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News 17 Oct 17

New Phase in Kosovo ‘Internal Dialogue’ Puzzles Serbs

While the Serbian authorities claim to have opened a second chapter in the announced ‘internal dialogue’ on Kosovo, the results of the first phase remain unknown.

Maja Zivanovic

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Darko Vojinovic

Serbia announced the formation on Monday of a “working group” for the second phase of the country’s “internal dialogue” on Kosovo, the former province that proclaimed its independence in 2008.

However, some experts have called the formation of the new group absurd, saying the result of the first phase remain totally unknown.

“I was surprised to hear that second phase is starting because we don’t know anything about the first phase,” Belgrade analyst Bosko Jaksic told BIRN.

Which proposals were discussed, who presented opinions and who was consulted remain unknown, according to Jaksic.

“If we judge things by the first phase, then the second one does not look promising,” he added.

The newly announced Working Group is supposed to support the authorities in monitoring and progressing an internal dialogue on Kosovo.

The government named the head of the official Office for Kosovo and ruling Progressive Party official Marko Djuric as head of the Working Group.

But Jaksic said the Kosovo issue was far too complicated to be left only to politicians.

President Aleksandar Vucic “asked everyone in public to present their stances and solutions for ending the crisis [over Kosovo], but without revealing his own stances,” Jaksic noted.

“That dialogue should be transparent. If you now want to form some working group with just party bureaucrats, this [dialogue] will only be ‘pro forma.’”

Vucic in June invited all Serbian citizens to join what he termed “an internal dialogue on Kosovo and Metohija”, so that “we don’t leave this burden to our descendants”.

It was time for Serbs to “stop to burying our heads in the sand and try to be realistic, not to allow ourselves to lose or give to someone what we have, but also not to wait for what we have long lost to arrive in our hands,” Vucic said in a letter published in the daily newspaper Blic.  

On September 12 he declared the first phase of this dialoge over and announced a new phase.

However, thus far the internal dialogue has meant only numerous statements to the media made by ruling and opposition party politicians and some NGOs.

Social network users have mocked the dialogue as “Vucic’s internal monologue”, as there were no reports about any meetings or discussions.

While most of opposition politicians have ignored it, the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian Academy of Science and Arts, SANU, have expressed readiness to participate.

“Dialogue and conversation, not war, is the way to overcome the centuries-old misunderstandings of these two peoples,” the head of the SANU, Vladimir Kostic told Blic on July 28.

“It is, therefore, good that political organizations, institutions, church, eminent scientists, but also citizens, say their ideas on how to do this,” he added.

In a statement, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Irinej Bulovic on Sunday said it would good to hear different opinions.

However, when asked about the stance of the Serbian Orthodox Church ahead the start of the dialogue, Bulovic said only that the Church championed “every effort to preserve it [Kosovo] as part of the Serbian state”.

One of those who have confirmed a wish to participate is the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, YIHR, an NGO that advocates human rights and deals with transitional justice in the Balkans.

Its activists even drew up a “Guide to Internal Dialogue” with 10 principles, which it sent last week to both the President and the Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic.

It highlighted the 10 principles that the YIHR considers vital, such as recognition of the responsibility of the Serbian state for war crimes in Kosovo, dialogue between institutions instead through the media, and real transparency in the dialogue.

Anita Mitic, from the YIHR, told BIRN that they had received no response. “We are being ignored both by Vucic and by Brnabic,” she said, agreeing also that the result of the first phase was unclear.

“Dialogue, unlike monologue, means some values such as transparency and inclusion. And this dialogue didn’t show much of that so far,” Mitic said.

Dusan Janjic, director of the Forum for Multi-ethnic Relations, a think tank, is also not optimistic about the dialogue.

Vucic “wants political consultations only with those he has chosen,” Janjic told BIRN. He said the “internal dialogue” so far contained no elements of real dialogue, as it did not include either Serbian opposition parties or most NGOs.

Janjic said that he blamed Djuric for many of the problems in, and with, Kosovo.  

Like many other senior Serbian officials, Djuric has actively supported the activities in Kosovo of Srpska Lista, the Belgrade-backed Kosovo Serb party.  In August, he called Srpska Lista “a project of national interest”.

But Janjic recalled that he had made himself very unwelcome in Kosovo whose government has banned his entry many times.

“One of the topics of this dialogue should be the previous work that Serbia has done [in Kosovo-Serbia relations] – and to see whether it was done in a good or bad way – so naming him [as the head of the Working Group] was a bad move,” Janjic concluded. 

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