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Western Balkans and EU News
15.02.21 | Opinions

[Opinion] What Kosovo needs now is not only recognition from Serbia


By Daniel Serwer

Washington/Prishtina, dtt-net.com - Kosovo's early elections have produced, as expected, a clear victory for Vetevendosje (VV or "Self-Determination"). According to preliminary results, it has won close to 48% and a commanding lead of something over 50 seats in the 120-seata Kosovo Assembly.

This is Albin Kurti's moment. The still young, articulate VV leader had a couple of months in the Prime Minister's chair last year. The Trump Administration didn't like his insistence on reciprocity with Serbia or his skepticism about Trump's bizarre choice of an American envoy. Washington took advantage of a squabble within his coalition to bring him down. That isn't likely this time around, not only because of VV's strong showing at the polls but also because Trump is gone. The Biden Administration will at least try to be respectful of Kosovo's democracy.

That however won't save Albin from a bigger challenge: constructing the kind of majority in parliament that will enable election of a new president as well as a strong position in negotiations with Serbia. Both in practice require a two-thirds majority. Part of the difference will come from ethnic minority parties, but at least one more Albanian-based party will be needed. Two obvious candidates both have a bad history with VV: the LDK, running a poor third in yesterday's election, brought down Albin's short-lived coalition last year and VV has been a stern critic of the second-place Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), in particular its now-indicted former President Hashim Thaci. Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) will not have enough seats to get VV to two-thirds, but it would be step in that direction.

 Kosovo's parliamentary system has often produced long inter-regna. Albin could cut this one short by acting unilaterally, but that might make forming the necessary coalition later more difficult rather than less. Negotiations with Serbia and electing a new president will not be top priorities for VV. Albin would prefer to focus on his campaign priorities: jobs and justice. That will not be easy, as Covid-19 has hit the Kosovo economy hard and reform of the justice system is a long-term project. The Americans and Europeans will be trying to get Pristina to engage as soon as possible on the dialogue with Belgrade, which faces presidential and likely parliamentary elections by April 2022 (and possibly earlier). No serious negotiations with Serbia will be possible after the end of this year.

 Though the EU aims at it, there is little prospect of a "final" agreement within that timeframe. Serbian President Vucic has made eminently clear he will not recognize Kosovo before his re-election, if then. Some interim confidence-building steps might be possible, focused on missing people from the 1999 war and implementation of the several dozen existing agreements between Belgrade and Pristina, few of which have been executed to the satisfaction of both capitals. In any event, Pristina will need to be ready to walk away from a bad agreement in order to get a good one. Albin would do well to match Vucic's reluctance.

 A more comprehensive agreement is however needed. Serbia's refusal to recognize its erstwhile "autonomous province" leaves Kosovo in international limbo with unclear and unmarked borders, enabling Serbia to undermine its statehood, territorial integrity, and sovereignty. But it also leaves Serbia without the "good neighborly relations" required for EU membership. The two capitals would do well to contemplate seriously the much-mentioned German/German solution, which entailed UN membership for the German Democratic Republic as well as ambassadorial-level representation in both capitals but no formal recognition. No one who knows Kosovo would expect the longer-term outcome to be like Germany's (i.e. re-incorporation of Kosovo into Serbia).

 If Kurti, either as leader of VV or prime minister, is even modestly successful in using the next couple of years to deliver on "jobs and justice," Kosovo will find itself in a far stronger position to negotiate successfully with Serbia. A stronger economy and a judicial system that can handle both inter-ethnic crime and high-level corruption would make both Washington and Brussels more unequivocal in their support. Success would also enable a stronger position on reciprocity with Belgrade. Albin Kurti has big shoes to fill: his own.

 

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(Daniel Serwer is professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and director of its Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs, as well as a Scholar at the Middle East Institute. This opinion of his was first published at his blog: peacefare.net)

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com.

15.02.21 | Opinions