Ahead of a critical EU-backed meeting between Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Mr. Albin Kurti, and Serbia’s President, Mr. Aleksandar Vucic on 18 March in Ohrid, North Macedonia, we spoke to Mr. Astrit Istrefi, political analyst, Executive director of The Balkan Forum, a prominent think-tank from Kosovo.
We discussed the current situation in the relations between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia, and the prospects of the Belgrade-Prishtina Dialogue, more specifically, the EU Proposal – Agreement on the path to normalization between Kosovo and Serbia.
“As you know, there have been quite some tensions between the two countries, and that is something that is being continued for a while. We are expecting that the European plan may be signed on March 18 in North Macedonia. I personally do not believe that anything will be signed on the 18th, but I am hopeful that, quite soon, we may have everything agreed, in terms of proceeding with addressing the most pressing issues between the two countries that are now in the foundational document of the European Union”, Mr. Istrefi said in the interview for CIVIL Today.
We wanted to know what, according to Mr. Istrefi, means “very soon”, and what are the “most pressing issues”, especially, since, in his words, “I personally do not believe that anything will be signed on the 18th.”
“The reason for that is that I think it’s known, but not communicated. Until now, there was a sort of a precedent, if you will, that both countries would agree on a number of issues, but the documents sort of had been signed separately. So, there was always a facilitator, in some cases the EU, in some the United States. But, it was not a bilateral signing of the agreement between the two countries, but rather bilateral signing of the same agreement with the facilitator. So, that’s why, and it has more implications than that. The signature would mean that the two countries are agreeing on a set of issues that they need to resolve. Therefore, a signature would mean an explicit recognition of both countries – sovereignty and territorial integrity, and all these things”, Mr. Istrefi told CIVIL Today.
It is important that the two leader are meeting, in order to establish the path to implementation. Not to reach an agreement, since it has already been reached, but to discuss the very implementation of that plan. The most pressing issues are the Community of Serb municipalities, upon which the two leaders have diametrically opposed positions.
“The plan has been read, which is a great thing, but that the timeframe and what goes with it, in terms of implementation, has not been read yet. And the purpose of meeting on March 18 is exactly that. It’s not to talk about the agreement, the agreement has been reached, but it’s to talk about the implementation. And Serbia has some requests. Serbia demands that the first thing to be implemented is the Community of Serb municipalities. The Kosovo side demands that there is no Association of Kosovo Serbian municipalities, not mono-ethnic at least, or such that creates kind of a problem, or another layer of administration and sort of self-governance in Kosovo, because that is not something that Kosovo would agree. But the demand by the Kosovo side is that we need a final agreement, as soon as possible”, Mr. Istrefi said.
The Kurti-Vucic meeting on March 18 is a successful conclusion of a dialogue that lasts for over a decade, and that is the most important, according to Mr. Istrefi.
“To me, whether an association or not, whether a final agreement or not, to me it is important that there is an agreement, a successful conclusion of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia that started in 2011”, Mr. Istrefi emphasized in the interview for CIVIL Today.
As a host country, North Macedonia has a specific role, according to Mr. Istrefi.
“Personally, I’m glad that it’s happening in North Macedonia rather than in any other country, for a number of reasons. North Macedonia has managed to address and resolve a longstanding dispute with Greece that was preventing North Macedonia in its EU and NATO integration. The resolution of that protracting dispute for 25 years meant that North Macedonia would progress even quicker in the EU and NATO integration. So, symbolism is there and I think leadership, more than that, that Prime Minister Zaev showed – it is also important”, Mr. Istrefi said in the interview for CIVIL Today.
The EU High Representative, Josep Borell, and the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, Miroslav Lajčak, will facilitate the meeting. Borell and Lajcak will first meet with Kurti and Vučić separately. A high-level tripartite meeting will follow. EU has already announced that the meeting will be focused on finalization of the Agreement on the path to normalization between Kosovo and Serbia.
Transcripts: Natasha Cvetkovska