Since September 2021, the situation between Kosovo and Serbia has had several moments of tension that have been repeated over the months. The last case was the erection of barricades by Kosovo Serbs after the arrest of a policeman of Serbian ethnicity. This case brings back the unresolved stalemate regarding Serbia versus the independence and sovereignty of Kosovo. Belgrade is pushing for the creation of the association (the community of communes with a Serbian majority in Kosovo), while the Kosovo government is against it, considering the association illegal and dangerous for stability in the Western Balkans.
If Kosovo is a sovereign state, there is no reason for its citizens to use Serbian license plates, Serbian certificates, and the judicial system itself decides on the arrest of those who are considered to have broken the law. Seen from this point of view, the agreements that have been made on this issue are simply a kind of provisional solution to a more fundamental problem: Serbia is not ready to recognize the independence and sovereignty of Kosovo.
In recent weeks, the battlefield for Kosovo’s sovereignty has focused on the issue of the Association of Serbian Communes. Representatives of the United States have given statements to the media addressing the issue. On January 21, the American special envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar told the Voice of America that Kurti does not need to agree with [the creation of the Association], because Kosovo has already agreed , implying that the prime minister’s support is not necessary to implement the plan. The US Ambassador to Serbia, Christopher Hill, affirmed something similar, saying that the creation of the Association comes as an obligation from the agreements that Kosovo has signed in Brussels.
Source : Voice of America
For its part, the government of Kosovo, including Prime Minister Kurti and President Vjosa Osmani, have been constantly against an Association, considering it illegal and dangerous for stability in the Western Balkans.
What is the Association of Serbian Communes?
In 2013, in the framework of the dialogue for the normalization of relations that continues to be mediated through Brussels, Kosovo and Serbia signed an agreement that included the creation of an Association/Community of communes with a Serbian majority. According to the agreement, these communes would have full self-government and cooperate among themselves. “The association/community will have full supervision over the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning,” the agreement read. On 25 August 2015, both countries signed a further agreement on the Association that laid down the general principles and key elements of its implementation.
Much of the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo has focused on the status of Kosovo Serbs and their integration into Kosovo society. Kosovo Serbs make up 4% of the country’s population and are concentrated mainly in the north in the communes of Leposavič, Zubin Potok and Zveçan, but also in other areas in the center and south of Kosovo (such as the municipality of Shtërpce).
Source : Wikimedia . In blue: communes with a Serbian majority
According to a study by the Balkan Policy Research Group, “Kosovo Serbs want the association to be a practical tool that will help them preserve their identity, strengthen their means to deal with the Government of Pristina, and preserve “vital” services financed by Serbia and connections with Belgrade.”
However, the wishes and benefits of the Kosovo Serbs are not clear. As the Kosovo Center for Security Issues (QKSS) writes , the Kosovo Serbs have not been included in the discussions on the creation of the Association, implying that this request was promoted and pushed by Serbia itself. QKSS writes that there is a belief in Kosovo that the Serbs of the country are being used by Serbia and the monopolization of their political representation by the extreme party ‘Srpska Lista’ has worsened this impression, silencing the majority of Serbs and amplifying the voice of those with more extreme views.
Why is the Association Rejected by the Government of Kosovo?
In October 2015, a few months after the publication of the General Principles, the President’s Office of Kosovo submitted to the Constitutional Court a request stating that the creation of an association of Serbian communes violates the Constitution of Kosovo. In December, the Court issued a decision in which it sided with the petitioner and decided that the Principles of Association violated 23 points of the Constitution of Kosovo. “The elaborated principles… are not entirely in compliance with the spirit of the Constitution,” the decision reads.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti refers to this decision in rejecting the requests for the Association to be established. In an interview for Radio Free Europe, he said :
“There is insistence from various international factors that the Association of communes with a Serbian majority, as it was signed on April 19, 2013, and then elaborated in seven chapters in 2015, be emphasized more, but that agreement is already emphasized, because it is the only agreement, out of the 33 Brussels agreements, that has not passed the test of the Constitutional Court”.
However, the legal side is not the only obstacle to this Association that Kurti and his party, Lévizja Vetëvendosje, have rejected in principle, to the extent of even throwing gas bombs in the parliament when the agreement was being voted on.
“Again according to the BPRG, Kurti and those who reject the Association see it “as an offer proposed by Belgrade (not by the Kosovo Serbs) which will be used to undermine and make their state non-functional. The way Belgrade controls Kosovo Serbs only feeds their fear.” he said.
In fact, Kurti and his allies see the Association as a continuation and deepening of parallel Serbian structures in Kosovo, which would give executive power to a minority that would then crumble Kosovo and its government’s ability to lead, allowing for the influence of Serbia in Kosovo. This is a fear inspired by the role Republika Srpska has played in Bosnia, concentrating the power of the Serbian entity, paralyzing the Bosnian government, and empowering Serbia and Vucic in the region.
Another agreement is circulating which provides for the establishment of the Association. And the US seems ready to start work even without Kurt’s presence, thus trying to please Serbia. But Kurti’s government seems steadfast in its decision, and the future of the Association, as well as the dialogue, seems unclear at the moment.