(Ohrid) The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia failed on Saturday to sign an agreement on the normalization of their complicated relations during marathon talks conducted under the aegis of the European Union, which however welcomed progress between old enemies.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met for 12 hours of negotiations on the shores of Lake Ohrid, in North Macedonia, under the leadership of the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell.
Westerners have increased pressure on Belgrade and Pristina in recent months to prevent a possible outbreak of tensions in the fragile Balkan region as war rages in Ukraine invaded by Russia more than a year ago.
The Ohrid meeting came after talks in Brussels broke down last month, where an 11-article European peace plan was unveiled more than two decades after a deadly war between Kosovar independence rebels and Serbian forces.
Brussels wanted the agreement of both parties on an appendix implementing this European proposal aimed at normalizing relations between Serbia and its former province.
Josep Borrell congratulated the press that the two camps had accepted the annex in question, but admitted that Belgrade and Pristina had gone less far than hoped.
“The parties could not find a mutually acceptable solution as ambitious as the one we were proposing,” he told reporters without taking any questions.
Serbia refuses to recognize the independence proclaimed in 2008 by its former province, whose population of 1.8 million inhabitants, overwhelmingly of Albanian origin, includes a Serbian community of around 120,000 people.
Since the war, which ended in 1999 with NATO bombings, relations between Pristina and Belgrade have gone from crisis to crisis.
In Ohrid, the two leaders acknowledged that progress had been made, but did not hesitate to throw spades at each other.
The Kosovar prime minister said he was ready to initial the text, but blamed the Serbian side for the lack of signature.
“The other side, just like in the last meeting in Brussels on February 27, is avoiding signing the agreement, and now the annex,” Albin Kurti told reporters.
“It is now up to the European Union to find a mechanism to make this agreement legally and internationally binding,” Kosovar added.
The Serbian president also pouted on the results of the meeting.
“I think we’ve taken a big step in a constructive atmosphere and we’re going to start working on things. Of course, it wasn’t some kind of D-day, it was an OK day.”
The European proposal stipulates that the two sides will not use violence to resolve their differences.
The draft would lead to de facto recognition between Belgrade and Pristina, as it foresees that both sides will “mutually recognize each other’s respective national documents and symbols”.
The text also states that “Serbia will not oppose Kosovo’s membership in an international organization”, a key request from Pristina. At the same time, it proposes granting “an appropriate level of self-government” for the Kosovo Serb minority.
The question of Kosovo remains obsessive for some of the 6.7 million Serbs, who consider the territory as their national and religious cradle, where crucial battles have been fought over the centuries.
In Belgrade, thousands of people demonstrated on Friday at the call of nationalist parties to refuse an agreement which they said would amount to a “capitulation”.
In Kosovo, many members of the Serbian minority refuse all loyalty to Pristina, with encouragement from Belgrade. Especially in the north of the territory, near the border with Serbia, the scene of frequent clashes, demonstrations and sometimes violence.