Serbia's 'temporary' local institutions in Kosovo at issue

22/08/2013

The EU said the agreements reached between the two sides are very clear and need to be implemented.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 22/08/13

The Serbian government's decision to establish "temporary local self-government" institutions within Kosovo is creating rancour in Pristina, which is asking the European Union to take a position.

With both sides working to normalise relations and encourage Kosovo Serb participation in November 3rd local elections, Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj told SETimes the decision is unacceptable.

"We invite the EU that in accordance with the mandate it has had, [as a facilitator of the agreements between Kosovo and Serbia] to take a position as soon as possible for such a decision. Such bodies are unacceptable for the state of Kosovo and we will object to Serbia taking such an approach with all the political and diplomatic means. Brussels should react," Hoxhaj said.

Serbian government officials declined to comment on the situation.

Dusan Janjic, director of the Forum for Ethnic Relations in Belgrade, said the government made the decision because the Serbian law on local self-government says that wherever the government does not work, it has to establish a temporary administrative body.

Janjic said this is not a violation of the Brussels agreement because Belgrade does not intend to establish any government in Pristina, but must respect local laws.

"The law on local self-government, when it comes to Kosovo, is meaningless because it is based on the constitutional preamble 'Kosovo is part of Serbia,' but must be at least formally be respected," Janjic told SETimes.

The EU said the agreements reached between the two sides are clear and need to be implemented.

"Our focus is on the implementation and this is what we are working on together with the two sides. The full implementation of the agreements, including when it comes to elections, is first and foremost in their interest," Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, told SETimes.

The Serbian government on August 16th approved "temporary authorities" in the city of Pristina and the municipalities of Novo Brdo and Peja, which "will perform the tasks and responsibilities of the Assembly and the executive bodies of the local self-government."

The decision came after Kosovo and Serbia agreed on the participation of Kosovo Serbs, including the Serbs in the north, in local elections on November 3rd, which are expected to legitimise legal local government institutions.

Dragan Popovic, executive director of the Policy Centre in Belgrade, said this is "a very strange decision."

"Serbia officially has all the parallel structures in almost all Kosovo municipalities. It should be cancelled in the whole of Kosovo after November elections. What is worrisome is the fact that there is no official Serbian action plan for cancelling parallel institutions and the process can last too long," Popovic told SETimes.

Hoxhaj said the Serbian decision is damaging to the Kosovo-Serbia agreement for normalisation reached on April 19th.

"Normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia as sovereign and independent states can happen when Serbia follows a non-animosity policy toward the state of Kosovo, when Serbia follows a new policy, when it follows a policy of reconciliation between our people and our societies," Hoxhaj said.

Petrit Zogaj, executive director of the Fol (Speak Up) Movement, said the decision shows Serbia's resistance regarding normalisation of relations with Kosovo.

"Instead of undertaking the international engagements deriving from the April 19th agreement, Serbia, with this decision, has encouraged Kosovo Serbs to continue not recognising the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo and in fact has challenged them," Zogaj told SETimes.

Serbian officials have been appealing to Kosovo Serbs, especially in the north, to participate in November 3rd elections, but still there are issues to be resolved. Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said on August 20th that his government "will not ask Serbs in Kosovo to take part in the elections if ballot papers bear the insignia of the Republic of Kosovo," according to Serbia's B92.

What action, if any, do you think the EU should take on Kosovo's request to intervene? Add your thoughts to the section below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.