Legal framework for Kosovo Serbs tailored to Pristina (part six and summary): Census and proposals for a new Kosovo policy

Dragutin Nenezić

By Dragutin Nenezic

When I wrote my first text for this portal, I had only three texts in the plan – but it turned into around ten texts, six of which (including this text on the census) are dedicated to the legal framework. The well-meaning comments of older, more experienced, and smarter friends and readers prompted me to summarize those six texts. And bearing in mind that I continuously wrote about the need for Belgrade’s “new Kosovo policy” in the previous texts, it spurred me to propose the elements of one such policy. On this occasion, the sixth text in the series on the legal framework is published together with the summary/proposals for a new policy on Kosovo.

Census

The draft law on the census, which should take place in 2022, is currently under the parliamentary procedure in Pristina. This census is interesting for several reasons:

– The previous census conducted under the auspices of Pristina was not carried out in four municipalities in northern Kosovo due to the boycott, and it is debatable how many Serbs were counted in the south, while censuses under the auspices of Belgrade are not carried out in Kosovo and Metohija. Therefore, there are no official data on the number of people living in the entire territory of Kosovo and Metohija, or on the number of Serbs living in Kosovo and Metohija after 1999 (although there are well-founded estimates, especially of the OSCE, which are not public, but which Pristina authorities accept when it suits them);

– Broadly speaking, it is just one of the censuses that should give a complete demographic of the region – the census in North Macedonia was conducted last year after almost twenty years (and it is interesting that its results have not yet been published, even unofficially), while a census in Montenegro will probably be conducted this year. A comprehensive demographic of the region is a necessary precondition for resolving all open national issues – primarily Serbian and Albanian;

– Historically speaking, on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, the last valid census was apparently conducted back in 1961. All the subsequent censuses may be considered lacking, each for its own reasons, which opens up a wide space for mystifications to which absolutely all parties are prone;

– Finally, the results of this census can significantly influence the change in the way Kosovo and Metohija are talked about in our public, both expert and general.

The importance of the census for Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija has been relatively recently written about on this portal, so I won’t reiterate the figures mentioned there (with the proviso that the results of the 1981 and 1971 censuses cannot be considered credible, including the number of displaced persons). In this text, I would like to draw attention to the last reason listed, as well as to the issue of the number of displaced persons.

Belgrade politicians, as well as those who would like to be one, often talk about demographics in Kosovo and Metohija without any foothold in reality – thus, the number of Albanians is often raised beyond the official 1.6 million from 2011, while the number of Serbs, given that it has never been officially confirmed by either side, can be fashioned as needed. Hence the talk about how many deputies Albanians would have in the assembly of a state that would theoretically „reintegrate“ Kosovo and Metohija.

The situation is even worse in the part of the public that pretends to be an expert, precisely because incorrect information is often spread under the guise of expertise. Thus, at one of the gatherings organized by SANU on Kosovo and Metohija (which deserve a special critical text), it could be heard that there are as many Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija as Pristina counted in 2011, without taking into account the boycott of Serbs in northern Kosovo. This was uncritically reported in the media close to official Belgrade. On the other hand, at the same gathering, Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Jovan Krsic presented a very interesting estimate of the real number of Albanians based on a series of publicly available statistical data, which went completely unnoticed by the general public (presentation is in the possession of the author).

The situation is certainly the poorest when it comes to the number of IDPs. The latest official data on this are, to my knowledge, from 2000, both international (UNHCR) and domestic (Commissariat for Refugees and Migration) – around two hundred thousand people, but that does not prevent various authors from multiplying that number – and this is also uncritically quoted. Unfortunately, this problem cannot be solved with the Pristina census, because it will not be conducted on the territory of the so-called Serbia proper. The question is whether it can be solved by Belgrade’s census, especially bearing in mind that since 2000 many people have died or emigrated, and that several generations born in exile have grown up.

If Serbs really do withdraw from Pristina’s institutions, as announced for the umpteenth time, my assumption is that this will be reflected in the census. If this is the case, and under the second assumption that Belgrade will not conduct an „alternative“ census (which would, ideally, include IDPs), Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija, both in exile and those who are managed to avoid it, will be in no man’s land in terms of their statistical status.

Proposals for a new Kosovo policy

From November 2021, I published a total of 6 articles within this series: on some topics still open within the Brussels process (ASM and energy), on Pristina’s accession to regional initiatives and international organizations (Open Balkans, NATO, EU, and Council of Europe) as well as some strategic issues (Development strategy by 2030 and 2022 census – see above). In each of them, as well as in other texts I wrote for this portal, I advocated a change in Belgrade’s current Kosovo policy. In this text, I’ll summarize the six previous ones and present proposals for this new Kosovo policy.

First of all, the new policy on Kosovo must address an essential problem of the current policy on Kosovo – balancing two approaches, one relying on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the other on the Brussels process. I think that time has shown that such a balancing act is not sustainable in the light of the fratricidal war in Ukraine, the effect of which is to strengthen the destructiveness of Albin Kurti’s policy through EU support. It is impossible to continue the policy that supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, because the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia, as a legal successor of FR Yugoslavia, guaranteed by Resolution 1244, are endangered, and at the same time that sovereignty and territorial integrity is chipped away due to active participation in the Brussels process – to use an analogy, the bearers of current policy are slowly cutting a branch with one hand, the same branch to which they are clinging to with their other hand. Therefore, it is no wonder that such a policy must end with some kind of recognition of Pristina or the formalization of the loss of sovereignty over Kosovo and Metohija, and that is why it must be changed.

