With the election of Vjosa Osmani as President of Kosovo all institutions in Pristina that emerged from the elections held in February were constituted, but that does not mean that the break in the dialogue with Belgrade is over and that negotiations can continue. All five parliamentary elections in Kosovo since 2010 have been extraordinary elections, and that is the most common reason why the ten-year dialogue with Belgrade was interrupted, including the political crises that were resolved with the elections.
This election round was no exception, as was the crisis that preceded it, caused by the resignation of Kosovo President Hashim Thaci in November last year. But the hope that the dialogue under the auspices of the European Union will continue immediately after the constitution of the authorities in Pristina was no exception also. Still, it seems that those hopes will be in vain.
Kosovo – a procrastinating factor
Even after the election of Vjosa Osmani as president, Kosovo will remain the main factor in delaying the dialogue with Belgrade, and thus achieving a solution to the longest-running Balkan crisis. There are several reasons for this.
First of all, with the constitution of institutions and the election of Vjosa Osmani, the political scene in Kosovo has only been partially stabilized. Behind this election, which came with much difficulty, there remained a deep rift in the political scene. As it is now, it will lead to another, six consecutive extraordinary elections, rather than to stable institutions, regardless of the recent convincing election victory of Albin Kurti’s party.
The election of Vjosa Osmani was made through conflict, not cooperation with the political minority, which is contrary to the spirit of the Kosovo constitution, which “forces” the majority around the president to get the votes of the opposition. What is even more dangerous, according to the “affected” party (Ramush Haradinaj), the election passed with the purchase of votes of opposition MPs. The impression remained that the already split Kosovo political scene, after the election of Vjosa Osmani, was even more radicalized, and that in Pristina usually means – a political crisis, and extraordinary elections soon after.
The second reason that makes Kosovo the weakest link in the Brussels dialogue is essential. Vjosa Osmani as president and Albin Kurti as prime minister form the ruling tandem in Pristina, which is deeply opposed to dialogue with Belgrade. At the very least, they want to redefine it, including a review of all the agreements reached so far. Shift in the dialogue with Belgrade is no longer just their personal policy, it is now their important position that brought them votes and brought them to the highest positions, and they now have an obligation towards that position.
The price of dialogue in the votes of voters
If we add the possibility of early elections to this “new Kosovo reality”, then we can expect from Kurti and Osmani only an even tougher obstruction to going to Brussels, not a softening of their positions. They both said this clearly in the first days of their rule: Kurti said that negotiations with Belgrade were only the sixth priority of his government (he soon moved them to fourth place under the influence of Lajcak’s visit), and Osmani said in her inaugural presidential speech that Serbia should first repent, and its criminals to be convicted.
Both speak as politicians, as leaders of the option that currently has primacy on the Kosovo political scene, knowing full well that their leadership positions largely depend on “decisive” rhetoric, especially if they are facing new elections. Kurti’s “Self-Determination” is, even today when it’s in power – an anti-establishment group, as it was described by influential European media while it was still in opposition, only to be renamed as the tame Social Democrats which is not very close to their profile. But these media cosmetics cannot disguise their essential opposition to any agreements with Belgrade that would tarnish the image of Kosovo as presented to their constituents. After the negotiations, Vjosa Osmani clearly described the image of Kosovo – “Mutual recognition, within the existing borders and with the preserved internal structure of Kosovo, which we now have in the Constitution, without any changes”.
Why is Vučić in a hurry?
Belgrade, of course, does not agree with this platform of the new Kosovo president. With none of its three points, let alone with all of them together. Nor is anyone in Belgrade ready to accept any of them. On the one hand, it is politically appropriate for Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to delay the negotiations, if their outcome would be as Vjosa Osmani wishes. The loss of confidence of a large part of the voters in his policy would be more than certain if he would allow the dialogue to end in the direction they are looking for in Pristina. But, on the other hand, he insists that the dialogue continue and that a solution be found as soon as possible, halfway between the current entrenched interests of the two sides. That motive of his policy is much stronger than the domestic-political one, where he can only be at a loss, because the expected gain is much higher than a number of precents in the elections.
Without the agreement on Kosovo, Vučić’s ambitions regarding Serbia will be difficult to achieve. And they are much bigger than the bitter struggle for the percentage of votes at home. They concern the greater and faster economic growth of Serbia, leadership in regional economic and infrastructural connections and, ultimately, entering into competition with the more developed part of Europe, through Serbia’s full membership in the EU. The only certain way to these goals is through a compromise on Kosovo. As a pragmatic politician, Vučić knows this well, and that is why all this time, Serbia has not made any move that would slow down or hinder the Brussels negotiations.
Whether the dialogue will be renewed soon and at what pace, at this moment, depends almost exclusively on the European Union and its enthusiasm. More precisely, how much it will increase its efficiency in this process under the influence of the new American administration, which has announced that it will work diligently with Brussels on this issue. Serbia and its leader will have a reliable partner for the continuation of dialogue and its efficient flow. The new ruling set in Pristina will not have such support. They will have to work on it a lot. Of course, provided that the mediators also care that this decade-long business gets a positive end in the foreseeable future.