Peaceful Change initiative strongly condemns the threats made against academics from the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Belgrade in Serbia.
We stand in solidarity with our colleagues Jelena Lončar, Stefan Surlić, and Marko Veković, who have demonstrated considerable courage and determination in the face of attempts to brand them as ‘traitors’.
Such intimidation constitutes a fundamental attack on academic freedom. It is imperative that scholars be free to pursue knowledge and explore ideas without fearing for their security or safety. We are encouraged by the outpourings of support and solidarity they have received.
The research each has undertaken has contributed to the body of understanding about relations within and between Kosovo and Serbia. They have fostered vital links that have deepened understanding about the perceptions of different communities, and explored themes that shine a light on some of the contemporary challenges facing Kosovo and Serbia.
It is for these reasons that PCi supported an academic exchange between the Faculty of Political Science, University of Belgrade, and the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Prishtina, as part of our UK-government funded project, ‘Amplifying Local Voices for Equitable Development’ (ALVED).
Their research is intended to guide and inspire other aspiring academics, who should be free to pursue their academic interests without fear of reprisal. The academic community should be about debate and disagreement, no matter how sensitive the topic, not self-censorship deriving from concerns about what their peers will think.
Where such incidents are not firmly condemned, they are tacitly supported. As such, it is incumbent on all authorities to voice their opposition to such acts and to ensure that they are thoroughly investigated. All perpetrators should be brought to justice.
We will continue to support all those who seek to improve understanding between those in Kosovo and Serbia, for the future of our communities depends upon deepening our knowledge about one another.
A two year series of Media Consultation Dialogues (MCD) convened by Peaceful Change initiative (PCi) identified several areas of common need in the media spaces of Kosovo and Serbia. Profound and fundamental challenges like the difficult financial environment and lack of resources cannot be addressed overnight. There are, however, steps doable immediately to make existing resources go further and to equip media with the requisite skills for the contemporary media environment.
Building trust through self-regulation
Developing new capabilities
Speaking with a common voice
A partnership-driven approach
The reality facing media outlets in Kosovo, Serbia, and elsewhere in the Western Balkans necessitates a partnership-driven approach that dilutes some of fundamental challenges they face in terms of limited resources. Cooperation between journalists and media outlets in Kosovo and Serbia is, however, not a common practice. Aside from sporadic contacts (typically at media-focused events), there is no systematic approach to building mutually beneficial and sustained partnerships.
The purpose of such partnerships is threefold, namely to:
Broaden coverage – more issues covered;
Deepen coverage – more perspectives and sources incorporated;
Extending reach – more platforms over a wider geographical and first-language area reproducing the content.
There are various models and strategies for how such partnerships can be pursued. It could involve the exchanges of audio, video or written materials or staff, or it could be the joint production or sharing of content. Whilst there are positive examples of such partnership, they are often ad hoc and dependent upon personal ties between media editors/management. They also tend to focus upon political developments as opposed to human-centred stories.
To illustrate how such partnerships could be structured, consider the following:
Sharing of content, especially video/audio material and photographs;
Joint productions, especially for complex multimedia feature stories;
Information exchanges, especially in crisis situations;
Joint fact checking of data and stories.
There are several other areas in which such systematic cooperation can be developed, including but not limited to:
Exchanges and/or hosting of journalists;
Fellowships – similar to writers in residence programmes;
Internship and job shadowing programs for journalists;
Joint efforts to identify ‘fake news” and external influences (Disinformation Alert System).
Building trust through self-regulation
The print (and some online portals) media in Kosovo and Serbia fall under the auspices of the Press Councils, which are self-regulatory bodies working under ethical codes and professional guidelines grounded in EU standards. The Press Councils of Serbia and Kosovo are both incorporated into the European Press Councils’ Associations, but they do not cooperate directly. Given the issues pertaining to hate speech and prejudicial reporting in Kosovo and Serbia, systematic co-operation between the two could have a transformative effect on relations.
Such co-operation could include:
Periodic meetings to learn about each other’s work and context;
Provision of materials such as ethnical codes in Serbian and Albanian;
Exchange of know-how, experiences and resources;
Establishing a Joint Complaints Committee meetings regarding violation of the codes. It would be hosted by the Serbian Press Council if the violation is in the Serbian media and vice versa;
Joint reactions and public support, particularly where complaints have been upheld, thereby building trust in the process;
Joint events for journalists targeting hate speech, disinformation etc..
