Global Independent Analytics
Aleksandar Mitić
Aleksandar Mitić

Location: Serbia

Specialization: Balkans, NATO and EU policies, Strategic communications

Kosovo Serb boycott

Kosovo Serb boycott

Regardless of the historic agreement in Brussels on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, the decisions of the Serbian leaders on Kosovo will burden and haunt them for years to come.

Deal or not, they will face a potentially explosive cocktail made of internal divisions within Serbia, permanent tensions with Kosovo Albanians and pressure from the West.

On the one hand, Serbia is negotiating with the Kosovo Albanians, who are unwilling to budge given the full support they enjoy from Washington, Berlin and a large number of member states of the European Union.

If they go for the deal, Belgrade authorities would be relieved from EU pressure aimed at dismantling the institutions of Serbia in Serbian-populated areas of Kosovo and would get a date for the beginning of talks on EU membership.

But, Belgrade has been, is and will continue to be under intense pressure from key Western capitals to move towards formally recognizing the unilateral secession of its southern province. Since the Serbian position is that Belgrade will never recognize Kosovo’s secession, its EU prospects will thus sooner or later hit the wall.

The never-ending European economic crisis, the doubts cast on the future of EU enlargements and the rising euroskepticism in Serbia — with a historical low for support for EU membership – are not going to make it easy for the Serbian government to choose the EU over Kosovo in the foreseeable future.

KOSOVO SERB BOYCOTT

But this is not the hardest part. Inside Serbia, support for the deals with Pristina is low, while the Kosovo Serbs, particularly in the north, are outright hostile to a deal that would spell the end of the institutions of the state of Serbia in Kosovo. “We have taken two key decisions,” Marko Jaksic, who is one of the key Serb leaders in northern Kosovo, said to an EU reporter following an urgent meeting Friday of councilors from the four Serb-populated municipalities in Northern Kosovo.

“First of all, we reject the proposed agreement, and we urge the authorities not to sign it”, he said, pointing out that the councilors have declared that “no one has the authority to sign a document which establishes the rule of the unrecognized so-called “Republic of Kosovo” on part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia”. “Second, we have decided to start collecting the required 100,000 signatures on a petition to call for a referendum on ‘EU or Kosovo.' We do not want to be held hostages. We want the people to say clearly that this territory where we live will remain part of Serbia”, Jaksic said.

The Serbs in the north may number just 70,000, but without their cooperation no deal struck in Brussels can be implemented. For the last 14 years, since the end of the Kosovo war, they have undertaken boycotts, imposed roadblocks and engaged in other forms of disobedience against what they consider an Albanian attempt to take over the north and expel them from their homes.

More than 200,000 Serbs have been expelled from their homes in Kosovo and the 120,000 who remain live either in the north, which is geographically connected to central Serbia or in small enclaves in the south, surrounded by the ethnic Albanian majority.

Those who have remained in the enclaves face restricted freedom of movement, discrimination, threats and harassment – a fate which the Serbs in the north fear could repeat itself in case Pristina takes control.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE DEAL

Essentially, under the deal, Serb local authorities in the north would be united under the autonomous umbrella of a Community of Serbian Municipalities, an entity with its police command and its own judicial, health, education and urban planning system.

But – and here is the catch – these institutions are meant to replace the institutions of the state of Serbia, which would cease to function in the Serb-populated areas of Kosovo.

As such, the new institutions would be linked – at least formally – to the authorities in Pristina, run by the Kosovo Albanians. Belgrade is trying to reassure the Kosovo Serbs by saying that it will adopt a constitutional law that would link the deal to the Constitution of Serbia and thus make sure that it does not mean giving up on the province.

That is a guarantee that does not go far enough with the local Serbs. And it is a guarantee that will be rejected by Kosovo Albanians.

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