What is the scope of reciprocity with Serbia, put forward by the representatives of the coalition that will most probably represent a government in Kosovo in the next four years? What is the position of the future government of Kosovo on the existing agreements with Serbia, most of which are still not being implemented? What will the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue look like, and what are the possible concessions? These are some of the topics European Western Balkans discussed with Albin Kurti, the winner of the snap elections in Kosovo on 6 October and the candidate for the new Prime Minister.
European Western Balkans: You recently said that you are planing to abolish 100% tariffs on goods from Serbia, but that other measures will be introduced, based on the principle of reciprocity. Which exact measures Belgrade might expect and in which way do you believe this would contribute to the normalisation of relations?
Albin Kurti: Parliamentary group of Vetëvendosje! initiated a resolution adopted in the Assembly on 7 December 2011, which tackled comprehensive trade, economic and political reciprocity with Serbia. This was a big victory for us as an opposition party. However, neither of the governments has implemented the resolution so far. We are now aiming to become the first government that will do so, by introducing reciprocity as a criterium for good bilateral relations with Serbia. We regard Serbia as our northern neighbour and we believe that reciprocity represents a concrete, constructive and healthy solution.
Reciprocity we are talking about concerns the movement of people and goods. Export of goods from Kosovo to Serbia is currently impossible because the certificate states “Republic of Kosovo”, and Serbia does not recognize that. If you are driving a truck with the driving licence issued by the Republic of Kosovo, you receive 800 Euro penalty. We believe that, if a young woman or a man, after they graduate from the University of Kragujevac, Niš or Belgrade can teach in a school in Gračanica (Kosovo) and the opposite is not true – if somebody graduates from the University of Pristina, he or she cannot teach in Bujanovac – this has to change. When we establish full reciprocity, we would abolish the 100% tariffs, but not before that.
EWB: You have been stating that, generally speaking, you would not hurry with the negotiations. Recently you assessed that, if the United States supports the acceleration of negotiations, this is not necessary.
AK: I believe that we first have to be well prepared for the negotiations. Of course, I would like to have an agreement, but the speed of its conclusion should not take priority over its contents and principles. We have had a lot of agreements during the six-year dialogue in Brussels, but the problem is that they are not being implemented.
EWB: What is your opinion on the obligations taken by Kosovo in the context of the dialogue, and do you think that the existing agreements should be cancelled?
AK: During our first month in the Assembly of Kosovo, we will take stock of the degree of implementation of the existing agreements and how they have influenced the everyday life of our citizens so far. We would create the foundation for the continuation of the dialogue there, but not with an idea to stop with these agreements, rather to see how to reach the final agreement better and more quickly.
We would regard these agreements as a preparation, like when you are preparing to drive a car: first you look at the rearview mirror, do you have fuel and oil, what is the state of the road, and then you take off. When we take off, we would talk about development, and not reconciliation. Serbs from Gračanica have done nothing to me, and neither have I to them, so there is no need to reconcile, we can immediately focus on the development.
I have to meet with Mr Borrell and reach an agreement on the continued dialogue with Serbia. Ms Mogherini has let many different thing reach the public, and I believe that the talks between Serbia and Kosovo should be regarded in the context of European values. Not everything should be on the table.
EWB: What do you mean by “everything”?
AK: I think that Thaçi and Vučić met on several occasions and lead secret talks in various European cities, and then they agreed to have an agreement. My impression, however, is that there are no details to that agreement.
EWB: If the change of the borders is not acceptable and if the Community of Serb Municipalities should not be formed, what are the concessions Kosovo will make in the dialogue?
AK: Community of Serb Municipalities is Repblika Srpska light, just like Marlboro light. Let us remember 1991, when 14 Serb-majority municipalities (in Bosnia and Herzegovina) united in a single community. In January 1992 they proclaimed independence, in February 1992 they adopted their own constitution, and in December 1995 they got international recognition in Dayton. I think that Belgrade wants the same in Kosovo, with the difference being that there will not be 14 municipalities but 10. This way, the Community of Serb Municipalities would become a sort of a state, which is not a republic, inside a republic which is not much of a state. It is similar in BiH, where there is Republika Srpska, which is a republic but not a state, inside of a state of BiH which is not a republic. Some sort of babushka doll. This is why I believe such solutions would only drag the conflict out and multiply the problems.
I believe that both Albanians and Serbs want two things: a job and justice. I think that the people should be the final beneficiaries of any sort of agreement, and not Vučić, Thaçi, Kurti. We cannot make agreements, if their purpose is the stability of career of a leader, whoever he may be. This is why I do not support the idea of Community of Serb Municipalities.
