The three year anniversary of Brussels Agreement: 'The bad guys' are somewhere else

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Op-ed: Tatjana Lazarević

Three years have now passed since the signing of the First Agreement on Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations, between Serbs and Albanians, otherwise known as the Brussels Agreement. If this agreement, this process of the so-called normalization of relations between Prishtina and Belgrade which has lasted for 1,095 days thus far, is important for the goals of the political elite, it should also be important to both the Serbian and Albanian people and, first and foremost, to Kosovo Serbs and Albanians. The normalization process is key to defining the relationship between Serbs and Albanians in this century and should be a cornerstone for the future of the Balkans. If a meaningful reconciliation process had taken place in the last three years, its greatest significance and achievement would lay in the fact that it settled centuries of hostilities between the two nations.

In the brief 17 year history following the conflict, the Brussels Agreement constitutes the most serious attempt on the part of international policy makers to abolish Serbian institutions in Kosovo and to integrate North Kosovo into the unilaterally declared Kosovo state, which Kosovo Serbs opposed. Where the 13 years of the UN SB 1244 1999 resolution, with its series of measures and strategies did not succeed, the First Agreement did.  The Kosovo system was imposed on Kosovo Serbs, thus making it both extraneous and unnatural. This is especially true considering that Kosovo Serbs were not active participants in the Brussels dialogue process for the better part of or most of the agreement, even if all related agreements directly affect their daily lives. This fact alone is sufficient to demonstrate the problematic nature of the use of a series of adopted agreements at a ground level that is reflected in the slow implementation, repudiation, unknowns, a lack of transparency, as well as the disputable ethics and fairness of the agreement and the whole negotiation process.

It was apparent from the onset of the Brussels dialogue process that, Serbs from the north would be given a kind of biometric identity, a readable “chip” that would define them as the “bad guys” on call and North Kosovo as a “problematic territory.” This are probably still viewed this way by Western-oriented publics. Nevertheless, on the three year anniversary of the agreement, Kosovo is faced with a totally different reality, one that it faces in the “later” years of dialogue and an advanced normalization process. That reality is still negative but “undisciplined” Serbs from the north and “unconstructive” attitudes from Belgrade can no longer be used to explain it away.

It is this very resistance and reluctance on the part of Kosovo Serbs, particularly Serbs from the North, towards the Kosovo state that was reason enough for Belgrade, who led the power-changing process on the ground in its effort to speed up the process of EU integration, to completely marginalize their power and influence.  The whole political leadership of the north was neutralized, including both its moderate and “hard-core” elements, from the detention of the moderate Oliver Ivanovic, who has already been convicted of war crimes and whose guilt is questioned even by representatives of the international community, to the cutting off of institutional and political support to other political figures, such as Marko Jaksic, who perhaps held more radical political views. Belgrade shut down Serbian municipalities and undertook various temporary measures as transitional measures, a buffer zone that would in fact allow them to take part in the then-unthinkable Kosovo elections. 

Belgrade “supports” (to use a euphemistic term) Kosovo (Serb) mayors, parliamentarians, and ministers – a group of people gathered without any previous political and professional experience, credibility and thus influence within the community. An entire political apparatus, from assistances to advisors, has been adapted according to a similar model. Nevertheless, Serbs are now included in the Kosovo government and administration with support from Belgrade – on both the local and central level. 

The historical fact will remain that, for the first time in a hundred years, Serbia has closed or is closed levels of government and institutions in which Kosovo is still referred to – according the constitution and in political communication as an autonomous province.

Serbs today, including those from the north, from the police, to the civil defense and the courts, are an integral part of the Kosovo system with the support of Belgrade. All of this comes despite a different sentiment on the part of the populace, and first and foremost despite the bitter experience that Kosovo Serbs, particularly from the south, have when encountering questions of safety and friendship that they could feel from the majority of Kosovo Albanians.   

Despite the currently tense official relationship between Belgrade and Pristina, understandable considering that Serbian elections are only a week away, the latest example of Serbian support to the Kosovo system was the election of the fifth President of Kosovo. The stability and discipline of Serbian MPs when they, through their participation and presence, provided the necessary quorum and indeed the necessary votes, for election of Hashim Tachi for the President of Kosovo. As far as the North is concerned, this is currently the best example of Belgrade’s constructiveness, and that Serbs themselves are becoming part of the Kosovo system after two decades of resistance to all forms of integration.

That is just one of the two pictures mentioned of the new, other reality. The other one concerns the “bad guys” and they are now in second place than in the north.

The Kosovo parliament has been in collapse for seven months and has become, quite literally, a battlefield, a place of violence. The violent protests have been ongoing for more than a year, mostly concentrated in Pristina. They began as a strong reaction to the politically inexperienced and clumsy statement from the then-head of the Srpska Lista group in parliament, who referred to a group of Albanians who prevented Serbian former residents of Djakovica from entering a church on Christmas as “savages.” These protests continued in opposition to two agreements – on the formation of the Association of Serbian municipalities and border demarcation with Montenegro.

