«BIG DEAL r Split Asunde Civic Oversight of the Kosovo-Serbia Agreement Implementation B “Sometimes I ask myself if this dialogue with Serbia is ...»
Civic Oversight of the Kosovo-Serbia Agreement Implementation
“Sometimes I ask myself if this dialogue with Serbia is really
worth it if it is costing us so much division within Kosovo society.
This dialogue is the reason why parliamentary normality has
been completely blocked in Kosovo. How can we be ready to
dialogue with Serbia if we are not able to dialogue locally first, our
government with opposition?”
—BESA LUZHA, FRIEDRICH EBERT STIFTUNG“Sometimes I’m afraid of being wrong and making a slip of the tongue when talking about the decision-makers in the municipalities. I do not know which municipality they belong to, Kosovo or Serbian.”
— CITIZEN FROM LEPOSAVIC“I did try to explain that there is an agreement between the two parties that Kosovo citizens enter Serbia with an ID card, but to no avail. He asked me to show him my ID, and when he saw that it is a Kosovo ID card, said “I’m sorry you cannot go with this.”
—SHPEND KURSANI, KOSOVO CITIZEN RESIDENT IN FLORENCE, ITALYBIG DEAL r Split Asunde Four and a half years since negotiations began between Belgrade and Prishtina, the two remain far apart, and the rift in Kosovo over the dialogue is widening.
December 2015 REPORT #3 “If I could have one telephone number and not have to carry three separate phone plans (Kosovo cell, Serbia cell, and fixed)…Three telephones, two or three sets of license plates, everything is a lot more complicated than it was before. I don’t see any positive change, but I am confident that if they had asked the people, all this would have been resolved long ago.” — V.N., SOUTH MITROVICA “This process of negotiations goes on but life cannot wait to political agreements, laws are not written for further political agreement, but implementation. Citizens have the right to a trial within a reasonable time, everyone has his own legal interest and they want it to be protected by the courts.”
—EMPLOYEE OF SERBIAN STATE COURT IN NORTH KOSOVOForeword For almost two years now, we at BIG DEAL have been monitoring the level of implementation of the agreements made between Belgrade and Prishtina in the four and a half years of Brussels-mediated dialogue.
In our first report, “Civilised Monotony?”, published in November 2014, we researched the prospect of truly integrating the north of Kosovo into a state whose capital is Prishtina, not Belgrade. The title alludes to a short story w
6 / BIG DEAL Acknowledgements
In 2014, BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova started the initiative BIG DEAL:
Civic Oversight of the Kosovo-Serbia Agreement implementation to monitor the implementation of the agreements between these two countries, brokered by the European Union since 2011.
The report was researched by Valerie Hopkins, Paulina Nushi, Una Hajdari, Jeta Xharra, Faik Ispahiu and Lura Limani of BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova, as well as journalists Sanja Sovrlic and Jelena Markovic of Advocacy Center for Democratic Culture (ACDC) in Mitrovica. It was written by Valerie Hopkins.
This is the third in a series of “progress reports” focused on the implementation of the Kosovo-Serbia deals. It relies on interviews with more than 100 sources. Interlocutors range from top government decision-makers to ordinary citizens grappling with the changes to their lives. Sources include officials from the Kosovo and Serbian governments, representatives of the European Union, as well as primary sources (interviews) and secondary sources (articles, research and reports written by other organizations).
BIRN Kosovo and Internews Kosova cooperate to produce the most-watched and award-winning televised debates and investigative programmes in Kosovo.
In September 2012, Internews Kosova and BIRN Kosovo launched a new televised platform, “Tema.” Its first episode brought together stakeholders from both countries in an unprecedented debate to discuss citizens’ concerns about standards of living and the progress, relevance and interpretation of a handful of agreements reached up until then. Ten debates covering issues ranging from freedom of movement to cultural cooperation have been broadcast both in Kosovo and Serbia on major television channels.
This report was made possible by support from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
At this time, we must note that BIG DEAL does not necessarily endorse every agreement reached between Serbia and Kosovo. However, we believe that the process must be monitored and reported on a regular basis to ensure transparency and accountability of the dialogue process and of Kosovo and Serbian institutions, as well as of the European Union as facilitator and guarantor of implementation.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SERBIA - KOSOVO AGREEMENTS / 7Executive summary The Brussels-sponsored dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia began more than four and a half years ago, and has continued through three governments in Serbia and two in Kosovo. There have been almost 40 rounds of high-level dialogue, not to mention countless rounds of technical negotiations. Much is on its way to being accomplished, but none of the progress is irreversible. As time passes and full implementation looms larger, real change still feels far away.
This year, in February, March and August, concrete steps have been agreed that could pave the way for implementation of the portions of the 19 April 2013 agreement, which had been opaque and undefined. Now there can be little excuse by politicians for non-implementation, and the coming period will truly be a make or break time for the dialogue.
However, one of the key deals –indeed the crux of the 19 April 2013 agreement – a new association/community of Serb-majority municipalities, remains delayed.
Sometimes it seems that both sides are not fully committed to a process and are rather using it to gain political points both in European and local political arenas. They have committed to do what is necessary, but at some future point, maybe next year, or the year after, or when it is feasible. In the meantime, citizens across Kosovo are growing impatient and in some cases, nervous.
"Nothing good has come out of the Brussels agreement and all that the Serbian side has agreed to,” says Milorad Radivojevic of Zvecan. “I do not see that it so far has brought any Serbs, north nor south of the Ibar, anything concrete."
On the other hand, Hana Marku, from Prishtina, worries that the agreements are giving Belgrade too much power inside Kosovo.
