CSM In Kosovo: The Great Serbian Project That Shouldn’t Exist – Analysis


In recent weeks and months, especially after the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, the pressure of Western diplomats on Belgrade and Pristina to implement the Brussels Agreement from 2013 as soon as possible has increased dramatically.

In other words, western diplomats  want to close the Kosovo crisis center and revive the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo (CSM). It is this community that is the subject of a dispute between Belgrade and Pristina. Serbs see it as an exclusive Serbian political entity, while Albanians see it as a symbolic concession to Serbia in exchange for the normalization of relations and the recognition of Kosovo. Albanians believe that the community shouldn’t have executive powers, but should deal primarily with cultural and identity issues of Serbs.

CSM – the most topical geopolitical issue in the Western Balkans

The current Franco-German plan for Kosovo, the European Union plan presented to the public in September and December 2022 and supported by the United States, is controversial and full of contradictions. The plan would essentially mean the mutual de facto recognition of the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo, acceptance of state symbols and respect for the inviolability of the borders and territorial integrity of the two countries and their further European path. The plan doesn’t envisage the explicit recognition of Kosovo, but Serbia is requested not to oppose Kosovo’s entry into international organizations, with an express obligation not to oppose Kosovo’s entry into the United Nations. However, the main subject of the Serbian-Kosovo conflict is the CSM. The two parties can’t even agree on a name. The Serbs want the organization to be called a community and the Albanians an association.

At the beginning of February, Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, set six conditions for the formation of the CSM: 1) it must be in accordance with the Kosovo Constitution, 2) the community can’t be one nationality entity, 3) the rights of national minorities must be reciprocally resolved in both countries, 4) before the establishment of the community, the illegal structures of the Serbian state must be disbanded in the north of Kosovo, 5) the Commmunity of Serb municipalities will be established only after the mutual recognition of Serbia and Kosovo, 6) Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić withdraws letters sent to EU members not to accept the Republic of Kosovo into the EU. Recently, Kosovo’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz, stated that the proposal to establish the CSM “is dead and can’t be revived” because the Constitutional Court of Kosovo ruled that the formation of such a community is against Kosovo laws. She, like Prime Minister Kurti, compared the CSM with the Republika Srpska as “a mechanism of the executive power of one nation and an example of how one state doesn’t work” and that she will not allow this to happen in Kosovo.

With the intensification of efforts to accept the EU plan for Kosovo, there is more and more talk about the statute of the CSM. The German Friedrich Ebert Foundation also prepared its proposal for the CSM Statute. The CSM, which would consist of ten majority Serbian municipalities, would have its own coat of arms, symbols and flag, as well as bodies such as the assembly, president, vice president, council, and own budget. There are also responsibilities in the areas of health, education, economy, communal services, urban and rural development, and finance. Membership would be voluntary. It is particularly striking that this community would have the right to practically unlimited cooperation with Serbia in all important matters, even though it would formally be within the framework of the Kosovo state. A closer look shows that the establishment of such a political entity would actually be another component of the “Serbian world”. The CSM doesn’t differ much from similar Greater Serbian formations that arose in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1990s in the form of the Serbian Autonomous Regions (SAO), the Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK) and the current Republika Srpska (RS).

Origin and development of the idea of the Association of Serbian Municipalities

When considering the current efforts to implement it, it is necessary to look at how the idea of Serbian autonomy in Kosovo was created and developed. At the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, the UN passed Resolution 12/44, according to which it took control of the former southern Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija. According to the 1991 census, there were 194,190 Kosovo Serbs in the province (9.9% of the total Kosovo population). However, due to Serbian war defeats, the number of Serbs decreased during and after the war, about a third of them permanently settled outside the province. The ideological basis, the basic initial motive that inspired the current idea of a union of municipalities with a Serbian majority, was set back in January 2003. Namely, that was when the Assembly of the Union of Municipalities of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija was established, with headquarters in North Kosovska Mitrovica. This body was rightly considered illegal by the government of Kosovo.

