Peace comes when violence stops, not when a paper is signed
Arguing that the time is not right for an association of Serb municipalities in Kosovo, as presented in an opinion piece published on 31 January, ignores the fact that if Kosovo is not ready to grant some autonomy now, when it might get something in return, it will be even less willing to do so for free in the future, writes Miloš Vojinović.
In the opinion piece, Gëzim Visoka and Vjosa Musliu expressed their views on the ongoing negotiations that are another attempt to settle the long-lasting dispute between Serbia and Kosovo.
Unsurprisingly, given their experience in international law, peace and reconciliation studies, Visoka and Musliu raise several points about the preconditions that are necessary for peace that will succeed.
I agree wholeheartedly with their claim that respect for agreements reached so far is of the utmost importance.
Having this in mind, I was puzzled to see the authors stating that: “Despite tremendous pressure, the timing for establishing the ASM [Association of Serbian Municipalities] might not be now.”
The reason for my bewilderment was that the ASM was agreed upon already in the Brussels Agreement signed by the respective parties back in 2013.
Visoka and Musliu point out how important it is to respect what was already agreed upon, yet they are against the ASM. That is an untenable position.
Furthermore, the authors claim that: “Serbia tirelessly works against the betterment of inter-ethnic relations in Kosovo.”
This statement stands in stark contrast to the fact that, because of violence and different kinds of pressures, tens of thousands of Serbs have been forced to leave Kosovo after the Yugoslav army retreated in 1999.
Consequently, Kosovo became one of the most ethnically homogenous areas in Europe. The assumption that Serbs in Kosovo are just pawns of Belgrade, implies they are incapable of their own assessments and that they blindly follow guidance, irrespective of their own needs.
In fact, they protest and block the roads because they fear for their own safety. When the roads were blocked for the last time, early in January, the blockade was abandoned only after Belgrade asked Serbs to do so.
However, on Orthodox Christmas, an 11-year-old boy walked back to his home near Štrpce, with a branch in his hand, a symbol for the Christmas celebration. He was shot with an automatic rifle from a moving car.
Perpetrator? A member of the Kosovo Security Forces. Who will protect these people if those in charge of keeping the peace pull the trigger?
Belgrade authorities are not blameless when it comes to respecting the agreements. However, as we have seen in the last decade, all the issues that reached headlines – telephone number prefix, the authority of courts, control of traffic, membership in Interpol, membership in regional organisations – Belgrade, however reluctantly, gave in.
We are witnessing the same with the question of license plates. The article lists several things Belgrade should do, but there is nothing about Priština.
Almost symbolically, the authors used the phrase “on the one hand” to depict Serbia’s actions.
But we never get to read “on the other hand”. There is nothing written on what Kosovo will do, for starters, to secure basic security of life and property. Those who were forced to flee Kosovo cannot easily return.
The US State Department report on human rights in Kosovo from 2022 stated “barriers to return included widespread discrimination against members of minority communities, fear of violence or harassment, failure to enforce court decisions (particularly those concerning property), property usurpation…”.
Surely, one thing that we do not need is just another disagreement between Serbs and Albanians, where the author of this text, a Serb, stands behind one set of standpoints and interpretations, and Visoka and Musliu, Albanians, behind another.
We may hold different views, we may find dissimilar interpretations sensible, or, eventually, we would prefer to see different end results.
However, I believe we share the desire to see the end of violence. This is a precondition for any lasting peace. This should be, if not a reality, at least part of an assessment made by scholars who study peace and reconciliation.
Visoka and Musliu wrote that “mutual recognition” should precede any kind of negotiations about Serb municipal autonomy.
If Kosovo is not ready to give any autonomy now, when it might get something in return, it will not suddenly become willing to do so for free in the future.
The precondition for any kind of lasting settlement is the willingness to show that parties are going to enable a minimum of human rights for their citizens. With the eventually increased mutual trust, a solution would be a more realistic scenario.