“I'm not against a Serb association of municipalities, but I am against an entity within the country that will be funded and directed by Belgrade. That's the last thing Kosovo needs.” There has been some undeniably good progress: Kosovo has finally signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union and Serbia is set to open three chapters of its EU accession negotiations by the end of 2015. Progress towards accession for both countries (although Kosovo’s membership prospects are in any case currently blocked by the 5 EU member states that do not recognise it) will of course be linked to forward movement in implementing the agreements made in Brussels. However, among the first chapters Serbia will be opening is chapter 35, which deals with good neighbourly relations with Kosovo. Judging by the harsh reaction of the Serbian Prime Minister’s cabinet to the opening benchmarks in the Chapter 35 screening report received from Brussels, most of which is simply to implement the agreements reached with Kosovo, the process is likely to be long and difficult.1 However, the dialogue has now created so much division within Kosovo 1 See PM Vucic’s objections to the screening report conclusions here: http://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2015/10/15/ten-contentious-points-of-eus-draft-resolution/ 8 / BIG DEAL that many people are concerned that such internal divisions are the ‘collateral damage’ of the dialogue.
“Sometimes I ask myself if this dialogue with Serbia is really worth it if it is costing us so much division within Kosovo society,” says Besa Luzha of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. “This dialogue is the reason why parliamentary normality has been completely blocked in Kosovo. How can we be ready to dialogue with Serbia if we are not able to dialogue locally first, our government with the opposition?” At this point, only four of 17 deals have been completely implemented, although two more are almost there.
The key component of the 19 April 2013 agreement – and the most awaited by Kosovo Serbs – is the statute for the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities (ASM). Progress seemed imminent after a 25 August deal on the main elements of the body stipulated that a statute would be ready before the end of the year. The recent decision of the Kosovo Constitutional Court to suspend implementation of the deal until mid-January, while it assesses the constitutionality of the principles agreed in Brussels, has put progress on the Association, and on other agreements, on hold.2 There is no change since the last reporting period six months ago regarding the four agreements assessed as fully implemented: return of civil registry books, the use of customs stamps, the conduct of November 2013 local elections in the four northern municipalities - held there for the first time under the Kosovo system, and the adoption of an implementation plan.
Two agreements are in the final state of implementation: integration of former Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) employees in northern Kosovo into the Kosovo Police, and the integration of members of Serbia’s Civil Protection service in northern Kosovo into relevant Kosovo institutions. The agreement on Freedom of movement has been more or less implemented, but such movement is not as free or as easy as it should be, and the use of illegal border crossings in north Kosovo is still common.3 While the transfer of the cadastre (land registry) books from Serbia to Kosovo is well on its way, the necessary law remains stalled in Kosovo parliament for two years now, and human rights experts have raised some concerns about its provisions.
Efforts for regional representation and cooperation continue, and Kosovo became a permanent participant in RACVIAC (the Centre for Security Cooperation) and joined MARRI (Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative).
However, as the EU mentioned in its December 2015 progress report for both countries, Serbia “needs to remain committed to the continued implementation of the agreement on representation and participation of Kosovo in regional forums.” Kosovo spent too many of the resources it had available for regional involvement on its failed UNESCO bid.
2 The 10 November decision is available here: http://www.gjk-ks.org/repository/docs/gjk_ ko_130_15_ang.pdf 3 This is mentioned in the 2015 EU progress reports for Kosovo and Serbia.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SERBIA - KOSOVO AGREEMENTS / 9New plans agreed in August paved the way for the implementation of the telecom and energy agreements, but there have already been hiccups in both.
Per a new plan agreed in Brussels in February, it seemed that the integration of the judiciary would be completed by the end of the year, but this has been stalled for several months because of disputes over physical locations of courts and negotiations about support staff.
The agreement on diploma recognition has been completely stalled since summer 2014, which is an egregious problem that both parties should work to fix immediately. Despite two agreements in 2011, the discussions remain on-going in Brussels.
Transparency has improved somewhat, especially on the part of the European Union External Action Service, which published the results of the August 2015 negotiations. The Kosovo Prime Minister’s Office has published all of the agreements on its website except for the February agreement on justice, which is not on the Ministry of Justice’s website either.4 This summer, the Serbian Office for Kosovo has put up the text of the agreements as well.5 Unlike the Kosovo government website, Serbia has only put the texts of the agreements, not the signed and dated PDFs of the actual agreements.
The time that is elapsing between reaching agreements and implementing them makes the deals vulnerable to further delay because of external political factors. During the failed campaign for Kosovo’s membership in UNESCO in November, heated rhetoric coming out of Prishtina and Belgrade severely damaged the little trust that has been built in the past four and a half years. The failure is the first such formal setback for Kosovo’s otherwise growing international recognition since the declaration of independence in 2008, and shows that while parties might be able to agree on some things, real dialogue and trust is very far away.
On 8 October, members of the opposition bloc set off tear gas in the Kosovo Assembly, as part of a protest against the Association of Serb-majority municipalities and a recent border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. Since then the parliament has been the scene of repeated tear gas bombs, pepper spray, cursing, and protest banners. The months-long political blockade has frustrated Serbs.
Some see the continuing blockage of parliament's work and worsening polarisation among the Kosovo Albanian political class as a legacy of the controversial summer 2014 Constitutional Court decision that prevented a coalition of four parties that commanded a parliamentary majority from assuming power.
That coalition included Vetevendosje!, which had made discontinuation of the Prishtina-Belgrade dialogue a condition of its participation, and which has since been at the centre of actions to disrupt the work of parliament.
4 You can find all of the agreements on the Kosovo PM’s website here: http://www.kryeministri-ks.
net/?page=2,253 5 The agreements can be found here on the website of Serbia’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija:
http://www.kim.gov.rs/eng/pregovaracki-proces.php 10 / BIG DEAL All of this is occurring in the aftermath of mass exodus from Kosovo.