Theme: Civil society and peacebuilding

CSOs from Kosovo and Serbia meet key EU interlocutors

CSOs from Kosovo and Serbia meet in Brussels

A delegation of civil society from Kosovo and Serbia had the opportunity to meet key interlocutors from various EU institutions in Brussels.

CSOs from kosovo and serbia meet in Brussels

A delegation of civil society from Kosovo and Serbia had the opportunity to meet key interlocutors from various EU institutions in Brussels. Members of the Kosovo-Serbia Rapid Response Mechanism presented ideas about the role civil society can play given the current tensions on the ground and hopes for a comprehensive agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.

The delegation met with the respective rapporteurs for Kosovo and Serbia, Ms. Viola von Cramon-Taubadel and Mr. Vladimír Bilčík, plus the team of the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, Miroslav Lajčák. They also met with officials from the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) and the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Of note, several interlocutors spoke of a sense of momentum that apparently exists within member states regarding the EU enlargement process. This comes as something of a surprise given the profound feeling in the Western Balkans that accession is stalled. Regular perception surveys show growing ambivalence towards the EU path, particularly in Serbia, reenforcing the need for a more strategic approach to communications to reassert not only the European perspective, but to reiterate that the EU remains the region’s largest donor and trading partner.

The participants – whilst acknowledging the need for confidentiality during negotiations – raised concerns about the lack of transparency regarding both the structure and content of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. They proposed to engage with their respective governments to request that more information be placed into the public domain. Furthermore, concerns were raised about the dilution of reporting on Chapter 35, covering the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, particularly the intermediate benchmarks.

The participants also reiterated that civil society should be seen a resource and an ally both in the dialogue and in broader reform processes. With the relations in specific communities, civil society offers early warning capabilities that can help identify specific grievances and help reduce the scope for misunderstandings by relaying perspectives around an issue from local actors.

The civil society organisations reaffirmed their commitment to complementing and amplifying messages that are grounded in the need for compromise, confronting their own governments where needed to challenge specific narratives about some aspect of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. This was deemed increasingly imperative due to recent tensions in north Kosovo, including the deployment of Special Operations Units and the resignation of Kosovo Serbs from Kosovo institutions, and discussions regarding a comprehensive agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.

The Kosovo-Serbia Rapid Response Mechanism will continue to meet on a quarterly basis to formulate joint approaches to the problems affecting communities in Serbia and Kosovo. In addition, they will meet on an ad hoc basis as when required to, for instance, voice their concerns about a particular instance of divisive rhetoric or an event that threatens to harm the very environment in which dialogue is taking place.  

North Kosovo: time to turn to civil society

Social Europe - North Kosovo Ian Bancroft

Writing for Social Europe, PCi’s Project Manager for the Western Balkans presents a background of the present crisis of the Kosovo institutions and their relationship to the internationally mediated dialogue which should lead to the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The article draws attention to the gaps between the agreements that the process has facilitated and their implementation on the ground, highlighting an absence of voices from beyond the political elites of both countries as a key missing element from the dialogue.

Number plate in North Kosovo
The narcissism of minor differences: in July Pristina insisted all number plates had to be issued by Kosovo, not Serbia (Adam Cohn, CC BY-ND-ND 2.0)

The explosive tensions of recent weeks have exposed the limits of the dialogue brokered by the European Union.

The evolving relationship between Kosovo and Serbia, facilitated by the European Union, is facing its sternest test since 2011, when barricades throughout north Kosovo reflected a situation threatening to spiral out of control. Hopes are high for a final agreement in the coming year or so, to normalise relations between the two, and so are the diplomatic stakes. To supplement however this path towards sustainable peace, the EU must consider how it can better engage those constructive voices from civil society thus far largely neglected.   

For the last year and a half, the predominantly Serb north of Kosovo has been gripped by soaring tensions—amplified by Russia’s war in Ukraine and concerns about the stability of the western Balkans more generally. Last July, Kosovo moved ahead with plans to end the use on its territory of vehicle licence plates issues by the Republic of Serbia. Simultaneously, it announced that Serbian identity cards would no longer be valid to enter Kosovo, Belgrade having long rejected those issued by Pristina.