Developing new capabilities
The media environment is rapidly changing. There are emerging threats, particularly with respect to disinformation, but also novel opportunities. Contemporary journalism arguably requires new skills, particularly those pertaining to OSINT, social media, and data analytics. The possibilities for professional development are, however, limited. Journalists lack the time and resources to build strengthen their capacities, whilst media outlets are limited in their ability to invest in human capital.
To remain relevant in a contemporary age, journalists and media outlets must create user friendly resources – grounded in lived experience – which can help guide their peers in their day-to-day jobs. Such resources would ideally be developed in conjunction with the respective journalistic associations and academic institutions.
There are also generational gaps which need to be bridged. Whilst older generations of journalists were trained in a different context, where there was arguably a greater awareness of and familiarity with questions of ethno-national diversity, younger generations of journalists have grown up in a somewhat different context. This latter group, however, is more attune with other forms of diversity and new trends in the media. By providing opportunities for networking and other forms of collaboration, journalists from various backgrounds can enhance their understanding of and enjoy greater access to a particular community.
Speaking with a common voice
Almost every single professional media in both Serbia and Kosovo is struggling to survive. Due to shrinking sums and changing donor priorities, many professional media are registered as Civil Society Organisations to improve their eligibility. Other professional media have opened their own NGOs which can apply for funding. Calls for proposals tend to be extremely complicated, often to the extent that small media lack the capacity to apply or fulfil the requirements.
Raising awareness within the donor community about such issues will require that media in Kosovo, Serbia and the Western Balkans engage in joint advocacy. By speaking with a common voice, media outlets can send a powerful and constructive message about their specific needs. Such advocacy would also focus on the means of dispersal, including how to get beyond the classic intermediary model that means that much funding doesn’t go directly to the beneficiaries.
Such joint advocacy would also reinforce the importance of media freedom conditionality on the road to EU accession. It would focus upon questions of financial and ownership transparency within the media scenes of Kosovo and Serbia, whilst underscoring the importance of the safety of journalists and their ability to operate in a context free from political interference. Furthermore, it would underscore the vital role the media plays in underpinning democracy and the rule of law. By drawing attention to specific issues, a free media is an essential part of accountability and transparency, whilst relaying the concerns and needs of citizens.
All the ideas contained within this paper were generated during the Media Consultation Dialogues conducted by PCi, plus subsequent consultations with particular participants. The purpose of this paper is to stimulate further discussion about the approaches contained within, with PCi on hand to facilitate the development of specific proposals.
 In every one of the eight MCDs, the lack of such stories has popped up as something sorely missing from the media in both Kosovo and Serbia. Based on ideas launched in the MCDs, PCi introduced a special award for such media content and gave an annual award for two consecutive years.
PCi’s second Media Award shines a light on positive stories of multi-ethnic coexistence in Kosovo and Serbia.
Peaceful Change initiative celebrated the winners of the second ‘Media Award for stories on multi-ethnic coexistence in Kosovo and Serbia’ in a ceremony which took place simultaneously in Pristina and Belgrade on 16th March 2023.
Nowadays, the news is almost always associated with the negative sides of life, particularly these past years of pandemic, and now war in Europe. Through this award, Peaceful Change initiative aims to promote and reward media content from Kosovo and Serbia which emphasise the positive, particularly when it comes to depicting the reality of multi-ethnic co-existence of communities. Ultimately, the goal is to contribute to the narrowing of the present divisive narratives in the media in Kosovo and Serbia and encourage the production of more stories centred around the real experience of communities.
The first prize in the Albanian language written category was awarded to Serbeze Haxhiaj, investigative journalist and news editorfor her piece in Balkans Insight. She commented: ‘for me, honestly, it’s not about individual accomplishment or an individual award. It’s about what I’ve got to do and how I can contribute to the peace and reconciliation process in my Kosovo and help to lay down the heavy burden of the painful past’.
Journalist and writer Ilir Gashi is the recipient of the first prize in the Serbian language written category for his piece in Kosovo 2.0. He added: “all of us who work in these scorched fields of no-man’s land, between the long lines of deeply dug tranches, also have the privilege of witnessing life as it grows out of cracks, everywhere.”
Dr Ismet Hajdari, journalist and member of the Albanian language jury, said: ‘the importance of this project consists in encouraging journalists to deal with topics that are rarely written and reported on. Taboo topics must not exist. The media has an obligation to illuminate all issues that are considered to be of interest to Kosovo society.’
When speaking about this year’s entries, Serbian language jury member Milivoje Mihajlović said: ‘the greatest quality is maybe the fact that these stories are so different from mainstream reporting and that from each and every one of the stories you can see the huge desire people have for living a normal, humane life’.
