The pressure on Kosovo to form the Association of municipalities with a Serbian majority has increased and not infrequently the international community has said that there are different models in Europe, which could also be applied in the case of the Association.
The last to mention these models was the United States Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar.
He said on August 5, during a conversation with journalists, that practices that protect the heritage and mother tongue of minorities – without violating the Constitution of the state where they live – could perhaps be used “as a guide to implement the Association”.
Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement on the Association in 2013, within the dialogue mediated by the European Union. Two years later, an agreement was reached on the principles for the establishment of this Association.
However, the Constitutional Court has said that some points of the agreement are not in harmony with the Constitution and has added that they can be harmonized with sub-legal acts from the Government of Kosovo.
Serbia insists that the Association be formed and demands that it have executive powers, but the Government of Kosovo is against a mono-ethnic association.
Some European countries have different regulations regarding the rights of minorities, starting from linguistic and cultural rights, as well as other responsibilities, such as those of order and tax collection.
But European analysts say that a model for the Association should be based on the demographic structure and political context of Kosovo.
Marko Prelec, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, tells Radio Free Europe that while there are many European practices regarding the rights of minorities, the question is which of these models are suitable for Kosovo.
The first example he mentions, which could also be applied in Kosovo, is that of Switzerland, which consists of 26 cantons.
“In the context of good relations and low tensions, you can look at examples like the Swiss cantons, which are largely self-governing, to the point that they are responsible for Switzerland’s external borders. When you arrive at the airport, you go through the cantonal police checkpoints, so there are no Swiss police. So all the cantons have responsibility for the external borders on behalf of the Swiss Confederation”, says Prelec.
In Switzerland, in addition to law enforcement, the cantons also have powers and responsibilities in the areas of health, welfare, education and tax collection.
Prelec also points out that in some Spanish regions, such as Catalonia, they have separate police forces, alongside the national ones. Catalonia is a region that has autonomous status and has been seeking independence from official Madrid for a long time.
Even in the first agreement of the Association, from 2013, it was foreseen that the four municipalities in the north of Kosovo (North Mitrovica, Zveçan, Zubin Potok and Leposaviq) the police leader would be a Serb from Kosovo. However, since then, members of the Serbian community have already been included in police structures.
According to Bodo Weber, senior associate of the Council for Democratization Policies in Berlin, the collective rights of the Serbian community in Kosovo, which the Association was said to enable, are also in the Ahtisaari Package, a document that preceded the announcement of independence of Kosovo.
“As I have said in the past, the solutions [for the Association] must be based on the principles of the Ahtisaari Plan, which links collective rights with local self-government, which is the Scandinavian model for democracy and decentralization, and which is opposed to the post-Yugoslav tradition of an authoritarian decentralization”, he says to Radio Free Europe.
The Scandinavian model referred to by Weber is applied in Belgium in terms of minority rights, including the use of the mother tongue in education in the communities where these minorities live.
Broad rights for minorities in Finland
However, there are also advanced models for minority rights, in terms of language and cultural protection, in the Nordic countries, such as Finland.
Swedes living in Finland, based on the country’s Constitution, have the right to use their language in schools, but the use of their dialects is also protected in the communities where they live.
But, as Prelec points out, in this country there is also the region of the Åland Islands, which has a wider autonomy and the local communities have Swedish as their official language, but also other responsibilities.
“The local community decides whether people from other parts of Finland can move there, which is quite a broad power of responsibility given to a community,” he says.
As for the use of the language, in Kosovo, apart from Albanian, Serbian is also the official language.
Linguistic rights of minorities in Italy
Italy, also, is an example regarding some arrangements for the rights of minorities. Of the 20 regions, in Italy there are five regions with autonomous status. These regions, despite this status, are still part of Italy, but enjoy greater control over internal regulation, starting with language, but in some cases also with tax collection.
One of them is the Trentino-Alto Adige region, where the German-speaking minority lives, but also other linguistic minorities. This region, according to Prelec, has rather complicated rules regarding language, and the official languages are Italian and German.
“The representation is structured based on the demographic balance between German-speakers and Italian-speakers. Italian regions also have different responsibilities in terms of tax collection and only one of them has full responsibility for tax collection in their territory”, he says.
In these Italian regions, also, mixed systems of tax collection are applied, where most of them go to the central government and the central government decides on their spending on the projects in these areas.
In this context, the agreement for the Association foresees that this body deals with the development of the local economy and other campaigns, including health and education.
Prelec adds that all these models can work if policies are created that enable Serbs to choose their own representatives and not be, as he says, delegated by Belgrade.
However, he notes that these examples would not necessarily be a good idea for Kosovo.
“There are more proofs that there are many possibilities that you can do and at the same time preserve the integrity of the state. It is possible to do almost everything when there is political will, but now there is no political will”, he says.
But Weber is more pessimistic about the Association. He says that despite the fact that there are many models in Europe, “none of them will solve” the Association’s problem.
He says that there are many aspects in the Association, which are problematic and the first of the order, as he calls, “the post-Yugoslav nationalist tradition to territorialize ethnic issues”.
“This changes all the discussions about the rights of ‘minorities’ and secondly, the fact that the first Association agreement of 2013 has served as a cover for Belgrade to start selling to the Serbs in the north of Kosovo that it has started to accept the fact of independent Kosovo”, he says.
Kosovo wants non-ethnic development models
As nine years have passed since the signing of the first agreement on the Association, the international community constantly calls on Kosovo to implement this agreement and has said that it will not impose models on Pristina.
As for the models, Albin Kurti of Kosovo, during an interview given to Radio Evropa e Lire on August 8, said that he is interested in models, which are developmental.
“However, associations based on ethnic criteria do not pass the test of the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo and the democratic universalist principle”, said Kurti.
Meanwhile, both Prelec and Weber say that the Association was used by Belgrade from the beginning as part of a propaganda, to “deceive” the Serbs that it would give them greater autonomy.
Prelec says that the agreements for the Association were not based on the granting of autonomy, or the creation of a structure like the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Meanwhile, Weber says that discussions about executive powers for the Association – a desire expressed by Serbian officials in Belgrade – reveal the core of the problem of these issues.
“There can be no agreement on the Association without solving the structural problems behind it. This means in the first place that the only way to reach an agreement is a serious restart of the political dialogue, coming from the highest levels in Washington, Berlin and Paris”.
“And, this format discusses the issue of status and makes it clear from the beginning that the final and comprehensive agreement is about Serbia’s acceptance of the reality of independent Kosovo and recognizing it. Only within this framework can a solution be found for the Association”, he says.
Although Prelec says that given the control that Serbia has over the Serbian List – the main party of the Serbs in Kosovo – for the granting of extended rights, which he also calls a kind of autonomous status for the Serbian community, at this time it is difficult to speak. But, he says that extended rights are necessary in Kosovo.
“Personally, the idea of the Association, I don’t think it was a good idea from the beginning and I am not convinced that it will be fully realized. I think there is a need for some kind of autonomous status for the Kosovo Serb community that fully protects the integrity of Kosovo as a state and the sovereignty of Kosovo,” he says.
Prelec doubts that the Association can ever be fully realized, due to the bad relations between Kosovo and Serbia. But if the ratios improve, he says some of the European examples that have given greater responsibilities to certain communities could be taken as a basis.
However, Kosovo has constantly opposed the idea of an autonomy for the Serbs, which it has said could be presented as a Republika Srpska, while Escobar on August 5 said that the Association should not be in conflict with the Constitution of Kosovo and should not to create a “state within the state”. /rel/