While the latter argument was swiftly resolved, the former lingered on. Kosovo resisted repeated pleas from the EU and the United States for a delay. As the stakes rose, Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s president, reiterated calls for the establishment of an ‘Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities’. This was a central element of the Brussels Agreement to normalise relationships, brokered by the EU in 2013, but which remains unimplemented.

Mass resignation

Also critical to that agreement was integration of policing, albeit with a commitment that the commander of the Kosovo Police in the four northern municipalities would be a Kosovo Serb. The situation escalated in November with mass resignation of Serb police officers—ostensibly because they refused to impose warnings and then fines on their own community.

They were swiftly followed by elected officials (mayors and municipal assembly members), judges, prosecutors, local-government employees and others who had transferred to the Kosovo system in the past decade or so. It is a profound blow to the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, a key dimension of which is the integration of Kosovo Serbs through the 2013 agreement.

The security vacuum created by the resignations has been partly filled by members of the Kosovo Police special operations units, replete with long-barrelled weapons and tactical uniforms. Though professional and well-trained, they are ill-disposed to such tasks as patrolling traffic. Their numbers have been supplemented by mainly Albanian-speaking police brought from elsewhere in Kosovo.

There have been various reports of harassment and intimidation, including an assault on a prominent civil-society figure. Trust between the local community and the police has broken down, with patrols having been shot at on several occasions.

The arrest on December 10th of a Serb former member of the police led to renewed roadblocks, which would ultimately stand for some 20 days or so. There were a spate of accompanying incidents, including shootings, vehicle burnings and attacks on journalists. A reconnaissance patrol by the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) was targeted with a stun grenade, leading to widespread condemnation. The barricades have been dismantled but the crisis is far from over.

Point of contention

Though the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue has been imperfect, sizeable steps have been taken. The presence of the institutions of Kosovo in the north had been becoming more routine. Many more Serbs possess Kosovo ID cards and even passports. Money flows from the public purse in Pristina to north Kosovo.

A major point of contention remains the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities. It was conceived as the primary mechanism for integrating the functions sustained by the Republic of Serbia in Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008 after a violent conflict, having previously been treated as a province of Serbia in the former Yugoslavia. Education, healthcare and waste disposal, to name but a few, are vital services which remain under Belgrade’s remit.

The association/community has, however, been fundamentally opposed by Pristina—despite a ruling in 2015 by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court obliging its establishment. Many fear that it would serve as an instrument of ethnic division, with some going so far as to describe it as Kosovo’s own Republika Srpska, the predominantly Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina which frequently pushes for secession. Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, has publicly rejected it.

The EU continues to believe that a vital window of opportunity exists finally to reach a binding deal on the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The incumbents in Belgrade and Pristina enjoy the requisite support to take difficult decisions—whether they are willing to is another matter. Russia’s war in Ukraine has focused minds across Europe on the need for a lasting solution to the impasses in the western Balkans. There have even been suggestions that spring 2023 is essentially a deadline, though this feels ambitious given the experiences of recent months.

Missing element

The latest developments, however, have again exposed an element missing in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue—substantive engagement of civil society in Kosovo and Serbia. The process has been elite-led, with negotiations conducted largely in secret. There is little in the way of transparency. The definitive content of agreements remains disputed and open to interpretation.

While ‘constructive ambiguity’ may be deemed necessary to facilitate difficult compromises, it permits the evasion of commitments if and when it comes to implementation. Several agreements have come a cropper, with both sides blaming one another for the deadlocks then hampering progress. Constructive ambiguity has proved a short-term fix with a long-lasting hangover.

Priorities have been set in Brussels—by and between the respective negotiating teams—to the neglect of the communities on the ground directly implicated. Many wonder, sometimes out loud, just how they have benefited from over a decade of negotiations, plus those ultimately leading up to Kosovo’s ‘supervised’ independence.

Even 20 years on from the end of the war, rarely do citizens’ concerns come in first place. Kosovo and Serbia meanwhile face a common challenge—emigrating populations making their homes elsewhere.

Critical voices have been intentionally marginalised and ultimately found themselves resorting to unconstructive mud-throwing. Yet influential civil-society figures are vital to help prepare communities for the day after an agreement is reached—figures who can help navigate the pitfalls of implementation as promises are made, fulfilled and then forgotten.

