European Western Balkans

[EWB interview] Osmani: The deal with Serbia should include mutual recognition

Vjosa Osmani Sadriu. Photo: LDK

PRISTINA – In the midst of preparations for forming the new government in Kosovo, European Western Balkans spoke with Vjosa Osmani Sadriu, the deputy president of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the first female candidate for the post of the prime minister of Kosovo in the aftermath of the October elections. In the light of the recent announcement of the coalition partners – The Self-determination Movement led by Albin Kurti and the LDK, that no other coalition talks will be held, we spoke to Osmani about the prospects of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo and the stand the new government will take in regards to the Serb List and Kosovo-Russia relations.

European Western Balkans: How do you see the continuation of the Belgrade-Prishtina normalization process once the new government takes the seat?

Vjosa Osmani: Certainly, a lot of things are going to change for the better. This government is not going to use the dialogue to hide behind it for its failures and dealing with domestic policies, having in mind that the dialogue was previously used for covering up every single mistake the government had made.

What we want to do with our coalition partner, Vetëvendosje Movement, is to make sure that we deal both with domestic issues as well as with foreign policy. While relations with Serbia might seem distant to the daily life of our citizens, they are actually not. The sooner we conclude the final agreement with Serbia, the better for the entire region, especially when it comes to creating a better economic perspective for our country. When we meet with foreign investors and domestic businesses, they talk about political risks and the legal unpredictability and we have to address this. The deal with Serbia should include mutual recognition since this is going to remove any obstacle for those who are considering investing in Kosovo.

On the other hand, normalization as such has so far been seen more of a theoretical concept. We have to make sure that we translate it to what it means for our citizens in practice. There was an agreement in 2010 in the UN General Assembly to start the dialogue under the EU auspices. The idea was to make sure that this process benefits the citizens, rather than turning into a political handshake between two leaders, and that is where it all ends. Unfortunately, throughout these years, we have seen that the focus of the EU was on the handshake rather than on what happens with the agreements afterward. This resulted in 33 agreements, most of which are not being implemented by Serbia. 

There is a lot of we can do. As LDK we believe that dialogue is the only way to resolve issues with our neighbors, including Serbia. But, of course, we would never allow issues such as the borders to be discussed, as well as any issues related to our sovereignty or our functionality as an independent state. 

EWB: The full normalization of relations is expected to require Kosovo to agree to either change borders or establish an Association of Serbian Municipalities on the basis of existing arrangements, the Brussels Agreement, and the 2015 ASM Agreement. Where do you see the possibility of a compromise?

VO: As the Democratic League of Kosovo we believe in a project of Kosovo free, independent and sovereign. We have believed in this since our establishment and we have done everything to make it work, which is why president Rugova is deemed to be the architect of independent Kosovo. The borders of 17 February 2008 are the borders under which we are recognized by more than half of the free world. 

We have to look at the situation as it stands right now, and even though we cannot make decisions only based on history, we need to make sure that we do not forget history and huge sacrifice the people of Kosovo have made throughout the years. We lost more than 13.0000 civilians, 20.000 women of this country have been raped, thousands of children, women and elderly have been killed, and massacred and burned down alive and there is still no justice for these victims. It was the project of the Republic of Kosovo that they died for. Now to go back and say: we are not going to take into account the sacrifice of the 1990s is something our party would not be ready to do.

The Agreement regarding the Association of Serbian Municipalities has been repealed by our Constitutional court in 2015. I do not think that we can go beyond anything that the Constitutional Court of Kosovo has said. If there is one institution for which we have established the tradition of respecting its decisions in Kosovo, that is the constitutional court of Kosovo. We are not going to break that tradition for Serbia. I think that it could damage the foundation of the country. 

The Court also said that the Association of Serbian Municipalities should be established without any executive powers and in line with the constitution. So, yes – there can be an Association, with no executive power. The intention is to make Kosovo a second Bosnia and make it internally non-functional so that it turns into a frozen conflict in the future. That is, I think, an extremely dangerous policy we should absolutely fight. 

On the other 32 agreements, we need to look within Kosovo, and not in Brussels, and make some sort of evaluation of what is working in practice and what is not working in practice. Then, we have to see what we can do further as institutions of Kosovo to make them work in practice so that the citizens can actually benefit from these agreements, especially those who provide for free movement of citizens and goods.

Serbia wants to reopen some of these agreements, such as the one on energy. I believe that reopening them might be dangerous in terms of further concessions. When it comes to this, we should count on the EU as the intermediary of this process that they work on asking the parties to implement the agreements rather than try to renegotiate them. Even when we signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement, with the participation of the EU, for some reason, nothing has further been done to implement those agreements.

EWB: Last week you stated that the unification of Kosovo and Albania is not a realistic option. Is there any support for this idea in Kosovo?

VO: Speaking of geopolitics and international relations as they are right now, what determines today the strength of the country is not necessarily how big it is geographically, if it has a few thousands of people more or less, but it is the functionality, its economy, the rule of law, and whether it was successful in areas of innovation what we see in Asia and some former USSR countries: they are tiny, but they have an important vote. It is a question whether it is better to have 2 votes in international organizations than just one. 

