On Saturday, March 18, leaders of Kosovo and Serbia convene in Ohrid, North Macedonia, with the help of the EU, to discuss the implementation of a deal on normalizing ties that was agreed upon in principle last month. This deal is crucial to their hopes of joining the EU.
Aleksandar Vučić, the president of Serbia, and Albin Kurti, the prime minister of Kosovo, will meet for talks presided over by Josep Borrell, the chief diplomat of the EU, who oversaw their initial face-to-face meeting in Brussels last month.
The discussion will be centered on how to carry out an 11-point deal the EU has put forth to help end decades of hostility.
These most recent discussions come after months of shuttle diplomacy to advance the EU plan, which has the support of the US and all 27 EU members.
About 25 years after a conflict involving ethnic Albanian insurgents and Serb government troops, tensions between Serbia and its former province, home to 1.8 million primarily ethnic Albanian citizens, are still very high.
With support from the US and EU, Kosovo declared its independence in 2008; however, Serbia has refused to recognize it. According to its constitution, Kosovo is integral to Serbia’s territory.
Both counties want to be in the EU
For Serbia and Kosovo to realize their strategic objective of entering the EU, bilateral relations must be repaired. Conflicts have erupted in recent years between the local government and Kosovo’s Serb minority.
The meeting on Saturday comes after discussions in Brussels last month, where the two sides came closer to an agreement by implicitly approving the peace plan mediated by the EU but were unable to agree on an annex that would have detailed the methods to implement the final deal.
Peace plan but without independence
The 11-point statement states neither side will use force to settle a disagreement or attempt to prohibit the other from joining international organizations, a crucial demand from Kosovo.
Belgrade promises to accept official documents, including passports, degrees, and license plates, but is not compelled to formally recognize Kosovo as an independent state. It also agrees not to obstruct Kosovo’s membership in any international organization, including the EU.
Yet, the plan also instructs the two parties to “guarantee an acceptable level of self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo and the ability for service provision in certain sectors, including the possibility of financial help from Serbia.”
Serbia has requested that Kosovo establish an association of Serb-majority municipalities, but Pristina has been reluctant to allow a Belgrade-backed Serb Association of municipalities, believing this could lead to a breakaway enclave that would weaken its sovereignty and violate its constitution.
Borrell is due to advise the EU’s foreign minister on the progress of the discussions during their regular meeting in Brussels on Monday and EU leaders during their normal March summit later next week.
The only country not interested in peace is Russia
The rest of the Western Balkans, which include Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Albania, are anticipated to benefit from a deal between Serbia and Kosovo in terms of economic prospects and EU membership.
Several thousand protesters gathered in Belgrade on the eve of the negotiations to demonstrate against the Western-supported agreement to normalize relations with Kosovo, which they perceive as an acknowledgment of Kosovo’s independence.
Serbian flags and banners with the slogans “Serbia, not the European Union,” “Kosovo is not for sale” were carried by protesters.
To date, Serbia has relied on its longtime ally Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, and other nations that do not recognize Kosovo, including five EU members.
Photo: A man passes by graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin, reading: ‘Kosovo is Serbia’ in Belgrade, Serbia, on Aug. 1. DARKO VOJINOVIC/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS