Sarazzin: Prishtina took a step forward in relation to ASM, „swallowed a difficult topic“

I received a clear indication that there is political will to deliver what was agreed upon in Ohrid, the German government’s envoy for the Western Balkans, Manuel Sarazzin, said in an interview for KoSSev, after a series of meetings with high-ranking officials in Pristina. He also believes that the „very difficult“ topic of the Association of Municipalities with a Serbian Majority is „accepted“ by the Kosovo side, and that it is clear that the agreements from 2013 and 2015 must be fulfilled – as described in article seven of the basic agreement.

„The impression from my meetings in Pristina is that they have taken a step forward. And we expect them to show it on the field in the coming days and weeks,“ Sarazzin said. He says that the messages of Pristina officials are „credible“ for him. However, although he claims that „you never know“ in the Western Balkans, he says that sometimes it helps to take people at their word and tell them: „We listen to what you say publicly, but we will hold you to that.“

He also commented on the fact that Srpska Lista is boycotting the upcoming elections in the North of Kosovo with the phrase „he who leaves the room must think about how he will be able to enter again.“

He believes that the Srpska Lista does not have a tactic on how to „re-enter“ for now, and regarding this party’s request to return to the institutions, one of which is to form the ASM, Sarazzin said:

„We want that to happen and we are trying to be helpful along the way, but I would not comment and put on my agenda the sequence presented by Srpska Lista“.

The German official began the week with a visit to Kosovo, where he met with top officials. He spoke with KoSSev portal yesterday, at the end of his visit, and just before he left for Belgrade, where he is expected to meet with Serbian officials today.

Mr. Sarazzin thank you for talking to KoSSev.

Dobar dan

After the February meeting in Brussels and the March meeting in Ohrid, how has Germany evaluated the agreement reached and the implementation plan?

We are glad that Ohrid was a success, and we think that this is a really important chance for the region – for Kosovo, Serbia and the whole region, to proceed, to go on, and to continue clearly on the European path, of the region, but also of the both countries. We think that implementation is key, and the story can be a really great success story if we manage out to get implementation done. I think, as soon as we go on and working on the concrete steps, it can be like one step is leading to another. Not typical for the Western Balkans sense, positive move shows up to be the reason for the next positive move, which might be the reason for the next positive move, and another.

A lot of people in the region will say I’m an idiot because I’m believing in positive moves, but we have shown through the Berlin process that it’s possible to reach positive agreements if you are thinking positive and I think Ohrid can be a changing point from getting from a minus – minus, to a plus situation in the region.

What is the German take in bringing the two sides together to reach this agreement?

So, actually, we were mainly trying to be helpful as a member state of European Union. I know it’s sometimes not been seen in the region. But Germany is only one of the 27 members of EU, O.K, we are the biggest, but it doesn’t mean that we are something different.

We were trying to support and trying to put our capacities at the service of the High Representative of EU, Mr. Borell, and the Special Representative for the region, the Dialogue, Mr. Lajcak. So, we were the good guys working for the bosses in Brussells, and perhaps even a bit more than working, so this was our role.

A bit more than working? What does that mean exactly?

We were putting harsh pressure on both sides to agree, and tried to tell them ‘listen, this is your chance, don’t miss this chance, you will perhaps not get many more’.

Do you believe that this agreement will be implemented with same efficiency as it was reached, albeit outside of the public eye? What are the difficulties to implement it, in your opinion?

I think the biggest question in politics is always political will.

Is there political will in this case?

I think that many people don’t trust the political will which has been shown in Ohrid. So, it is decisive that now, in the implementation, the political will is proved.

What is your opinion, do you think that there is really exists political will in Belgrade and Pristina to implement this agreement? Or is it just buying time?

Well, I have to be honest, I’m going to Belgrade tonight, so I haven’t been talking to Serbian officials yet. I was seeing some press statements and press conferences, so I would reserve this clear judgement on their political will until I get the impression from personal talking, not only from press conferences.

After my talks in Pristina yesterday, I think that this is for the audience from Kosovo especially important, yesterday in Pristina the Kosovo government and other officials gave me a clear indication that there is a political will to deliver what has been agreed in Ohrid. And I can also say that we clearly demand from them to not only deliver nice words of implementation, but also steps of implementation and going forward. And I think this is like what we are trying to play now.

