While Kosovo officials are eager to hold talks with Serbs in the country's north, the minority group is wary of sitting at the table without Belgrade.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 15/05/12
Most Kosovo Serbs are balking at the idea of talks with Pristina. [Reuters]
Kosovo says it wants to hold talks with the Serbs in the northern part of the country, which currently does not recognise Pristina's authority. Belgrade institutions control almost every segment of the daily lives of the Kosovo Serbs.
Marko Prelec, the Balkan director for the International Crisis Group, tells SETimes that a dialogue between Pristina and northern Kosovo Serbs is not only possible, but necessary.
"There is still disagreement between them on the most basic issue: what country is northern Kosovo in? As long as they disagree on that, all they can have is a modest technical dialogue to lower tensions and ease some practical problems. A dialogue like that can help, but it won't even start to resolve the real issues," Prelec says.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said on May 7th that the time has come to solve the problem of the north. He said talks would be held with Serb citizens in the north -- with facilitation from Washington and Brussels -- but not with Serbia.
"This problem should be solved … with a broad political consensus [between] the power and the opposition," Thaci told the Kosovo daily Lajm.
Thaci has excluded the possibility of any special autonomy for northern Kosovo.
"First of all, there will be no threats to divide the territory of Kosovo. There will be no exchange of territories and there will be no special autonomy for northern Kosovo," Thaci told Time.com, in an interview released by his office.
"If somebody in Brussels [backs] this idea for a change of the borders, then this will not stop only in Kosovo, or only in the neighbouring countries. It will continue in the entire Western Balkans. It would affect at least six states. Each state in the region has a small Mitrovica inside," Thaci said.
However, the prospects for any future negotiations are looking dim.
Prelec said that dialogue requires a partner. "As far as I know, most Serbs in northern Kosovo won't participate unless Belgrade is in the room. So ruling out Serbia's participation means in effect ruling out a meaningful dialogue, at least for now," he said.
Christian Palme, International Civilian Office (ICO) spokesman, said the citizens of northern Kosovo must decide how they want to work with the institutions of Kosovo -- and it is up to Pristina officials to make clear to its citizens from non-majority communities what life in Kosovo can be like.
"Serbs in the north identify strongly with their municipalities, and they are hungry for better services and better governance. Decentralisation can provide this," Palme told SETimes.
Last month, the ICO released a report titled "Guests in Our Own House: The Comprehensive Settlement Proposal and the Serb Community in northern Kosovo."
The report concluded that the contents of the Ahtisaari Plan are acceptable -- even desirable -- mechanisms allowing for the concerns of Serbs living in northern Kosovo, "but the situation on the ground is not going to improve unless there is first a change of heart and attitude in Belgrade."
"It's all nicely written on paper, but we have no guarantees whatsoever," the report quoted a Kosovo Serb saying about the plan.
Belgrade has come out with several proposals on the issue in the last months, such as holding a new international conference on Kosovo, or following different international models such as Germany after WWII.
Tihomir Markovic, a merchant in Mitrovica, says Serbs in the north do not want to live under somebody's command. "I am convinced we will realise our right not to be under Pristina's control," Markovic told SETimes.
Slobo Kasalovic, a pensioner in Zubin Potok is categorical. "Nothing with Thaci. His invitation to talk is only a baitfish -- to talk to him would mean the end for us," Kasalovic told SETimes.