spoke only about the topic, concrete problems, and what the ASM could practically solve.
On the other hand, some of the representatives of the Pristina government who attended the meeting said that they do not understand why the ASM is so necessary, that is, why Ahtisaari’s plan is not enough for them, she added.
In addition, they believe that Belgrade wants to exercise control over Kosovo through the ASM.
„They believe that the Kosovo Serb community is instrumentalized and that it (cf. ASM) works to the benefit of Belgrade, as well as that it poses Belgrade’s attempt to gain control over Kosovo and not the essential needs of the community,“ she specified.
This was not the case, explains Andric Rakic, when it comes to representatives of the opposition. They proved themselves to be more constructive than the government representatives and showed more understanding of the idea of the Association.
Andric Rakic emphasizes that this is still the position of a part of the opposition, noting that others refused to share their stance today.
Unlike them, the Albanian civil society position was more in line with the interpretation of the Kosovo government, but there were exceptions.
„Some of them emphasized that this is an international obligation of Kosovo and that Kosovo must implement the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities, but which will not go beyond the scope of the Constitutional Court,“ she said.
The representatives of the Serbian community, adds Andric Rakic, mostly opposed such an interpretation – saying that international agreements go beyond national legal frameworks, including the constitution.
„Individuals from the Serbian side stated that the integration of the Serbian community in Kosovo happened with the help of the muscles of one party and that it is still not a formally resolved legal situation in Serbia. That nobody took it to the Constitutional Court of Serbia. And that means that if Serbia changes the Constitution, Kosovo must do the same,“ says Andric Rakic.
The meeting in Pristina today gathered representatives of the Kosovo government, political parties, CSOs, and the diplomatic corps.
Today’s round table was also attended by the representatives of Srpska Lista, whose officials left all positions at the central and the local level in the north in early November.
The CSO representatives we spoke to said that they could not reveal the participants of the discussion individually, considering the Chatham House Rule, under which the meeting was held.
The Government of Kosovo was represented by the Minister of Health Arben Vitija, the Minister of Education Arberija Nagavci, and the Minister for Communities and Returns, Nenad Rasic. The media report that there were also other representatives present at the discussion.
After the meeting, Ambassador Jeffrey Hovenier addressed the media, emphasizing that today’s discussion reflects the importance the US attributes to the formation of the ASM.
“While several U.S. officials have already made this point, I also want to be clear about the position of the United States. We do not support any arrangement that violates Kosovo’s Constitution, that is inconsistent with the 2015 Constitutional Court decision, or that would threaten Kosovo’s sovereignty, independence, multiethnic character, or democratic institutions.”
He said that the US „strictly oppose the creation of any entity resembling Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” noting that they still expect Kosovo to fulfill its obligations.
“We ask the Government of Kosovo to provide its own vision for an ASM that it believes protects Kosovo’s future as a sovereign, independent, multiethnic, democratic state and that provides for minority rights consistent with the Brussels Agreements. This is critical, important, and urgent,” he emphasized.
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