Destabilisation resulting from a potential breakdown of the dialogue would have a profound impact on various communities in Serbia and Kosovo. It is thus imperative to invest resources in those capable of managing conflicts in their localities and building structures resilient to malign influences. These voices confront disinformation and divisive rhetoric, building confidence within and between communities.

Distant horizon

As the tenth anniversary approaches of the Brussels Agreement—arguably one of the high points of EU diplomacy—it is appropriate to reflect on the process and the structure of the subsequent dialogues. The destination of Kosovo and Serbia remains broadly the same—membership of an enlarged EU. Yet that horizon has become increasingly distant.

Building genuine and lasting peace in such a challenging and often unfavourable context requires that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue be opened to constructive voices from civil society. It is they who can genuinely represent their communities and articulate a vision for the future, unbound by the diplomatic necessities and niceties as sensed in Brussels.

A peacebuilding agenda for Libya

Libyan society is undergoing significant change as a result of the revolution/conflict in 2011, bringing substantial opportunities for a more inclusive political system and more accountable security services. At the same time, the revolution/conflict has weakened relationships between some communities in Libya, as well as exposing longer-term inter-communal conflicts. As such, successful transition depends on a comprehensive peacebuilding approach that helps communities to share perspectives, overcome grievances and map out a common future. PCI and AFAQ Libya have developed a policy brief that outlines an agenda for such an approach in Libya.

Download the policy brief in English

Download the policy brief in Arabic

Supporting community peace resources in Syria

PCi is providing support to community peace resources – those individuals and organisations involved in local initiatives to prevent, manage and resolve conflict. The first task of this work was to map such peace resources; this was done in March 2014. PCi captured learning from this research and outlined an agenda for supporting the development and strengthening of community-level resources for peace in Syria.

Download the report in English

Download the report in Arabic

A time for new constructive voices

picture from kosovo

Following a gathering in Gračanica/Graçanicë, a diverse group of civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia have adopted the following joint statement calling for new constructive voices – voices that look to the future whilst retaining a keen eye on the past; voices that seek out partnerships and coalitions beyond the red lines that are supposed to define them; and voices that stand up publicly against divisive and derogatory rhetoric.

The constant cycle of escalation and de-escalation in relations between Kosovo and Serbia represents a failure of political imagination.

The energy taken up in contending with the latest crisis distracts from the mountain of pressing issues which directly impact the day to day lives of citizens in Serbia and Kosovo. 

The trend is already for people to be leaving Serbia, Kosovo, and elsewhere in the Western Balkans, especially amongst the youth. As new barricades are erected, so new bags are packed. Very few are likely to return. The future of our countries will be lived elsewhere.  

Many groups deemed outside the spectrum of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue are fundamentally ignored. The Roma community, for one, finds itself marginalised in both Serbia and Kosovo.

With the prospect of violence more pronounced than it has been for a decade, it is time for new constructive voices to be heard – voices that look to the future whilst retaining a keen eye on the past; voices that seek out partnerships and coalitions beyond the red lines that are supposed to define us; voices that stand up publicly against divisive and derogatory rhetoric.

We, the undersigned, endeavour to maintain channels of communication that reduce the possibilities for misunderstanding and disinformation. Too often we have talked past one another, insisting on the pertinence of one point whilst underestimating or completely ignoring the existence of another.

We think we understand the minutiae of an issue but fail to consider how it is understood or viewed by other communities. We all should be committed to listening with open ears and open minds.  

Only by sharing perspectives and perceptions from our respective communities can we start to move towards a common path for the future. Many of the problems our respective communities face are almost identical, yet we rarely acknowledge this fact.   

If ever there was a time for solidarity in the last decade it is now. The war in Ukraine is a painful reminder of the stark realities of war, even as the legacies of our own remain close to hand.

The cause of peace requires not just words to that effect, but images and relationships that embody togetherness. We stand opposed to all undue projections of force and all narratives of hate and division.

The futures of Kosovo and Serbia are inescapably tied-up with one another, and an agreement on the normalisation of relations is a vital first step in building a better tomorrow. But it is only a first step.    

