Hanson: Normalisation Process Between Belgrade and Pristina Is Fundamentally a Rule of Law Process

Dr Joanna Hanson

European Western Balkans has an honour to present you speech of Dr Joanna K. M. Hanson who was a key note speaker at the conference “Clear on Europe”. The conference was organized by EWB’s organization – Centre for Contemporary Politics (Centar savremene politike).

The ethnic Albanians of Kosovo would say that their status has long been an issue for them but it is probably fair to say that it was only in the mid-1990s that the international community started to see it as one that needed resolution. The outcome of that realisation was the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, the UN process to find a solution to the final status of Kosovo and its declaration of independence in 2008. Three years later the normalisation process was started, a process which in itself was an acknowledgement that much remained to be resolved and that which needed to be resolved were issues around the communities of two different nations and states, especially in the north of Kosovo. It was a process which had specific if limited objectives and which was seen as a part of the wider European enlargement and integration process. Today I am going to say a few words about how I see the process and how I assess its wider achievements.
The EU-facilitated normalisation process was set up by the EU, specifically Baroness Ashton,  the first EUHR of the new European External Action Service. It was the first main foreign policy baton she took up after the International Court of Justice at The Hague decided that Kosovo’s declaration of independence had not violated international law. The EU agreed to facilitate a dialogue to move Kosovo and Serbia forward following this advisory opinion. Katherine Ashton’s resulting objectives were to remove obstacles that have a negative impact on people’s lives, to improve cooperation and to achieve progress on the path to Europe.
For me it is this people aspect which is crucial. This is because is it named by the HR but more so because I felt that these people had been let down by their political elites in the post conflict years, by their failure to provide committed and democratic governance in both independent Kosovo – independence which had fuelled so many hopes – and in the far older
and experience Serbia. Whatever problems Europe is experiencing at this particular moment of its history, I think generally the people of most member states which have experienced authoritarian government understand that the EU’s role and membership have helped deliver improved standards of living and stability following the downfall of those systems.
The first stage of the talks, the dialogue, was focussed on technical issues, the obstacles. The Kosovo Government was insistent that there would be no political discussion, nor was there any international support for them, nor were internal-state issues, i.e. the north, to be discussed. Whilst in the background there were mutterings about the larger political ones
which could not be avoided, and were not, it was understood that this would be a longer staggered process.
Those so-called technical talks which started in February 2011, as others here know well, were far from easy but agreements were made, they may not have been perfect, and they may have been differently done today but they were made and they formed the basis, the first building blocks of a process and procedure. As many here will also know, some of these issues were not being addressed for the first time, some had been attempted as far back as the Standards before Status process. The problem with these technical agreements was they were not implemented and this is what Robert Cooper, who facilitated the technical talks, called a net negative. There was a series of agreements but none of them had been implemented, despite over a year of dialogue.
It was against this background in 2012 that Baroness Catherine Ashton said she would personally facilitate talks between Belgrade and Pristina and thereby ratcheted up the level of those talks. She had decided that there would have to be political dialogue to move the process forward and also the European prospective of the two protagonists. She stipulated her objectives were to improve the lives of the people and help solve problems and in so doing, bring Serbia and Kosovo closer to the European Union. So again her objectives were to improve peoples lives and bring them closer to the EU and Europe.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s, warning to the then President Tadic in Belgrade in August of the same year that “If Serbia wants to achieve candidate status, it should resume the dialogue and achieve results in that dialogue, enable EULEX to work in all regions of Kosovo, and abolish parallel structures and not create new ones,” put more clear pressure on the Serbian side and to some degree upstaged Brussels.
In October 2012 the Kosovo National Assembly adopted a resolution on the normalisation of the relations with Serbia which at the beginning of the year had been granted EU candidate status. The next day the talks started in Brussels. These talks formed the second stage and are known as the political talks between the Kosovo and Serbian prime ministers, Prime
Ministers Hashim Thaci and Ivica Dacic.
I would like to say here that I believe it was unfortunate that no one from the north was included in the negotiations, that neither side, in particular Belgrade, attempted to include the north and do any outreach, and this continues largely to be the case. Omitting the north, for whatever reasons, has provided people there with a licence to be uncooperative and to feel
no ownership of the process. It was only a few months ago in Pristina at a BIRN Big Deal conference that I saw yet another articulation of this. At the last minute the Minister Marko Djuric did not appear, prompting two other speakers from the north to specifically say in their interjections that for them it was a shame as it was only in Pristina that they ever had the
opportunity to talk to their “masters” from Belgrade.
Pristina in turn has failed to reach out to its citizens from other communities, especially in the north, to explain to them what the agreements imply, to dissipate fears and to hear what people have to say about the agreements. This undermines the government’s declarations about commitment to a multi-ethnic Kosovo. Only recently when talking to a Kosovo diplomat about outreach my suggestions were countered by the contention that there was no one up there who could be trusted. Another example of how everyone has become a victim of their own fears, own selves and stereotypical myths.