Therefore, the key to defining the new Kosovo policy lies in determining what consequences will the fratricidal war in Ukraine have on the relationship between Serbia and the EU. Suspending the EU accession process would also effectively halt the Brussels process. If this does not happen, the continuation of the Brussels process will lead to the consequences described above, so it is necessary to either abandon or change this process, among other things, in terms of the following:

– Giving up on the ASM and redefining the position of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija in order to provide them with territorial and/or personal autonomy in the spirit of consociational democracy; and

– Redefining the energy agreement to the extent possible, as well as formulating mechanisms for cooperation in the field of energy, which may be conditioned by the implementation of the existing agreement by Pristina.

Abandoning the Brussels process, in my opinion, is neither such a complicated nor such a catastrophic option as it is presented to the public in some places. I am not one of those people who are analyzing the so-called Brussels agreement based on the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Contract Law, so I think that a unilateral statement by Belgrade is enough to abandon this process. The consequences would be twofold, given the hybrid nature of the document – on the one hand, it could lead to sanctions on Serbia’s EU accession process, as Chapter 35 follows progress in „normalizing relations“ between Belgrade and Pristina. On the other hand, the need for a different organization of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija outside the Brussels framework (and thus outside the legal system of Pristina), for which comparative practice provides enough examples that can be used, would become an issue that would have to be resolved within a few days.

Secondly, Belgrade diplomacy needs to formulate an alternative to the policy based on the so-called „de-recognition“ of Pristina’s unilaterally declared independence, as it is losing its importance. Pristina has already joined a number of important international organizations and institutions (such as the IMF or the World Bank), regardless of whether their members recognize its unilaterally declared independence. In addition, Belgrade and Pristina are joining the EU on separate paths, despite the fact that five EU member states do not recognize Pristina. Finally, it is clear that the withdrawal of recognition will not prevent Pristina from continuing its attempts to join Interpol, UNESCO, NATO and the Council of Europe, and apparently will not affect the likelihood of admission to at least some of these organizations, especially bearing in mind the restrictions the political West is imposing on Belgrade’s traditional allies on these issues as a result of the fratricidal war in Ukraine.

Therefore, instead of insisting on the number of withdrawn recognitions and threatening with new „de-recognitions“ if Pristina joins new organizations, it is necessary to develop measures in case this takes place. These measures should provide answers to at least the following questions:

– How will Belgrade protect the interests of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija – that is, how will it act in international organizations that Pristina manages to join – if it fails to stop Pristina from joining these organizations? and

– How will it react to cases where Pristina manages to enjoy the benefits of membership in certain international organizations or initiatives without formal accession, i.e. through third jurisdictions (which will apparently be the case with the „Open Balkans“)?

Third, the issue of Kosovo and Metohija in the legal system of the Republic of Serbia is not approached systematically. A law was never passed that would (completely) regulate the essential autonomy of Kosovo and Metohija, which is provided by Article 182, paragraph 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, instead, the policy on Kosovo is defined by various parliamentary declarations and resolutions, government and assembly decisions, government conclusions, etc. It logically follows that this issue is regulated differently in law and strategic documents – e.g. by explicitly stipulating that certain laws of the Republic of Serbia are not applied on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, i.e. that they are differently interpreted and applied on that territory, or simply by not recognizing Kosovo and Metohija in laws or strategic documents at all. In that sense, the new Kosovo policy must be systematically based, starting with the adoption of the law provided by the Constitution, and ending with the positioning of Kosovo and Metohija in other laws and strategic documents of the Republic of Serbia in a different way than it is the case now. Some of the measures that need to be implemented include:

– Conducting a census that would fully include Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as IDPs (including those who died, as well as their descendants and those who emigrated); and

– Including Kosovo and Metohija in the development plan of the Republic of Serbia.

Although I avoided writing about it at length, the topic of property is close to these topics. There is a need to carry out (or update and verify) another tally – a list of properties, both state and private (including natural resources and cultural heritage), which were destroyed, resold, or seized in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as all disputes in connection with that property.

These measures, in addition to the new policy, would enable a new discourse on Kosovo and Metohija. In our public sphere, one can often hear that Kosovo and Metohija (I’m roughly paraphrasing) are lost and that we have nothing there, the number of Serbs has decreased and the number of Albanians increased, so we get a percentage of Albanians in the Assembly with which we wouldn’t know what to do if reintegration took place. Finally, the impression is being created that the issue of Kosovo and Metohija must be resolved as soon as possible so as not to burden future generations. Such attitudes are simply inaccurate and unfounded, possibly malicious, and in any case contrary to the general sense evident from public surveys, but also the platform of presidential candidates in the Republic of Serbia (which, I assume, are based on voter surveys). In that sense, the current discourse on Kosovo and Metohija is unnatural and imposed, to the same extent as the current Kosovo policy. And just as our society lacks an established Kosovo policy, so it lacks an informed debate on Kosovo and Metohija. Instead, various simulations are present in the public sphere, while accurate data are often unavailable or in the shadow of falsifications, mystifications, and banalization, so as a result, instead of logical conclusions, lump-sum failures are imposed – to the disgrace of their authors. In other words, the importance of Kosovo and Metohija for, if nothing else, the political destiny of the Serbian people, merits for it to be approached with due care, which is currently lacking in most public appearances. I hope that with a series of articles published on this portal, I contributed at least a little to the move in that direction, together with other respected authors who also publish their texts there.

Read more: 

Legal framework for Kosovo Serbs tailored to Pristina (part five): NATO, EU, Council of Europe

Legal framework for Kosovo Serbs tailored to Pristina

Legal framework for Kosovo Serbs tailored to Pristina (part two): Energy

Legal framework for Kosovo Serbs tailored to Pristina (part three): What kind of future awaits them?

Legal framework for Kosovo Serbs tailored to Pristina (part four): Regional and/or Albanian integration

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