We are hearing all the time that this agreement is will improve the lives of Serbs. How exactly? What is this agreement bringing to the Kosovo Serbs?

So, if you look to Serbia, we have 80,000 German jobs, and just in April I think, there was for example one big plant opened, which was a 200-million-euro investment, and you know the German cars from Mercedes, A class? they have huge screens all over the front. And the screens are not only produced in this new plant in Novi Sad, but they are also developed in Serbia.

You got great jobs, you got great payment, you have a kindergarten, you have a doctor in the factory, you even have an October Fest. This is the jobs German companies are creating in Serbia. In the meantime, how many you have here? What is Vucic doing to attract these companies from Germany? He is offering stability and a European path for Serbia. This is the main argument why you get German companies to be there. You need stability, you need the clarity about the future of this region, also about the communities in the north, as their path to the European Union is Kosovo’s path. Then you have the stability and the possibility to go forward.

I think that this agreement is a chance to give a clear framework how to reach the stability, this clarity about the future and I think this can unleash potential which is here.

The biggest trading partner for Kosovo is the EU, is Germany, an economic partner, but of course, Serbia is also important as an economic partner for Kosovo, for the whole region. And, what we do with Kosovo, there is a lot of physically going through Serbia.

So, it’s clear that a lot of opportunity for the Serbian economy is also in Kosovo, and here is the part where you can bridge this together, but, you need a clear framework for the outlook – What will be the future of North Mitrovica, of South Mitrovica, of the four communities in the north, of the Serbs all over Kosovo? What will be the future – that these questions about what is coming are answered and Ohrid is the chance to give an answer. Don’t be afraid about the future.

There is a settlement, we will find a way, you can come. I think this is the main point. So, I cannot promise that tomorrow there will be so and so many German jobs coming if you sign it, but I think this is the chance to get good jobs, to get better chances for the future, for people who want to live in Kosovo as Serbs.

In the basic agreement we have article 7. How did you understand the article 7? Is it less than Association of Kosovo Serb Majority Municipalities or does it have executive powers? What will Serbs get in this article if it’s implemented?

On the one hand, self-management is the term which is used there. And the question what an appropriate level is, I will not be able to answer it in the way that everybody on the outside understands what I mean. I think it’s clear that the 2013 and 2015 agreements on the Association of Serbian Majority Municipalities must be fulfilled and article 7 is drawing the way how to do it.

But I will not make a clear comment on what exactly level of power this means, this is out of my competences. It is important that we find a way of getting a process of finding the right volume, altitude of these questions. It was in the Dialogue, in the bodies discussing it.

My impression is that this, for the Kosovo government side, very difficult topic of ASMM, is now swallowed. And Germany and international partners have always been clear that we expect Kosovo to deliver this, and my impression is that this is now also accepted in Pristina.

I might be wrong, but this is what was the impression from my meetings in Pristina – that there is a move forward from them. And we expect them to show this also on the ground in the next days and weeks.

So, I think this is a huge chance. Of course, only if you want to play this positively to solve it, from both sides. If you want to cover next 25 years with discussions about how exactly an ASMM should look like, only to have a reason not to agree, we will not be able to solve this. But I think that there is a moment which is just different.

If I’m wrong on this, then let’s just try it, let’s see. But it doesn’t help to be afraid of trying, of failure, because if you don’t try, we will also not reach anything.

The Kosovo Prime Minister said recently, a couple of times, that he will not allow Association to be as the Belgrade wants it. Can they find common ground? EU says that they should agree on how the Association should look like. I don’t see that both sides have the same vision for the Association. Do you?

I don’t see that both sides have the same vision as well. But I think it is possible to reach an agreement to which both sides must align. And I think this is one of the main aims of international community coming up now.

We proved in Berlin that they can sign things together. Brnabic was even sitting in front of Kosovo flag and signing, because they said „O.K, it’s a regional cooperation, let’s put this aside, let’s do something“.

And the potential of this Ohrid agreement for regional cooperation is so huge – to bring Kosovo and Serbia and all the six more close to Europe. There can be so much power of the region, so much hope given by that.

I think there is a chance to reach things if both sides are willing to move. I think from putting tear gas bombs against any kind of Association to „I will not agree to what Serbia’s vision is“, is already some way up. So, let’s try to get something there.

