It is becoming more and more certain that the Belgrade-Pristina dialog will go to the political level. After all, the EU and USA have been working on it for several months now. It is, however, still unknown whether the “political” format entails the discussion of the status as well. The commentary of Ivana Subasic.
As a reminder, the transfer of the dialog to a higher, political level, was initiated by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic during his first official visit to Brussels. The signals that have been coming from the EU these days indicate that his suggestion has found the “open door”. “Belgrade is ready for the talks on a new level, if that would open the political topics”, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said on Wednesday, after the meeting with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.
At first sight, the turn in the approach to the Kosmet issue is a surprise, but it was actually expected. The so-called technical dialog, despite the achieved agreements, has failed to create the ambiance for their realization. Instead of enabling the easier life for the citizens, the agreements from Brussels have lead to blocked negotiations and even higher tension in the Province. On the other hand, coming up in the continuation of the dialog are even more complex topics. The issues of energy supply, telecommunications and other ownership matters are penetrating deeply into the status of Kosmet.
According to the data of the Serbian Ministry for Kosmet, 58% of the entire cadastre land in the Province belongs to Serb owners, and the value of the usurped property is estimated to more than 50 billion euros. Through illegal privatization that have been run by the interim Pristina institutions, also usurped is the state property of the Republic of Serbia, which encompasses some 24.5 thousand hectares of land, more than 1.4 million square meters of facilities, 145 thousand square meters of office space and another 25 thousand square meters of residential facilities, 4 thousand in the facilities of special purposes and 750 thousand square meters of other buildings. The property of 1,358 Serbian companies, whose privatization is nearing completion, is estimated to more than 1.5 billion dollars. Just the property of the Serbian electric Power Industry in the southern province is evaluated at three billion euros, and the booked value of the Serbian Railways, i.e. its infrastructure and means of transportation, surpasses 200 million euros.
The reserves of ore are also significant. There is 15.7 million tons of lignite coal in Kosmet, which could be exploited for the next two centuries. The reserves of zinc and lead amount to some 46 million tons, magnesite – 8 million tons, bauxite – more than 1.6 million tons, while also considerable are the water springs and sources of geo-thermal energy. Therefore, Kosmet is not just the “cradle of Serbian history and spirituality”, but also an important energy and resources potential and the infrastructure with decades of investments in them.
In the end, there is also the issue of northern Kosmet and the position of Serbs south of the river Ibar. After several attempts of Pristina, contrary to all agreements, to forcefully establish the control in the north of Kosmet, but also with increasingly frequents announcements of ending the so-called supervised independence, the problem of the north is becoming the priority. According to the Pristina officials, on July 2 the Kosovo institutions should take over the competencies of the International Civil Office, which was supervising the implementation of the Ahtisaari’s plan previously discarded in the UN Security Council. The media in Serbia, on the other hand, state September 10 as the deadline. However, the Kosmet Serbs, who refused the authority of Albanian institutions in a referendum, say that even the departure of the international community will not force them to take part in those institutions.
In these circumstances, taking the dialog to the political level, both from the standpoint of Belgrade and Brussels, is pretty much necessary. The expert public in the region also agrees that the hitherto format of the talks ought to be changed. “If the dialog is supposed to lead to the normalization of the situation, then Cooper’s process was a failure”, assesses Ilir Deda, the Director of the Kosovo Institute of Political research. According to him, the new format of the dialog must be more open and transparent than the previous one, in order to really make progress. “Without changing the format, we will end up in some kind of block to the process, which is contrary to the interests of the participants”, explains President of the Belgrade Center for Foreign Policy Aleksandra Joksimovic. However, the question of the wider international political context is opened there, in which the Kosmet issue should be discussed. Maybe that is the guideline for understanding the statement of Vuk Jeremic that “if there is readiness for important political issues, they should be debated on a more serious level”.