The head of European diplomacy Joseph Borrell during a press conference in Ohrid, North Macedonia, Saturday March 18, 2023. BORIS GRDANOSKI / AP
The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia failed on Saturday March 18 to sign an agreement on the normalization of their relations, during marathon talks conducted under the aegis of the European Union.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met for twelve hours of negotiations on the shores of Lake Ohrid, in North Macedonia, under the leadership of the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell. Westerners have increased pressure on Belgrade and Pristina in recent months to prevent a possible outbreak of tensions in the fragile Balkan region, while war rages in Ukraine invaded by Russia more than a year ago.
The Ohrid meeting came after talks in Brussels broke down last month, where an eleven-article European peace plan was unveiled, more than two decades after a deadly war between Kosovar independence rebels and Serbian forces. Brussels wanted the agreement of the two parties on an appendix for the application of this European proposal aimed at normalizing relations between Serbia and its former province. “The parties could not find a mutually acceptable solution as ambitious as the one we proposed,” Joseph Borrell told reporters.
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“One day okay”
Serbia refuses to recognize the independence proclaimed in 2008 by its former province, whose population of 1.8 million inhabitants, overwhelmingly of Albanian origin, includes a Serbian community of around 120,000 people. Since the war, which ended in 1999 with NATO bombings, relations between Pristina and Belgrade have gone from crisis to crisis.
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In Ohrid, the two leaders acknowledged that progress had been made but did not hesitate to throw spades at each other. “The other side, just like in the last meeting in Brussels on February 27, is avoiding signing the agreement, and now the annex,” Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti told reporters. “It is now up to the European Union to find a mechanism so that this agreement is legally and internationally binding,” added the Kosovar. The Serbian president also pouted on the results of the meeting. “I think we’ve taken a big step in a constructive atmosphere and we’re going to start working on things. Of course, it wasn’t some kind of D-day, it was an OK day”.
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The European proposal stipulates that the two camps will not use violence to resolve their differences. The draft would lead to de facto recognition between Belgrade and Pristina as it foresees that both parties “will mutually recognize their respective national documents and symbols”. The text also declares that “Serbia will not oppose Kosovo’s membership of an international organization”, a key request from Pristina. At the same time, he proposes to grant “an appropriate level of self-management” for the Serb minority in Kosovo.
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The question of Kosovo remains obsessive for some of the 6.7 million Serbs, who consider the territory as their national and religious cradle, where crucial battles have been fought over the centuries. In Belgrade, thousands of people demonstrated on Friday at the call of nationalist parties to refuse an agreement which they said would amount to a “capitulation”. In Kosovo, many members of the Serb minority refuse all loyalty to Pristina, with encouragement from Belgrade. Especially in the north of the territory, near the border with Serbia, the scene of frequent clashes, demonstrations and sometimes violence.
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