When you said about talks with Kurti and the Kosovo government, you got a message that they are willing to do something about the Association or this self-management for Serbs, whatever that means?

Yes, this was the impression which they transported to us – that they are willing to move and deliver what they promised in Ohrid. For me, this sounded credible, I mean, you never know in the Western Balkans, but sometimes it’s also helpful to take people on their words and to also tell them: “We listen what you say publicly, but we will stick with what you told us“.

When it comes to Article 7, Albanians in South of Serbia want the same rights as Serbs here in Kosovo. They want reciprocity. What do you think, will there be reciprocity in rights for Albanians in South of Serbia?

Serbia is a member of Council of Europe and minority rights are an important part of Council of Europe, but also the European legislation, and of course, as a partner of Serbia for us it is important that citizens of Serbia, whatever ethnicity or background they have, feel aligned to that rights, which are usually given for Council of Europe regulations, but also which are necessary for becoming a EU member, are also applied there.

But I cannot in detail comment, I’m not knowledgeable enough about the concrete situation, but I had some talks. I thinks it’s not part of the Dialogue and I think it is not the right point to say Kosovo is the country to make sure that the minority questions in Serbia are settled the right way, because I think that in the past we had too much intrusion from other countries into neighboring countries and this is more an example which should be perhaps not the way to follow for Kosovo government.

One of the demands of Kurti for actually implementing the Association is reciprocity in rights for Albanians in South Serbia. Have you spoke about that with him? Has he said anything about that?

Well, I mean, a lot of talks with Kosovo officials are coming up to this topic, and I have to say, I don’t see a basis in the 2013 agreement for dealing with this. Although, of course, I can understand it. But I think it’s a question that was in Belgrade, that was in Belgrade’s international obligations, and I think it’s not the best idea to pose this from Kosovo.

What about Serbian Orthodox Church, which is also mentioned in Article 7, and its status? What can you tell us about this part of the Article, and what Kurti told you about this?

I think that Serbian Orthodox Church’s future in Kosovo is one of the topics which is underestimated in the importance in the international community sometimes, and that a lot of problems and possible solutions are also, because this topic is difficult to touch, as you can see in lots of neighboring countries, which made some regulation on this and internal clearance is coming after. So I think that the Ohrid (agreement) on this regulation is touching something in a good manner, which is really important.

But I will not go in detail on this then just saying that Ohrid is reassuring the rights of Serbian Orthodox Church and that it will be important to find a way with also existing regulations of international communities to that. Kosovo has an application to the Council of Europe, the question how to deal with religious righclearts is one of also important questions of Council of Europe so I think this is the right framework for dealing with the question of the future of Serbian Orthodox Church inside Kosovo in the right manner.

But I will not be more detailed, because this will be over my capacity, my competences to really analyze it in detail.

How do you comment on the latest events in Kosovo? We had new car burnings in the North, we also had an arrest of one person. At the same time, we have Pristina that connects all this with Belgrade, Belgrade on the other side accuses Pristina of raising tensions before meeting in Brussels. How do you comment all of this?

Well, I think that the burning of cars is a sincere threat, we should take it very seriously and it’s clear that it’s not acceptable. I think that crimes should be of course followed and persecuted by the relevant authorities. I don’t have personal information about the person which has been detained, but what I hear is that there were some legal grounds to do it, which are not disputed by anybody. So, I think that everybody should choose the persons for whom they are going to make public statements, and not have a bad choice there.

In general, I think now is the time for trying to produce calmness and helpfulness for positive results in the first steps of implementation. You know, it is like when a child makes the first steps. It may fall for a second, but it’s important to let it make the first steps. And with every step it will learn how to do it and will get some credibility and self-esteem to walk better.

This Ohrid agreement is like a child. Because with every step of this Ohrid agreement implementation the magic of it will be stronger, the power of it will be stronger and trust will rise. So, let’s not talk down before it’s starting to walk. Let’s try to be in the right way to say ok, walk a bit, let’s go, let’s do something.

When do you expect the implementation of the agreement to begin? Is it starting with the Association or not? Or something else? Is there any kind of plan regarding this?

You know who was leading the dialogue, that is Miroslav Lajčak under the auspice of Mr. Borell and you have to pose this question to them, and they will give you more competent answers.

You don’t have any information regarding this?

