A new round of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo started on the 22nd of February in Brussels, the main topic being the regional representation of Kosovo. An agreement between Belgrade and Pristina was reached after three days of negotiations. According to the agreement Kosovo would henceforth be referred to in regional meetings as Kosovo, with a footnote citing Resolution 1244 and the opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Declaration of the Independence of Kosovo.
Serbia might get a step closer to the European Union as of next week at the EU summit on 1st and 2nd of March, at which 27 member states will decide whether to grant Serbia EU candidate status. This decision depends on the success of the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations to a great extent.
The important question is how the local population perceives life in Kosovo and the relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Whether seen as an independent state by some or a Serbian territory by others, in the population’s view the region is not about the political problem and its solution, which will be instrumental in solving other political issues, but a place where people live and face every day practicalities of life in Kosovo.
crossborder factory discussed these questions with two young inhabitants of Kosovo, Admir Salihu and Dušan Radaković.
Dušan is a political analyst and journalist, born in 1984 in Kosovo. He lives in Kosovska Mitrovica and works for the National Democratic Institute, a nongovermental organisation.
On February 24th he did not wish to speculate on the outcome of the third day of negotiations. He estimated, however, that the Pristina delegation is under pressure and cannot “change its course a single notch” as the Kosovo opposition led by Albin Kurti is too strong.
Belgrade itself, on the under hand, is under the pressure of the European Union, as exemplified by the German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle’s sudden visit to Serbia on February 23rd.
According to Dušan, “this round of negotiations is crucial and essential to all further developments”.
Admir Salihu, lawyer and member of Kosovo civil society, born in 1980 and currently residing in Ferizaj, Kosovo, believes that the outcome of the Belgrade – Pristina negotiations largely depended on the organiser, i.e. the EU.
He believes that the Union cannot really act as the organiser of the negotiations since it doesn’t have a consensus on the status of Kosovo, with 5 EU states failing to recognise Kosovo’s independence.
“As long as this situation remains unchanged, Serbia will continue to refuse to accept the new reality – the fact that Kosovo is an independent state and that Belgrade is not in the position to interfere and destabilise Kosovo, as it often continues to do”, according to Admir.
He does not agree with the resolution that Kosovo’s name be accompanied by a footnote – but the responsibility rests on the EU.
“I do not understand why the EU permits this sort of improvisation. I am against the footnote regardless of what it says – Resolution 1244, Opinion of the International Court or Declaration on the Independence of Kosovo. As a representative of civil society I have no difficulty cooperating with the Serbian civil sector, which ought to be a blueprint for politicians as well. I would agree that in Serbian forums there can be a variety of footnotes attached to the name Kosovo – Resolution 1244, Province of Kosovo etc – because Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as an independent country. However, I cannot concur in any way that there should be a footnote attached to the name of Kosovo at the European level, at meetings in Paris, London or any of the 88 states that recognised Kosovo as an independent country”.
Admir somewhat predicted the outcome of the Belgrade – Pristina negotiations before the final agreement took place. “I know there will be footnotes, but I am certain they will not significantly change the relationship between the two countries”. He added that the citizens of Kosovo will continue having difficulties traveling to Serbia after the agreement comes into force.
“During a trip to Serbia I might not have any troubles crossing the border at Merdare, but I will encounter problems in, say, Hotel Continental in Belgrade, because the receptionist will refuse to accept the Kosovo ID”.
However, on the topic of presentation of Kosovo in regional forums Dušan believes they are of crucial importance.
“On the basis of that Kosovo will enter the EU and UN institutions and be granted everything a normal country is due in a very short time. This would be beneficial to the whole of the Balkans as it would finally solve problems that have plagued the region for so many years”.
Like Admir, he is also critical about the EU and does not believe in its future.
“I believe that at a certain point the EU will disintegrate, because it is ill-conceived, managed by incapable people, with an administration ridden with problems”.
In spite of everything happening between Belgrade and Pristina – and the open question of whether, and when, Serbia will recognise the independence of Kosovo – the region is inhabited by people of both Albanian and Serbian ethnicity who coexist and have to be aware of each other whether they want it or not.
