Vejvoda: ASM presents getting the most from what was left to K.Serbs by Serbia’s capitulation in 1999

FOTO: Ivan Vejvoda/Medija centar

‘By increments’ is an approach to reaching a comprehensive agreement on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, and it’s high time for it – after 20 years since the de facto capitulation of the Serbian state in Kosovo. Without the ASM, namely, one that ensures the autonomy of Kosovo Serbs within the framework of the Kosovo constitution, what is presented as a final agreement will not be initialized, says Ivan Vejvoda.

„Lajcak and Escobar clearly pointed out that the ASM is something that needs to be fulfilled by Pristina because it has been part of the Brussels Agreement for so long. I think that it is something that will not happen if there is no serious progress in that direction. The fact that Escobar insists so much on this, I believe, clearly speaks of a certain pressure exerted on the Pristina side to move in the direction of fulfilling that agreement from Brussels,“ a permanent member of the Vienna Institute of Social Sciences and director of „Europe’s Futures project“, Ivan Vejvoda, said in an interview for KoSSev.

Addressing the latest document recently published by the media about the alleged German proposal for the draft Statute of the ASM, Vejvoda said that he cannot confirm its authenticity. He pointed out that many proposals have been floating around for years.

In his words, the German-French proposal included a combination of elements of good European practices of autonomy, which allow for the autonomy of Kosovo Serbs within the framework of the Kosovo constitution. He reminded that the Kosovan constitution incorporates elements of Ahtisaari’s proposal, which provide possibilities for protecting the Serbian population at an enviable level.

„Many papers and non-papers circulated, so it is very difficult to say what is authentic and what is not. What is clear is that since the change of government in Serbia in 2000, there have been many ideas about how to proceed in solving the Kosovo issue. The prime minister at the time, Zoran Djindjic, was aware that the relationship between Belgrade and Pristina had to be resolved as soon as possible because it hinders the reforms and democratization of Serbia,“ says Vejvoda.

„Problems should be solved, not lived with. Therefore, many parties came up with many proposals for what the autonomy of the Serbian population in Kosovo should be like. There were various drafts of the ASM statute, and there are so many models of autonomy in Europe, such as South Tyrol, Northern Ireland, and the Faroe Islands… Many solutions already exist and I think that Ahtisaari was some combination of those solutions.“

Is it possible to have autonomy without the executive powers of the ASM? Can an ASM be formed that provides autonomy to Serb-majority municipalities, but one that doesn’t have executive powers?

I’m not an expert in that field, but that was already part of Ahtisaari’s proposal. He envisaged various powers, especially when it comes to education, healthcare, and other elements where the Serbian population has its own clear voice and powers, but beyond that, I cannot say. It was said that it will not be Republika Srpska, but it will not be an NGO either. The Association of Serbian Municipalities would have its own essence and powers. Similar models exist – for example in Belgium, with the population of Germany. There are many different solutions, and I’m sure that people who looked at those different solutions were trying to find something that made sense, but something that wasn’t just on paper. While also taking care for it not to become a state within a state.

What is currently being insisted on within the so-called Euro-Atlantic diplomatic (Brussels+US) initiative towards Belgrade, i.e. Pristina? What became particularly visible since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine is a shift towards the Western Balkans. We are currently witnessing the latest increase of diplomatic activities from the EU, i.e. the US, via visits of Miroslav Lajcak, and Gabriel Escobar, through the activities of Quint and especially the US ambassador in Belgrade and Pristina, probably through other initiatives as well that are not so visible to the general public?

We should start from the broadest context, which you yourself mentioned – the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a European country of 44 million people, which is truly a historical turning point, as was the fall of the Berlin Wall. It falls under the same level of historical changes and nothing is the same after that event. Everything that happens in world politics, including European and regional politics, is now observed through that lens. The second thing is that now, 11 years since the talks between Belgrade and Pristina began in March 2011, under the presidency of Boris Tadic, and the Brussels Agreement reached in April 2013, some minor agreements have been reached and some of the conditions of the Brussels Agreement have been fulfilled.