Besides, Constitutional Court of Kosovo said that neither of the 7 chapters of the agreement is in line with our Constitution, and that the Article 23 is also violated. This is why I think that our Constitutional Court has buried the Community in a form Belgrade wanted it to exist. And Belgrade does not want another sort of community. What it wants is a sort of a zombie: to dig out something the Constitutional Court has already buried and make it come back to life. However, they are loosing precious time.
On the other hand, it is very important to say that a big pressure on Serbs in Kosovo exists. Belgrade insists on the Community, but not one Serb protested against its annulment in December 2015. The question is, do Serbs in Kosovo have smaller or bigger pressures with the Community? I think that the pressure is bigger. Such a Community would not free Serbs from Kosovo, but strengthen the dictate of Belgrade over them.
Let us now reflect on the correction of borders, which is actually an exchange of territories. President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi calls the exchange “the correction of borders with a painful compromise”, and president of Serbia “demarcation”. What kind of corrections, what are the mistakes and why does it have to be painful? I think that the idea comes from the President Thaçi, and he has had two years to convince the people of Kosovo. Instead of convincing them, he caused the biggest protests in post-war Kosovo on 29 September last year, the consequence was completely opposite from the goal. So, that project has failed, but the idea has not. It is not the same situation as in the case of Community of Serb Municipalities, which was buried by the Constitutional Court, this is an unsuccessful project, in which the idea is not yet dead, it exists, just like the film Body Snatchers by Abel Ferrara, as some sort of spirit that wants to be embodied, but does not have a place to do it and so it floats without a body.
EWB: Following your interview with Jugoslav Ćosić on Serbian N1 television, representatives of Srpska lista said that they will not enter the Assembly under the conditions you laid out in Pressing. What will you do in the case of boycott of “all Kosovo institutions”, a possibility announced by the Director of Office of Government of Serbia for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Đurić?
AK: There have been temporary boycotts in the past, but nothing came out of them. I think that the representatives of Serb minority population in Kosovo know that they can help their community much more if they are in the Assembly and not outside of it. For five years I was outside the system: from 2005, when we formed the Vetëvendosje! movement to 2010. I think that it is important for us to be a part of institutions and contribute to the democratic development of this young country to the benefit of everybody. I do not think Srpska lista should be Belgrade’s tool – Kosovo should be a value in which all of us will participate. I call on them not to boycott our institutions, but to participate in their work. I believe that criticism is an engine of development, they should criticize everything they disagree with in the Assembly, I will meet with all parliamentary groups when we visit the Assembly, I will not excommunicate them.
This does not mean that I want a coalition with them. We have a constitutional responsibility to have one government minister from Serb community, and we will respect that. But I believe that they, as well as PDK, have gotten used to having a guaranteed place in the ruling coalition, no matter which governments are formed. Like an equation in which they are a constant, and everybody else are variables. That changed on 6 October election in Kosovo. A new chapter of our country is beginning, and I repeat, I will not excommunicate them, but it is regretful what kind of election Serbs got in Kosovo on 6 October due to irregularities and pressures and we will do everything for that to change in further elections. I want to see Srpska lista as the opposition during our future mandate.
EWB: Why would Serbia accept any kind of agreement on normalisation without concessions from Kosovo’s side?
AK: The President of Serbia has expressed two positions in the past two years, which represent a trap. He presents those positions as making a concession, while in reality he is asking for a concession. The first position is “Tell us what you can offer us, and I am ready to discuss everything, your imagination is the limit”. This could mean both national unification and border change in the Balkans, everything you want. This is the first position, which is an edge of an abyss.
The second position is “I cannot recognize the independence of Kosovo within the current borders”. I have done a lot of math during my studies and I can say that this position contains two negatives and zero affirmatives, because Vučić does not say “I will recognize the independence of Kosovo”, he is denying independence, denying borders, but not affirming anything. I am not the kind of politician that would fall in such a trap. My offer is our demands.
I think Serbia owes us: both for war reparations, and for succession, let me mention just a few figures: 10.000 unarmed civilians were killed in Kosovo, more than 1000 of which were children. About 120.000 houses were burned and demolished in 1998-1999. Around 1200 artifacts stolen from our museums, bank deposits and pension funds were stolen from to finance Milošević’s war machine. There is no justice nor reparation for missing persons and raped women.
I think Serbia should think more about that, than to mourn the lost Kosovo, not carrying at all about the suffering of Albanians in the meantime. I believe that in our future relations we should determine how to stop the tears of the President of Serbia, which are not the tears of Serbs. If Serbs in Serbia are crying, that is because of poverty, because they do not have a job, and not because of Kosovo. President of Serbia crying does not represent either Serbs from Kosovo or Serbs from Serbia. It is important for the Serbian establishment to focus on introspection, after which they should show much more care about Serbian people of today than Serbian state of the past.