Six years later, the Brussels negotiations have disappeared: “You cannot make a salad with rotten vegetables”

„If we have waited for five years, we can also wait for three and a half months. We will wait for these three and a half months to pass, and we will say this on the fifth anniversary,“ is what Belgrade officials said at this time last year, while anticipating the formation of the Association of Serb Municipalities – the main request of the Serbian side resulting from the Brussels Agreement. The Association, however, was not formed even a year later, additionally, it virtually disappeared from the public attention, as did the Brussels dialogue itself. The term reaching „a final legally binding agreement“ took its place, which was personified in the media and political scene as the idea of partition/delimitation/border correction.

There are no positive changes six years later. Serbs from Kosovo are still second-class citizens in both systems. In addition to statements from politicians from Serbia and Kosovo, with which they accuse each other of not implementing the Brussels Agreement, I do not see anything concrete in the field (editor of the Gracanica online portal, Andjelka Cup)

Today marks the six-year anniversary since the signing of the First Agreement on the Normalization of the Relations between Belgrade and Pristina, better known as the Brussels Agreement. It had 14 points, 6 points of which were related to the ASM (Association of Serb Municipalities). The agreement essentially referred to the closing of Serb institutions in Kosovo and the integration of Kosovo Serbs into the Kosovo system.

It resulted in dozens of individual agreements, whose implementation – with extreme levels of non-transparency and different interpretations of both Belgrade and Pristina – took place in difficult conditions in the field over the years. The public on both sides regularly pointed out that it primarily caused damage to the quality of life of citizens on both sides.

As far as the Brussels Agreement is concerned, we have sent the case to all institutions – that the Brussels Agreement is an agreement between the two sides and the European Union. It neglected other non-majority communities and non-integration, which implies a violation of the constitution and the rights of other communities. (a representative of the Bosniak community of the Vakat coalition, North Mitrovica, Nexhmedin Ugljanin)

The last meeting in Brussels between Belgrade and Pristina representatives was held on November 8th, 2018. It was not directly related to the earlier thematic dynamics of the Brussels dialogue.

November – April

The meeting took place after the Kosovo authorities first introduced a 10% tax increase on goods from Serbia and Bosnia last November. After the talk, the taxes were increased to 100% – and remain to date. Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic said that „none of our people will appear in Brussels until Pristina withdraws all illegal acts.“

In practical terms, the Brussels dialogue did not bring anything positive to us. It brought greater political tension, general blindness and media darkness when it comes to information about the dialogue. It also brought bigger problems to the citizens at the local level, bigger problems for people who have only documents of the Serbian Coordination Directorate. Finally, it brought fewer rights to the Serb community. (editor of Radio Gorazdevac, Darko Dimitrijevic)

The mayors of the Serb-majority municipalities in the north resigned in November, however, they are running for the elections in these municipalities scheduled for May 19th as of last night.

After their resignations, the former mayors celebrated the fact that the Kosovo system ceased to exist in the north, now, however, they explain that they intend to return to this system so that „some Albanian and Serb marionettes of the Kosovo authorities do not take over the leadership of the municipalities with a Serb majority.“ The Kosovo media reported, however, that they were on the payroll the entire time.

The leaders and institutions in the north of Kosovo organized protests against the decision to introduce taxes. The protests, however, stopped without notice, or changes to the taxes, after two months. During this time, the Mayor of South Mitrovica, Agim Bahtiri started the initiative to unite Mitrovica.

Kosovo security forces were transformed into the „Kosovo Army“ by circumventing the Kosovo constitution. The MPs of the largest Kosovo Serb party missed the deadline to file a complaint, although they had previously promised to do so.

In light of the latest six-month-long tense relations and the lack of dialogue in Brussels, there was one success, which did not stir the public attention, however. A regional agreement on reducing the cost of roaming between the six signatories of the Western Balkans, including Kosovo, was signed in Belgrade on April 4th.

Six years after the agreement and a little longer preparation of that same agreement, we reached a position in which those same initiators and advocates of the necessity of the agreement (EU, Hahn, Mogherini) are now overturning the agreement itself. This proves that neither they, as individuals, nor the „secretariat“ they represent, had neither the knowledge nor the interest to understand and initiate a sincere dialogue that would emerge as a process of reconciliation of the people, and not as favoritism of two individuals, even if they are the presidents. Most of all, I am sorry that such people (all of them together) managed to irreversibly „waste“ more than 6 years of our lives and today we have the worst possible relations ever between the Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans. This tells me that they are the only ones responsible for the wasted years of our lives. (Nenad Rasic, Progressive party of Kosovo Serbs)

Eleusinian Mysteries

What the public has been observing as a dialogue in Brussels since 2013 started waning at the end of 2017, that is, the beginning of 2018 – the meetings were less frequent, while the little information the public had about what are the two leaders were doing on normalizing relations became even rarer.

