IFIMES: Implementation of the Brussels and Washington Agreements - the path to permanent peace and long-term stability

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Source: Gazeta Express

The latest events in the north of Kosovo are reminiscent of the events of the 1990s and threaten the escalation of the conflict. In the last few years, there has been a noticeable absence of dialogue between the official Belgrade and Pristina with the the EU mediation. The responsibility lies not only with the dialogue participants, but also with the EU mediator and the entire international community, which proved to be inert and ineffective in Kosovo and the Western Balkans.

This is stated in the analysis of the International Institute for Middle Eastern and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana "Kosovo 2022: Implementation of the Brussels and Washington Agreements - the path to permanent peace and long-term stability".

As it is added, billions of euros/dollars of EU and US taxpayers' money have been spent with modest results.

"The resulting situation in Kosovo has its own history. The Republic of Serbia also issued license plates for municipalities in the territory of Kosovo, which were valid until September 14, 2021. The Kosovo authorities unilaterally introduced trial plates for vehicles from Serbia, referring to "reciprocity" regarding the abolition of license plates, because the Kosovo authorities intended to abolish license plates, which bore the marks of Serbian municipalities. Through the EU, a deadline of one year was set to resolve that problem, despite the first agreement on freedom of movement, which Belgrade and Pristina concluded in Brussels. The escalation of the situation continued by preventing the right of Kosovo Serbs to vote in the parliamentary and presidential elections in Serbia," the analysis states.

When the temporary EU-mediated agreement on license plates expired, it is further stated, the Kosovo authorities began announcing the punishment of drivers who drive vehicles with Serbian license plates and the announcement of confiscation of such vehicles.

"This triggered strong resistance among Serbs, especially in the north of Kosovo. Serbian representatives withdrew from Kosovo institutions and mayors of four municipalities in northern Kosovo resigned. Serbian police officers withdrew from the Kosovo police. Kosovo authorities tried to organize emergency local elections in four municipalities in the north with a majority Serb population for vacant mayoral positions, which led to disapproval of the population and increased resistance to these activities. The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Kosovo tried with the help of special Kosovo police forces to organize preparations for emergency local elections in the north of Kosovo, but it was physically prevented from doing so. The CEC continued its work in the north of Kosovo, and this caused a strong revolt of the local Serbian population and led to a general rebellion," states the IFIMES report.

As a result, the extraordinary local elections were postponed to April 23, 2023, which will be boycotted by the Serbian parties again if the environment for the elections is not created, that is, if a political agreement is not reached.

"The barricades were set up as a reaction to the arrest of three Serbs, especially Dejan Pantic, a member of the Kosovo police until recently. About 15 barricades were set up in different locations. The authorities in Pristina threatened that the Kosovo police would forcibly remove the barricades, but they still asked the KFOR forces to do it," says the analysis.

Kumanovo, Brussels and Washington agreements

After the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, peace was established through the signing of the Military-Technical Agreement (the Kumanovo Agreement), which after the withdrawal included the return of an agreed number of Yugoslav and Serbian military and police personnel to Kosovo to perform their duties in accordance with the annex 2. The then authorities in Serbia did not take advantage of this opportunity. The UN Security Council passed resolution 1244 (1999), which places the territory of Kosovo under the UN mandate.

The Brussels Agreement was signed in 2013 and it envisaged the normalization of relations and the facilitation of life for the citizens of Kosovo. One point of the agreement was related to the establishment of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities (CSM), which was not implemented even with all the objections that the Constitutional Court of Kosovo had in the decision on the constitutionality of the formation of the CSM. The Assembly of Kosovo ratified the Brussels Agreement, and the Constitutional Court of Kosovo decided that the CSM should still be formed.

The US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, stated that from the perspective of the US, the formation of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities (CSM) is legally binding within the framework of the agreement reached 10 years ago between Serbia, Kosovo and the EU and said: "For us, it is an obligation, because we supported that process and one political party cannot unilaterally withdraw from it, so we will look for ways to realize that idea".

Although the Brussels Agreement was signed, its full implementation did not occur, mainly due to the obstruction of the Kosovo authorities, to implement the Brussels Agreement, especially the part related to missing persons (KLA archive) and the formation of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities (CSM).

The agreements on "economic normalization" signed in Washington in September 2020 in no way call into question the dialogue, which takes place between official Belgrade and Pristina through the EU.

The issue of property is one of the key disputes between official Belgrade and Pristina. The agreement from Washington envisages solving the use and management of Lake Gazivode, and a feasibility study has already been prepared in this regard. Tens of thousands of requests from citizens of Serbian nationality for the return of private property should be added to it.

The dispute also exists when it comes to other assets in Kosovo, and the Mining, Metallurgical and Chemical Combine "Trepca" and assets in the energy sector, the value of which is estimated at over three billion euros, are most often mentioned.