Signatories
  1. Advocacy Center for Democratic Culture (ACDC)
  2. Aktiv
  3. The Balkan Forum
  4. Belgrade Centre for Security Policy
  5. Centar for Democracy and Education – Valley, Bujanovac
  6. Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of the Balkans, Belgrade
  7. Center for Peace and Tolerance (CPT)
  8. Community Building Mitrovica
  9. Civic Initiatives
  10. European Fund for the Balkans
  11. Foundation BFPE for a Responsible Society (BFPE)
  12. Forum for Development and Multiethnic Collaboration (FDMC)
  13. Goraždevac Media Group
  14. Institute for Territorial Economic Development – InTER
  15. Jelena Lončar, Academic, University of Belgrade
  16. Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS)
  17. Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM)
  18. Local Peace
  19. Milan Antonijević, Lawyer, Serbia
  20. New Perspektiva
  21. New Social Initiative (NSI)
  22. NGO Integra
  23. NGO Be Active 16, Presevo
  24. NGO Livrit, Presevo
  25. Peer Educators Network (PEN)
  26. Rahim Salihi, Civil Society Activist, Bujanovac
  27. Radio Peja
  28. Radio Astra, Prizren
  29. RTV KIM
  30. TV Prizreni, Prizren
  31. Valon Arifi, Civil Society Activist
  32. Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in Kosovo (VoRAE)
  33. Vjollca Krasniqi, Academic, University of Pristina
  34. Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Kosovo
  35. Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Serbia

Ukraine: A peacebuilding agenda to bridge the divide

This policy briefing, reflects on the present situation in the east of Ukraine as experienced by the populations on both sides of the line of contact in the east – in the NGCA of LNR and DNR, and with areas under government control. The paper seeks to contextualise these differing experiences and offers a set of recommendations, with the aim of proposing a peacebuilding agenda for local and international organisations.

Download the policy brief in English here

Peacebuilding in 2022: what we learned

peacebuilding in action

In 2022, violent conflict was at its highest since World War II, leading to record levels of forced displacement and global humanitarian needs. In this light, the imperative for building peace has become ever more urgent.

peacebuilding in action

As a result of escalating civil and political unrest, “peacefulness” deteriorated for the third consecutive year, according to the Global Peace Index. Two billion people live in conflict-affected areas around the world due to ongoing and new conflict outbreaks. Further, conflict and violence have displaced an estimated 84 million people.   

Peaceful Change initiative works on programmes in North Africa, Europe, the South Caucasus region, and more recently in Mozambique. We are witness to the deterioration of peace and the need for peacebuilding in these contexts. 

For example, in Europe, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, one in four Ukrainians are now either out of the country or displaced within its borders. The number of refugees from Ukraine seeking safety and support is just under the eight million mark.  

In Mozambique, the armed conflict in Cabo Delgado affects thousands of families. More than one million people have been internally displaced due to violence perpetrated by non-state armed groups. The severe food shortage, a direct impact of the climate crisis, which is gravely affecting Mozambique, has worsened this conflict. 

But, in the darkness there is light. After 10 years of working alongside others to build peace in Libya, we can see the positive impact of peacebuilding first hand. In 2022, the country recorded the largest increase in peacefulness in the North African region and the largest improvement globally. 

Building peace means encouraging better, more inclusive governance, strengthening, and supporting social cohesion, resilience, and trust within and between communities. The work of peacebuilders is critical to breaking the cycles of violent conflict and building the institutions and relationships that support long-term and sustainable peace. 

As we look back at 2022, we are proud of the work of peacebuilders everywhere. This has been a year marked by achievements and challenges for Peaceful Change initiative, which you can read more about in our Annual Report. Here, we want to highlight a few of the lessons we have learned through building peace in 2022. 

Integrating gender into community-level peacebuilding is not a linear process 

Since 2013, Peaceful Change initiative has been supporting community-level peacebuilding initiatives in more than 40 Libyan municipalities. Last year, we launched a report which captures our experience and lessons learned from nearly 10 years of integrating gender into our peacebuilding programme in Libya. Some of the key lessons learned are highlighted below. 

Talking about gender in context-sensitive ways through approaches co-designed with Libyan project participants and partners is key. In practice, this means, for example, using cultural and religious references and role models to make the case for women’s participation and leadership.  

Working with both men and women ensures community buy-in, support from men who act as ‘allies’, and mitigates potential risks arising from challenging social and gender norms. Additionally, providing opportunities and support to women, with grants and training for example, to strengthen and practice leadership skills is key to increasing their participation, confidence and visibility. 