However, the Albanian opposition didn’t stop the Serbs and that illegal (large) Serbian body continued to exercise legislative and executive power in the areas where the Serbs are the majority (mostly in the north of Kosovo: Zubin Potok, Zvečan, Leposavić., N. Mitrovica). During the Serbian-Kosovo negotiations on the future of Kosovo in 2005, the Serbian authorities called for the establishment of an autonomous body of Serbian municipalities and the constitutional protection of Serbs. UN Special Representative Søren Jessen-Petersen and the Kosovars rejected the idea of dividing Kosovo between Belgrade and Pristina.

When in February 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia and received international recognition from a large part of the international community, the Serbs were enraged and continued to consider the province as part of their territory. The Assembly of Kosovo and Metohija continued to act with this goal in mind. Moreover, as a response to the Albanian path to independence, in the spring of the same year, elections for the Serbian assembly were held and won by the Serbian Radical Party, whose leader Vojislav Šešelj was in The Hague on trial for war crimes. The fact that the radicals won the elections for the Assembly of Kosovo and Metohija shows that the whole idea of the association of Serb municipalities is actually the work of the radicals. Finally, in 2013, the illegal Greater Serbian Assembly and its bodies were disbanded as a result of the Brussels Agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.

Brussels agreement

Nevertheless, the Brussels Agreement provided for the establishment of a very similar political formation in the form of the current Community of Serbian Municipalities. CSM is a planned association, an association of majority Serb municipalities with headquarters in Kosovska Mitrovica. According to the addendum to the Brussels Agreement from 2015, unlike its predecessor, the ZSO should not have legislative powers but “full supervisory powers in the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning”, in accordance with the European Charter on Local Self-Government and Kosovo laws. The community should have a founding statute, president, vice president, assembly and council. The ten municipalities that should form the ZSO are: North Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zvečan, Zubin Potok, Štrpce, Gračanica, Novo Brdo, Ranilug, Klokot and Parteš. The total area of the community would be 1,708 square meters, which is slightly more than 15% of the territory of the Republic of Kosovo. The Brussels Agreement was an act forced upon the Serbs and Albanians by European diplomats in order to close the Kosovo issue and for both countries to speed up their path to joining the European Union. The agreement guarantees that Pristina and Belgrade can’t block each other’s European path.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the CSM guarantees broad powers to municipalities with a Serbian majority. Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi stated that the establishment of the ZSO is essentially acceptable if it is in accordance with the Constitution of Kosovo and Ahtisaari’s plan, while opposition leader Ramush Haradinaj supported this, saying that the Constitution of Kosovo allows the association of municipalities, but without having legislative, judicial or executive powers. authorities. In November 2014, one of the coordinators responsible for the establishment of the CSM, Ljubomir Marić, stated that it would be based on the South Tyrolean model in Italy and that he expected the establishment of two more Serbian municipalities: Gora and Prilužje. This was followed by the so far unsuccessful Serbian efforts to form those two additional Serbian municipalities that would join the others.

CSM fails to deploy

Although it was expected that the Association of Serbian Municipalities would come to life by 2015, it didn’t happen. On November 9 of that year, Kosovo’s request to become a member of UNESCO failed due to the lack of the necessary two-thirds majority of votes at the UNESCO General Conference. The next day, the Kosovo government froze the agreement on the establishment of the ZSO, which resulted in heavy fire from Belgrade. Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic called the act of the Kosovars “a threat to regional stability” and “a big blow to the Brussels dialogue”.

In December 2015, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Kosovo declared the CSM unconstitutional. Such a decision wasn’t surprising because a single-national organization with executive powers fundamentally violates the spirit of the Kosovo Constitution, which defines Kosovo society on the principles of multi-ethnicity. Since then, the implementation of the Brussels Agreement has been frozen and the diplomatic war between Belgrade and Pristina has continued. Kosovo would occasionally fall into a political crisis due to the internal conflicts of the Albanian parties that initially accepted the establishment of the CSM and later rejected such an idea. In September 2017, after the Kosovo parliamentary elections, the Serbian List agreed to form the Government of Kosovo with Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, on the condition that the ZSO be established. However, this still didn’t happen.