I agree entirely with Robert Cooper who has recently written: The Dialogue was never just about Serbia. It was also about Kosovo learning to act like a mature state. That means giving the welfare of the people more importance than the symbols of the state. If Kosovo wants to persuade the world that their independence was justified they should make their treatment of
the Kosovo Serbs a model of how different ethnic communities can live together.
The April 2013 agreement was reached concluding the political dialogue. It was called the First Agreement of the Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations. It was a surprising breakthrough and although the progress has been long and tortuous, it is being put into effect and issues previously generating a lot of media hot air have been implemented and gone quiet. We need also to remember that about 95% of those agreements were in fact putting into effect the outstanding parts of the Ahtisaari proposals, five years later. There was nothing really new there except the more specific idea of the agreed Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities although such a body was possible under the Final Status Proposals and of course under the European Charter of Local Self Government.
We have seen success and progress from that Brussels agreement. Elections at municipal level were held at the end of 2013 and these were key to unlock the rest. The surprising thing about this, and this is not often remembered, is that it was the prime ministers who wanted the elections, the EU seemed to have missed that stage of the equation in their thinking. So in effect the Serbian and Kosovo prime ministers wanted more. We can long argue about the procedures in those elections, how fair they were, the creation of the Civic Initiative Srpska etc. but that subject has been well debated and at the moment we have what we have. The elections were crucial to unlocking the boxes of issues which had been unopened the north.

Kosovo now has in place one police force across the country, likewise one single judiciary system although work and recruitment is still ongoing, the municipalities are formally part of Kosovo local government although I would be the first to say this is a still incomplete process but not because of bureaucratic problems but political interference, in fact I would say it even more strongly, due to the duplicity of one of the parties. You cannot have two parallel forms of local government with two separate forms of funding. You cannot agree to local elections according to Kosovo law and then talk about other “interim” or ” temporary” administrative bodies outside of any agreement.
Another achievement, this year, was the dissolution of the so-called Civil Protection Force in the north. This was an extremely sensitive, opaque organisation and its dissolution perceived as a risky business. Agreement was reached. Pristina said they would find jobs for 483 former members of this force and they have, including putting 50 on an interim arrangement funded by a Contingency Fund. Mrs Tahiri has clearly told all Serbs who have been working in Serbian structures since 1999 – not since 2008 – that the door to employment is open to them. Members of the former Serbian judicial service operating in Kosovo have been offered employment on a discriminatory basis. This is proof that Pristina is putting actions behind its words regarding people’s jobs.

As we know there were attempts earlier this year by the four northern municipalities to disregard Kosovo budgetary laws and were trying to ask for budget amounts many a time more than allowed under Kosovo law. In the end the mayors agreed and came and met Prime Minister Mustafa in Pristina. Little media attention was given to this but it is a sign of change, creeping greater integration and it has prompted the northern municipalities to look at efficiencies. These are municipalities, which in any case, that as a result of Ahtisaari and normalization are going to obtain considerably greater funding than their southern
counterparts.
So these are more than just limited achievements but I would like to return to the question of the yet unachieved Association, an institution which arguably could be an example and model of its type. The principles of this Association were agreed at talks facilitated by the new EUHR, Federica Mogherini, perhaps now a third stage in the process. I can understand why the people of Kosovo may not be very enthusiastic about this institution. Their history, the tragedies of the 1999 conflict and earlier, their distrust in the new Kosovo institutions which, to use the language of the EU, have not been stringent in applying the rule of law, including judicial independence, and the limited results in the fight against organised crime and
corruption, largely explain this. We are now between two and three years after the signing of the document and we still have no association, no statute for it. We have only agreed principles which firmly base it on Kosovo Law, which base it on the Statute of the Association of Kosovo Municipalities, on the European Charter. These laws clearly state that this is a body to serve people, it is a non-decision, non-executive body whose role is to recommend, advise, listen to its electorate and pass their views on to the municipality and central government. As it is defined in the Association of Kosovo Municipalities Statute, that association “is a non-profitable organisation and it is a legal subject that represents general interests of its members – Local Authorities”.
Perhaps I could say something here which has become quite clear to me over the last 18 months and results from the many conversations I have had with people about this institution. People I talk to in the north are basically not really interested in it because they feel so detached from their political representatives, who they feel play no role for them and have led them up the garden path. They feel victimised by high politics as one of them said. They say that although it would be good to have the Association as it should represent and protect them, and it could be a corner stone for the Serbian community, basically what they are only interested in is if/when the normalisation process is fully implemented, they will have a job, they will have bread on their table.

In the south although most Kosovars seem to be opposed to it no one really talks about it except to say they are sure Belgrade appointees will manipulate it, it is producing an autonomous institution which is akin to the Republika Srpska and hence it will be a threat and a destabilising institution. These fears, as I have already said, are built on the experiences of the last 25 years and much longer and on a failure of either side to properly explain this body and what its role will be. I sometimes cannot help but wonder if any of the agreements’ signatories had ever really thought about the concept of the association rather than seemingly only treating it as an instrument for political rhetoric.