Our gender mainstreaming approach has been successful in increasing the number of women participating in project activities, improving the quality of their participation, and ensuring the representation of women from a diverse range of backgrounds.  

Progress, however, has not been linear; whenever a crisis occurs we see setbacks in women’s participation. Additionally, projects designed and carried out by women are not always transformative with regards to gender roles. Building on the learning we have gathered to date we will continue to integrate gender into our peacebuilding programmes in Libya. 

Solidarity can be forged even in times of high tensions 

Through 2022, Peaceful Change initiative’s Western Balkans team has been working with a diverse group of civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia in order to develop a Rapid Response Mechanism capable of reacting to instances of divisive rhetoric or destabilising incidents which can negatively affect relations within and between communities. 

By sharing perspectives on specific issues, the mechanism has helped deepen understanding about the sources of grievance within particularly communities, whilst reducing the scope for a lack of awareness or misinformation.  

Additionally, the joint stances developed and adopted by the group demonstrate how solidarity can be forged even in times of high tensions. Some examples of such solidarity include a call for new constructive voices and an expression of profound concern about the impact of a lack of progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue on local communities. 

Conflict sensitive aid is paramount in Northern Mozambique 

In late 2022, we visited Mozambique for the first time, at the request of one of our partners in the humanitarian and development sector. Visiting the conflict-affected Cabo Delgado region gave us first-hand experience of the difficult and complex situations that international organisations there must navigate when delivering aid, and the vital importance of a conflict-sensitive approach. 

Many humanitarian and development organisations have been working in northern Mozambique for decades, but in recent years have found themselves working amid a fast-moving and unpredictable security situation. We have been working to generate a conflict analysis, including an assessment of conflict-related risks that aid agencies may encounter, and strategies they can take to mitigate these risks.  

We are providing conflict sensitivity training and guidance, as well as guidance on adapting aid programmes so that they can measurably contribute to better social cohesion. We will look to expand this work in 2023 to meet a growing demand. 

Ukrainian civil society inspires action amidst tragedy 

Peaceful Change initiative last worked in Ukraine in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, working with communities in Kherson and Donetsk who today find themselves at the frontline of the war or in areas under occupation. At the time we took great inspiration from the participants in our work, for their determination to contribute to building a democratic post-Maidan Ukraine and to their preparedness to transcend differences and seek to understand compatriots with different views about the past, the present, and the future. Their painstaking efforts to rebuild relationships after the military violence of 2014 took a definitive setback with the Russian invasion of 24 February 2022. This is in addition to the incalculable loss of life and physical destruction that we see every day.  

Our Ukrainian partners, remain an inspiration re-affirming again their commitment to build a united country, at the foundations of which will be an active civil society that brings represents and serves all parts of its community also applying the skills and values of peacebuilding.

We will join efforts with our partners in 2023, working on social cohesion issues in some of the communities that, while untouched by the military invasion, have been at the forefront of upheaval as a result of the war. Peaceful Change initiative will also work to develop models of engaging citizens for inclusive recovery in those places that have felt the full brunt of Russia’s assault. 

Looking ahead to 2023 

Looking ahead to 2023, we will continue to ensure our peacebuilding work is locally driven as we expand our Conflict Sensitivity work to Southern and Eastern Africa region. We also aim to support civil society and peacebuilders across Europe and South Caucasus region to address the heightened risks and vulnerabilities in the wake of the Russian war in Ukraine.  

Above all, we want to thank the organisations we work with, our team and our funders, without which our peacebuilding work is not possible. 

Media Award 2: deadline extended

Media award 2

Dear Journalists, Editors, Journalism Students, and Writing Enthusiasts,

We want to inform you that the deadline for the submission of your articles for the Media Award 2 has been extended until 1st of February 2023.

We are inviting you to write your story on a slice of life that depicts a reality, be that positive or a challenge, from the prism of multiethnicity in Kosovo and/or Serbia.

For this year’s award, PCi has doubled the first prize in both categories (audio-visual and written format) to € 2,000 Euro and looks forward to receiving your entries.

Should you have a story that was written and published in the past, anytime from 1st of January 2022 (until 31st of January 2023), you are eligible for the Media Award 2.

One of the main criteria for eligibility is that these stories must be written in Albanian or Serbian language and must have been published on or before 31st of January 2023 (earliest date of publication must be: 1st of January 2022).

