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The Kosovo Issue: What Should Kosovo and Serbia Discuss?

The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo is among the most complex and yet to be resolved political issues in Europe. Kosovo, an independent country for over two years, is formally recognized by 69 UN countries, which include 22 of the 27 EU countries and all of its neighbors. It joined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on 29 June 2009. Around 100 countries have voted for Kosovo’s admission in the IMF and World Bank. Despite this reality, the Serbian authorities continue to refuse recognizing Kosovo or the reality on the ground. Since the case is pending before the International Court of Justice, both sides are cautious about every move which involves making gestures to the other. There have been a few posts on this blog about this case and more generally on Kosovo.

The Kosovar side is willing to talk about anything but the status of Kosovo, which they consider settled by the Declaration of Independence of 17 February 2008, adopted by Kosovo’s democratically elected representatives. The Serbian side wants to continue the status talks, which had already reached a dead end by the end of 2007.

The impasse reached is hardly beneficial for either side. For the Kosovar authorities it means that Serbia will continue to obstruct the government on Prishtina both domestically through the Kosovar Serbs and internationally through its diplomatic arm, making it difficult for Kosovo to join a number of international institutions. For the Serbian authorities it means that Kosovar authorities, while keeping open the option of having talks on points of mutual interest, are not going to bulge a bit from their stance on independence. Retaking Kosovo by force is not an option, since Kosovo’s integrity is guaranteed by NATO. Moreover, such a step has also been ruled out by Belgrade, keen to get rid of its image as aggressor during the Balkan wars.

The lack of rule of law in Northern Mitrovica is hurting both Kosovo and Serbia, in that lawlessness in that part of Kosovo means the flourishing of organized crime. On the other hand, continuation of that illegal situation means also a considerable loss of taxes that can be levied on goods that are smuggled. In other areas of Kosovo, however, Kosovar Serbs are increasingly participating in public life.

What areas should be open for discussions in view of the diametrically opposed position of the parties? Important areas which need to be addressed as soon as possible include intensifying joint efforts to find the dead and the disappeared persons, the issue of returning to the Kosovar authorities the cadastral and other official documents taken away by the Serb authorities during 1998-1999, the return of the pension funds for Kosovar workers retained by Serbia, the issue of dividing State assets and the foreign debt between the two countries. The international community will have to put more pressure so that these issues are resolved, since they affect significantly the everyday life of the majority of Kosovars.

Another important issue, not properly addressed so far is that of reparations due to Kosovars who have been killed, disappeared, tortured, or otherwise whose houses and other property were destroyed by the Serb forces in 1998-1999. There have been 6 mass graves found in Serbia since 2000, with the last one discovered just a few days ago containing the bodies of Kosovar Albanians. See here and here.

In a number of cases where Kosovar Albanians have been represented by the Belgrade Human Rights Center (HRC), claims for compensation filed on behalf of these victims have been denied. Serbian courts appear to employ a double standard in dealing with cases from this period, whereby Kosovar Albanian victims are denied reparations. There are a number of relevant press releases by the HRC which attest to this at here, here, here and here. The attitude  of the Serbian authorities demonstrates that Serbia still has to face up to the crimes it committed in Kosovo during 1998-1999.

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