CSM – object of criticism from both Serbs and Albanians

CSM is the subject of criticism from both the Serbian and Albanian sides. The Serbian opposition complains to the ruling Serbian administration led by Vučić and the Serbian Progressive Party that the Brussels Agreement does not mention the Republic of Serbia and its laws, while it mentions the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Kosovo. The Serbian Orthodox Church was very vocal in its condemnation of the agreement because it foresees “the complete withdrawal of Serbian institutions from the territory of its southern province and the establishment of limited autonomy of the Serbian community in the area north of the Ibar bridge in Mitrovica within the framework of Hashim Thaçi’s establishment.” Certain Serbian circles in the north of Kosovo also organized protests against the establishment of the CSM and saw the alternative in the continuation of the illegal activities of Serbian state bodies in the north.

On the other hand, the Brussels agreement was criticized by the Albanians in southern Serbia who demanded the same autonomy as was provided for the Serbs in Kosovo. Party of Kosovo Albanians Vetëvendosje! organized violent protests against the agreement, because in their opinion an autonomous Serbian region would cripple the country’s sovereignty and cement ethnic divisions. Certain Kosovar circles complained that the Kosovo negotiators gave too much to the Serbian side and that the existence of the CSM opens the opportunity for Serbia to legally interfere in the internal affairs of the Republic of Kosovo and thus undermine its integrity.

A single national entity in a multinational state

Advisor to the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Jeton Zulfaj, recently publicly criticized the Western pressure on the Kosovo government to form the CSM as soon as possible. He pointed out that there is not a single Albanian association in Kosovo, even though Albanians make up 93% of the population, because Kosovo’s society is multi-ethnic. “The Constitution of Kosovo didn’t envisage any Albanian institution and can’t envisage and accept any Serbian, Roma, Bosnian, Turkish, Gorani, Ashkali, Egyptian institution”.

Zulfaj also pointed out that Western diplomats are wrong if the intention behind the concession to Serbia is to snatch Belgrade from Russia’s embrace: “… even if that is true, why should Kosovo pay the price? The separation of Serbia from the Kremlin (in any case very doubtful) is good for Serbia itself, there is no need to pay for it”. Kosovo officials continued to complain about the pressure from the West, and even the spokesperson of the Kosovo government stated that the request for the formation of the CSM was not a request of the international community, but of Serbia. Prime Minister Albin Kurti has said on countless occasions that he doesn’t agree to the establishment of the CSM as long as it rests on the principles of a single-national community.

Serbs positively discriminated in Kosovo

In 2020, the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) estimated that Albanians make up almost 95% of the population in Kosovo, and Serbs slightly less than 4.5%. According to the existing legal framework of the Kosovo state, since the declaration of independence in 2008, the Serbian minority community enjoys a wide range of political, cultural and economic rights, which are kept silent in the Serbian and foreign media. It can be said that Serbs are positively discriminated against. According to Ahtisaari’s plan, which Kosovo accepted and Serbia rejected, Kosovo was divided into 38 municipalities. Ten are mostly inhabited by Serbs and governed by local Serbs. Those 10 majority-Serb municipalities make up approximately 25% of the country’s territory, which is quite unusual for a community whose number is less than 5%. Some small municipalities were created with the sole aim of giving the Serbian population their own municipality.

There is a clear Serbian majority in the north of Kosovo, while other Serbian municipalities are distributed in the rest of the country. All municipalities already have jurisdiction over their budget, economy, public services, infrastructure management, primary and secondary education and primary health care. In the more numerous Serbian municipalities, such as Mitrovica-North, they have additional competences in education and health care. According to Kosovo laws, in municipalities where at least 10% of the population belongs to minority communities, at least one representative of that minority community has the right to hold office in the municipal assembly. Since the police is organized at the national level, it reflects the multi-ethnic structure of Kosovo. In practice, according to the Brussels Agreement of 2013 and the current police law, the police presence in a given municipality usually reflects the ethnic composition there. In municipalities with a Serb majority, Serbs also have the right to appoint a police commander.

