The two sides are back at the negotiating table for the first time since independence.
By Igor Jovanovic and Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Pristina – 09/03/11
Kosovo Serbs hope the dialogue will bring concrete improvements in their living standards. [Reuters]
As EU-sponsored talks between Serbia and Kosovo got under way in Brussels on Tuesday (March 8th), both sides took a positive tone in official comments. However, some politicians and analysts expressed reservations about the prospects, and the Kosovo parliament has not yet given its endorsement.
Borislav Stefanovic, head of the Serbian delegation, said his team had come to the talks "with a bag full of proposals and good solutions". His Kosovo counterpart, Edita Tahiri, expressed her conviction that the dialogue would "enhance the European perspective of both countries".
These are the first direct talks between Belgrade and Pristina since Kosovo unilaterally declared independence three years ago. Initial discussions are expected to focus on topics such as CEFTA, air traffic, customs procedures, and land ownership records.
In Pristina, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci took the opportunity to remind parliament of its vote last year in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution that called for such dialogue. The process is necessary, he said, "if everyone wants to join the EU, NATO and to have regional stability".
"We have been talking for Serbia for many years, so it is not anything new," he added.
But opposition parties say Pristina is going into the talks without a clear agenda, and in a way that suits the other camp's agenda.
The government lacks "a clear agenda and consensus between all political groups which would enable serious talks with Belgrade," said Ali Isufu of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK).
Sabri Hamiti, from the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), told SETimes that he thinks the negotiations are one-sided. "The European perspective of Kosovo depends not from Serbia, but from our internal development, so with this dialogue we are helping Serbia to get the candidate status, and we nothing," he said.
Criticism was voiced from some quarters in Serbia as well.
"Belgrade is not expected to formally say 'we recognise Kosovo,' but is expected, through this process, to initialise a number of documents that would solidify Kosovo's independence," said Aleksander Mitic, head of the Kosovo Compromise project. "This is just another stage in the slow process of building the independent state of Kosovo."
But Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, insists the talks hold the promise of an "historic compromise" and could mark a turning point in Serbs' relations with Albanians. He stressed the delegation's top concern is to improve living conditions for the Serb community in Kosovo.
Rada Trajkovic, a Serb member of Kosovo's Assembly, expressed cautious optimism about areas in which "creative solutions can be reached and regional stability can be boosted."
"I think the situation regarding passports, license plates and railways will soon normalise, because those are not issues that cannot yield solutions," she said.
In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the start of the dialogue, saying "now is the right time to begin," and voicing confidence that Belgrade and Pristina can find practical ways to ensure the normal lives for their citizens.