With the help of tear gas and Molotov cocktails, the blockade of parliament and street protests then veered towards violence. They interrupted and blocked sessions of parliament using teargas and attempts to hold parliamentary sessions have been attended by the police, American and Norwegian Ambassadors and the Head of the EU in Kosovo. Gas masks are worn by MPs in the parliamentary chamber. The violence has spread with attacks on the Prime Minister, with Ministers being pelted with eggs and attacks on their personal property.  Not even the physical attendance of high-ranking diplomats, ambassadors and politicians has helped the parliament resume its normal functions. Activists from Vetevendosje’s, who led the oppositions’ violent actions in parliament, set fire to the cars of a number a number of political figures, including the leader of Liga Kosovo’s parliamentary group, Ismet Beciriji,  the Minister of Local Self-Government Administration, Bajram Gecaj, and the Minister of Agriculture, Memlji Krasnici. On two occasions at the end of this last year, vehicles belonging to a number of Kosovo institutions were set ablaze which were part of coordinated actions in cities across Kosovo. We witnessed an attack using a Molotov cocktail on the Office of the President of Kosovo in the building housing the Parliament and an attack using a Molotov cocktail on a court building in one of Kosovo’s cities. Trucks carrying goods from Serbia to venders in Kosovo were overturned with the announcement that these actions would be continued and are a call to boycott Serbian products.

And this whole time attacks are being carried out on the few Serbs who have decided to return – mostly elderly citizens – that range from theft from churches, defacing tombstones, setting fire to and robbing the homes of returnees to shooting at villages. As far as these attacks are concerned, the different between the present situation and that of earlier years is that these attacks are reported by the police as “criminal incidences” – thefts, burglaries, arsons, and not as ethnically-motivated acts of violence.  

Footage has shown up a number of times in the media of an armed paramilitary formation – so called Albanian National Army, officially listed as a terrorist organization, inspecting their units in Kosovo and holding ideological talks on “the liberation of the autochthonous Albanian people and countries.” They claim the NATO is their partner. ANA parades are held, in the literal sense of the word, without any reaction from international or Kosovo security and governing structures.

This violence and destabilization of the otherwise fragile and weak Kosovo society and government that is attempting to find its way towards Europe in a confused and muddled way, in a process that Belgrade agreed to and undertook concrete steps towards the integration of the Serbian community in Kosovo society, is now nominally motivated by opposition to the formation of the association – the guarantor of the integration of Serbs into the Kosovo system according to the agreement signed in Brussels. This moderate mechanism is likely the only possible one that would enable the integration of Kosovo Serbs. To those opposing the division, which despite being discussed only by a limited number of people – is still very much present as an idea, the Association is the best and only solution, for division is the one and only alternative to its establishment.

Why is Association only possible mechanism? On one hand, we have the continuity of Serbia and her institutions in Kosovo and the natural feelings loyalty, certainty that Serbs have towards them which still exists despite their gradual closing.  On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, Kosovo Serbs have a very bitter and painful experience of terror, discrimination and feelings of being an undesirable presence in Albanian-majority Kosovo even with a strong international presence and support to Albanians in the creation of a “multi-ethnic” Kosovo. Besides, if Kosovo Albanians in their efforts to build a democratic state had succeeded in integrating an ethnic community that fell to under 5% of the general population during the process, we wouldn’t even mention the Association. In other words, while they strongly advocate for the use of Constitutional Court decisions on the still illusionary issue of the Association of Serbian Majority Municipalities, the provisions of their own constitution on the equality and the power sharing role of another people besides Albanians are just dead words on paper.

Three years into the Brussels dialogue process, the international project to build a multi-ethnic state in Kosovo is being destroyed from within by Albanians themselves. They have been stumbling since as early as 1999 in the application of value system of European democracy in their institutions and society. Despite nominal streamlining and unequivocal commitment to the family of European nations, Kosovo Albanian are in fact an obstacle to that which the EU is attempting to establish in Kosovo. As the majority community, they are destroying structure of the system of equality, equity, civil, religious and national freedom from within In other words, while they strongly advocate for the use of Constitutional Court decisions on the still illusionary issue of the Association of Serbian Majority Municipalities, the provisions of their own constitution on the equality and the power sharing role of another people besides Albanians are just dead words on paper.

It is up to Kosovo Albanians, as the undisputed ethnic majority in Kosovo and Metohija, to take up their historical responsibility, along with the bitter experiences of other nations from here, to make to the few pockets of ethnic minorities/communities feel genuinely secure, wanted, respect and treat them as equal citizens. If it is overly ambitious to achieve normalized relations between two centuries-belligerent nations, then at least it can be expected from Kosovo institutions and society to normalize their own civil society that will respect individual and collective freedoms and rights – particularly of those citizens of Serbian nationality from central Kosovo and from Metohija who have been in a set level of integration for years now. Kosovo Albanians need not forget they intensive support from global powers and self-declared democracies in the building of their institutions and society. From the perspective of Kosovo Serbs, they have yet to pass either of these two tests. 

Tatjana Lazarević, editor of the "KoSSev" newsportal

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