For additional information about the Media Award criteria, please refer to the documents below. The call for application is available in English, Serbian and Albanian language.

Media Award – Kosovo and Serbia: call for applications

Medijska nagrada – Kosovo i Srbija: poziv za prijavljivanje

Çmimi për Media – Kosovë dhe Serbi: thirrje për aplikim

Applications are received online through the Google Form link below: https://forms.gle/SHBtT7pVmm2unyZd8

Should you have any questions, please reach out to us via email at: media.award@peacefulchange.org.

Good luck! The Peaceful Change initiative (PCi) Team

Civil society stands by assaulted colleague

Serbia Kosovo joint statement

This statement was drafted by participants in the Kosovo-Serbia Rapid Response Mechanism, comprised of CSOs committed to reacting to any instances of divisive rhetoric or destabilising incidents which can negatively affect relations between communities and harm the environment for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.

By sharing perspectives on specific issues, the mechanism helps deepen understanding about the sources of grievance within particularly communities and reduces the scope for a lack of awareness or misinformation. This process is facilitated by Peaceful Change initiative as part of the UK-government funded ALVED (Amplifying Local Voices for Equitable Development) project.

Civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia have expressed their support for Miodrag Milićević from NGO Aktiv, who was verbally and physically assaulted by a member of Kosovo Police special units in the vicinity of the Jarinje crossing in north Kosovo.

On 14th November, Miodrag Milićević from NGO Aktiv was verbally and physically assaulted by a member of Kosovo Police special units in the vicinity of the Jarinje crossing in north Kosovo. The assault both reflects and contributes to the deteriorating atmosphere for trust and peaceful coexistence in Kosovo which has been observable in recent months and has reached an alarming scale of escalation with the withdrawal of Serb representatives from Kosovo institutions.

Recent actions by key parties contributing to this escalation have been taken without due consideration to long-term consequences and the damage that can be done to the underlying framework for normalisation. Continuing an environment of threats, intimidation, humiliation, and mistrust will only exacerbate an already fragile situation.

Our organisations have committed to improving the conditions for normalisation by creating channels between communities and building trust to contribute to a long-term and sustainable peace. At this time, we call on all stakeholders for peace in the region to refrain from escalatory language and to use relations, platforms and channels that cross community lines and political lines to create engagement, build understanding of the multiple perspectives on the present context, and contribute to an environment in which key actors take well-considered actions that have in view the well-being of all communities.

We also call on the international community to demonstrate an appropriate urgency in their engagement with the present crisis. We stand with our colleague, Mr. Milićević, and call on the incident to be addressed in line with the relevant legal frameworks in place.

Signatories:
  1. Aktiv
  2. Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCSP)
  3. Community Building Mitrovica (CBM)
  4. Center for Peace and Tolerance (CPT)
  5. Civic Initiatives, Serbia
  6. European Movement in Serbia (EMiS)
  7. Forum for Development and Multiethnic Collaboration (FDMC)
  8. Foundation BFPE for a Responsible Society (BFPE)
  9. Humanitarian Law Center Kosovo
  10. Institute for Territorial Economic Development – InTER
  11. Jelena Lončar, University of Belgrade
  12. Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM)
  13. Local Peace
  14. Media Center Caglavica
  15. Mitrovica Women Association for Human Rights
  16. New Social Initiative (NSI)
  17. NGO Be Active 16, Presevo
  18. Portali LUGINALAJM, Bujanovac
  19. Radio Gorazdevac
  20. Radio Astra, Prizren
  21. Rahim Salihi, civil society activist, Bujanovac
  22. Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Kosovo
  23. Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Serbia
  24. Valon Arifi, Civic Activist
  25. Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in Kosovo (VoRAE)
  26. Vjollca Krasniqi, University of Prishtina

Citizens must not be held hostage by the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue

A diverse group of 40 civil society organisations, activists, and media outlets from Kosovo and Serbia express their profound concern about the impact of a lack of progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue on local communities.

Given the recent EU reports and developments on the ground, we the undersigned are concerned about the impact of a lack of progress in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue on local communities in Serbia and Kosovo. It is people on the ground who suffer most from the persistence of tensions and mistrust. All sides must therefore desist from inflammatory rhetoric that harms and damages relations within and between communities. The scope for ambiguities must be reduced through transparency and accountability. All citizens must be clear about what has been agreed to, whilst the process of dialogue itself must be brought closer to the very citizens affected by it.  