Kosovo has two official languages, Albanian and Serbian. The two ethnic groups are largely separated and live separate lives. The Kosovo Parliament has 120 seats. Of that number, Serbs are guaranteed 10 seats, approximately 8%, regardless of the outcome of the election. Another 10 places belong to other ethnic groups. Regardless of the results, every Kosovo government has at least one minister from the Serb minority and one from other ethnic groups. If there are more than 12 ministries, minorities have the right to every third ministerial post. According to the Constitution, only seven minority representatives are enough to block constitutional amendments. In no other country in Europe, with the exception of Republic of Croatia, are minority rights emphasized as much as in Kosovo. This is not accidental, because the international community participated in the drafting of the Kosovo Constitution. In municipalities with a Serbian majority, the Serbian language is taught, and Albanian isn’t even offered as an optional subject. In municipalities dominated by Albanians, the opposite is true and Serbian is offered as an optional subject. Even the educational content varies widely. The history of Kosovo is taught differently by Albanians and differently by Serbs.

Almost without exception, political parties in Kosovo are divided along ethnic lines. The Srpska lista party isn’t only supported but also completely controlled by Belgrade. Serbs who lead a different, integrationist policy found themselves under severe pressure, and some prominent figures were persecuted, while Oliver Ivanović was mysteriously murdered in 2018. In the last parliamentary elections, the Srpska lista took all 10 seats reserved for the Serbian community. Thus, Vučić has a foothold in the Kosovo parliament and in every Kosovo government, and uses his pawns to direct Kosovo’s politics. There are more examples of positive discrimination. For example Kosovo Serbs in the north haven’t paid their electricity bills for more than two decades. Until now, the costs have been borne by the remaining Kosovars. In any other country, consumers who do not pay their electricity bills the power would be off. However, for Kosovo Serbs to have their electricity turned off. Energy, protests would follow and Serbia would support them.

ZSO – Great Serbian project in democratic guise

In short, the CSM as a type of political entity would further expand the already great autonomy of the Serbian community. Although the community would be regulated according to existing Kosovo laws, at the same time it would form a parallel structure that the Kosovo Constitution didn’t foresee and therefore annulled it by decision in 2015. The CSM would form a special structure that would function as a puppet of Belgrade, disintegrating Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It would be a “bone in the throat” of the young Kosovo state.

In any case, although foreign diplomats deny it, the CSM would be, in one way or another, a version of the Bosnian entity Republika Srpska. It would be a state within a state that would block any progress in Kosovo, especially Euro-Atlantic integration. Proof of this can be found in the Brussels Agreement, which provides for the expansion of the police and judicial powers of Serbian municipalities. Police and judiciary are the foundation of every (quasi)state. Admittedly, all these structures would be formally integrated into the Kosovo state and would be financed by the government in Pristina. Undoubtedly, in practice such structures would dissolve the Kosovo state while simultaneously being financed by all Kosovo citizens.

Kosovo suffers from the ambivalence of the EU’s foreign policy. Although 22 out of 27 EU member states recognize Kosovo, there is no clear policy on how to solve the “Kosovo puzzle”. For example, Serbia received the status of a candidate for joining the EU even though it has not resolved the border issues with its neighbors. Serbian officials want special treatment from the EU, and otherwise (sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly) they threaten to turn more strongly towards Russia and China. Some countries like Germany and France clearly want to make concessions to Serbia because of its economic potential, which unfortunately Kosovo does not have due to the bad position it suffered during the SFRY and FRY. The West has repeatedly erred in its relationship with the region of the former Yugoslavia, which can be clearly seen in the example of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where it agreed to the establishment of the RS, which was created on the basis of mass crimes and genocide.