Asked whether there is any contact between young Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, Admir says “There are contacts, but they are not at the level they ought to be. It could be said that the cultural exchange between the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs from Serbia is at an excellent level. However, the relationship between the young Kosovo Serbs and Albanians is a different story altogether… I think the Kosovo Serbs are very indoctrinated by politics… Personally, I have more friends amongst the Serbs from Serbia than the Kosovo Serbs…”
Dušan’s answer to the same question is: “Of course there are contacts, and they were there immediately after the 1999 war. There are contacts today, of course. It is true they are mostly based on business dealings via various projects, and not on any sort of a friendly liaison. This is sheer reality, and it is likely that only five percent of relationships between young Albanians and young Serbs in Kosovo are based on friendship, and 95 % on business contacts…”
On the topic of everyday life in Kosovo and the functioning of its education and health care systems, Admir says: “Education and health care in Kosovo are in a very bad state. A lot has changed since the war, many universities and polytechnics have been founded, but it’s difficult to say how aligned they are with the global standards of education. As for the health care, Kosovo is in a terrible situation. The Kosovo Clinical Centre is far below the standards of the wider region. In addition to that, Kosovo inhabitants often seek health care outside Kosovo, mostly in Macedonia, and therefore inject money into health systems of countries other than Kosovo”.
Dušan agrees with Admir that the state of the education and health care systems in Kosovo is very bad, but he stresses that one of its causes is the coexistence of parallel structures.
“The education system is structured on the basis of the national curriculum of the Republic of Serbia. Although, even if one wished to construct a Kosovo curriculum, this would not be possible since there is no Serbian language curriculum in the Ministry of Education of Kosovo.”
“There are many schools in Northern Kosovo, but they are in a terrible state and lack funding. While there is lack of funds for reconstruction, the teachers are paid well as they receive pay from the Serbian Ministry of Education. Their salaries are 50 percent higher than the salaries in Serbia – it’s the notorious Kosovo bonus…. At the same time they receive salary from the Kosovo Ministry of Education, although they do not follow the Kosovo national curriculum and therefore cannot justify the double salary”, Dušan explains.
Describing health care in Kosovo Dušan says that the conditions are “tolerable” and that basic care is available, but more complicated operations and diagnostics are only available in Serbia.
On the topic of the cultural life in Kosovo, both Dušan and Amir believe it is not developed enough and that there is not enough investment in culture. In Admir’s words, the annual budget for culture is “laughable”.
Dušan estimates that the culture in Kosovo has been a “dead zone during the last 20 years”.
“Nothing happens, nor does anyone try to improve anything in this area. There isn’t a single cinema, or a venue for a cultural event. International organisations should primarily invest into this sector in the future”.
The lack of cultural activity and a bad economic situation define the state of the young Kosovo population. Admir stresses that the position of the Albanian community is also difficult because, unlike the Serbs, Bosnians, Montenegrins, Croats and the Gorani, they do not use the right to double citizenship encoded in the Kosovo constitution which allows visa free travel in Europe.
“Nonetheless, I can say with certainty that there haven’t been this many Kosovo students studying abroad since 1999″. However, he doesn’t see the future for young people in Kosovo.
“If we are to believe the statistics that 48 % of people in Kosovo are unemployed, it’s difficult to talk about having a future”.
Dušan says that the standard of living has fallen sharply in Kosovo, especially in the past year.
“The standard of living is good now, and up until a year ago it was fantastic. In the north of Kosovo we haven’t been paying electricity since 13 years ago, nor water, municipal services, or council tax. We practically have no running costs, except for the phone and cable television. Like I said, many receive double salaries. So, the standard of living is good, although it has fallen recently, since Belgrade is slowly switching off the taps due to its EU integration.”
Nonetheless, he is convinced that young people ought to stay in Kosovo, even though the majority wish to leave.
“I still support staying here regardless of what the country is called or who runs it. If only I can live a normal life like the rest of the world, and have equal rights when applying for jobs, and get a job according to my abilities, I will certainly stay here, as will many young people. However, many young people dream of prosperity and have illusions life is better elsewhere – in Serbia or abroad – but I don’t think so. I think 80 percent of young people would leave this place if they had the means to”, says Dušan.
Interviewed by Una Sabljaković