The Serbian battle against strengthening Kosovo’s international position continues

10 mars 2023 14:29

Illustration by: Bigeye

At the time when intense negotiations are expected on signing the European Union (EU) plan for the normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relations and the guidelines for its implementation, Serbia has not given up the diplomatic struggle to hinder Kosovo in the international arena, namely the campaign of de-recognitions.

After the February 27 meeting, EU High Representative Joseph Borrell said the sides agreed on the EU's proposal, although the document was not signed as a result of the Serbian side's reluctance. Borrell stated that now the discussions will be about the implementation plan and not about the content of the agreement.

The document also contains the article through which it is aimed to restrain Serbia’s current policy of hindering the strengthening of the international subjectivity of Kosovo, although (de)recognition is not specifically mentioned. Before the meeting in Brussels, Serbia reinitiated the campaign for the cancellation of Kosovo's international recognition, which was not stopped even by the frequent visits of the European and American emissaries, who demanded the return of the parties to the negotiation table.

The initiative on withdrawal of recognitions was undertaken by the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Ivica Dacic, who said that there are nine countries that have revoked the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. On January 11, the head of Serbian diplomacy held a joint conference with his Togolese counterpart, Robert Dussey, who declared that Togo's withdrawal of Kosovo's recognition is final.

Togo had recognized Kosovo in 2014, whereby the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kosovo, Enver Hoxhaj, and Robert Ducey signed an agreement to establish diplomatic relations. But five years later the news of Togo's derecognition was announced and the same stance was reaffirmed in 2023.

This is one of the rare cases whereby a state publicly announces the cancellation of recognition. However, Serbia has tried to misuse other countries presenting de-recognitions although they were never proven through the presentation of verbal notes. The Government of Kosovo refuted the Serbian officials’ inclusion of Gabon in the alleged list of withdrawals of recognition.

But even after the changes in the government, the MFA has never removed the name of this country from the official website, which continues to appear even after the reconfirmation that recognition has been withdrawn.

This development reactivated Kosovo diplomats, who met some of the representatives of the countries with which Serbia claims to have good relations and that have allegedly withdrawn the recognition.

Thus, the ambassador of Kosovo to Canada, Adriatik Kryeziu, met his counterpart from Gabon, with whom he discussed deepening bilateral cooperation. The Kosovo ambassador in Brussels, the one in Ankara, Great Britain, Portugal and Japan had similar meetings with representatives of African countries.

Serbia's campaign has often been called propaganda due to the fact that the de jure withdrawal of recognition is an issue that has no legal basis in International Law in the case of Kosovo. Revocation of recognition can be done when a state loses the essential characteristics of statehood, which is not the case with Kosovo.

Despite this, Kosovar diplomacy has been slow in countering Serbia by lobbying with the most vulnerable countries, mainly African ones, and using the momentum created after the opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which says that Kosovo did not violate international law when declaring independence, as Serbia claimed.

Despite the favorable opinion towards Kosovo, the Kosovo government agreed to enter into new negotiations with Serbia according to a resolution approved by the United Nations (UN), where Kosovo internal issues were mainly discussed in the name of the integration of the Serbs. This also had a negative effect on increasing recognitions and membership in international organizations, as many countries were reserved in decision-making pending the agreement with Serbia.

This dilemma was cemented after 2018, when former president Hashim Thaçi launched the idea of correcting the border with Serbia. However, the US and the EU opposed any idea that implied the possible change of borders in the Balkans, returning to the old efforts for an agreement that does not affect the borders.

Serbia has lobbied against Kosovo using methods that are suspected to be related to corruption affairs. The vice president of the Freedom and Justice Party (SSP), Marinka Tepiq, had accused the Serbian Foreign Minister, Dacic, of collecting money from businessmen and arms dealers for the withdrawal of Kosovo's recognition.

In 2019, a scandal was also published in the Central African Republic, where the local media revealed a payment of 350 thousand euros from the Serbian government, in exchange of "de-recognition" of Kosovo.

Serbia’s methods to buy Kosovo’s de-recognition were also mentioned by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Enver Hoxhaj. According to him, the lobbying campaigns against Kosovo, through bribery and the illegal sale of weapons and similar actions, were now being confirmed by Belgrade too.

The campaign against Kosovo's membership in international organizations

From 2018 onwards, it has been dry in terms of increasing recognitions. The last recognition for Kosovo was from Israel on September 4, 2020, as part of Washington's commitments, which had imposed a one-year moratorium on applications for membership in international organizations.

However, this did not stop Serbia, which, in addition to the campaign for the cancellation of recognition, used every opportunity to hinder Kosovo's membership in international organizations, in one of which the application was deposited last year. Serbian officials have in some cases taken pride in having blocked the inclusion of Kosovo's application in the agenda of the Council of Europe (CoE). This has also been accompanied by numerous misinformation, which have also circulated in Kosovo media.

After the media reported that the application was voted down by the ambassadors of the Council countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora (MPJD) of Kosovo reacted by denying that there had been any vote since May 12 when the application was deposited. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, coordination with all international partners and continuous lobbying has ensured broad support to pass the first phase of the membership process.

Although the main EU countries have supported Kosovo's aspirations for membership in the Council of Europe, Kosovo's membership in the Council of Europe is closely related to progress in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

The German Embassy in Kosovo has warned that the further blocking of the formation of the Association of Municipalities with a Serbian Majority does not make it easy to achieve the necessary majority (2/3 of the votes) out of 46 member states, to join the CoE.

Kosovo's hopes for membership in the Council of Europe have increased significantly after the exclusion of Russia as a result of the war in Ukraine.

In addition to the membership in the Council of Europe, NATO's Partnership for Peace Program (as a step before NATO membership) and UNESCO are some of the organizations in which Kosovo aims for membership. Prime Minister Kurti has established a working group for the preparation of the application for membership in NATO, but so far no deadline has been given for when this can be done.

Kosovo has in the past been advised by allies to refrain from requests for applications in order to give a chance to dialogue with Serbia and reach a final agreement. There were such efforts at the beginning of this year, where the goal is for Kosovo and Serbia to agree on the Franco-German proposal. Among other things, the EU plan also contains a clause, according to which Serbia will not oppose Kosovo's membership in international organizations, including the UN.

Such commitments have been given in the past dialogue, such as the Agreement of 2013, but Serbia has never respected them, relentlessly fighting Kosovo's subjectivity in the international arena. Even after Borrell declared the agreement in Brussels, Serbian President Vučić declared that he will never accept Kosovo's entry into the UN.

Prepared by: Fitim Gashi

*This article is part of the regional initative Western Balkans Regional Anti-disinformation. Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: exposing malign influences through watchdog journalism.

*This article was originally published in Albanian.

10 mars 2023