It seems to me that in the light of these events in Europe after February 24, it became obvious that a European problem should be brought to an end with a gradual solution as it was called from the beginning – by reaching a comprehensive agreement on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

Attempts were made in previous years as well…

…Of course, attempts were made in previous years, however, they were often halted and interrupted by elections in Serbia and Kosovo, as well as other countries. But somehow a window has now opened with no elections in Serbia nor in Kosovo, France, or Germany.

„If we can say so – there is a political electoral plain where we can start a more serious review and gradually solve a series of steps that follow the agreement from April 2013“.

It should also be noted that the frequent visits of both Lajcak and Escobar speak of the frequency of Euro-Atlantic politics – the Euro-US approach. That’s what Escobar clearly noted in his statements in the past two days – that Europe heads the mediation process, while the US follows and supports every move and decision that Europe presents and proposes. And Escobar also clearly said in his latest interview that both parties – Belgrade and Pristina, are the ones who are defining how they’ll move forward. When Catherine Ashton, as a high representative, led those talks, she always insisted that the success of those talks and agreements can only be based on what both sides decide for themselves, and not something imposed by Europe or US. Therefore, there is mediation in finding those solutions.

„I think that, as I said, what we are watching and what we are witnessing is precisely the use of that time space that in this new historical situation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where the security and foreign policy frameworks of the Euro-Atlantic policy in relation to Russia are changing, and that we should  to help resolve an open European, regional issue such as the relationship between Belgrade and Pristina“.

You mentioned two important elements, the convergence of momentum and the so-called agreement on normalization. Are there any specific deadlines, especially in relation to what Escobar said – that it is not a matter of years, but weeks? Are there specific deadlines, if not for the conclusion of that so-called final agreement, but for the start of the finalization process – the talks between the parties?

As for the time frame, it’s hard to say. There were various statements. In any case, it’s a matter of foreseeable future, whether November 3rd, or after the New Year, or the anniversary of the Russian invasion on February 24th, or leading up to the European parliamentary elections sometime in the spring of 2024. It is difficult to determine. In any case, the EU and the US want it to happen sooner rather than later, but when it will depend, of course, depends on Belgrade and Pristina – on whether they will be able to harmonize their views so that they can sign the agreement. I see that Escobar avoided, and rightly so, talking about the final agreement, because it’s a kind of ‘by increments’ approach which, I think, is the right approach.

„Lajcak and Escobar clearly pointed out that the ASM is something that needs to be fulfilled by Pristina because it has been part of the Brussels agreement for so long. I think that it is something that will not happen if there is no serious progress in that direction. The fact that Escobar insists so much on this, I believe, clearly speaks of a certain pressure exerted on the Pristina side to move in the direction of fulfilling that agreement from Brussels.“

When you say that it is up to the parties to agree, are we talking about an independent Kosovo as an irreversible process – with or without a model of recognition by Serbia, or is there another possibility of resolving the issue of status?

When it comes to Kosovo’s independence, I think that things have been clear since the end of the bombing or the de facto capitulation on June 10, when all the Serbian institutions – as well as the army – left Kosovo, when the UN passed resolution 1244 where we have, and this has been repeated many times, a kind of de facto independence of Kosovo. De jure is still Serbia’s sovereignty over that territory.