I believe the best solution for Kosovo and Albania that we create sisterly relations and move towards the EU. Once we join, there would be no borders anyways. Let me conclude by saying this: I visited the Kosovo hospitals these days with family members and you have to go there to see the public healthcare system and when you go there, you regret every single minute you spent on talking on these topics and we should discuss how to fix our health and education system and practically we have no time for this topic. There are so many more important and urgent topics for this government to deal with over the next 4 years.

EWB: Kosovo has also opposed mini-Schengen. However, the US embassy in Germany has recently published a statement in which they express the opinion that Kosovo should be a part of this regional initiative. 

VO: The reason why our partners say that is because they have not heard from us, perhaps that is our fault as well. We will sit down with each and every country that is a strong and genuine ally of Kosovo and discuss why we think this is a bad idea from an economic, security and strategic point of view. 

We are not against the regional economic area, which had been achieved and signed by all six Western Balkan countries under the auspices of Chancellor Merkel, president Macron and many other important representatives from the EU institutions and member states, including, I think, at the time, a representative of the United States.

EWB: In an interview with Radio Free Europe in October, you said that there should be an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo with the blessing of the USA. However, according to statements by Kurti, we can see that there are differing views: America says negotiations should be accelerated, Kurti thinks there is no reason to rush; America thinks Kosovo needs to be covered by mini-Schengen, Kurti says that mini-Schengen is an idea unacceptable to Kosovo until reciprocity is established with Serbia. Are there concerns Kurti’s policies could hurt Kosovo-US relations?

VO: I do not see any clashes in Kosovo-US relations at this point. It is just an issue of how you see it, but of course the US are interested in having both parties go back to Brussels and continuing the dialogue as fast as possible. When it comes to accelerating the negotiations, so far we have not been approached by anyone in the US asking for a quick fix. The US understands that as much as it is important to achieve the final agreement, it is equally as important, if not even more, to have an agreement that is implementable in practice. 

As Kosovo, we are very interested that this final agreement is something that respects Kosovo sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also its functionality as a country. At the same time, it is the one that produces peace and stability in the region and does not create any dangerous precedent for the future for our region and beyond. 

It has to be an enduring agreement, one that is truly final and no just semi-final and one that will be implemented, because we saw the practice of the 33 agreements in Brussels, most of which have not been implemented by Serbia. We do not want to have a dialogue with Serbia to convince them to sign, and then another dialogue to convince them to implement what they have signed. 

EWB: What is your position on the inclusion of the Serb List in the new ruling coalition in Kosovo?

VO: There is a constitutional provision that requires there should be at least one minister from the Serb community, which would need to get at least 50 percent of the votes of Serb seats in the parliament. My opinion is, that if you give them the minister, why not get their votes. What is extremely important is that we will not have a government that is dependent on the Serb List. We will absolutely not allow that to happen. 

The question is whether we really want them to be a rough opposition or be in the parliament when we vote for the law on cultural heritage, or the law on higher education or local elections which are considered the laws of vital interest in our constitution, and they require the votes of the minority community in order to enter into force. We need to take into account that our Constitution has given them the right to veto some extremely important processes legislations in Kosovo for which we would need them on board. 

I think we need to create a sort of relation with the Serb List where they understand that the rights of the Serb community living in Kosovo are more important than what Vučić tells them because they have been predicted to protect the interest of the citizens and they should sit down with everyone in the parliament and see what is the best way to adopt this law. We have to find a way to reform it in the best way so all communities can benefit for it, instead of just boycotting the parliament. 

We have already seen the boycott scenario and we know that in such case we can still move forward with most of the issues. Under Haradinaj, when the Serb List was a part of the coalition, they were still boycotting most of the time. This shows that they are following the wrong logic of completely ignoring the interests of the Serbian community in Kosovo, while just doing their deals with Vučić in Belgrade. It shows that neither Vučić nor them really care about the Serbs living in Kosovo. 

EWB: The Council of Europe recently voted on the Special Rapporteur on Kosovo, one of the candidates was Russian MP Alexei Kondratyev, who was expelled from Kosovo in 2001. In the end, the German candidate Peter Bayer was selected. How do you look at the fact that a Russian politician, a persona non-grata in Kosovo, was a candidate for this position? 

VO: It was obviously a well-planned thought of Serbia, Russia, and their other partners that are only looking at destabilizing this part of the world. The fact he was a part of KFOR does not make him a good candidate for this job or any job to be very frank and I think it was an insult for the Council of Europe to move on with such a candidate because it is an organization that mainly deals with the protection of human rights. It is a pity that Russia is back in the Council. 

However, I also think we are very fortunate to have Peter Bayer, who knows the region very well. Electing Kondratyev would have created a big hurdle in the relations between Kosovo and CoE. The fact he is a persona non grata in Kosovo means he would not be able to come to Kosovo, so all that he would have is a piece of paper and a mandate he would not be able to implement.

I also think that that the previous governments have not dealt with Russian influence enough. Russia is extremely active in the entire Balkans and it represents a security threat for the entire region, including Serbia. The sooner Serbs understand this, the better for the entire region. This is why I believe in the next government we need to adopt a new security strategy within the national security council and make sure we adopt new measures on dealing with Russian influence and undertake preventive measures before something dangerous happens.  

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