Kosovo Prime Minister calls on the West not to put pressure on the Serbian entity

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has called on Western powers not to pressure his small Balkan country into agreeing to a controversial association of five Serb-majority municipalities that is heightening tensions between Kosovo and Serbia.

Kurti told The Associated Press that the focus should instead be on democratizing Serbia and eliminating what he called Belgrade’s hegemonic ideas.

Kurti said in the interview on Sunday that the Serbian government should recognize the independence of all former republics of the former Yugoslavia in order to “face the past”. He stressed that Belgrade should lean more towards the European Union and NATO, not towards Russia.

The Prime Minister said that if they freed themselves from the idea that Kosovo still belonged to Serbia, “they would be much more democratic, European”.

In recent weeks, US and European envoys have visited Pristina and Belgrade to encourage them to accept a new proposal aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries and strengthening their bids for EU membership.

An EU-mediated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue has been ongoing since 2011, but few of the 33 agreements signed have been implemented.

Kurti said the negotiations so far have been “a problem-solving ideology…every solution has become more and more complicated, less and less feasible, and the public has lost interest.” He viewed the new proposal as “a good framework and a good platform to move forward…which gives us hope about the prospects for future discussions and an agreement.”

Details of the proposal have not yet been made public.

The United States has increased pressure on Pristina to implement a 2013 agreement to create the Association of Serbian Majority Municipalities, which would coordinate work on education, health care, land use planning and economic development at the local level. In 2015, Kosovo’s Constitutional Court later declared part of the plan unconstitutional, ruling that it did not include other ethnicities and may involve the use of executive powers.

Kurti says the formation of the association is not his priority, and last week he laid down conditions saying that it can only be formed as part of an overall agreement on the normalization of relations, that the Serbia has rejected in the past. Kosovo authorities fear that this could end up undermining the country’s statehood with the help of Belgrade.

Western powers should learn from the example of the Bosnian Serb mini-state, Republica Srpska, fearing the creation of a mini-state in Kosovo, he said, adding that Belgrade used the creation of the association “as a weapon against our independence”.

“If we introduce in the Western Balkans the idea of ​​an association of municipalities based on ethnicity, it is a recipe for new conflicts,” Kurti said.

Western powers should not impose pressure on smaller countries like Kosovo, which are democratic, he said. The problems between Kosovo and Serbia may be minor and annoying, but they should pay attention to what is happening in the region because “any kind of bad solution in the Balkans can and will be used elsewhere”.

Mutual recognition is the centerpiece of any negotiation process, he insisted, something Belgrade staunchly refuses.

The dispute between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo remained a source of instability in the Balkans long after the 1998-99 war, which ended with a NATO intervention that forced Serbia to withdraw of the territory.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade refused to recognize, supported by Russia and China. The United States and most EU countries have recognized Kosovo.


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