Earlier this year a very interesting report was published in Mitrovice called “The Sum of All Fears” using the title of a Tom Clancy novel. The report which was based on focus-group polling was a well-argued text and comes straight from the mouths of the people in the north, and substantiates some of my points. The report is an approach, a call, to finding a solution in the general interest of Kosovo and not just a political solution. It sees the possible outcome as one of a more integrated and ethnically congenial Kosovo, a more prosperous Kosovo which likewise is the objective of the normalisation process. It wants more talk about the spirit and not letter of the agreement. It postulates a more open and diffuse approach, including some specific executive powers, but sees the association as being a constructive and effective tool for both the Serbian community and Kosovo generally. Pristina is seen as having in the Association a partner to work with and, therefore,
there will be improved elite interaction and with time, con-socialisation, human and stable inter-ethnic relations.

I would like to mention two particular points in that report which really resonated with me. The first was the suggestion based on proposals by the Balkans Policy Research Group (although they are not the only ones to recommend this) that Belgrade should conduct a thorough audit of current public spending and employment in Serbian institutions in Kosovo. There is no doubt this should be done, done speedily and with some form of monitoring. Secondly, there is the suggestion that the Association should somehow adopt mechanisms to prevent “partisan-based control/domination”. If such a mechanism can be created it should provide a basis for the equal voices of Serbs throughout Kosovo the report argues. The fact that this remark is included in the report has to reflect the disillusionment of northerners towards their political elite and representatives. This is a key requirement to allow for the Association to be a truly representative institution, serving and accountable to its electorate.

For me there have been two fundamental failures of the process: its politicisation and the failures by both the signing parties to transparently explain the agreements to their citizens. The European Union is also complicit in the latter and this was probably the reason behind HR Mogherini’s decision to publish the 25 August Agreement of the principles of the Association straight away. These have not just been failures but they have stained and hampered the process.

In conclusion I would like to return to the original normalization objectives regarding improving people’s lives and advancement on the path to Europe which is particularly relevant to the context of our discussions today. For most people the process will not have made much of a difference to their lives. People in the north tell me that although things have not got really any better their fears about coming more under the rule of Pristina have not been realized, nor have they seen hordes of Albanians crossing the bridge to rule them. They all generally say that the police service being effected by the newly uniformed Kosovo police in the north is certainly an improvement but they are still usually the same officers wearing
those uniforms. Freedom of movement was improved on paper but for many made more difficult because of the high financial costs for people travelling by car but that should be changing now. It has taken four years for the implementation procedure of the university diploma’s agreement to be agreed but finally and hopefully a new agreement on the recognition of diplomas will change this. We know from Nansen Dialogue polling that this prospect is a mood improver. So people’s lives have not really changed, they can still carry on being themselves and to a large degree do what they did, they still have the same health service and schools, the same officials. That is the real message of normalisation for people who feared losing their national identity and environment, of being overwhelmed by the unknown.

I say this knowing that there is still a fear of a shake-up in the public sector and possible job losses or at least a decrease in salaries.

As regards the EU we are all aware that the normalisation process has been a leverage and tool, however much we dislike those words, in moving both Kosovo and Serbia forward on their path to Europe. Progress on the European path is synonymous with improving people’s lives. Both counties would like to be much further forward, I know, but that pace is fundamentally up to those counties. You can always call the EU’s bluff. Normalisation is not creating new conditions because all the EU is trying to facilitate is that both Serbia and Kosovo implement what they have agreed. Serbia was told as far back as 2012 that it should not create new parallel institutions.

The EU is not just a destination but also a journey where the traveller has to learn new paths of values, such as respect for human rights, equality, good neighbourliness, and respect for institutions and the rule of law. The normalisation process is fundamentally a rule of law process and unless that is correctly understood and the laws and agreements are implemented
as agreed, its authors and implementers will be failing in their duty towards their citizens and handicapping them in a process which should be developing these new aspiring democracies purporting to normalize their relations.

It is not possible to make an explicit judgement on the process, a process so complex and layered. That notwithstanding I have no doubt the normalisation path was the right one and it has specific and worthwhile achievements, including new levels of con-socialisation. The process still needs time and no one was ever pretending it would not.

Belgrade, 20 October 2015

Dr Joanna K. M. Hanson, Visiting Senior Fellow, LSEE Research on SEE, European Institute of London School of Economics and Political Sciences. She gained her PhD in Polish history from the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies in 1978. She later held a research fellowship at the LSE International Studies Research Division doing research on Polish-Jewish relations. In 1987 she joined the BBC Monitoring Service working on Central European and Balkan reporting during the fascinating years of the 1989 collapse of communism and transition. In 1995 she joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a Research Analyst providing advice and analysis mainly on Poland, Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo, but also on Climate Change.  During that time she continued to research and publish on Polish history and Balkans issues. Her main historical publication is: The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, CUP, 1982 and 2004. She retired from the FCO in 2013 and is now concentrating her efforts on research on and activism in civil society in the southern Balkans and researching Anglo-Polish relations during the Solidarity period.