Participants of the Media Award, Pristina
Media Award, Pristina
Media Award, Belgrade Media Centre
Winners, Media Award, Belgrade Media Centre
Media Award prize certificate
Interview transcription: For this article, I received a prize from Peaceful Change initiative. That is an initiative which for several years been implementing a programme in Kosovo and in Serbia. It is a programme which serves to assist a better integration of the Albanian minority in Serbia and the Serbian minority in Kosovo. Within their programme, there is also an award for reporting which brings people together, rather than putting a distance between the nations which is, unfortunately, the dominant discourse both in Kosovo and in Serbia.
This award was organised by Peaceful Change initiative as part of the ‘Amplifying Local Voices for Equitable Development’ (ALVED) project, support by the United Kingdom Government Fund for Conflict, Stability and Security (CSSF).
Civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia speak out together to emphasise the importance of building goodwill and trust in order to make it possible for political agreements to take hold, bring peace and benefit their societies.
The so-called status quo is taking communities on a collision course, deepening divides and entrenching misery. People don’t know where they stand, nor what they can expect for their societies. The only predictability is frustration and disappointment.
The narrative of coercive diplomacy – that agreement is being forced upon us – only undermines the sense that implementation will happen in good faith. We need to be able to believe that the stakeholders are dedicated to their process for the right reasons. They must stand up for the commitments they enter into on our behalf.
Ambiguity can no longer be constructive. Uncertainty breeds uncertainty. People don’t know how moving to the next stage will affect their everyday tangible needs, including implications for their own jobs and access to services. This is not simply a question of transparency. Decision-makers must be proactive in addressing the legitimate concerns of citizens whilst emphasising the benefits that can and must be grasped.
Any agreement must also be underpinned by specific guarantees. To create certainty in and for the future, steps forward need to be irreversible. We must cease to live in a cycle of integration and disintegration. People must have the confidence to invest in themselves and their careers, and ultimately their communities.
Many people already feel that the system does not work for them. Reforms that address essential needs, including the fight against corruption and developing an effective judicial system, cannot be addressed effectively. Civic voices are not as strong as they should be in public policy, and the possibility to build civic alliances is compromised. Issues of concern to the public are politicised in a way that they cannot be brought up by civil society.
Narratives among politicians and in the media too often emphasise difference and separation. The tangible result is outward migration, further depleting our societies of the very human capital on which we depend. Instead, we want to live in societies that celebrate diversity and see it as a strength. Trust between people is a necessary condition to move beyond the obstacles that our communities have been experiencing for many years.
Whilst integration into the European space will dissolve some of the divisions that we see today, reform must be pursued as an end in itself, not simply as a means to enter the EU. The dialogue is an essential but insufficient part of this journey. It must be supplemented by complementary processes that transform relations within and between communities and lay the foundations for a peaceful and prosperous future. Without this, we risk repeating the mistakes and missed opportunities of the past decade and more.
PCi’s Western Balkans project “Amplifying local voices for equitable development” – ALVED, hosted a series of Media Consultation Dialogues which brought together media professionals from Serbia and Kosovo to discuss and reflect on challenges and opportunities to improve the media scene, reduce divisive narratives, and increase cooperation between journalists and media across the ethnic divide. The Dialogues included topics such as the work of media regulatory bodies; the importance of local media; independent media sustainability; what are the roots and causes of divisive narratives and why is there a lack of empathy for “the other”.
One of the Media Consultation Dialogues focused on “Women in the Newsroom” and looked at the positioning of women in media and the level of (in)equality with their male colleagues and the ways this affects the way that women are represented in the media. A comprehensive questionnaire was sent out to close to a thousand media professionals in both Kosovo and Serbia and PCi is proud to present the results of this study together with a set of recommendations on how these worrying findings can be addressed.
In 2023 it is utterly unacceptable to find out that one in three women working in Serbian media and one in four in Kosovar media have been victims of sexual harassment. Or that around close to 30% of women working in Kosovar and Serbian media have been discriminated due to their age or appearance. The fact that seven out of ten women are considering changing jobs and professions is certainly not a result of a satisfactory status of women in Kosovar and Serbian media.
The comprehensive Report Survey can be accessed below:
On International Women’s Day, civil society from Kosovo and Serbia are united in their calls for more women’s voices to be heard in the normalisation process. The signatories also voiced their concerns about the failure to incorporate gender-specific considerations into the various dialogue agreements and, in particular, the Agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia.
To mark International Women’s Day, this 8th March, we the undersigned call for more women’s voices to be involved in the process of normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 specifically acknowledges the vital role that women play in the promotion of peace. Furthermore, Resolution 1325 also calls for the equal participation of women in peacebuilding processes.
