By Linda Karadaku
At first glance, it seems like a minor issue, a whitecap in the sea of disagreements between Serbia and Kosovo. Negotiators have resumed EU mediated talks in Brussels, this time focusing specifically on how Kosovo will be identified on those ubiquitous table-top cards, the ones that identify where each conference participant represents.
Pristina wants its regional presentation moniker to read “Republic of Kosovo”. Belgrade insists it be “Kosovo according to [UN Resolution] 1244”.
“We have far distant positions. What will happen in the coming days remains to be seen,” Edita Tahiri, Kosovo’s chief negotiator, told reporters late Tuesday (January 31st) after meeting with Robert Cooper, the EU facilitator in Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.
Tahiri insists that Kosovo must be represented as an independent and sovereign state, with institutions that sign regional co-operation agreements, as opposed to the days when UNMIK would sign, based on the UN Resolution 1244. “Therefore, we do not accept any reference on the Resolution 1244,” she said, underlining that Serbia does not have the right to refer to the resolution “because it was approved in 1999, when Serbia did not exist as a state.”
But Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told Serb media that the “reference to Resolution 1244 is of vital importance for the continuation of the negotiations aimed at resolving the Kosovo issue. Serbia has no intention of suffocating Pristina, and its participation in regional forums has never been brought into question. But the other side insisted that this implied membership and not participation, which we are not able to accept,” Jeremic told Tanjug.
Bogdana Koljevic, political scientist and philosopher at the publication New Serbian Political Thought, tells SETimes that adherence to the 1244 reference is a “red line that should not be passed”.
Kosovo analyst Ilir Ibrahimi, vice-president and chief operating officer of the American University in Kosovo, says that while reaching an agreement on regional presentation would be an achievement, the question is, “at what price”?
“If it would have to give up the name that defines its juridical status, the name Republic, I think that would be a very big compromise for Kosovo, which is not the first one,” Ibrahimi told SETimes, adding that the Kosovo government is under strong pressure to compromise with Serbia.
Serbian analyst Dragan Popovic, director of the Policy Centre in Belgrade, says every possible agreement about this issue can bring Serbia its long-sought EU candidacy, “so it’s pretty obvious what the gain is” for Serbia.
“On the other hand, even though there is no loss, neither for the Serbian state nor for the citizens, the government can be accused of giving up on Resolution 1244.”
With the informal election campaign already under way, he notes, “it will be used by the nationalistic opposition. So, there would be no loss for the state, but it would be certain loss for ruling parties,” Popovic told SETimes.
The disagreement draws comparisons to the longstanding dispute between Greece and Macedonia. Macedonia wants to be known as the Republic of Macedonia, but Greece insists that it be called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and has gone so far as to block Macedonia’s EU accession. Macedonia is now recognised by more than 40 countries, but does not use its preferred name in the UN.
Kosovo analyst and university professor Belul Beqaj sees no winners in an agreement on regional presentation. “In fact, we are all losers, because in a conscious way, the time when we all should behave in conformity with the real situation and the joint future is being postponed,” Beqaj told SETimes.
Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.