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Kosovo's Likely PM Says Relations With Serbia Should Be Based On 'Reciprocity'

A screen grab from RFE/RL's interview with Albin Kurti, who is widely expected to be Kosovo's next prime minister.
A screen grab from RFE/RL's interview with Albin Kurti, who is widely expected to be Kosovo's next prime minister.

Albin Kurti, the leader of Kosovo’s leftist-nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party that won a plurality of votes in the recent snap parliamentary elections, said normalizing relations with Serbia requires "solid dialogue" and "reciprocity."

Speaking to the RFE/RL on October 10, the country's likely future prime minister said that for stalled talks to resume, he first wanted to hold consultations with European Union representatives to assess the level of implementation of the agreements with Serbia already mediated by the bloc.

"[We want] a dialogue with Brussels before the dialogue with Serbia, so that such a dialogue won’t fail," Kurti said.

He added that he wanted to discuss with the EU "the 33 agreements reached during the six-year-long dialogue [between Kosovo and Serbia] in 2011-2017, their level of implementation, and their real impact on citizens regardless of their ethnicity."

However, Kurti said, relations between the ethnic Albanian majority and minorities were a top priority for him. "From my first week, I will open a dialogue with Kosovo's [ethnic] minorities, including the Kosovo Serbs, but the other minorities as well."

"This dialogue will be about development and integration so that our society is as cohesive as possible, and to emphasize what we have in common."

Kurti was referring to EU-led talks whose outcome saw several technical agreements brokered, including the so-called Brussels agreement whose aim is to harmonize relations and integrate the ethnic Serb minority in northern Kosovo.

Kosovo, a former Serbian province, unilaterally declared independence in 2008, several years after a bloody Serb crackdown against Albanian separatists and civilians prompted NATO to intervene by bombing Serbia in the spring of 1999.

Kosovo is recognized as a nation by more than 110 countries, including the United States, but not by Serbia and its traditional ally Russia as well as five EU member states.

Both the EU and United States have made reconciliation between the two countries a priority.

Meanwhile, Brussels has made it clear that Serbia and Kosovo’s prospects of joining the 28-member bloc hinges on their ability to make peace.

Ongoing tensions still linger as bilateral talks remain suspended.

One setback was the January 2018 murder of an ethnic Serb politician in northern Kosovo.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called the killing “an act of terrorism” in the mostly Muslim, ethnic Albanian country.

Then, toward the end of 2018, Kosovo raised customs duties on Serbian imports after Belgrade blocked Kosovo’s attempt to join Interpol.

"We expect a solid dialogue, well-prepared and with clear principles previously agreed with Brussels," Kurti said.

Kurti told RFE/RL he wants to include mutual reparations with Serbia in discussions that stem from their armed conflict.

"We need to send a list of requests to Serbia and for Belgrade to send us such a list," he said.

He added that "Serbia needs to stop looking at Albanians through a military spyglass, but it has to look at itself in the mirror, as a policy."

Dialogue with Serbia has to conclude with the recognition of Kosovo's independence, and Belgrade’s readiness to face its past, Kurti said.

Kurti also rejected allegations that Kosovo's overwhelming ethnic Albanian majority is pursuing territorial integration with neighboring Albania.

"It is not that we, as [ethnic] Albanians, are committed to the unification of Kosovo with Albania politically...," he said. "We see integration with Albania and the EU, through the success of Kosovo as a state."