Precisely because of the wide range of rights that are reserved for the Serbian community, the readiness of the Serbian minority to integrate into Kosovo society is practically non-existent. If the Serbs were to integrate, they would show that Kosovo can be and is a functional state. It is about the fact that Kosovo Serbs don’t want to live in the Republic of Kosovo but in Serbia, and therein lies the core of all problems. Instead of accepting the political reality and integrating into the political life of the Kosovo state, the Serbs there continue to live in the illusion that Serbia will return to Kosovo. Many of them would like the return to be carried out by the Serbian Army as part of a “Serbian Storm” or a Serbian “special military operation”.

However, Serbia has neither the strength nor the power to forcibly conquer and return Kosovo to its constitutional and legal order. Such chances were lost in the 1980s and 1990s, when Serbian policy makers, with a little more pragmatism, could de facto keep Kosovo within Serbia forever. However, such opportunities were irretrievably missed. Today’s Kaliningrad used to be the classic German city of Königsberg, but in 1945 it irrevocably became a Russian city. Aggressive imperial policies are to blame for both changes. Serbia has definitely lost Kosovo, and if Vučić continues to implement the Great Serbian policy, Serbia could also lose the Serbs there. If there are some incidents and armed conflicts, you don’t need to be a good mathematician to conclude who would win: the majority of 95% or the minority of not even 5%?

Today CSM, tomorrow some new Z-4 plans

The EU plan for Kosovo creates new dangers for the entire region. If the model of the Community of Serbian Municipalities applies in Kosovo, it would be an incentive to apply similar models in the surrounding countries: Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. The CSM founded today in Kosovo could start a new Z-4 plan for Croatia tomorrow. It is well known that in 2010, during the discussion of the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities, the Croatian Parliament almost voted that the Serb association, Joint Council of Municipalities (JCM) in the area of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srijem, should acquire legal personality. This meant the de facto creation of SAO Krajina in a new form. Fortunately, at the last minute that attempt was prevented by HNS representative Vesna Pusić by sending an amendment. “If it had passed, we would have received a kind of intermediate level of regional organization that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Croatia. They would also receive two categories of Serbs in Croatia: those from eastern Croatia who would have the right to a separate regional unit, and the others. All this would be regulated through the Constitutional Law, which is equal to the Constitution. There was no way we could accept that.” The otherwise non-national, liberal Pusić pulled off a commendable statesmanship move.

Ten years ago, an initiative was also launched in Bosnia to create a “Serbian canton” in the Federation BIH. The Serbian attempt to destabilize Montenegro is a separate story. The idea that, for example, the Serbs become a constituent people in that country has been actual recently. There is no doubt that the revival of the CSM in Kosovo would encourage such separatist ideas in neighboring countries with the aim of including such entities under the cloak of the “Serbian world”. That is why Kosovars must say loudly and clearly no to the attempt to establish a Serbian separatist region in Kosovo. Unfortunately, it seems that Americans and Europeans haven’t learned much from the Dayton (dis)agreement. That agreement planted a time bomb under the foundations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Brussels agreement with Kosovo did the same. This is precisely why the CSM mustn’t deploy, and the unfinished Brussels agreement should be replaced with a new agreement that would be based on the principles of multi-ethnicity and integration, not separation.

One thought on “CSM In Kosovo: The Great Serbian Project That Shouldn’t Exist – Analysis

  • February 27, 2023 at 10:29 pm

    Kosovo is the cradle of Serbian civilization and was stolen by Albanian immigrants who entered Serbia illegally after World War 2. For the international community to justify this and also the violation of international law, is both immoral and irreprehensible. Furthermore, to say that Serbs are ”positively” discriminated against is nothing further from the truth. Serbian monasteries are constantly vandalized and destroyed and Serbian citizens are threatened, beaten and expelled. Furthermore, articles about Kosovo written from a Croatian journalist’s perspective are not fair nor objective, seeing as Croatia expelled more then 200,000 Serbian civilians from its territory during the 1990’s. It is in Croatia’s interest to keep the status quo in Kosovo.


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