By Janusz Bugajski
Kosovo has reached an important crossroads in its development as an independent state.

Kosovo has reached an important crossroads in its development as an independent state.

Two opposition parties, surprisingly, won the October 6th general elections and now have to undertake “a major house cleaning” to reform the country’s institutions. Even the appointment of a new United States envoy to resume talks between Kosovo and Serbia could give new impetus to a final solution to one of the most intangible regional problems.

During the election campaign, crime and corruption, along with health care and education, were high on the agenda. The next government should commit to eradicate the worst abuses not just verbally; it must finally begin to fulfill (the promises). Repeated slogans may no longer placate an electorate that has been continually frustrated by a lack of economic progress, or may not satisfy international players who see the country as “stuck in a trap”.

The anti-corruption initiative must start within government institutions. Strict accountability standards and reporting of all assets owned by officials should be mandatory, while any contact between elected officials and business representatives should be transparent and open to investigation. Judicial reform should also be completed, replacing judges and prosecutors who became rich with bribes.

Serbian officials claim that Kosovo is a failed state, full of criminality that does not deserve international recognition. Measures to combat corruption would send the clear message to international institutions that Kosovo is serious about qualifying for membership. Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti may be the most important figure since independence to tackle state corruption.

Another important task of the new government is to speak with one voice (unanimously) in resolving its dispute with Serbia. The sooner a coalition government between Vetevendosje and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) is formed (the better) for the country, otherwise the perception of insecurity and lack of unity will be created. The new administration must have one clear goal: full international recognition and involvement in all major international organizations. Anything less than that will not bring stability to the region.

Appointment of US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, as envoy for Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, indicates White House is determined to normalize relations, having already appointed Matt Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, as envoy especially for the Western Balkans. Although Grenell is a “beginner” in the region, Palmer is a “registrar” of the State Department who is aware of the complexities of the Balkans.

The dispute over normalization can only be fully resolved if Serbia accepts Kosovo’s independence. Grenell will be pressured to quickly find the formula to achieve this. He will have to work with EU representatives, but, like the US ambassador to Berlin, he has been very critical of German foreign policy. Grenell was apparently recruited precisely because of his experience as a negotiator at the United Nations. Pristina needs to work closely with both envoys, displaying a willingness to compromise on certain issues, such as tax evasion (100%) against Serbia. On the other hand, it has to avoid any ‘traps’ set by Belgrade in future talks.

Some observers have speculated that Grenell will be more open to territorial exchanges to (secure) recognition by Serbia. However, it will face significant political hurdles, as leaders of the new Pristina government may lose much of their public support if it is noted that (they) are handing over land to Belgrade.

Likewise, the Serbian government is unlikely to exchange any (part) territory for the four northern municipalities in Kosovo, as many observers have speculated, especially as the April 2020 parliamentary elections approach. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has expressed surprise at Washington’s decision to appoint two special envoys to speed up the negotiation process. Belgrade has always turned its eyes to Brussels to manipulate and delay any deal with Kosovo, hoping it can push different capitals against each other and join the EU before reaching a final agreement with Pristina.

Given Washington’s reiterated urgency for a solution, Belgrade may increasingly turn to Moscow to neutralize or disrupt the initiative if (the initiative) aims to be ‘crowned’ with the recognition of Kosovo and its membership in the United Nations. States. Russia may even nominate its envoy or claim an equivalent position in the process. But it is worth remembering that the only agreements that have really been implemented in the region, such as Dayton and Prespa, are those where Moscow has played no role.