The scenes of the Serbian Ortodox Church’s Patriarch Porfirije being greeted on the streets of Prizren send a positive message of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence; images and sentiments that provide hope for the future of relations within and between Serbia and Kosovo. We commend all parties for their constructive approach – in particular, Gazmend Muhaxheri, the mayor of Peja/Peć, who attended the proceedings – and hope that these foundations can be built upon. 

However, we also call for tangible progress on a number of other fronts. In Kosovo, there is a fundamental lack of dialogue and cooperation through elected institutions. Srpska Lista parliamentarians are failing to represent the needs of the Kosovo Serb community. The continued absence of their MPs from the Kosovo Assembly means that their constituents and the daily problems they face are not effectively voiced. We call for Srpska Lista’s immediate return and active participation.

Many agreements are barely mentioned today. The main bridge in Mitrovica remains closed to traffic, despite extensive EU investment. Both parties should engage to resolve the demarcation of Mitrovica North, which has hampered the reopening process. Additional steps must be taken to ensure the Bridge serves as an inclusive and shared space that connects people from both sides of the river Ibar.

With respect to the issue of licence plates, all parties should work constructively to find a solution that will not harm people on the ground. The new crossing points agreed to previously should be opened forthwith to make it easier for citizens to travel without unnecessary distance and delay. The free flow of people should be a fundamental part of the normalisation of relations.

The mutual recognition of diplomas has stalled, leading to shortages of vital staff in key public institutions in south Serbia and in Kosovo, for instance, including those pertaining to health, education, justice, and access to services more broadly. It is the most profound example of the consequences of a lack of implementation of what has been agreed to, and should be addressed without further delay.

In south Serbia, there is a sense that the integration of the Albanian community is being damaged by the strained relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The seven-point plan for integration should be a priority for the new Serbian government, including the inclusion of Albanian representatives in its Coordination Body for the Municipalities of Preshevë/Presevo, Bujanovc/Bujanovac and Medvegjë/Medvedja. Concerns pertaining to the conduct of the census in Medvegjë/Medvedja should be addressed immediately, and there should be a thorough review of the passivation process.

We, the undersigned, fully support any process that can bring new momentum and positive energy, and which can benefit citizens from all walks of life. Building trust and confidence is vital for future relations within and between communities.

Signatories

  1. AKTIV
  2. Advocacy Center for Democratic Culture (ACDC)
  3. Association for Heritage and Cultural Creativity Presevo
  4. Balkan Forum
  5. Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP)
  6. Centre for Peace and Tolerance (CPT)
  7. Civic initiative (Gradjanske inicijative)
  8. Community Building Mitrovica (CBM)
  9. Centar for Democracy and Education – Valley
  10. European Center for Minority Issues Kosovo (ECMI)
  11. European Movement in Serbia (EMIS)
  12. European Fund for the Balkans (EFB)
  13. Foundation BFPE for a Responsible Society (BFPE)
  14. Gorazdevac Media Group
  15. Human Center Mitrovica
  16. Jelena Lončar, Academic, University of Belgrade
  17. Junior Chamber International Prizren (JCI- Prizren)
  18. Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS)
  19. Kosovar Gender Studies Center
  20. Kosova Info
  21. Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM)
  22. Mitrovica Women Association for Human Rights
  23. Ministria e Lajmeve Presevo
  24. Media Center Caglavica
  25. NGO Budi Aktivan 16 Presevo
  26. NGO Integra
  27. Peer Educators Network (PEN)
  28. Professor Vjollca Krasniqi, University of Pristina
  29. Pozitiv 365 Presevo
  30. Rahim Salihi, civil society activist, Bujanovac
  31. Radio Astra Prizren
  32. Radio Peja/Pec
  33. Sbunker
  34. TV Prizreni
  35. The Future Bujanovac
  36. Valon Arifi, civil society activist
  37. Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians (VoRAE)
  38. Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Kosovo
  39. Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Serbia
  40. Youth Trails Presevo
  41. NGO Livrit Presevo
  42. Humanitarian Law Centre Kosovo
  43. New Perspektiva