MUNICH – Even though their panel on the security in South East Europe at the Munich Security Conference came immediately after the panel with Prime Ministers of Greece and North Macedonia, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, Presidents of Serbia and Kosovo Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaçi agreed that the relations between these two countries are much more difficult to normalise.
The panel was moderated by Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and former mediator in the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, while the third participant was Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.
President Vučić assessed that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is currently in a stalemate. He emphasised that Serbia is doing its best to reach a compromise and that it has fulfilled all of its obligations arising from the achieved agreements.
“They had only one obligation to deliver on – Association of Serbian Municipalities – and they have delivered nothing”, said Vučić.
Even though Pristina imposed tariffs on Serbian goods more than 100 days ago, there has been no retaliation, Vučić added. He stressed that both the tariffs, as well as the newly adopted negotiating platform, are against the dialogue.
According to him, the process of negotiations is important for the peace, stability and tranquility of the region. The most pressing issue is how to develop future Serbian-Albanian relations.
Nevertheless, he assessed that the two sides are very far from the solution as of today.
In his response, President Thaçi stated that, since 2013, most of the agreements reached with Serbia have been implemented or are being implemented, but they must be in accordance with the constitution of Kosovo.
“We are now in a state of a frozen conflict, which, I believe, means a regression – we need a compromise that would provide mutual recognition and enable Kosovo’s UN membership”, he emphasised.
According to Thaçi, the tariffs are a result of what happened in Interpol (Kosovo failed to become a member of the organisation in November after intensive lobbying of Serbia).
“We have never conditioned the dialogue. Of course, there are challenges between us, but the Association of Serbian Municipalities should not be used only for the political gains for Serbia”, he said.
He also expressed hope that, in the following weeks and months, an agreement that would maintain both Serbia’s and Kosovo’s multi-ethnic status, will be reached.
Vučić reacted with a claim that Kosovo only has one obligation to fulfill – the establishment of the Association. He added that many of the Serbia’s obligations are not directly in accordance with its own constitution, which only recognizes the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija.
“We don’t care about their constitution because they do not care about our constitution”, Vučić stated.
He emphasised that, if a peace axis between Albanians and Serbs is achieved, it would secure peace in the Western Balkans for the next 100, 200 years. “I am risking not only my political career, but much more, in order to achieve that peace”, he said.
For his part, Commissioner Hahn reminded that the minority of citizenship in Macedonia and Greece had been in favour of reaching a solution before it was reached, and that the support for it has risen since then. This can serve as an example to Kosovo and Serbia.
“The positive solution of this relationship is crucial for the whole region, because if the two sides are blocking each other, they are blocking the other four”, said Hahn.
According to him, even though it does not look like that, now is the right time to strike a deal between the two sides, before the end of the current Commission’s mandate.
“I urge the two sides to work on a compromise – everybody needs to give something away in order to get something”, Hahn stated.
In his closing remarks, President Thaçi stressed that President Vučić needs to accept that Kosovo is a sovereign country, recognized by more than a 100 countries of the world.
“There is still hope, because there is a willingness to sit down and talk – we do have differences in our opinions but we are still willing to discuss them”, he said.
“I know that the recognition won’t be a present from Serbia, it has to be a compromise. EU and US must be as united as possible in their support to the agreement, there is even a chance that Russia will accept the compromise. Leaders in the region also support our agreement. We can maintain this frozen relationship, but it will have a negative impact for the entire region”, Thaçi concluded.
President Vučić used his final turn to ask why Kosovo still needs a dialogue if it is already a completely sovereign country. Serbia needs peace and stability, and this is the reason behind its willingness to negotiate, he added.
He remarked that his country is doing its best to lower the expectations of our public, while Kosovo doing its best to raise those expectations.
The issue of demarcation needs to remain on the table, because different international actors recognize different borders, Vučić added, without going into further details.
“We need a dedicated work with 1, 2 and 3% of chance that we would reach a compromise. I cannot guarantee that it will happen”, he concluded.