I might have some information, perhaps I don’t have any information, but I will just forward you to them because they are the masters of the process.

You had a meeting with Srpska lista. What are their suggestions, requests, what are their concerns and problems?

I was meeting Srpska lista, but also NGO’s from Serbian community in Kosovo. Actually, every time I am in Kosovo, and I was in Kosovo in the last ten years, I was always meeting elected or other representatives of Serbian community to get an impression about their perspective.

Srpska Lista was telling us about their sorrows, their perceived weaknesses, and mistakes of the government of Kosovo, and the current situation, and the reasons for their political decision to not take part in the local elections which are coming up.

Also, Civil society was critical on the one hand of government in Pristina, but also of Srpska Lista and other representatives of local Serbian community. And for me, it’s important to tell everybody from the Serbian community in Kosovo that we take their concerns seriously and we know about the impression and the feeling which exist here, and we acknowledge that. We also talked with the government in Pristina, with Kosovo authorities about the sorrows of Serbian people, which doesn’t mean that we followed all the arguments of Srpska Lista of course.

I think that it’s important that local elections will take place, so that civil organization of the Serbs can also express politically in legitimate elected political bodies, which are then having better competences to put claims towards the central government in Pristina, and towards us. But for us it’s important to talk to almost everybody.

How will the boycott of elections in the North by Srpska Lista affect the political life of Serbs in Kosovo? Will elections be legitimate this way?

It’s difficult for me to predict. In Germany we have one saying in politics about when guys are leaving – The one who is leaving the room must think about how he will be able to enter it again? I think that Srpska Lista doesn’t yet have a tactic what is the good way to enter it again, and I think it would probably be a good idea for them to find a way to join in again and to put the interests at the political sphere again. On the other hand, I also think that it’s their decision.

I remember that in Serbia, for example, the opposition was boycotting elections and in the end that wasn’t good for the strength of opposition of Serbia. I don’t know if this is one to one to be able to be compared, but my feeling is that if I was here, I would not decide this way perhaps, but they also told me about reasons, so how can I judge this? We have to accept their decision, but I think it’s important to know we can’t always delay elections, and again delay elections.

This is not Mostar. I think elections are important to take place, and actually the moment for the people to express their will. So, I hope that elections will be having a good possibility to take place, also surrounding which is perceived as free and fair as possible.

What do you think about the demands of Srpska Lista for reentering Kosovo institutions? One of them is the implementation of Association. What do you think about that demand?

Well, I can just say that Germany and other international partners are having since a long outstanding time the position that Association of the Serbian Majority Communities must be on the topical list and must be delivered. I just think that this discussion is not so easy to take place within one day and then there will be a magical solution, and everybody will be fine with it.

So, I will stick to that, we want this to happen, and we try to be helpful on the path, but as for the sequencing Srpska Lista has put in there, I would not comment and put it on my agenda.

What is your message to Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo in the context of the Dialogue?

Everybody in Kosovo wants to come closer to the European Union, and I think that the dialogue, nobody perhaps likes it, but it’s the best way to come. And that is the message. We are waiting for you, you are waiting for us, so if the dialogue is the right way to do it, you don’t have to love the dialogue, but let’s go this path anyway, because the aim you will like.

That’s what is coming afterwards, the steps towards EU, coming closer to us, that’s what you will like for sure. So, don’t look on the dialogue only and the small steps to go, and this and that, who is winning and who is losing, because in the end everybody will win when Kosovo is proceeding towards EU.

Also, we, by the way, we will also win, the EU and Germany, if you come closer, so let’s stick to the common interest. I know it’s not a classic Balkan argumentation, but somebody has to still believe in this, good things, because otherwise we don’t have a chance.

How do you comment on the fact that Montenegro got a new president?

We congratulate Mr Milatovic. We had several talks with him in the past. I think that the comments of the outgoing president, how he accepts the results are showing there is a chance in this, but also the new president will have to show how he can deliver in real politics on the Montenegro’s euro-Atlantic integration, and he will have to prove that he is the right person also to proceed the country on that, together with the results of the parliamentary elections which are coming up.

As friends of Montenegro, we will be helpful and stand ready to support Montenegro on this path. But we are not only helpful, we are also demanding friends.

Mr. Sarazzin, thank you for talking to KoSSev.

Hvala vama.


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