Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti held their first, EU-mediated meeting in Brussels, but could not even agree on whether the talks went well or not./
By Sasa Dragojlo-Beligrad/BalkanInsight/*
The long-awaited resumption of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo took place on Tuesday in Brussels, where Aleksandar Vucic and Albin Kurti had their first official meeting, but their rival interpretations of what happened highlighted the differences between the two leaders.
While the Serbian president claimed that Pristina was not open to any compromise and said that Kurti was unwilling to take responsibility or face reality, Kosovo’s prime minister said that the meeting was constructive and that it made him optimistic.
“The Albanian delegation does not want to fulfil agreements [made at earlier meetings], they do not want to talk about the Union of Serbian Municipalities [to represent Serbs’ interests in Kosovo], they insistently and instantly demanded when will we recognise an independent Kosovo, and they described the fact that Serbs want to attend liturgies in their churches [in Kosovo] as incidents and provocations,” Vucic told reporters in Brussels.
“[Kurti] told me: ‘I came to ask you when you will recognize an independent Kosovo.’ My answer was ‘Never!’ Then he blew up,” he said.
However, he added that he will not give up on the EU-mediated dialogue, which is aimed at normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo, said that it was agreed that they will talk again at the highest level before the end of July.
Kurti however offered a different view of the meeting, saying that he gave four proposals to the Serbian delegation and that the first received no response and the other three were rejected.
“From my point of view, this first meeting was constructive. It will be hard, but I am an optimist. We now have an honest approach to the problems,” Kurti said.
“The essence of our conflict is the lack of mutual recognition. US President Biden said loud and clear that we need that,” he added.
He said that his first proposal was for six Western Balkan states to form a new South-East European Free Trade Agreement.
His second proposal was for Kosovo and Serbia to immediately sign a joint peace agreement, vowing not to attack each other.
The third proposal was for bilateral reciprocity to be established between the two states following mutual recognition, including on the issue of minority communities.
Kurti said that Serbs in Kosovo could have a National Council, as Albanians and Bosniaks do in Serbia.
The Kosovo prime minister also said that he requested the dismissal of Veljko Odalovic, the head of Serbia’s Commission for Missing Persons because he was the administrative chief of Yugoslavia’s Kosovo region during the 1998-99 war, and that the remaining mass graves of Kosovo Albanians in Serbia be found.
Asked about Vucic’s claim that the atmosphere at the meeting was bad, Kurti responded that this was “subjective”’.
“There were no incidents, nor was the situation on the verge of any incidents,” he said.
The EU envoy for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajcak, said that the meeting was not easy, but it was important that it happened.
“Both leaders were very open and honest about what they want in the dialogue, that is important for the EU, there is no other way forward than the normalisation of relations and both are committed to working on normalisation through dialogue,” Lajcak said.
Kosovo proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008. The negotiations between the two sides started in 2011, while the so-called ‘Brussels Agreement’ – the first document on the principles of normalization of relations between Serbia and its former province – was signed in 2013.
Since then the two sides have continued to regard each other with distrust.
Serbia and Kosovo’s leaders signed separate agreements with the US on mainly economic issues relating to each other at the White House during President Trump’s time in office, but neither appears ready for major compromises.
*Caption: Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti (second left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (right) meet for the first time in Brussels on Tuesday. Photo: Josep Borrell/Twitter.