BELGRADE/PRISTINA – The government of Kosovo put into practice decision that registers all of the real estate property registered to Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, Serbia or autonomous province Kosovo and Metohija as its property. Decision signed by Kosovo PM Isa Mustafa and effective immediately obliged Kosovo Cadastre Agency to register all assets of former state and military administration to Kosovo’s own lists of properties. Kosovo’s ethnic Serb Deputy Prime Minister, Branimir Stojanović, meanwhile said Serbian representatives in Kosovo had not been informed about the disputed decision – and only found about it in “an unofficial way”. The value of this property is still debated, but it can be assessed as substantial, with value in billions of Euros. Later it was found out that the decision was not put into effect immediately, and that it was signed 15 days beforehand. The question remains how much of Transitional Administration, created through Resolution 1244, and which had the mandate to oversee handing over of institutions and their jurisdiction from Belgrade to Pristina has prepared of legal backing for this decision.
„Questions relating to property are sensitive and they should be dealt with and regulated through a transparent and comprehensive process involving all affected communities. All interested communities must be prepared to engage in such an open and inclusive process”, spokeswoman for the Foreign Affairs and Security, Neighbourhood policy and Enlargement of the European Union, Maja Kocijančič to Tanjug News agency on this issue.
Legal aspects of this decision are still up for review. Even if Serbia has had recognised the formal independence of Kosovo, the act of unilaterally seizing of assets through political decision is dubious at best, because of rights guaranteed by Constitution of Kosovo. The future and impact of this act are yet to be seen, but it has already created a shockwave on Serbian political scene. In a short period of time, this has become a hot issue in Serbian public.
Pristina has been saying for years that they consider this real estate to be in their possession, but this issue has never before (at least in Serbia) been put in a public limelight, questions pertaining to it staying in public eye for weeks at most. President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi said that “Serbia has no property in Kosovo. Public property is the property of Kosovo. Kosovo was part of the Yugoslav federation, which was disbanded,” later adding that Serbia is not a successor state of the former Yugoslavia“ and that „property of Kosovo is sacred and untouchable”. Legal aspects of property on Kosovo are not newly contested issue. When a similar situation happened last October, when Pristina took over Kombinat Trepča, the official political response was lukewarm and only individual oppositional parties have made public statements concerning this. What has changed since then, excluding heightened political tensions in the Western Balkans?
Serbia will hold presidential elections on April 2, 2017. This new situation electrified the public, which sees the current situation in light of ongoing campaign. On the day of signing the decision, a meeting was held between political representatives of the Serbs from Kosovo with the Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko Đurić in Belgrade, where it was estimated that the decision of the government in Pristina was a „war cry of Pristina’s separatist leadership“ and that this decision is „factually and legally unenforceable”. Reacting to the news, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić said that the decision was “completely illegal, and unacceptable.
To make the matters more interesting, the PM of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić and PM Isa Mustafa had an at the informal dinner at one of Sarajevo’s restaurants, before the beginning of Summit of prime ministers of the Western Balkan countries in this city. After and during the meeting, Balkan Six held a conference, in which many issues were discussed and a conciliatory tone was used. Conclusions were mainly directed towards future cooperation.
What we see as the main consequence of this unilateral decision is heating of Serbian presidential campaign. PM Vučić decided to run in the presidential elections and came under heavy political flak in this event. Virtually all of the oppositional candidates accused Vučić of lack of political will and weak reaction to the crisis. The critics are on both sides of political spectre, but the interesting thing is that the most volatile rhetoric is reserved for civic or democratic candidates. This could potentially become a problem in Vučić’s campaign, who still remains as the strongest individual candidate. The new contentious issue in Belgrade-Pristina relation created a lack of a constructive approach, can in of itself have a large impact on regional politics, but its influence on short-term Serbian politics seems to be more tangible.
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