A global study on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 found that the participation of women led to a 20% increase in the possibility of a peace agreement lasting two years, and a 35% increase in the possibility of it lasting fifteen years.
As such, we call for more meaningful participation of women in negotiations pertaining to relations between Belgrade and Pristina. In over a decade of talks pertaining to the Dialogue, very few women have been given an opportunity to engage in the process.
We are also concerned by a failure to incorporate gender-specific considerations into the various dialogue agreements and, in particular, the Agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia. There is a need to better mainstream gender perspectives to ensure that each and every decision within the dialogue process takes into account the specific needs and concerns of women.
Women and women’s groups – whether from civil society, business, politics, academia, or elsewhere – bring particular skills and insights that benefit the overall peacebuilding process. Such voices are also vital for the long-term sustainability of any agreement reached between Serbia and Kosovo.
If women continue to be excluded from the process of normalisation, then it will be to the detriment of both Serbia and Kosovo, and indeed the expressed aims of the European Union and its member states.
Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP)
Center for Peace and Tolerance (CPT)
Community Building Mitrovica (CBM)
Centar for Democracy and Education – Valley
European Fund for the Balkans
European Movement in Serbia
Foundation BFPE for a Responsible Society (BFPE)
Human Rights Council – Bujanovac
Dr. Jelena Lončar, Academic
Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (KCSS)
Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM)
Media Center Caglavica
New Social initiative, Mitrovica (NSI)
NGO Be active 16
Peer Educators Network (PEN)
Rahim Salihi, Civil Society Activist, Bujanovac
Valon Arifi, Civil Society Activist
Violeta Haxholli, Kosova Democratic Institute
Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians
Professor Vjollca Krasniqi, University of Prishtina
Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Kosovo (YIHR KS)
Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Serbia (YIHR Serbia)
PCi launches a new study looking at the status of women in the media in Kosovo and Serbia.
PCi’s latest report, Women in media, examines the position of women in the media and gender inequality in the newsroom in Serbia and Kosovo. The study presents results from a consultation with close to a thousand media professionals in both Kosovo and Serbia as part of PCi’s Western Balkans project ‘Amplifying local voices for equitable development’ (ALVED). The report also sets out recommendations on how the findings from the study can be addressed.
The launch event, which took place on 2 March simultaneously in Pristina and Belgrade, was attended by a number of local media and civil society organisations, as well as representatives from the Serbian office of the ‘Commissioner for equality’ and the British embassy. We heard from the lead researchers of the study Dafina Halili (Kosovo) and Tamara Skrozza (Serbia), who presented the key findings of the study. We also had the pleasure to welcome activist Valmira Rashiti (Kosovo Women’s Network), Zorana Antonijević (gender expert and activist) and Ms. Majlindë Sinani Lulaj (Deputy Ombudsperson) to the event panel.
Some alarming figures on the status of women in the media in Kosovo and Serbia are highlighted in this study. Notably, one in three women working in Serbian media and one in four in Kosovo media have been victims of sexual harassment. Another stark figure, close to 30% of women working in Kosovar and Serbian media have been discriminated due to their age or appearance. Additionally, seven out of ten women are considering changing jobs due to the inequality they suffer in the media profession.
William Hopkinson, First Secretary Political, UK Embassy Belgrade commented: ‘As the discussion has highlighted, the report does not make for comfortable reading’. He noted: ‘If the media cannot address issues of inequality, society cannot move forward’. Unquestionably, gender inequality in the newsroom and a lack of female leadership in the media reinforces and maintains harmful gender perceptions and stereotypes.
HMA Nicholas Abbott, UK Ambassador to Kosovo, said: ‘I am very impressed by the research study which puts in one place a series of serious issues that warrant a serious discussion. I hope therefore that the report and today’s event is but the beginning of action’. Abbott added: ‘The recommendations in the report are very straightforward and achievable. I encourage you to do follow up activities to ensure that the recommendations do happen’.
The studies will contribute to PCi’s ongoing engagement with media in Kosovo and Serbia to take strategic action that broadens the space for narratives that contribute to strengthening relations and promoting democracy and human rights. Explore the reports and recommendations on this link.
A delegation of civil society from Kosovo and Serbia had the opportunity to meet key interlocutors from various EU institutions 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.
Peaceful Change initiative is pleased to announce the launch of research into cross-community initiatives in Kosovo and Serbia, undertaken jointly by the Universities of Pristina and Belgrade as part of the Amplifying Local Voices for Equitable Development (ALVED) project, supported by the UK government.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.