Analysts believe that the Kumanovo, Brussels and Washington agreements were not fully implemented, because the signatories of the agreements selectively assumed obligations in accordance with their unilateral interests with the passivity and absence of the international community in the implementation of the signed agreements. In fact, both are victims of the EU's inability to solve European problems. The implementation of the Brussels and Washington Agreements is the path to the establishment of permanent peace and long-term stability and the preventive elimination of new incidents and situations such as the last one in the north of Kosovo. The narrative for the transformation of the region is not a narrative of conflict. Everyone must show the will to find a solution after 23 years of the Kosovo war, and the solution is the implementation of the agreements signed so far. The main question is whether and in what way the region will be transformed, or it will live in unfinished and frozen conflicts.

The north of Kosovo to be reintegrated according to the model of Eastern Slavonia

The Kosovo authorities did not actively and seriously approach the reintegration of the Serbian community into Kosovo society and institutions. The regular generation of conflicts is not a path to reintegration and does not lead to the creation of a sustainable society for all citizens.

The EU did not lose its credibility because the American administration joined the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, but because individual member states delegated their special envoys, and thus practically brought the authority of Brussels into question. Without greater involvement of the USA in the dialogue, and especially in the phase of approaching the final comprehensive legally binding agreement, it is difficult to expect any significant progress and its conclusion.

Analysts remind that the return of Serbs to Kosovo's institutions was the result of a broader agreement, which allowed Kosovo Serbs to vote in all elections in Serbia on the territory of Kosovo. All this was possible until Albin Kurti came to power. A turning point in the relationship between the international community and the authorities in Pristina is the recently held joint session of the parliaments of Kosovo and Albania in Tirana, while on the other hand, the Kosovo authorities regularly accuse Serbia of interfering in Kosovo. With that move, the Kosovo authorities lost credibility in their accusations against Serbia. The Kosovo authorities should include all efforts to reintegrate the Serbs into the Kosovo society and institutions in a peaceful and civilized way, just as the Serbs were reintegrated in Croatia in the area of Eastern Slavonia through the UN. A similar example is South Tyrol. This experience is valuable, but the authorities in Pristina are obviously not interested in such an approach.

Could Kosovo suffer the fate of Afghanistan and Iraq?

Serbia is surrounded by NATO member states and is aware of its position. Taught by historical experience, it certainly does not want to be the first to start any new conflict and to assume the mortgage and responsibility for starting the conflict. Serbia is at the historical maximum of economic development in its modern history with record foreign investments in 2022 in the amount of four billion Euros. Part of the Serbian opposition and Albanian political parties through the Serb List (SL) regularly try to deal with the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic (SNS). A possible new conflict in Kosovo would not be local, it would soon spread. The question is whether Kosovo's political elites are ready to postpone the future of Kosovo because of their irresponsible policies.

Analysts believe that Serbia does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. The conflict can be started by others, not only Serbia and Kosovo, i.e. Serbs and Albanians. The war in Ukraine showed that there are opposing polycentric centers of power, which correspond to the escalation of conflicts in different parts of Europe. The Ukrainian war should not be copied to the Balkans, which have not yet healed the wounds from previous wars. Unilateral moves can lead to escalation.

Information that a part of the establishment in Washington is also thinking about the possibility of an American withdrawal from Kosovo, as was done in Afghanistan and Iraq, is worrying. That scenario would not be good for either Kosovo or Southeast Europe, because the American presence is the guarantor of relative peace and stability in that part of Europe. Kosovo and its citizens have the right to their future and political structures must not gamble with their future. The situation in Kosovo is best illustrated by the fact that Kosovo still has an established visa regime for EU countries, even for Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is the real picture of Kosovo today. The most important thing at this moment is that the Serbs at the erected barricades listened to the request of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, to remove the barricades, while the Kosovo judicial authorities released from custody Dejan Pantic, whose arrest was the reason for the installation of the barricades. Finally, for any progress, the regular production of crises in Kosovo should be stopped.

Conflict postponement

The formation of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities (CSM) is a condition of the Serb List (SL) for the return of Serbs to Kosovo institutions, a condition for removing the barricades is the withdrawal of the Special Units of the Kosovo Police from the north, as well as the release of the three arrested Serbs. The Kosovo authorities gave guarantees to the EU and the US that there would be no arrests of Serbs for participating in protests and barricades, which paved the way for the removal of the barricades. The barricades were removed, but tension and mistrust remained.

Analysts believe that the incidents in Kosovo should be taken extremely seriously and all necessary measures should be taken to prevent them from happening again, because the current situation in the region and Europe in the context of the Ukrainian crisis represents a real security challenge and threat. This way of solving produced crises only postpones the conflict, which is becoming more and more certain.