European Western Balkans

Kosovo’s new political leadership and the dialogue with Serbia: The battle between the little ram and the big fish

Vjosa Osmani and Albin Kurti; Photo: Twitter / albinkurti

The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and an eventual agreement depend now mainly on two individuals: the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić and the Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti.

245 out of 250 deputies of the Serbian Parliament are under the influence of Vučić, while the other five (three from the Presevo Valley and two from Sandžak) support Kurti. Thus, any agreement signed by the two politicians would be consequently approved by all 250 members of the Serbian Parliament.
On the other hand, Kurti has under his influence 80 out of 120 deputies of the Kosovo Parliament while twelve (ten Serbs, one Gorani, and one Rom) of the remaining 40 deputies are under the influence of Vučić.

This alludes that any eventual Vučić-Kurti agreement would be voted by at least 92 deputies of Kosovo, i.e., more than three quarters of the Kosovo Parliament.

Therefore, a study of the situation for the eventual Kosovo-Serbia agreement can now be boiled down to the desire of above-named individuals for an agreement and their concerns for the same. Albin Kurti seems to be concerned with the US administration, while Aleksandar Vučić, with both the American and the Russian.

Since its inception as a modern state, Serbia has pursued political activities influenced either by Russia or the West. Historical changes on Serbia’s political scene, throughout its modern history, were determined by alternation of strengths of those influences

Conversely, on the Kosovar political scene, anyone who became undesirable to the Americans, had to say goodbye to politics or got ‘slapped’, like Albin Kurti himself in the spring of 2020. However, it is now up to Kurti to make the final bargain with Serbia over Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo, which is Kosovo’s strategic national interest.

Despite the recognitions of the leading democracies of the world, Kosovo has not achieved yet some of its most strategic aspirations: memberships in the UN, UNESCO, Interpol, NATO, and the EU. The key countries that hinder Kosovo in this strategic journey are: Russia and China to the UN, and Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia in the NATO and with the addition of Cyprus to the EU.

Recognition of Kosovo by those seven countries (Russia, China, Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus) is said to be generally based on the Serbian stance. Therefore, the recognition by Serbia turns out to be the most essential for Kosovo, not only because it its largest neighbor, but also paves the way for the recognition of six other crucial countries.

In theory, there are three ways for Kosovo to receive Serbia’s recognition: with entreats and hopes for understanding; by threatening with force; or by bargaining, where Kosovo makes a concession to and reaches a compromise with Serbia.

As for the first, Serbia has never been generous. Slovenia and Croatia for example, have been recognized by Serbia, only after their membership in the UN, and as such it has not been of great importance to them. Inversely, Bosnia and Hercegovina received Serbia’s recognition only after becoming a non-viable country, through the Dayton agreement.

As for the second, Kosovo does not have any aircraft to attack Belgrade to force it to recognize it. Kosovo’s allies who bombed Belgrade in 1999 to protect Kosovo from genocide have been unwilling since 2008 to do anything more than put diplomatic pressure on Serbia to recognize Kosovo. Moreover, all of Kosovo’s allies suggest compromises in exchange for recognition, including President Joe Biden’s recent letter to the President of Kosovo seeking so-called “painful compromises”.

Therefore, there remains third option to make a bargain where Kosovo must give something in exchange for Serbia’s recognition. For this, the negotiations are underway where Serbia tries to sell the recognition as expensive as possible and Kosovo to buy it as cheaply as possible. Other deals are there just to warm up this bargaining or simply steps towards it.

But what are the respective staring positions in a Vučić-Kurti bargain?

Vučić states that he will never recognize Kosovo, interpreting this to the Serbian public that the dialogue is a conversation on conditions for the return of Kosovo under the sovereignty of Serbia, even though he himself is clear of what the dialogue is about.

Albin Kurti’s starting position is that Kosovo has made many concessions to Serbia: protected the areas around Serbian churches and monasteries, created six new Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo, reduced through decentralization the power of central government in the ten Serb-majority municipalities, made Serbian an official language throughout Kosovo, permanent guaranteed over-proportional representation of the Serbs participation in parliament and government, introduced impossibility changing the constitution of Kosovo without the consent of at least four Serb deputies, etc.

All these concessions were insufficient for Belgrade to recognize Kosovo in 2008. Serbia’s requests have been for something more than all of the above.

How will the bargain develop between Albin Kurti, an Aries(ram) in the zodiac, and Aleksandar Vučić, a Pisces (fish), can be perhaps be best answered by psychologists or astrologists but let us try nevertheless.The political philosophy represented by Kurti proved successful in Kosovo’s domestic politics.

He had the patience not to be seduced by small bits of power, until he put the entire Kosovo’s political class under his horns. The moment he got 50% of the votes, he did not make any compromises with the rival leaders for the election of the President (where he needed two thirds of the votes of the parliament), but he simply scared them with new elections. In that situation, the entire opposition surrendered, and he achieved the required number of votes.LDK offered 12 out of 15 votes, Haradinaj’s AAK loaned one of their MPs, PDK donated one MP as well, while the Serb List gave the votes of the Gorani and Romani MP’s who are under its control.

Towards Serbia, Kurti is trying to take a serious starting position in front of the European mediators on the one hand, and also pretending to neglect what Vučić has to offer: the recognition. The latter is being used to minimize the bargain by Vučić in the final agreement.

The difference between Kurti and his predecessors Isa Mustafa and Avdullah Hoti is vast. Mustafa and Hoti participated in the dialogue only to reaffirm their loyalty to USA, acting on their perception of the Trump administration hints, without any deeper observations of those.

Hashim Thaçi tried to reach an agreement with Vučić at any cost, not worrying much about the price that Kosovo would have had pay. He was even ready to dismantle Kosovo into pieces that would become parts of Serbia. On the other hand, it seems that Albin Kurti, is going to negotiate with great stinginess, knowing what he wants but not content in offering anything in return.

The first meeting between Prime Minister Kurti and President Vučić in June 2021 in Brussels demonstrated Kurti’s toughness. His attitude was the same as towards his domestic rivals, i.e. he threatened Belgrade. Kurti demanded recognition in exchange for a guarantee of non-aggression.

He did not offer advancement of the existing Serb autonomy in Kosovo guaranteed by the Ahtisaari Package and the Constitution of Kosovo. Furthermore, Kurti reminded Vučić that he could degrade the position of Serbs in Kosovo making it same as that of the Albanians and Bosnjaks in Serbia.

This infuriated President Vučić, who, according to statements by Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi, began insulting in Serbian, forcing the European mediators to warn him that he should communicate in English. Such threatening language is a tool to lead to conflict rather than to an agreement.

This attitude risks for Kosovo and Serbia to waste a good opportunity to take a big step towards peace and stability in the region in these favorable circumstances.

If the international pressure on Vučić and Kurti would be sufficient a deal is possible. In exchange for gaining explicit recognition from Serbia, Kosovo should give the competencies to the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities in Kosovo up to the extent that those competencies could not endanger the stability of the state of Kosovo and couldn’t make possible to Serbia to dictate Kosovo’s foreign policy. Thus, the battle between the little ram and the big fish has begun.

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