At the same time, the topic of ethnic partition appeared in the public. It was initially revealed via the Kosovo media and in a controlled manner introduced through Serbian officials, primarily Ivica Dacic and Aleksandar Vulin, with the support of some analysts and institutes, as early as February of last year, while it garnered close public attention in 2018, marking the political scene throughout the entire year.

The idea of ​​the ethnic partition of Kosovo as the ultimate compromise solution of the Kosovo knot is attributed to the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Vucic and Thaci. It was presented in Pristina, however, as „a minor border correction“ and „territory exchange“ – with the emphasis on the merging of the Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities to Kosovo. According to Belgrade, on the other hand, it was „the historical delimitation of the Serb and Albanian people as a dam to prevent the creation of Greater Albania.“

The Brussels dialogue and the subsequent agreement were small, but good first steps towards shaping relationships and leading to lasting peace between the two former warring societies. However, the agreement received a deadly blow when the Brussels-based dialogue leaders abandoned a gradual process and tried to achieve peace with shortcuts, and border changes. It seems that Pristina and Belgrade do not have the leadership necessary to achieve true genuine peace. You cannot achieve sustainable peace with rotten leadership. Just like you cannot make a good salad with rotten vegetables. (political analyst, Shpetim Gashi)

It was never officially announced what the partition-delimitation-border correction exactly means, nor was it even directly stated, primarily by the Serbian government, that this was the official proposal.

This idea, however, stirred visible negative feedback in the Serbian, Kosovan, and regional public, despite the fact that these same nations suggested that a part of the international community would support such a „final agreement“, primarily the US and Brussels, while Germany, on the other hand, has never been in favour of this idea.

In addition to Thaci and Vucic, Federica Mogherini was also criticized and accused by the expert public of actively contributing „to the destruction of the dialogue“ by supporting such proposals.

Brussels became a dead letter on paper because of the partition idea

“Six years after the beginning of the Brussels negotiations, the agreements reached in this process represent a dead letter on paper. This happened at the moment when European diplomacy showed a willingness to discuss the idea of ​​partition/ delimitation as a plan that made all the agreements reached, even national legislations that determine the rights of communities, redundant. From that moment on, the Brussels Agreement was put on ad Acta, the pressure from the international community to implement the agreed upon was gone. Small parts of the agreement, for whose implementation some progress was made, remain in force mechanically and with a limited expiration date in the expectation of a comprehensive solution. Therefore, the idea of ​​partition is not a continuation or a logical conclusion of the Brussels Agreement, but it is its executioner. The Brussels Agreement is an abandoned concept, and the damage done to this process is irreparable,“ Miodrag Marinkovic, a political analyst stated.

The lack of meetings and agreements of political leaders created an empty space which was, accidentally or not, primarily occupied with warnings by the tabloids on the „intrusion“ and „invasion“ of Albanians in the north, foreign „espionage activities“, „domestic traitors“ and „invaders“, as well as the „genocide of Serbia“, „mobilization“ of Serb forces and „a desire to conquer.“ Ethnic violence and ethnic war were frequently written about.

The dialogue was necessary and still is necessary. Some results which are very important have been achieved in Belgrade and Pristina and the region, such as the freedom of movement of people and goods, integration into institutions, but this progress is very small compared to the time period, so I would give it a D. It is high time to achieve a final political agreement that could be implemented, simply and efficiently, which was not the case so far. If an agreement is signed this year, it would be the finale of the dialogue in Brussels, and if we had Brussels 2, we will not have a solution for a very long time. (a professor at the University of Pristina and a political scientist, Nexhmedin Spahiu)

Stalemate or Pax

The negotiators are in a stalemate today. Belgrade refuses to continue with the negotiations until the taxes are abolished, Pristina refuses to abolish the taxes and continue the dialogue if the only condition set by Kosovo Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj is not fulfilled – for Serbia to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

The Brussels dialogue and the application of the Brussel Agreement have disappeared from the political and media scene, but there is also the impression that the very idea of ​​ethnic partition has not been as present in the public as of this spring.

At the same time, what is remarkably noticeable and what all the parties now agree on is that the Brussels Dialogue has not fulfilled its basic officially proclaimed goal – the normalization of the relations between the two nations. Relations between Serbs and Albanians, according to estimates of the majority of people, are at the lowest level since the beginning of the negotiation process in Brussels six years ago.

Brussels has been declared clinically dead. Nevertheless, new hints on its future direction arrive in the form of a German initiative.

The next joint activity of the three sides will be a meeting, of Serbian and Kosovo presidents and prime ministers, in Berlin on April 29th, proposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Whether the German-French initiative will offer a way out of this seemingly hopeless situation, whether it will revive what is „clinically dead“ or not – it remains to be seen in the upcoming months.

If the morning shows how the day will be, the latest pessimistic message of the Serbian President may offer some insight: No one wants a compromise anymore, they request Kosovo’s full recognition from me, but it will never come to pass.

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