In 2017 Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić launched the "Internal Dialogue on Kosovo". Purpose? In words, to consult in an inclusive way the Serbian society on potential solutions related to Kosovo. That didn't really happen
Today already forgotten, public discussions known as the internal dialogue were announced in July 2017 by the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić in an effort to consult with a wider public about the potential end solution on Kosovo. Yet, after about thirty events, the internal dialogue concluded without reaching its stated goal. Since June 2018, no activity within the internal dialogue has taken place and the announced final report has not been published yet. Having in mind that Serbia and Kosovo in 2019 remain locked in a seemingly unsolvable dispute regarding Kosovo’s statehood and its international status, it is worth exploring what is the legacy of the internal dialogue and whether it had any impact on reaching a consensus within the Serbian society.
The initiative for the internal dialogue derived from the fact that Serbia finds itself in an almost impossible situation where, even though (still) does not want to recognise Kosovo, it has to find a magic formula for reconciling the need to solve this issue to continue with the EU integration process and still maintain the belief that Kosovo is an integral part of the country. However, regardless of whether it was a farce or sincere intention to try to find a creative solution, it only further exposed divisions in the Serbian society and a lack of willingness to settle the dispute with Kosovo. The general political and social context characterised by the lack of media freedom, supression of opposition and decline of institutions, with an increased hostility towards critical voices, cannot be an environment that stimulates discussion and participation of citizens. As a result, the internal dialogue, as an ad hoc process led outside the institutional framework in forms of roundtables, turned out to be a state organised public hearing with limited space for discussion.
Next, even though the internal dialogue was a call to different societal groups to engage in a discussion on Kosovo, in reality its organisers targeted a small, limited group of public officials and professionals, so the process was predominantly controlled. The government did not make an effort to include wider range of actors (traditionally) interested in Kosovo, such as SPC and SANU. A lack of participation of the opposition parties and resistance to move discussion to the Parliament shows a lack of sincere intention to reach out to Government opponents. Thus, the internal dialogue had a performative character with a fundamental lack of inclusivity and insufficient participation of different constituencies of the Serbian society. At the same time, as a process that primarily tackles the position of Serbs in Kosovo, their participation was inadequate with only two roundtables organised in Kosovo by the Working Group.
Also, if we look at the proposals that were dominant during the internal dialogue, they show several limitations of the Serbian society. First, the intellectual and academic elite is not informed about Kosovo, the Brussels dialogue and the EU integration process of Serbia. These aspects were completely neglected by most participants of the internal dialogue, as well as developments in Kosovo in the last ten years, resulting in proposals that were far from reality. Second, the EU integration process was not treated as a primary issue and strategic framework for resolving the issue of Kosovo. Only one roundtable emphasised the need to secure membership in the EU, while a large majority of participants simply disregarded the accession process, hoping for a change in geopolitics. It indicates deeply anti-European sentiments embedded in the Serbian society. And finally, if we look at the proposals that were dominant – status quo and border correction – it can be concluded that normalisation of relations was essentially rejected. In conclusion, the internal dialogue did not serve to explore different alternatives for normalisation; it rather signified that normalisation of relations between present-day Serbia and Kosovo is not an option.
Thus, instead of contributing to the process of normalisation of relations with Pristina and reaching a compromise or offering some proposals on how the future relations between Serbia and Kosovo might look like, the internal dialogue for the most part neglected what has been achieved so far. It served as a platform for anti-European voices who called for border changes and end of EU integration. A few who advocated for a continuation of the Brussels dialogue proved to be unable to provide a definition of what the normalisation of relations might entail. Yet, without a compromise and consensus within the Serbian society on Kosovo, it is difficult to reach any sustainable and peaceful solution. And the internal dialogue showed the unreadiness of Serbia to deal with the reality in Kosovo and indicated its willingness not to normalise relations, but to propose and advocate daring solutions.
This study was supported by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society as part of the project "Building knowledge about Kosovo (2.0)" whose findings will be published soon.
blog comments powered by