While the text of the memorandum is important for Serbia because it is a prerequisite for EU membership, a similar situation also applies to Kosovo. 5 out of 27 EU member states do not recognize Kosovo.
the professor. doctor. Irfan Kaya Ulger wrote a general assessment of the normalization negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo on March 18 for AA Analysis.
1 • For what purpose did the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo meet on March 18, 2023?
The aim of the normalization negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, which took place on March 18, 2023, was to enable the two parties to get to know each other. The negotiations, which began under the leadership of the European Union, are mainly aimed at strengthening the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, which began in 2011. However, on the occasion of this meeting, it was once again proven that Serbia is not ready to take a step towards recognizing Kosovo.
For example, tens of thousands of people took part in the protests that took place in Belgrade before the start of negotiations in Ohrid. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic tried to appease Serbian public opinion with his statements to the media. In these Vucic statements, we see that Serbia will not take a step towards recognizing Kosovo, neither legally nor de facto.
In fact, since it was revealed during the phase of shuttle diplomacy that Serbia would not recognize Kosovo, the EU has focused on issues that can be seen as derivatives of recognition, such as the parties abstaining from actions that would harm each other’s territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty.
Serbia’s sensitivity towards Kosovo is mainly due to the fact that this country does not recognize its independence. Kosovo gained independence on February 17, 2008, based on a plan drawn up by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. In the plan, the status of an independent Kosovo rested on three binding pillars. In the first of them, it was noted that Kosovo could not remain a part of Serbia and that the only way out was independence. As two other foundations of the plan, it was stipulated that the territory of the independent state of Kosovo could not be divided, and the union of Kosovo with another country was prohibited. Serbia still insists on the view that Kosovo is part of itself, and is under the protection of the Serb minority living within Kosovo’s borders, particularly in the regions of northern Mitrovica, Kosovo Polje and Gracanica.
2 • What are the issues that were agreed upon at the meeting and which remained unresolved?
After 12 hours of negotiations between the delegations of Serbia and Kosovo in Ohrid, North Macedonia, the EU High Representative for External Relations and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission Josep Borrell announced the decisions taken.
According to the statement, during the meeting, all items of the plan were discussed by the two parties and agreed upon. Although the validity of the plan was confirmed by both parties, the text was not signed. However, Borrell stated that this situation will not cause problems in terms of the correctness of the decisions made.
Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo was not included in the EU’s reconciliation plan. Essentially, the text of the memorandum, which consists of 11 articles, is part of the 2011 agreement providing for the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
The phrases used at the beginning of the plan are as follows: “Serbia and Kosovo express their commitment to the Agreement and the text of the Memorandum. They undertake to fulfill their obligations under the Memorandum in good faith.”
For Serbia, the text of the memorandum is important because it is a prerequisite for EU membership. A similar situation exists for Kosovo. 5 out of 27 EU member states (Greek Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Romania and Spain) do not recognize Kosovo. The goal of Kosovo is to overcome recognition problems, improve relations with the European Union, and then obtain candidate state status.
The plan stipulates that both sides respect each other’s territorial integrity. The two sides will cooperate to resolve their disputes peacefully and refrain from the use of violence. In addition, the parties accept the obligation not to prevent each other from participating in international organizations.
According to the plan, the two parties will accept the validity of their identity cards, passports and license plates, which are each other’s official documents. The plan also includes a provision to establish a missing persons commission, to continue EU mediation on all disputed issues, and to convene a donors’ conference to provide financial assistance to Kosovo and Serbia within 150 days.
In the plan, the article of strengthening the autonomy of Serbs living in Kosovo under the name “Serbian Confederation of Municipalities” draws attention. It seems that the Pristina administration is forced to come to an agreement on this issue. Apart from this, it was also emphasized that Serbia and Kosovo have obligations not to complicate the implementation of the terms of the agreement. However, it is noted that delays and obstacles in implementing the provisions of the plan will have a negative impact on Serbia and Kosovo’s relations with the European Union.
In general, the 11-point text prepared within the framework of the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue aims to lay out the EU roadmap for Serbia and Kosovo. On the other hand, the rapprochement between Serbia and Kosovo is supported by the United States of America (USA). The US Special Representative for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, told the press before the meeting that he hoped an agreement could be reached between the two parties.
3 • Is peace on the horizon between Kosovo and Serbia?
The main reason for the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo is that the two sides have different views on the Kosovo issue. For Albanians, the Kosovo issue is a struggle to protect its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity as a corollary to the right to self-determination. In return, the Serbs claim Kosovo’s territory and consider Kosovo an integral part of their national home and identity. The medieval Serbian state, which was destroyed after the First Kosovo War in 1389, is interpreted by Serbs as a testament to their historical rights to the region. In the recent period of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic brought these claims of Serbs on Kosovo to the agenda by stoking Serbian nationalism.
Although Serbian claims to the Republic of Kosovo, which gained independence in 2008, eased after negotiations with the European Union began in 2014, they have not completely disappeared. While the ultra-nationalists in Belgrade support Russia in the Ukraine war, they accuse President Vucic of “not making the case”. Vucic is under pressure on issues related to Kosovo and Republika Srpska. It is a matter of curiosity to what extent interpretations of Serbian nationalism, with an expansionist tendency, on Kosovo will have an impact on the Serbian administration.
A long-term solution to the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia depends primarily on Serbia renouncing its claims over Kosovo. It is clear that Serbia, which began full membership negotiations with the EU in 2014, will face a legal obligation to recognize Kosovo in the membership processes. In other words, the Belgrade administration will eventually have to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. The Ohrid talks demonstrated once again that while progress has been made in dialogue between the two sides, Serbia still has a long way to go on the Kosovo issue.
[Prof. Dr. İrfan Kaya Ülger Kocaeli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü Öğretim Üyesi]
* The ideas expressed in the articles belong to the author and may not reflect Anadolu Agency’s editorial policy.
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