„Since the beginning, even from the time of Prime Minister Djindjic’s government, it was said that the maximum should be extracted from the minimum that such a situation left behind. It seems to me that this is the Association of Serbian Municipalities, that the Serbian population has its own institutional frameworks in which it has certain powers. I think what we are talking here, and it is clearly stated in your question, about kind of modality will it be according to which Serbia will not recognize the independence of Kosovo at this moment, and that Kosovo actually has some kind of statehood of its own, where the absolute rights of the Serbian population are guaranteed in the best possible way, and of course the position of the SOC. There is plenty of that in the Ahtisaari agreement from 2007, where some of the elements need to be more clearly defined so that the rights of the Serbian population and others are now fully guaranteed and that there is the security of the Kosovo Serbs.“

Are you familiar with the mainstream narrative of all Kosovo governments, especially evident in the current LVV-led government, which is that the most painful compromise Kosovo has made is precisely Ahtisaari’s provisions that a minority was unjustifiably given the greatest possible rights in Europe, that Ahtisaari’s proposals incorporated into the Kosovo constitution make Kosovo a dysfunctional state? And how now, especially on the part of LVV, there is a desire to see changes to the Kosovo constitution, which would be cleared of Ahtisaari’s elements on the use of language, guaranteed seats for the Serbian community in the parliament, ban on unification, that is, the impossibility of holding a referendum on that, on the army, etc?

Governments, individuals, and politicians can desire what they want, but with an international agreement like Ahtisaari’s, where all parties participated, including international actors as a third actor, I see absolutely no way for them to fulfill their wishes, nor can the EU allow that – and they declared that they want to become a member of the EU and NATO, which means that the US will not allow it. It seems to be absolutely unrealistic and contrary to what is currently being sought to be achieved, that next step in the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

You mentioned Prime Minister Djindjic twice now. How he was different from all the other Serbian state leaders precisely because he was in a hurry to resolve the status of Kosovo, but you also remember very well that this met with aversion by Western diplomacy, and no one from the Brussels-US axis at that time supported the rush to resolve the status. Now we have the opposite situation. How do you comment on that?

Two decades after his proposals and his haste to solve them – it was he who realized that man should not live with another problem, but that as a country and as an individual he was mature enough to solve the problem. And it is still not resolved, regardless of the fact that some issues have been resolved. Back then, I can say that because I attended some of those meetings, they opposed the rush, saying that the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro was not resolved, they said – ‘let’s go one step at a time’. Some in that group of Western countries were more understanding of his urgency, knowing the history and the problem that Europe was already facing, but unfortunately, everything ended tragically with his murder. Then we started a slow journey again, first with Kai Eide’s report, then Martti Ahtisaari, and then we reached the Brussels Agreement, and now that bigger step towards the normalization of relations should be taken.

„There is a reality that needs to be faced, a reality that is a consequence of some decisions made at the time that led to the NATO bombing without the approval of the United Nations. I will only remind you of the statement of Vladan Kutlesic, who was the main negotiator of Serbia in Rambouillet, who, before his death, said that what was offered at that time should probably have been accepted, as it would be a better solution than anything that happened afterward.”

What is Serbia being offered now? What is offered to Vucic?

I don’t know what exactly is offered to Serbia, that is, to both sides according to this French-German proposal, but we shouldn’t miss this opportunity. I remember a statement made by President Vucic seven or eight years ago. He said: ‘I wouldn’t like a Serbian president to come in 20 years and say that we haven’t solved the problem.’ So we have a problem, a challenge that is not easy at all. It is very difficult, but as a responsible country and people in Europe who want to be European – let’s find a way to solve it.

At the time, the president also liked to quote his father who told him – son, just don’t sign anything, while now he likes to point out that, while he is the president, he will not recognize Kosovo’s independence and Kosovo will not become a member of the UN?

Yes, he said that, but I don’t know what to say to you. We’ll see. What should be clearly said is that we live on the European continent, and we are part of European geography, culture, and history. We live neither in Asia nor in Latin America. We want to join the European Union as a country. There is nothing easy about it, but we live in that Europe. It creates jobs, it is not created by other countries, and these are the frameworks to think about when making, I repeat, decisions that are not easy at all, but are in favor of the well-being, peace, and sustainability of a foundation of peace that we have had since we went to war in the nineties.

Thank you for talking to KoSSev.

Interview led by Tatjana Lazarevic

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