Another historic day in Serbia’s fairly short history has happened. It was Tuesday, August 25th, when four agreements were signed in Brussels, facilitated by the EU High representative Federica Mogherini. Prime minister Vucic and the director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric cried ecstatically into RTS cameras that a historic victory „for the Serbian people in Kosovo” had been won. The following agreements were signed: on the Association of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo (ZSO), on the bridge over the Ibar, on telecommunications, and on energy. As the prime minister explained the day after the signing, each of these agreements has confirmed the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, by guarding all key points, out of which the most important for the Serbian side are: the asterisk with the footnote regarding representation of Kosovo, the prevention of “occupation” of northern Kosovo and, regarding telecommunication, area codes remained the same (and with no state code!). The biggest nonsense that the prime minister said was his explanation on the state code which Kosovo will get primarily “as a geographic area – namely, as an area and not as a state”. Vucic said this loud and, seemingly, clear. The citizens understood that it would be the same as if, for example, Homolje area, or Rudnicko Pomoravlje or Gruza got their area codes. Makes perfect sense. And, finally, we got the ZSO, the association of ten Serbian municipalities in Kosovo, which caused great celebration among the local Serbian population. Serbian citizens were confused by the prime minister’s explanation, while citizens of Kosovo had different reactions to the statements made by their prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs. Samoopredeljenje called for protest against the emerging ZSO. Marko Djuric said that this means the score is 5-0 for Serbia and that it’s no wonder that Albanians are protesting, because “a loser has the right to be mad”. Naturally, he was referring to the four agreements, the four “goals”, and the opening of the negotiation chapters with the EU, the “spike ball”. Representatives of the Serbian opposition, however, said that ZSO is not such a great accomplishment, since it has no “executive authority”, meaning that it’s not “autonomous, yet ours” enough, as the prime minister would have us believe.
Two days later, however, at the Summit in Vienna, Chancellor Merkel said that Serbia “is closer to the start of the negotiations with the EU than it was 20 hours ago”. European commissioner for enlargement Johannes Hahn recited praise straight out of the protocol about Serbia as a guarantee of stability in the Balkans and possible opening of negotiation chapters in early 2016. For Michael Davenport, on the other hand, the European future of Serbia started long ago, so he didn’t have anything new to say. Finally, when it came to the opening of the road to the EU, prime minister Vucic relied on the old customary code, i.e. the word. “The Germans gave their word”, said the prime minister, and there should be no discussion about that. So, all we should do is do our chores and wait. One of the main infrastructure projects on the road to normalization of relations with Kosovo will be the Nis-Pristina highway which should be implemented with the same speed as the Belgrade-Budapest high speed railway. Seventy-seven kilometers of the highway to democracy is just waiting for minister Zorana Mihajlovic’s engineers to open the road of democracy to the Ionian sea. Also, implementation of the agreements is now left to the partners in the Brussels negotiations. Besides three specific agreements, on energy, telecommunication and the bridge over the Ibar (which is to be solved by a pedestrian zone!) there is the most important, but also the shadiest one called ZSO. Politika and Marko Djuric explain it thoroughly.
ZSO has everything an autonomous geographic area needs: a president, a vice-president, a parliament, a council, a coat of arms, and a flag. By naming these institutions, prime minister Vucic launched an idea of ZSO as an entity or satellite of Serbia, although the Agreement on the Association of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo never mentions it. On the contrary, all clauses of the Agreement rely on the institutional and legal framework of Kosovo. This media manipulation of the idea of ZSO as a miniature Republika Srpska, is perhaps the most serious problem which could hinder the normalization of Pristina-Belgrade relations. Because if northern Kosovo with enclaves is ZSO, then the rest of Kosovo can’t be treated as a geographic area which answers if you dial a certain state code. According to the agreement, ZSO is also included in the legal framework of that geographic area. Vucic’s and Djuric’s patriotic reading of the agreement on Association has greatly influenced the creation of a wrongful conviction that a new Republika Srpska will be born. Such convictions can lead to lasting problems between Serbian and Albanian communities in Kosovo, because Serbian authorities treat ZSO as a Serbian subsidiary, i.e. as part of its own legal framework, which is financed from the state budget and “free of all taxes, customs and duties towards Pristina institutions”. “Serbian daughter companies”, like EPS, are supposed to work in this zone. Such treatment of Brussels negotiating accomplishments has usually caused misunderstandings in the past. Marko Djuric spoke about it a couple of days ago, wondering how come the negotiators often change their positions after signing the agreement.
It’s no wonder that, unlike the enthusiastic prime minister and director of the Office for K&M, European officials didn’t rush into opening negotiation chapters for Serbia. There is a reason why the end of the Agreement on Associations states that “implementation of the Statute of ZSO will be revised one year after its adoption, including verification of the exercise of jurisdiction under Article 5 of the Initial agreement”. When asked about this article, Marko Djuric said that that article is meant to “politically empower the Association in the future”. However, it’s completely possible that it’s about a period of EU monitoring, which is supposed to prevent the Serbian government from making another Serbian false bottom which could cause an even bigger problem than the one from the beginning of negotiations. In that sense, prime minister Vucic may be unpleasantly surprised by the speed of the realization of the German “word” given at the Vienna summit.
Translated by Marijana Simic