The murder last month of Oliver Ivanovic, the Kosovo Serb politician, is a shock. Political murders are a sign that something is rotten in the state – in this case in northern Kosovo.
The way to commemorate Ivanovic is for Serbia and Kosovo to find better ways to work together. President Vucic has pointed the way in his statement and in his visit to Kosovo; as did President Thaci in his response.
The place to start would be to cooperate on the investigation of Ivanovic’s death, in the framework of the police and justice agreements concluded as a result of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, which I facilitated in 2011 and 2012.
The dialogue was Kosovo’s entry into the world of diplomacy as an independent state. Representatives of Kosovo sat across the table from representatives of Serbia, and negotiated as equals. Nothing was agreed unless both parties accepted it.
We went as far as we could with the dialogue at the technical level, reaching agreements on practical arrangements for people and goods to cross borders, on proper documentation for land and people, and on membership of regional organisations. When I left in 2012, none of these had been implemented. But five years on they all have, in most cases in full.
After I left, the EU High Representative worked with political leaders from Kosovo and Serbia on the question of a political settlement for the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo.
Here the leaders on both sides showed courage and commitment to their people by reaching an agreement. But important elements have still not been implemented, including the energy agreement, and especially the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities, which might have brought some legitimacy and effective governance to the region.
Agreements, when they work, build trust and good relations. If they are not implemented the result is the opposite, as the murder of Oliver Ivanovic shows all too clearly.
The choice faced by Kosovo now is to either implement what has been agreed, or, if that proves impossible, to find a new political settlement.
The EU will accept any arrangement that Kosovo and Serbia can agree on, and that meets legal norms. Many models are available in Europe. Even a territorial swap should not be excluded, provided that all sides agree to it after careful consultation of those concerned. What matters is that the rule of law and the rights of minorities are respected.
Beyond the north is the question of international recognition for Kosovo itself. Different countries have different reasons for not recognising Kosovo. Some countries’ non-recognition does not matter; but Serbia’s does. Their reasons are easy to understand: the Serbian constitution defines Kosovo as part of Serbia.
This is not unique. English coins referred to the “King (or Queen) of England and France” right up until the Napoleonic Wars, despite England losing its French territory in the Middle Ages. Similarly, until the Good Friday agreement, the constitution of the Republic of Ireland claimed Northern Ireland as part of its territory.
These questions are not matters of everyday politics. To deal with them requires a national consensus. For this reason I applaud Serbian President Vucic’s decision to hold a national dialogue on the question of Kosovo.
In the same way, I would like to see an open and honest debate in Kosovo on relations with Serbia. The 10th anniversary of independence is a good moment for Kosovo to look forward.
The purpose of the political process, and the role of political leaders, is to unite people from different communities and generations around a shared vision of the future. Kosovo must now ask itself what sort of state it wants to be, and how it wants to relate to its neighbours. These discussions should include Kosovo’s diaspora and minorities, who bring a valuable diversity of experiences and ideas.
Kosovo is a small country. This is not necessarily a disadvantage: look at the Baltic States or Slovakia, who outperform their larger neighbours in many respects. But small countries can prosper only if they are open to trade, travel, and investment (which are precisely what the EU stands for) and if they have positive relations with their neighbours.
Kosovars and Serbs have a long history together, and some of the most beautiful examples of Serb orthodox heritage are to be found in Kosovo, such as Decani Monetary. It is important, therefore, that Kosovo does not let Serbia do all the thinking about the future on its own.
The region needs two national dialogues and, at some point, for them to come together. This would be a natural pathway towards the European Union, which is where both Kosovo and Serbia belong.
It is more pleasant to travel together; probably faster, too. The initiative should come from Pristina and Belgrade; that would accelerate progress for both.
Robert Cooper is a European diplomat who facilitated the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.